Although researchers have been studying school climate in the past century, there still is a wide gap between school enhancement practice, school climate research, and policy. This gap has hindered learners at different levels of education to develop healthily (Fixsen, Naoom, Blase, & Friedman, 2005). In essence, school climate is defined as the character and quality of school life that is founded on trends of individual experiencesand is a reflection ofvalues, norms, interpersonal relationships, goals, learning and teaching practices, as well as the structure of an organization (Anderson, 1982). When the school climate is sustainable and positive, it ensures learning and the development of youths which are crucial for a satisfying, contributive, andproductive experience in a democratic community.
A satisfying school climate upholds policies as well as practices that support individual emotional, social, and physical feelingsby making them feel safe (Lickona, 1996). Teachers, students, and their families work cohesively to establish, contribute and live to a shared school vision. The roles of instructors include modeling and nurturingencourage that emphasizes on the significance of, and fulfilment from, studying (Devaney, O’Brien, Resnik, Keister, &Weissberg, 2006). The school climate is defined by more than a single person’s experience as every participant contributes to the school activities and the caring of the physical surroundings (Brookover, 1982).Unfortunately, the advantagesthat result from a communal and contributive school climate have not been implemented into effective educational policies and practices.
One of the primary reasons that have contributed to this gap is the absence of one comprehensive definition of school climate. Researchers have given many definitions for school climate and the past 100 years have continued to debate the fundamental elements of a satisfying and productive communal school climate. Most researchers focus on the correlation between a school’s community members and the common components such as a school’s goals, values, and norms yet there lacks a consensus on a universal definition for school climate (Thapa, Cohen, Guffey, & Higgins, 2013). Therefore, most school leaders are left with no clear roadmap that can help to improve the school climate as the current definitions do not fully articulate what exactly constitutes school climate.
Secondly, various researchers disagree on how a positive school climate should be assessed. As such, various countries, states, and schools are forced to use assessment tools that have not to be established as reliable and valid. This challenge makes it difficult for schools to capture various components of the school climate and recognize the voices of school members. Thirdly, there is a lack of a process that connects a favorable school climate to its advantageousoutcomes. Some researchers propose that a pleasant and productive school climate contributes to an increased sense of belonging which leads to improved pro-social behaviors. A school with such a climate meets the needs of both learners and educators making them relate well withother school community members as well as are increasingly committed to the goals and mission of the school.
Lastly, the absence of a school climate leadership also largely contributes to the gap between school climate research, practices and policies. When there exist defined and effective leadership roles at the school, district, and state, school climate practices, research and policies can be effectively established and developed (Haggerty, Elgin, & Woolley, 2011). Unfortunately, most school climate development efforts are often isolated within narrower dimensions such as school safety and student health rather than a holistic focus such as school community norms, accountability and beliefs (Weissberg, & O’Brien, 2004). A communal and positive school climate should uphold the trust and support all relationships among society members.
There is a significant need for creating awareness of a positive and communal school climate across the world. Presently, researchers from various parts of the world agree that school climate is a beneficial school improvement strategy as it has the potential to enhance academic excellence, connectedness and positive behaviors in school environments (Mourshed, Chijioke, & Barber, 2010). Countries such as the United States of America, Egypt, Australia, Kenya, Tunisia, and Libya have shown increased initiatives to enhance the school climate.
Presently, the state and the federal government in America has shown great support for school climate reform efforts across the nation. Over the past decades, education inequity has been a persistent reality in the United States which has negatively influenced the efforts of establishing a positive and communal school climate (Freiberg, 2005). Children started to experience racial discrimination as early as kindergarten. Trends show significant academic performance between students which has created a racial achievement gap. In America, the race is primarily intertwined with socioeconomic status making it difficult for students from low-income families to achieve academic excellence. Students from Hispanic, African American, and American Indian racial background are suspended constantly and disciplined severely when compared to the White students thus undermining school climate connectedness (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). Currently, the National School Climate Council campaigns against racial discrimination in schools and has received full support from the government.
Research shows that most nations in the Arab world generally have adverse school climates yet over 40 % of the population is under the age of eighteen (Faour, 2012). In nations such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, learners do not feel safe emotionally, socially or physically. More so, most educators start practicing their profession with insufficient training and preparation in academic and have no access to appropriate and adequate development during their service (Meraviglia, Becker, Rosenbluth, Sanchez, & Robertson, 2003). However, schools have been presently viewed as major political and social actors that can tremendously influence the process of democratization. Creating positive schools climates can be a beneficial move towards developing long-lasting democratic changes, norms, skills and values includingsocial justice, equality, freedom, and respect for fundamental human rights as well as diversity (Orpinas, & Horne, 2006). Decision makers in these countries have urged their governments to support serious, comprehensive education reforms that target school cultures. For instance, governments in Arab countries have improved the qualifications and status of their educators. They also emphasize that schools should establish systems of good governance.
In the last two decades, issues surrounding discipline among learners and violence have become central to education policies in Israel. These issues were entirely absent from policy discussion in the 1990s which made students to be overly violent to each other and the teachers. Students were rarely punished or suspended for their violent behaviors as the policies were anti-punitive (Cornell, & Mayer, 2010). However, in 2009, the Ministry of Education in Israel declared school violence and discipline to be among the top priorities to create a positive social environment (UNICEF, 2006). Although there exist tensions between student’s rights and the establishment of authority in various schools, the nature of violence policies has changed significantly (Hayden, 2009). Presently, the ‘‘zero tolerance’’ policies established by the Ministry of Education have supported educators and principals giving them protection from violent parents and students.
