“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou
As we get older, we may find it challenging to remember all our teachers’ names, the many lesson activities we participated in, our school song, or even the school’s pledge. However, it’s hard to forget those teachers who made us believe in ourselves or even the teachers who were not as kind to us as we would have liked.
School experiences that are connected to strong emotions can stay with us forever. Etched into our memories, they become defining moments in our lives as we grow and mature.
What is School Climate?
These emotionally charged experiences form each person’s understanding of the school organization. These experiences are puzzle pieces that fit together to create a school’s climate.
Thus school climate is much larger than one person’s experience in a school. It comprises of the commonalities, trends, and patterns experienced by a group of those who are connected to the school. In essence, school climate is the personality of a school as experienced by the people who make up the school.
How Does School Climate Affect Teachers and Staff?
School climate and culture affects teachers and staff every day and influences practically every aspect of their work including physical and mental health. Individuals who are healthy, physically and mentally, naturally perform at optimum levels and achieve high levels of success even when faced with difficulties.
Likewise, teachers and staff who work in schools with unhealthy school climates and are not motivated to perform often seek ways to avoid coming to the school or contribute to the dysfunction. Over time, schools with unhealthy climates become toxic or hostile work environments.
Strategies for Creating a Healthy, Positive School Climate
Ensure School is a Safe Space
Safety is highly vital and must be the top priority every day in schools. Students, parents, teachers, and staff must feel protected from dangers and potential threats at all times. This also includes the maintenance, upkeep of the school building, and school crisis plans. The building must be physically equipped to protect everyone and free from mechanical or other technical problems that threaten safety.
As vital as it is, external and internal safety is only half of what it takes to ensure that a school is a safe space. A school that functions as a safe space must also be a place where students, staff, teachers, and parents can express themselves without fear of rejection, attack, or bullying. Regardless of their race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, academic accomplishments, talents, religion, or sexual orientation, all people should feel like valued members of the school and are respected the same.
Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate!
An old saying states, “It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise its own pond.” The same is true for a poor school climate that does not involve celebration, especially by the school principal. Celebrating is one of the quickest ways to change the climate of a school; individuals need to be acknowledged for their accomplishments or the special moments in their lives.
There is always a reason to celebrate in a school, from celebrating student birthdays, student performance on tests, teachers getting married, parents volunteering, or even custodians going the extra mile. When staff are celebrated, they are motivated to give their all and help others succeed.
A school’s climate is only as strong as the relationships that have been established between its members. Weak relationships produce weak school climate. Everyone knows when connections are not genuine; superficial relationships look good to onlookers, but they feel cold and empty.
When the school is full of authentic and vibrant relationships, you begin to see positive core values such as empathy, respect, kindness, appreciation, and acceptance in action. Collaboration and teamwork will come easy when the relationships are strong and healthy.
There are daily occurrences that threaten a positive school climate. When these occurrences are ignored or never addressed, they quickly weaken the school climate. Teachers who are always late, toxic parents, unruly students or staff members who incite disagreements can quickly shift the school climate from positive to negative. Sometimes it is believed that if you do not address these behaviors they will go away on their own.
However, many times the opposite happens. Instead of these behaviors going away, they tend to grow into more significant issues when they aren’t addressed. They must be addressed quickly and consistently. Even if they are not resolved quickly, when everyone sees that the behaviors are not tolerated, they continue to believe in the school’s core values.
Although it may be impossible to have every person at the school engaged at the same level of intensity, it is possible to ensure that everyone is engaged at some level. Often schools have the same groups of students, teachers, and parents that do all the work. The problem with this is that you never truly capitalize on the strengths of the majority of the people.
You also run the risk of burning out the individuals who have been doing the brunt of the work. This can create toxic cliques, cause equity issues, or exclude people. Opportunities should be provided for everyone to get involved, and efforts should be made to reach those who may not volunteer to be engaged in the work.
Intentionally Create Positive Moments
As stated earlier, when we reflect on our childhood, we may not remember the specific lessons taught in class or remember all the names of our classmates. However, we never forget those joyous moments. Schools with positive school climates reflect the strategic planning of events designed to leave lasting positive impressions on the lives of students, parents, teachers, and staff.
This may include fun school traditions, memorable field trips, heartfelt family engagement programs, or encouraging community service projects. These experiences create positive moments that become etched into people’s minds within the school. In turn, these positive moments perpetuate a school climate that thrives throughout generations.