Evaluating School Climate
Each year Healthy School Communities exhibits and presents conference sessions about the Healthy School Report Card (HSRC), an action tool that addresses the health and well-being of students and staff. It provides the basis for a school improvement plan that moves toward a whole child approach.
However, many times we do not have the opportunity to fully discuss the details of each of the 11 characteristics of healthy school communities, which cover not only health and well-being but also effective teaching and learning. Because this week was No Name-Calling Week, let's highlight a key indicator in the tool that could help school communities evaluate the climate in the school that might lend to name-calling and bullying.
Characteristic 3: Social and Emotional Climate
The culture in my school is conducive to making students, families, and staff members feel safe, secure, accepted, and valued.
When students feel connected to school, they are more likely to be engaged in the school and the classroom. They more often feel a part of their school and its staff. Research shows they are also more likely to achieve academically and less likely to drop out of school and less likely to engage in risk-taking behavior.
The indicators in this section of the report card assess the overall climate in the school and within the classroom setting. Administrators and teachers looking to improve or change the culture within their buildings and classrooms are asked questions about the expectations of students and staff, ownership and bonding, conduct and discipline, opportunities for students to learn, classroom tone, student self-management, and classroom management.
Schools using the HSRC survey a diverse sample when collecting the data for the analysis. Many times what you think is true about a policy or practice may not actually be the culture or norm in the school. When the expectations of students and staff are clear and presented in as many forms and venues as possible (e.g., staff meetings, PTA meetings, trainings, announcements, newsletters, e-mails), there is less chance for confusion or misunderstandings. However, there are times when things are not so clear-cut, and opinions or perspectives may vary from individual to individual or group to group. In these instances, it is important to get as wide a view point as possible from all stakeholders—students, staff, nonteaching staff, families, and local community partners.
For example, the first indicator under the social and emotional climate characteristic relates to the overall school climate and the expectations for students and staff: Students are taught and expected to practice sound coping, anger management, negotiation, and communication skills.
The first question asked about this statement in the HSRC is, "To what extent does the standard set by this indicator appear in your school?" Possible answers are "does not exist," "partially met," "fully met," or "exceeds." Responses may vary by responder because of their different experiences and perspectives. For example
- Students might answer partially met, because they know about peer mediation in the school.
- Parents might answer does not exist, because their children are being called names and bullied.
- Teachers might answer fully met, because they handed out the notice to students about the school's policy on bullying and posted classroom rules about students respecting themselves and each other.
- And, lastly, the principal might answer exceeds, because he or she created the bullying policy and had the administrative assistant distribute and collect signed policies from students and staff.
There are times when responses to the question differ, just like the example given above. To accurately assess the current state, it is crucial to have input from all sides instead of just one. From these perspectives, schools are better able to see the complete picture of each characteristic.
Many schools have incorporated organized orientations to help foster appropriate climate in their schools. This is where they learn about the expectations for conduct, such as the bullying policy, and the norms and culture of the school. It is also another way of creating opportunities for students to connect to the school and staff. The older students have an opportunity to lead and set the tone and hold each other accountable for their conduct. The younger and new students are able to resolve any fears or concerns about coming into a new school.
There are schools that have recognized that entering a new school is a transition time for parents as well, and they offer family seminars and workshops. This way schools ensure that the families are getting the same message as their students and they are given information about how to best support their student at that particular stage. The outcome is a more supportive and healthier school climate for students to learn and staff to work.
Healthy School Communities is a worldwide ASCD effort to promote the integration of health and learning and the benefits of school-community collaboration. It is part of a large, multiyear plan to shift public dialogue about education from a narrow, curriculum-centric and accountability system focus to a whole child approach that encompasses all factors required for successful student outcomes. Visit the Healthy School Communities group on ASCD EDge and share everything from ideas and solutions to common concerns.