In Kenya, the school climate in terms of intervention and leadership mainly predict schools dropout rates in secondary schools. Schools with mixed gender students experienced high dropout rates as compared to single-sex high schools. Interestingly, the rate of dropout in girl’s schools was higher than in boy’s schools (Astor, Benbenishty, Zeira, &Vinokur, 2002). Research showed that different schools applied different administrative practices that impacted the school climates differently. The application of guidance and counseling in various girls school especially in Turkana, Maara, and Kitui districts was increasingly challenging (Marangu, Bururia, &Njonge, 2012)More so, other factors such as economic status, student characteristics, peer pressure and parental care heavily contributed to school dropouts (Mucherah, Finch, White, & Thomas, 018). The Kenyan government has established policies that ensure all primary school children have access to free education and that there is a 100% graduation rate for students entering secondary schools.
With the increasing awareness of the significance of a communal school climate, the roles carried out by the principals have become increasingly complex. More so, schools across the world have experienced a decrease in central regulations which has led to increased autonomy thus extendingthe principal’s duties (Leithwood, &Riehl, 2003). The number of policies that a principle has to enact as well as the management domains have also increased significantly. Principals are expected to support and empower the school community and help them to create supportive programs that help teachers and parents connect with learners thus creating a positive and satisfying community in which student’s reach their ultimate goals.Today, principals place the learners and teachers before the rules and policies and focus on finding a solution that has positive results in each situation.
Principals can influence the school community to live to the vision and mission of the school. In most schools, teachers and students can barely recite the school mission or vision as these statements either stay unnoticed in the school webpage or closed folders. The principal should ensure that the school’s mission and vision statements are reflected upon and revisited regularly to make sure that the entire school community is genuinely living to these statements (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, &Pickeral, 2009). A good mission and vision statement should emphasize the school’s goals, values and beliefs and provide an overview for the future. Secondly, the principal should implement social-emotional learning programs for educators and learners. A positive school climate ensures that a classroom is a place that supports and serves a learner’s holistic growth physically, psychologically and emotionally. By implementing social-emotional learning, staff members and students learn to be mindful of other people’s challenges, emotions, traumatic experiences and stresses as well as create room for academic achievement.
Thirdly, a principal can influence the school climate by fostering a culture of resilience. A principal can do so by being a role model for teachers and learners on how to react in the face of challenges, setbacks, disputes and stress (Cohen, 2013). According to the National School Climate Center, staff members and learners look to the executive leaders for how to adjust, bounce back, and move forward in challenging times (Bucher, & Manning, 2005). Fourth, a principal should communicate often and openly. Staff members, parents, and learners must stay informed about the school’s operations and goals and include them when making decisions (Gunn, 2018). This will foster a feeling of inclusivity; eliminate hostility, distrust and uncertainty thus creating a positive environment.
Next, a principal should recognize and reward the staff members. Teachers work very hard to ensure that their students do well in class. A leader who routinely recognizes their efforts promotes positive competitiveness and interconnectedness as teachers help each other to become better (Pashiardis, 2000). Sixth, the principal should recognize and appreciate positive behaviors in their students and provide intervention programs for students facing behavioral challenges (Brand, Felner, Shim, Seitsinger, & Dumas, 2003). Principals should move from operating in deficit models that emphasize punishment for recognizing and rewarding positive behaviors to foster success. Seventh, the principle should make the school’s community and brand visible (Gunn, 2018). This can be achieved by placing photographs of best-performing learners and staff members on the board or student’s work on walls. Other ways that a principal can influence a positive school climate include fostering respect for diversity, establishing a string approach for assessment and promoting a healthy physical environment (Hughes, &Pickeral, 2013).
Anderson, C. S. (1982). The search for school climate: A review of the research. Review of educational research, 52(3), 368-420.
Astor, R. A., Benbenishty, R., Zeira, A., &Vinokur, A. (2002).School climate, observed risky behaviors, and victimization as predictors of high school students’ fear and judgments of school violence as a problem. Health Education & Behavior, 29(6), 716-736.
Brand, S., Felner, R., Shim, M., Seitsinger, A., & Dumas, T. (2003). Middle school improvement and reform: Development and validation of a school-level assessment of climate, cultural pluralism, and school safety. Journal of educational psychology, 95(3), 570.
Brookover, W. (1982). Creating effective schools: An in-service program for enhancing school learning climate and achievement. Learning Publications, Inc., PO Box 1326, Holmes Beach, FL 33509 (write for the price).
Bucher, K. T., & Manning, M. L. (2005).Creating safe schools. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 79(1), 55-60.
Cohen, J. (2013). Creating a positive school climate: A foundation for resilience. In Handbook of resilience in children(pp. 411-423). Springer, Boston, MA.
Cohen, J., McCabe, L., Michelli, N. M., &Pickeral, T. (2009). School climate: Research, policy, practice, and teacher education. Teachers college record, 111(1), 180-213.
Cornell, D. G., & Mayer, M. J. (2010). Why do school order and safety matter?. Educational Researcher, 39(1), 7-15.
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