What is School Climate?

School climate
refers to factors that contribute to the tone and attitudes of staff and students in school. Positive school climate is associated with well-managed classrooms and common areas, high and clearly stated expectations concerning individual responsibility, feeling safe at school, and teachers and staff that consistently acknowledge all students and fairly address their behavior.

School connectedness refers to students’ school experiences and their perceptions and feelings about school. This includes feeling that they are a part of the school, that adults at school care about them personally, that their learning matters and is a high priority, that they are close to people at school and have supportive relationships with adults, and that teachers and staff consistently treat them with respect.

School climate is related to school connectedness, because without a positive and welcoming school climate, students are unlikely to experience connectedness. Research has found that the most powerful predictors of school connectedness are related to school climate (e.g., Abbott et al, 1998). Climate can be thought of as external assets (things outside of students that predict, indicate, or promote connectedness) whereas connectedness can be thought of as internal assets (students’ feelings, perceptions, and beliefs).

“The safer and more connected students and teachers are, the better our students do.”

– Sammy Crawford, Kenai Peninsula School Board Member

School districts that are intentionally focusing on both academic and school climate issues are seeing success. Many of them are using AASB’s School Climate and Connectedness Survey (SCCS) to collect data that allows them to target specific aspects of climate and connectedness.

In 2012, 28 school districts participated in the SCCS. There were 31,711 valid student responses and 6,484 valid staff responses from 298 schools, illustrating the commitment of districts across Alaska to create safe, caring schools and promote supportive youth-adult relationships.

Alaska now has seven years of statewide data that show a significant improvement in student perceptions of overall climate and connectedness. Climate and connectedness ratings are associated with higher school-wide proficiency rates in reading, writing and math.

“As Alaskans, we know the weather is a big deal. Knowing the forecast can help us prepare for each day. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking out the window; other times we need the long-range forecast. SCCS data has empowered us to move from simply predicting the day’s weather to understanding the patterns that are impacting school climate. With this feedback, we can make informed decisions that will allow us to better serve our students, families, and community.”

 – Deena Paramo, Superintendent Mat-Su Borough

In spring 2012 a Positive School Climate policy (BP 5137) was made available to all Alaska School Districts. This new policy was a result of collaborative efforts amongst school board members attending sessions at the 2011 Fall Boardsmanship Academy and Annual Conference. This policy highlights the connection between student achievement and positive climate, and lays out how school climate can be improved. Recommendations in the policy include supporting strength-based activities such as youth-leadership initiatives, family and community involvement in the school, and using effective classroom management strategies to foster a positive school climate. This policy also supports that districts who adopt this policy participate in the annual School Climate and Connectedness Survey, a transformative tool that measures how students and staff view their school climate and how connected students feel to their school and community.

We recommend that school districts adopt this policy- as district polices are a critical way to improve school climate! By adopting this policy, your district will be supporting activities to promote a positive school climate, which in turn will contribute to student achievement.  Download the policy here. (.doc)

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