The Importance of Positive School Climate and Classroom Culture

July 29, 2021
One student with their arm around another

Almost $122 billion of federal support has been made available to American schools over the next three years through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Response (ARP ESSER) grant. School leaders must figure out how best to utilize this money to ensure they and their schools are prepared to meet the needs of teachers, students, and families.

How do you ensure adults can come back feeling empowered and supported?

How do you re-engage students who have physically or mentally abandoned school?

How do you ensure the adults in their school are ready to deal with the anxious and defensive behaviors we see in traumatized, isolated, and scared young people?

There are many priorities vying for the attention of leadership, each claiming to be superior to all others. But perhaps the smartest and simplest commitment school leaders can make is to focus the minds, hearts, and behaviors of their entire school community on the importance of positive school climate.

There is power in positive climate.

A positive school climate is associated with a range of positive outcomes for students, staff, and entire systems:

  • Higher levels of attendance and engagement for students and staff;
  • Reduced teacher turnover;
  • Reduced bullying and violent behaviors; and
  • Improved academic outcomes.

In schools that recognize the importance of positive school climate, students feel physically and emotionally safe and more connected to the school, as well as the adults in it. As a result, they are more likely to be engaged and successful. Because they trust the adults in their school, they are more likely to ask for help when they need it.

Here are some key inputs that drive positive school climate:

  • A schoolwide focus on providing all students a sense of social, emotional, and physical safety;
  • Clear rules and norms;
  • A shared vision and purpose;
  • High expectations and support for learning;
  • A commitment to professional growth; and
  • Equitable and appropriate responses to student discipline.

Schoolwide policies and programs that support these conditions are important contributors to a positive school climate, but in the end, it is what adults do day in and day out that makes the biggest difference. So, the focus should be on making sure all school staff understand and accept their role in nurturing a positive school climate, and that they have the support and skills to live into that role.

It starts with supported teachers.

Teachers need to feel they have been adequately trained and that the administration is behind their efforts to bring about these conditions. Individual teachers feel a sense of efficacy—that they have the knowledge, skills and supports they need to create the classroom culture that they know will help them and their students be their best versions of themselves and show up for each other day in and day out.

But teachers also need to have a sense of collective efficacy—faith that their co-workers possess the same skills and share the same values. When they don’t feel that way, they are at far greater risk of burning out and tapping out altogether. This is how we lose our best teachers, especially in the schools where they are most sorely needed.

Don’t forget the students.

It is very important for students to know which adults they can count on to stay calm, kind, and consistent, no matter how much they might be struggling on any given day. We know from the research that relationships matter. Even one caring adult in school can make a huge impact on a student’s life. But if we want to build positive, caring communities for all adults and students, we need to set our sights a little higher.

Students and their families need to see consistency and coordination among adults and across classrooms if we want them to trust and feel safe in our institutions. They must trust that they will receive the same calm, consistent and respectful treatment with any teacher. They also must see their peers receiving the same treatment. This is how true trust develops and how anxious and challenging behaviors are reduced.

One calm and consistent teacher is a great thing. Now picture a school full of calm, consistent teachers working together on a coordinated approach to create safe, supportive, and engaging spaces for all kids.

It’s what staff and students deserve and need when they return to school this year.

Classroom Culture Training from Crisis Prevention Institute.

School leaders and education professionals who understand the importance of positive school climate—and its impact on each classroom—should consider Classroom Culture Training, a new proactive program from Crisis Prevention Institute.

Classroom Culture stands on five core principles: calm and consistent, sustainable routines, first attention to best conduct, scripted interventions, and restorative approaches. It creates a logical, easily repeatable framework that allows teachers and staff to work confidently and consistently as they become more effective in preventing and mitigating disruptive behaviors—all while fostering positive student/teacher relationships.

Visit the Classroom Culture Training page to learn more and discover how easy it is to bring this innovative and important program to your school.

Whitney Allgood, PhD, is past CEO of the National School Climate Center an organization committed to creating positive climates for learning that promote success in school and in life. Dr. Allgood has served in the education sector for 25 years as an educator, researcher, administrator, senior executive, and advisor.

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