How to Create a Positive School Climate Part 2

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Three steps to a positive climate

When building a positive school climate, it’s important to remember that there is no magic formula—much will depend on the leaders’ values and vision and how much everyone else gets on board with those things.

It starts with trust, which researchers say is an essential prerequisite to a more positive climate. The following steps are in part designed to build trust, mainly by giving teachers, staff, and students some say in the process—and leaders who guide the process must never miss an opportunity to prove themselves trustworthy and to facilitate trust-building between stakeholders.

Here are some research-based suggestions for school leaders on how to start cultivating a positive school climate:

1) Assess the current climate. You have to know where you’re starting from in order to know where to go. And for those on your staff who might be less-than-enthusiastic about creating a positive school climate, asking them about their current experience will help get them on board because they’ll feel like their voice is being heard. Also be sure to include everyone’s voices: teachers, other school staff, students, parents—and your own.

There are a number of ways to assess your school climate. The Safe and Supportive Schools website provides a list of validated survey instruments—some of which are free. However, I would caution against relying on just a survey.

According to Edgar Schein, one of the foremost organizational psychology experts, a survey will not reveal people’s underlying assumptions and beliefs which have a profound effect on the school climate—and those are what you need to understand in order to effect real change. On surveys, people can interpret the questions differently. For example, the statement, “I believe this school is headed in the right direction” could be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Also, it is very difficult to know which questions to ask on a survey and how deeply a person feels about a particular area.

Schein suggests meeting in small groups to examine together the school’s climate. He outlines a simple method in his book The Corporate Culture Survival Guide that is easily adaptable to schools. (Note: researchers consider climate and culture to be two different constructs. However, the National School Climate Council’s definition above combines the two.)

Individual interviews are also another way to get a sense of the school climate, and should be conducted by someone outside the school to ensure honesty and impartiality, e.g., a consultant or local grad student in organizational psychology.

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