The Importance of School Climate

The climate of a school is the visceral, almost palpable, 'sense' of safety and belonging that people experience on site. It can be described as warm or cool, safe or unsafe. Though there is no single, formal definition, scholars seem to agree that the climate is the sum total of attitudes and behaviors elicited by the:

  •  School's policies, practices and physical environment
  •  Staff interactions with peers and students
  •  Opportunities for student engagement and leadership
  •  Beliefs and attitudes students bring to the school from their families and the community.

What Determines School Climate?

School climate is affected by five primary determinants:

  1. Organization - The vision and leadership of educational leaders and their commitment to using school climate as the guiding principle for planning and decision-making, the policies they enact and the processes for determining and enforcing them, the lines of communication and access to authority, and opportunities to participate in decision-making.

  2. Staff - The ways school staff relate to each other and to students; their classroom management and discipline practices, and the priority they place on being hall-friendly asset builders who demonstrate care for students' well-being.

  3. Students - The degree to which students are engaged in leadership opportunities and the ways students relate to one another and to adults in authority. Seeing and treating students as contributors and not consumers goes a long way in gaining their involvement and their commitment to speak up and resolve conflicts peacefully.

  4. Families - The values, beliefs, and practices that are instilled and reinforced in children by parents and other relatives, especially regarding how to behave with adults in authority and how to resolve differences with others peers, and also what value is placed on education, tolerance, communication and nonviolence.

  5. Community - The values, beliefs, and practices that are evident outside the walls of school and home, particularly the value a community places on its children and youth, how its members treat youth when they encounter them in their neighborhoods, and how they invest time and resources to support youth development.

Determinants and Leverage Value

All five of these determinants have a different 'leverage value' or capacity to influence the climate. Some are more direct and immediate, while others require more time, funding and emphasis in order to have the maximum impact.

Ten Keys to Safer Schools

Learn more about this school climate assessment and planning tool.

Children Full Of Life (Part 1 of 5) Watch this 4th grade class in Japan whose goal for the year is to learn how to live a happy life and how to care for others - one teacher's approach to improving school climate!