Our Approach

Shared Leadership Across Contexts

Our approach grows out of NSCC’s experience in working with schools, districts, school networks, state departments of education, as well as research findings. NSCC’s school climate improvement process is a data-informed, people-driven, and a cyclical five-stage process. The five stages are: preparation, evaluation, understanding findings and action planning, implementing plans, and re-evaluation for continuous improvement efforts. The process supports shared leadership that encompasses the entire district, including the school building, classroom, individual students, and the broader community:

  • District: Supports the development of school climate-informed policies that will engender stronger relationships within the school that both prevent issues and help adults respond more effectively when issues do arise.

  • School Building: Builds the skills, knowledge, and capacity of school leadership to effectively address areas for improvement, develop more positive school climate, and implement “bottom-up” as well as “top-down” strategies; teaches schools to use robust assessments- including student, parent/ guardian, and staff school climate perception data to define their strengths and challenges, drive key decisions for improvement, and create targeted plans to address areas of need

  • Classroom: Provides a variety of pedagogic strategies to create a classroom climate for learning and positive youth development; teaches restorative classroom discipline strategies that support classroom management and promote core social, emotional and civic learning; provides opportunities for teachers and administrators to reflect on how they support and institutionalize respect and an appreciation for diversity; provides planning and implementation supports for curricula that fosters academic, social, ethical, and civic learning outcomes

  • Student: Supports youth to become meaningful leaders in the school climate improvement process; builds an authentic sense of ownership for their efforts to create a stronger school climate; creates opportunities to strengthen community bonds through youth-led engagement efforts; and strengthens youth and adult partnerships

  • Community: Strengthen school-family and school-community partnerships and builds a virtual community, and sharing best practices through the School Climate Resource Center

What is School Climate?

NSCC defines school climate as the quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of students', parents' and school personnel's experience of school life; it also reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures.

A sustainable, positive school climate fosters youth development and learning necessary for a productive, contributory, and satisfying life in a democratic society.

A positive school climate includes:

  • Norms, values, and expectations that support people feeling socially, emotionally and physically safe
  • People are engaged and respected
  • Students, families, and educators work together to develop and contribute to a shared school vision
  • Educators model and nurture attitudes that emphasize the benefits and satisfaction gained from learning
  • Each person contributes to the operations of the school and the care of the physical environment
-National School Climate Council, 2007

Why is School Climate Important?

Research outlines six major categories or constructs of school climate: Safety, Teaching and Learning, Interpersonal Relationships, Institutional Environment, Social Media, and Staff Only. Under these categories are 13 dimensions shaping perception of school climate: Rules and Norms, Sense of Physical Security, Sense of Social-Emotional Security, Support for Learning, Social and Civic Learning, Respect for Diversity, Social Support Adults, Social Support Students, School Connectedness/Engagement, Physical Surroundings, Social Media, Leadership (staff only), and Professional Relationships (staff only)

What are the essential dimensions of school climate?

Research outlines six major categories or constructs of school climate: Safety, Teaching and Learning, Interpersonal Relationships, Institutional Environment, Social Media, and Staff Only. Under these categories are 13 dimensions shaping perception of school climate: Rules and Norms, Sense of Physical Security, Sense Social-Emotional Security, Support for Learning, Social and Civic Learning, Respect for Diversity, Social Support Adults, Social Support Students, School Connectedness/Engagement, Physical Surroundings, Social Media, Leadership (staff only), and Professional Relationships (staff only)

What are the essential dimensions of school climate?

There is not a national or international consensus about the essential dimensions of school climate that need to be focused on and measured.  

 

NSCC and the U.S. Department of Education's Safe and Supportive Learning Technical Assistance Center have overlapping but some different recommendations about what are the essential and measurable aspects of school climate.

NSCC suggests that the following five spheres are essential:

  1. Safety (rules & norms; physical and social/emotional safety, and social media)
  2. Teaching and Learning (support for learning; prosocial instruction)
  3. Interpersonal Relationships (respect for diversity; social support/adults; social support/students)
  4. Institutional environment (school connectedness and engagement; physical environment)
  5. Staff only (Leadership; Professional Relationships)

The U.S. Department of Education's Safe and Supportive Learning Technical Assistance Center suggest that the following three dimensions are essential:

  1. Engagement (relationships; respect for diversity; school participation)
  2. Safety (emotional & physical safety as well as substance use)
  3. Environment (physical, academic, wellness, disciplinary environment)

Why is School Climate Important?

Research findings have contributed to a growing number of federal, state, and local educational agencies endorsing and supporting school climate policies and improvement practices.

There are many reasons why school climate and an effective school climate improvement process are important. School climate can serve as a protective factor that supports positive life outcomes for young people (Ortega, Sanchez, Ortega Rivera, & Viejo, 2011).

