A Resource and Promising Practices Guide for School Administrators & Faculty
SECTION I: SCHOOL CLIMATE AND CULTURE
Establishing and sustaining a school environment free of harassment, bullying, and discrimination should involve an examination of a school’s climate and culture. School climate and culture have a profound impact on student achievement, behavior, and reflects the school community’s culture.
School climate may be defined as the quality and character of school life. It may be based on patterns of student, parent, and school personnel experiences within the school and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures.
Key factors impacting school climate may include, but are not limited to, a person’s perception of their personal safety, interpersonal relationships, teaching, learning, as well as the external environment (http://www.schoolclimate.org/climate). The U.S. Department of Education Office of Safe and Healthy Students (http://safesupportiveschools.ed.gov) Safe and Supportive Schools Model emphasizes the core areas of student/staff/community engagement, safety, physical environment, as well as emotional environment.
A school’s culture is largely determined by the values, shared beliefs, and behavior of all the various stakeholders within the school community and reflects the school’s social norms.A presentation developed by Dr. David Osher and Dr. Chris Boccanfuso for the U.S. Department of Education Safe and Supportive School Technical Assistance Center further demonstrates the interconnectedness of enhanced academic outcomes and a school climate where students feel safe, supported, academically challenged, and socially capable. See: http://safesupportiveschools.ed.gov/reader.php?upload=/20110303_PresentationFinal 21011SSSTASchoolClimateWebinarpublic.pdf
The following provides a guide to identifying the key stakeholders in a school – as it directly relates to school climate and culture.
|Who is the School Community?||Factors affecting school culture|
SCHOOL CLIMATE AND CODES OF CONDUCT
Establishing behavioral expectations for students, staff, and visitors that encourage a positive and respectful school climate and culture are essential to creating and maintaining a safe and supportive school community.
Commissioner’s regulation §100.2(l)(2)(ii)(b) reflects the Dignity Act’s requirement that boards of education create policies, procedures and guidelines intended to create a school environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination (see Education Law §13).
A WHOLE SCHOOL APPROACH – BUILDING STUDENT READINESS
There is an expectation that schools promote a positive school culture that encourages interpersonal and inter-group respect among students and between students and staff. To ensure that schools provide all students with a supportive and safe environment in which to grow and thrive academically and socially, each of the following facets of a school community must be considered:
• Interpersonal Relations: Students & Staff
• Respect for Diversity
• Emotional Well Being and Sense of Safety
• Student Engagement
• School & Family Collaboration
• Community Partnerships
• Building Conditions
• Physical Safety
• School Wide Protocols
• Classroom Management
Behavioral Environment, Expectations & Supports
• Physical & Mental Well Being
• Prevention & Intervention Services
• Behavioral Accountability (Disciplinary and Interventional Responses)
The periodic review of a school’s social, physical, and behavioral environments, as well as student and staff expectations and supports enable school leaders and personnel to play a key role in establishing and sustaining school norms that foster a positive culture and climate in which all students can thrive. There are varying school climate models that have been developed by organizations, as well as by other states. Many of these models can be accessed through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools at http://safesupportiveschools.ed.gov. The National School Climate Center, an organization dedicated to helping schools incorporate social and emotional learning with academic instruction, has developed a school climate improvement model based on a cyclical process of preparation, evaluation, understanding the evaluation findings and action planning, implementing the action plan, and re-evaluation and continuing the cycle of improvement efforts. This process enhances student performance; reduces dropout rates, violence, bullying; while developing healthy and positively engaged adults. (http://schoolclimate.org/climate/process.php)
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING
The State Board of Regents affirmed support for social and emotional learning on July 18, 2011 by formally adopting Educating the Whole Child – Engaging the Whole School: Guidelines and Resources for Social and Emotional Development and Learning (SEDL) in New York State www.p12.nysed.gov/sss/sedl/SEDLguidelines.pdf.
