Transforming Your School Climate from the Inside-Out: How to Start the School Year Off Right

September 11 2017


Starting the school year off right - what does that mean exactly? This time of year can be fraught with anxiety, not only for students but for parents as well. According to the Pew Research Center, “At least half of all parents, regardless of income, worry that their children might be bullied or struggle with anxiety or depression at some point.” What do we do to let students know that we care?

Let’s begin with this: The current trends, research and funding all highlight and promote the importance of school climate as a primary cornerstone and driver for improving safety, discipline, attendance and achievement. According to the National School Climate Center (NCSS), “Students benefit in many ways from safe, caring, and peaceful school environments.”

“Positive school climate has been linked to a host of favorable student outcomes, from attendance to achievement,” writes Milbrey McLaughlin, professor of education and public policy at Stanford University and founding director of the John W. Gardner Center. “A positive school climate includes four key elements for students: physical and emotional safety at school; positive relationships with peers and adults; support for learning; and an institutional environment that fosters connectedness and engagement.”

In order to ensure the attainment of those four positive school climate outcomes outlined by Professor McLaughlin, Community Matters understands that schools must address the following strategies:

  1. All staff are equipped, empowered and committed to building and strengthening relationships, and being “hall friendly” adults;
  2. Utilize restorative measures as the discipline approach of the school, and;
  3. Believe in youth voice and provide multiple opportunities for students to participate in leadership and service.

Staff Development

Provide professional development for classified, certificated and administrative staff in the importance of connection and relationship as “job number 1”. Helping adults grow their skills for connecting with students and disciplining with a “connect to correct” attitude and skill set, instead of a “catch to punish” approach, is essential for successful school climate improvement.

Restorative Practices

Utilize a restorative approach and eliminate zero-tolerance policies and an emphasis on suspensions. Provide professional development for administrators, who are responsible for modeling and overseeing the implementation of a restorative approach. Provide staff, parents, community leaders and students training in restorative philosophy, which will establish a common language and build buy-in among all stakeholders.

Youth Voice

Seeing students as contributors and problem solvers, rather than as consumers and trouble-makers will go a long way towards strengthening overall school climate. From this understanding, schools must then develop a plan to increase youth engagement, with an emphasis of involving marginalized and “outlier” students who are not always provided access to leadership and service opportunities. Providing all young people with pro-social ways to participate in school leadership decreases their engaging in anti-social actions and promotes civic participation.

Implementing these three critical strategies and providing training and support, will go a long way to starting the school year off on the right foot.  It will enhance success and the long-term sustainability of your school climate improvement efforts, including your LCAP plans (specific to California schools).

For more information on school climate improvement, contact Community Matters.

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