Positive results of strong school climate improvement work can be grouped into four “buckets”:

  1. SAFETY
    • Dramatic decrease in risky behaviors (Catalano, Haggerty, Oesterie, Fleming, & Hawkins, 2004)
    • Lower rates of student suspensions and discipline issues in general (Lee, T., Cornell, D., Gregory, A., & Fan, X. 2011)
    • Physical, social, and emotional benefits (Devine & Cohen, 2007)
  2. TEACHING/LEARNING
    • The effect of positive school climate not only contributes to improved academic outcomes among diverse groups of students (Astor, Benbenisty, & Estrada, 2009; Haahr, Nielsen, Hansen, & Jakobsen, 2005; OECD, 2009), but its effect seems to persist for years (Kerr, Ireland, Lopes, Craig, & Cleaver, 2004)
    • Higher graduation rates (L. Ma, Phelps, Lerner, & Lerner, 2009)
    • Powerful correlation between improved school climate and increased motivation to learn (K. B., & Pachan, M. 2008)
    • Positive school climate is correlated with decreased student absenteeism in middle school and high school and lower rates of student suspension in high school (T. Lee, Cornell, Gregory, & Fan, 2011; Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 1989; Rumberger, 1987; deJung & Duckworth, 1986; Sommer, 1985; Purkey & Smith, 1983; Reid, 1982; Wu, Pink, Crain, & Moles, 1982)
  3. INSTITUTIONAL ENVIRONMENT
    • School connectedness is a powerful predictor of and is associated with adolescent health and academic outcomes (Whitlock, 2006)
    • Improved staff morale (Vezzuto, 2011)
  4. INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
    • In schools where students perceive a better structured-school, fair discipline practices, and more positive student-teacher relationships, the “probability and frequency of subsequent behavioral problems” is lower (M. C. Wang, Selman, Dishion, & Stormshak, 2010)
    • Safe, caring, participatory, and responsive school climate fosters greater attachment to school and provides the optimal foundation for social, emotional, and academic learning (Blum, McNeely, & Rinehart, 2002; Osterman, 2000)

How is School Climate Measured?

Research outlines six major categories or constructs of school climate:

  • Safety
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Interpersonal Relationships
  • Institutional Environment
  • Social Media
  • Staff only(Leadership and Professional Relationships)
Under these categories are 13 dimensions that contribute to the school community’s overall perception of school climate: Rules and Norms, Sense of Physical Security, Sense of Social-Emotional Security, Support for Learning, Social and Civic Learning, Respect for Diversity, Social Support- Adults, Social Support- Students, School Connectedness/Engagement, Physical Surroundings, Social Media, Leadership (staff only), and Professional Relationships (staff only).

NSCC's assessment tool, the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI), is a valid and reliable evaluation tool developed in 2002 to measure how critical groups of students, school personnel, and parents/families perceive the school's climate for learning. The CSCI provides a detailed profile of strengths and areas of challenge to develop clear and measurable strategies for action. Learn more about the CSCI features and benefits
here.

Guidelines

In this section, you will find a range of information, guidelines, and tools to support your school community in promoting, as well as sustaining a positive school climate across four interrelated categories:

  • Safety
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Institutional Environment
  • Interpersonal Relationships
Although this section is geared towards educators, it is also relevant to families and community leaders.

Coming Soon.

How can I learn about ‘Road Maps’ that support an effective school climate improvement process?

Currently, there are three 'road maps' that support an prosocial school improvement efforts:

  • NSCC's The School Climate Implementation Road Map: Promoting Democratically Informed School Communities and the Continuous Process of School Climate Improvement

This Road Map synthesizes research and best practices from a number of fields (school reform in general and SEL, character education, community schools, risk prevention and health/mental health promotion) about the essential tasks/challenges that characterize an effective  and collaborative process of planning, evaluation, understanding the findings and developing an action plan, implementing the action plan and beginning anew in the continuous process of learning and school improvement.

To learn about the specific tasks and challenges that shape our current understandings, see here: http://www.schoolclimate.org/climate/stages_tasks_challenges.php

  • CASEL's SEL School Improvement Model (which we believe is current under revision)
  • character.org's

How can school leaders realistically focus on all of the elements that make up an effective school climate improvement process?

Every school – like every person – presents with a unique history and set of strengths, needs and goals. As noted above, an effective school climate improvement process is strategic as well as being intentional, fundamentally collaborative, data driven, transparent and democratically informed. School leaders do need to strategically focus on what they believe are the most important tasks to focus on in each of the improvement stages.

One of the reasons why NSCC developed "end of stage" or process measures was to support Principals and members of their leadership teams recording what they did and did not do during each of these tasks as well as rating how well they did it. We expect that when a given school begins the improvement process again, these records will help the Principal (or a new leader if there has been turnover) to consider what is most important to focus on now.

"The National School Climate Center offers a comprehensive approach, which can help schools positively address their culture and climate. The sequence of actions that schools can take is well thought out and describes a pathway for improvement that can be easily followed. I highly recommend the National School Climate Center to schools interested in improving their educational and social-emotional environment."

-Bill Trusheim, Ed.D., Director of the Resource Center at the Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools and a retired superintendent