A Resource and Promising Practices Guide for School Administrators & Faculty
SECTION I: SCHOOL CLIMATE AND CULTURE
Establishing and sustaining a school environment free of discrimination and harassment
involves taking a close look at a school’s climate and culture. School climate and culture
have a profound impact on student achievement, behavior, and reflects the school
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 climate may include, but are not limited to, one’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
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 therefore, socially capable. See:
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 school climate and culture are central to a safe and supportive school community.
The Board of Regents amended the existing regulation addressing codes of conduct (Commissioner’s Regulation 8 NYCRR §100.2(l)) to reflect the Dignity Act’s principles that all students have the right to attend school in an environment free of discrimination and harassment.
A WHOLE SCHOOL APPROACH – BUILDING STUDENT READINESS
Schools are expected to 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 school 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 a number of organizations, as well as by other states. Many of these 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 drop out 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 when 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 cited 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.”(1)
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.
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 (http://www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact/appendixc) of this guide.
(1). 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.