In the summary presented to the Board of Regents by State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr., it was noted that “social and emotional development is the ability to understand, manage, and express the social and emotional aspects of one’s life in ways that enable the successful management of life tasks such as learning, forming relationships, solving everyday problems, and adapting to the complex demands of growth and development." (3)
Teaching social and emotional skills is as important as teaching academic skills. Abraham Maslow’s statement, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail,” speaks directly to the fundamental need to provide students with instruction in social/emotional skills as both an overarching prevention strategy and as a primary intervention strategy for children whose “toolkit” of responses needs to be expanded to include appropriate, pro-social strategies for effectively interacting with others.
Schools are encouraged to address prevention and intervention on three levels (Lewis & Sugai 1999; Sugai et al 2000, Walker et al 1996):
- Primary (universal) prevention to promote pro-social development and prevent problems
- Secondary prevention to address the needs of at-risk students as soon as possible when behavioral incidents occur
- Tertiary prevention that provides applicable interventions to students with chronic and/or severe problems.
Prevention and intervention continuum to promote healthy, adaptive and pro-social behaviors
Walker et al 1996
Some Guiding Questions to Consider When Examining These Factors
Social and emotional learning helps students develop fundamental and effective life skills, including: recognizing and managing emotions; developing caring and concern for others; establishing positive relationships; making responsible decisions; and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically. Such skills help prevent negative behaviors and the disciplinary consequences that may result when students do not live up to behavioral standards.
A strictly punitive or reactive approach to inappropriate student behavior is neither the intent of the Dignity Act, nor has it been proven effective in reducing incidents. Rather it is recommended that strategies such as prevention, intervention, and graduated/progressive discipline be considered in addressing and correcting inappropriate behavior, while re-enforcing pro-social values among students.
Students are the largest group of stakeholders in the school and its greatest resource in creating and sustaining a safe and supportive school environment. Student engagement is absolutely essential in creating a positive school culture and climate that effectively fosters student academic achievement and social/emotional growth. The quality of student life and the level of student engagement may be the best single indicator of potential or current school safety and security concerns as they pertain to student behavior.
Providing students with multiple opportunities to participate in a wide range of pro-social activities and, at the same time, bond with caring, supportive adults mitigates against negative behaviors are key to promoting a safe and supportive school. Such opportunities, coupled with a comprehensive guidance program of prevention and intervention, provide students with the experiences, strategies and skills, and support they need to thrive.
Student and staff access to school library and classroom materials which address human relations in the areas of race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity or expression), or sex may also promote an environment in which social/emotional growth can be nurtured and thrive.
General resources to assist school administrators, teachers, and the Dignity Act Coordinator in addressing the needs of students are in Appendix C of this guide.
The Dignity Act states that “[n]o student shall be subjected to harassment or bullying by employees or students on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function…” (Education Law §12).
Whether a student is being bullied himself/herself or has witnessed another student being bullied, s/he needs to feel empowered, comfortable, and safe reporting such an incident to school faculty or staff. Specifically, the Dignity Act requires that boards of education create policies, procedures and guidelines that enable students and parents to make oral and/or written reports of harassment, bullying or discrimination to teachers, administrators, and other school personnel that the school district deems appropriate (Education Law §13[b]).
Even with such policies in place, a student who has been bullied may still hesitate in seeking help from an adult. Since the Dignity Act applies to both student-to-student and faculty/staff-to-student behavior, it is important to keep in mind that the student may have been harassed or bullied by a school employee. In a case such as this, the issues of empowerment and trust are that much more critical – and the objectivity and approachability of the person the student confides in is absolutely essential.
The U.S. Department of Education has developed an on-line toolkit designed to assist educators in addressing issues related to incidents of bullying by Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment in Our Nation’s Classrooms. This program points out that students may not report bullying due to a variety of reasons ranging from the humiliation they already feel from having been bullied and the fear that reporting the behavior will only worsen this, to feelings of isolation and a belief that no adult will believe and/or help them address the situation.
