Happy children demonstrate the impact of creating a positive school climate.

11 tips on creating a positive school climate

With the advancement of SEL curriculum, creating a positive school climate has moved to the top of district leaders' to-do lists

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is more than just a curricular add-on–it’s an integral part of helping students learn empathy for their peers and create safe spaces for everyone to learn. Creating a positive school climate goes a long way toward establishing safe and happy learning communities.

Two recent reports from the National School Climate Center (NSCC) offer some real-world examples from schools and insight from thought leaders to support and drive school climate improvements.

The Lessons from the Field report spotlights six school districts’ efforts to create positive school climates, and it also shares best practices to help with creating a positive school climate for all learners.

The Connecting Communities of Courage report recaps a 2017 summit co-hosted by NSCC and Facebook for Education, which brought together 170 education leaders for a discussion on school climate. That discussion focused on safety, engagement, and inclusion, and the report examines what schools can focus on with regard to creating a positive school climate.

Read more: 10 ways we made our school happier

“Creating a positive school climate–one in which students and adults are engaged, supported, and respected–can improve both academic and positive life outcomes for young people. This is the goal of our work at the National School Climate Center,” says Whitney Allgood, NSCC CEO. “The reports provide powerful, thought-provoking insight from a diverse group of school districts and education leaders to support and inform school climate work throughout the country.”

Creating a positive school climate: What the reports say

Lessons from the Field

NSCC worked with six school districts–Center City (D.C.) Public Charter Schools (Washington D.C.), Monroe-Woodbury (NY) School District, Parkway (MO) School District, Schuylkill Technology Centers (PA), Simpson County (KY) Schools, and West Sonoma Union County (CA) High Schools–to develop a collection of best practices for creating a positive school climate and safe, engaging school communities.

Read more: 5 ways we develop SEL in our students

The Lessons from the Field report outlines seven key lessons learned from the school districts during this work:

1. Innovative, collaborative leadership galvanizes school community engagement
2. Committed and trusted adults are necessary catalysts for change and central to student success
3. Confronting the challenge of conflict deepens trust among students and teachers
4. Project-based and service learning stimulate greater inclusion & engagement
5. Social-emotional learning integration enhances classroom practice
6. Representation of all student voices is key to striving towards equity
7. Peer-to-peer support structures instill leadership and strengthen student bonds

The report notes several challenges that still exist, such as addressing socio-political issues, leadership turnover, continuing strong SEL instruction in middle and high school, and engaging the school community. The report also provides guidance for research, policy and practice moving forward.

Connecting Communities of Courage

In 2017, NSCC and Facebook for Education convened a first-of-its kind summit that sought to address the mismatch between the needs of school communities and the policies, research, and resources available to build inclusive, safe, and engaging schools.

The Connecting Communities of Courage report identifies four themes that schools should focus on when creating a positive school climate:

1. Mission: Every school should have or develop a mission that is based on consensus among school community stakeholders, shared and promoted widely, and frequently reviewed and enhanced to ensure alignment across the priorities and programs in the school.

2. Wellness: Schools are responsible for the overall wellness of the school community. This requires that each school’s mission must include a focus on social, emotional, mental and physical wellness for all members of the school community, as well as promoting their will and capacity for positive and productive civic engagement.

3. Innovative implementation of best practices: School leadership teams should look first to what research has shown us to be true when selecting individual and whole school improvement strategies; however, they should also use their knowledge of local context to innovate as necessary to achieve their mission.

4. Integration: Schools should integrate best practices in social and emotional learning and school climate improvement with academic content and instruction.

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Laura Ascione

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