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Stay Informed

What is School Climate? Part 1

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When you walk into a school with a positive school climate, you observe many things: students are challenged, thinking hard, and actively participating in their own learning.  Adults and students interact in positive and caring ways.  Teachers enjoy the flexibility to collaborate, working under leaders who create supportive instructional environments.  These schools have something in common that helps bring about higher student achievement, fewer suspensions, and better attendance: they all have positive school climates.

Our students can best succeed when they come to school every day feeling safe, welcomed, and respected.  They also succeed when taught by teachers who expect them to achieve at high levels and who encourage them to think, reason, and try hard.

What is school climate and why does it matter?

Students thrive in positive school climates, which are defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) as the quality and character of school life. According to the National School Climate Center (NSCC) a positive school climate includes:

  • norms, values, and expectations that support people feeling socially, emotionally, and physically safe, engaged, and respected;
  • students, families, and educators working together to develop, live, and contribute to a shared school vision and care of the physical school environment; and
  • educators modeling and pursuing attitudes that emphasize the benefits and satisfaction gained from learning

Extensive research proves that school climate affects student outcomes.  School climate has been shown to affect middle school students’ self-esteem and a wide range of emotional and mental health outcomes.  A positive school climate is related to a lower frequency of students’ substance abuse.  Studies have also found that a positive school climate is correlated with decreased student absenteeism and lower rates of suspension.

What do we know about school climate in Pittsburgh?

Since 2009 we have been conducting our own research with principals, counselors, social workers, teachers, and students to better understand what school climate factors are linked to positive student outcomes.  Year after year, the results indicate statistically significant relationships between school practices and student outcomes.  Namely, when schools and their staff have high expectations of students, positive disciplinary practices that address root causes of behavior and help students make amends, and a stable teaching staff that treats students with respect and dignity, their students have higher achievement, higher graduation rates, lower chronic absenteeism, and lower suspension rates.

Check back in next week to explore what’s working in our schools with positive school climates and our recommendations for change at PPS to get all schools to have them.