To assist students who may be bullied, the Dignity Act includes a requirement that boards of education create policies, procedures and guidelines that require each school to provide all students, school employees, and parents with an electronic or written copy of the district’s Dignity Act policies, including notification of the process by which they may report harassment, bullying, and discrimination (Education Law §13[k]).
School and District Practice and Policies
A school’s culture may be the single most important factor in preventing, limiting, and/or dealing with bullying and cyberbullying incidents. Educators need to work diligently to create school cultures that value and teach respect for all. The most positive school cultures are culturally sensitive and model positive behavioral interactions.
Potential strategies available to create a comprehensive response to bullying and cyberbullying include policies and programs that address school climate; Code of Conduct; Internet Safety and Accepted Use Policies which comply with the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act; and the analysis of Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports (VADIR).
- School culture: NYSED, in conjunction with the New York State Office of Mental Health, has developed Guidelines and Resources for Social and Emotional Development and Learning (SEDL) in New York State. This document, and other SEDL resources to assist schools in developing positive school climates and cultures, can be found at www.p12.nysed.gov/sss/sedl/.
- Code of Conduct: All public school districts must adopt and provide for the enforcement of a written Code of Conduct for the maintenance of order on school property and at school functions. The Code of Conduct must govern the conduct of students, teachers, other school personnel and visitors (see Education Law §2801 and Commissioner’s Regulation 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][i]).
For specific information on Dignity Act Amendments affecting the Code of Conduct see “Guidance for Updating Codes of Conduct” at:
An age-appropriate summary of the Code of Conduct must be provided to all students at a school assembly at the beginning of each school year; a plain-language summary of the Code of Conduct must be mailed to all persons in parental relation to students before the beginning of each school year; each teacher must be provided with a copy of the complete code of conduct and a copy of any amendments as soon as practicable following initial adoption or amendment of the code; and each new teacher must be provided with a complete copy of the current code upon their employment (see Education Law §2801; 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][iii][b]). This also provides an opportunity for school personnel to both review the Code of Conduct with students and parents and identify possible gaps in policy, practices, and procedures.
The Code of Conduct must be reviewed annually and updated if necessary, taking into consideration the effectiveness of code provisions and the fairness and consistency of its administration (see Education Law §2801[a] and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][iii][a]). This annual review provides an opportunity to assess whether the Code of Conduct needs to be revised to address, among other things, the use of new forms of technology on school grounds and/or at school functions by students, teachers, other school personnel and visitors. A district may establish a committee to facilitate the review of its Code of Conduct and the district’s response to Code of Conduct violations (see Education Law §2801[a] and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][iii][a]). The review team/committee must include student, teacher, administrator, and parent organizations, school safety personnel and other school personnel (Education Law §2801[a] and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][iii][a]). Such committee might also include school staff, community members, and law enforcement officials. It is also recommended that individuals with strong technology skills and a thorough understanding of how students, teachers, and staff are using technology be recruited to assist in the review of the Code of Conduct. This will help ensure that the Code of Conduct reflects current and anticipated challenges that have been created or are anticipated through the evolution of technology. In addition, prior to board adoption of the updated code of conduct a public hearing must be held to inform the community about the proposed changes and receive input.
The Code of Conduct is an ideal document in which to establish expectations and consequences for student and staff conduct regarding internet safety and the use of technology while on school grounds and/or at school functions. Teachers must be provided with a complete copy of the Code of Conduct (8 NYCRR §100.2[l][iii][b]) and complete copies of the Code of Conduct must also be made available for review by students, persons in parental relation to students, and other community members (see Education Law §2801 and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][iii][b]). The complete Code of Conduct, including any annual updates or other amendments, must be posted on the school district’s website, if one exists (8 NYCRR §100.2[l][iii][b]).
(3) Elias, M., Zins, J., Weissberg, P., Frey, K., Haynes, N., Kessler, R., Schwab-Stone, M., Shriver, T., (1997) Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.