Whole School Climate: Changing the Narrative and Getting the Results We Want

May 9 2016

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The good news is that there is increased recognition of the value, benefits and effectiveness of implementing school climate improvement reform. The current trends, research and legislation all highlight and promote the importance of school climate as a primary cornerstone and driver for improving safety, discipline, attendance and achievement.

We also have new laws that limit public schools’ use of suspension and expulsion as a consequence for certain behaviors, such as “willful defiance”, since it has been shown that excessive use of suspensions is ineffective in improving student behavior, increases the rate of dropouts and disproportionately targets minority students. Additionally, millions of grant dollars have been awarded to states and districts to address the issues of school climate and safety.

The not-so-good news is that many administrators and line staff are experiencing overwhelm, frustration and confusion when dealing with the many requirements, mandates and top-down directives that they’re expected to address. All of which can lead to resistance and a significant diminishment in their likelihood to embrace school climate reform.

In addition most schools are also trying to manage and measure the effectiveness of several frameworks and initiatives dealing with discipline and behavior such as:

  • PBIS
  • Restorative Practices
  • Social-Emotional Learning
  • Mental Health Services
  • A variety of bullying/cyber-bullying and harassment intervention and prevention models

To address both the opportunities and the challenges, a clear and compelling climate roadmap for schools is needed, and must include the following:

  1. Getting from the theory of school climate to the “practice” of school climate
  2. Assessment; learning how to assess what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing
  3. Building stakeholder readiness and buy-in
  4. Implementation; how to organize, implement, and coordinate school climate initiatives, mandates, programs, and services
  5. Monitoring progress, collecting data, assessing outcomes and reporting successes.

At the end of the day, I remain hopeful that the shift in thinking, funding and direction will help us to transform our schools from the “inside-out”.

Imagine with me . . . our schools are places where all adults and students feel safe, welcome and included; where compassion, empathy, kindness and respect for differences thrive and where young people can fully develop into the capable, caring and contributing citizens we want them to become.



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