Strengthening School Climate and 5 Steps to Starting the Year Off Right
As we start each new school year, we review our commitment to caring about our students and doing all we can to ensure they come to school feeling welcome, safe and connected to caring adults.
Current trends, research and legislation all endorse the importance of school climate as a foundation 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 wealth 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 attain the four positive school climate outcomes outlined by Professor McLaughlin, our CSC (Coordinator of School Climate) Team begins every year with five crucial steps. We assess, build buy-in, plan, implement and measure to continually improve our school climate. 1. Assess – We implement assessments throughout the year to understand what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing in safety and attendance initiatives, discipline policies and practices, our PBS climate improvement program. These on-going assessments are our best opportunity to include representatives from all key stakeholder groups perspectives and buy-in; 2. Build Buy-In – Inclusion. Because we want our staff to embrace school climate as a predictor of positive educational outcomes, we use “fair process”. We make sure to invite their dialogue, encourage healthy discourse and support the voices anyone currently “not on board”. We model the importance of relationships and the belief that differences of views can be addressed and resolved in a constructive manner. We consistently increase acceptance of decisions that may not be initially accepted by everyone. 3. Plan – Our comprehensive, detailed plan outlines specific goals and actions that include processes and procedures that end zero-tolerance and other punitive measures, while increasing restorative practices, student leadership and bystander intervention empowerment, Social Emotional Learning programs, and reducing suspension and expulsion. 4. Implement – Our schools began successful implementation of PBIS by communicating the vision and plan to our team of diverse stakeholders. We keep people in the loop throughout the year. Ongoing communication and training to carry out our plan is critical to our continued success. We strive to ensure that staff, teachers, students, families and our community feels confident, competent, included and valued. 5. Measure – When all is said and done, we know that data drives decisions. By starting with comprehensive baseline data, we have been able to see clearly from year to year what’s working, what’s not and where our best opportunities are for improvement. Data is our best friend for gaining greater buy-in and making effective, efficient decisions for positive school climate.
These are the critical steps that help us start the year off on the right foot, ensuring the success and long-term sustainability of our school climate improvement efforts outlined in our LCAP plan and Common Core implementation. For more information, contact your school site Coordinator of School Climate (CSC). Another school climate resource is: www.community-matters.org