If You Want Great Schools, Build Great School Climates

Seeds don’t grow in bad soil.

It doesn’t matter how much water or sunlight you give them or how much you drown them in Miracle-Gro. If you plant a seed in rocky soil, don’t expect much to happen.

School climate — characterized by high expectations, positive relationships, student engagement, and more — is the soil that can make or break student performance.

A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute explains that teachers who have positive relationships with their coworkers, for example, tend to stick around longer in schools.

And in schools where student voice is celebrated, students’ feedback on teacher quality can actually predict test scores better than teachers or administrators.

There’s even a correlation between positive school environments and decreased rates of absenteeism, suspensions, and substance abuse.

The message is clear: If you want a great school, start by building a great school climate.

Effective Principals Build Great School Climates

Administrators know that better than anyone.

In addition to their more rigid job requirements, like developing budgets, managing discipline, building relationships with parents, spearheading events, and supporting teachers, principals are the safeguards of school climate and culture.

That may sound hokey, but for students and staff, school climate matters.

It matters for parents like Tracy Dell’Angela, who says that school climate and culture are the rest of the “story” that parents need to choose the right school for their kids.

It matters for Philly teacher Zachary Wright, who’s not afraid to spill the tea about what it was like to work in a school with no accountability.

And it matters for award-winning teacher and author Tom Rademacher, who explains how good teachers quit principals, not jobs.

All of those are components of school climate and I just don’t see how a school can be effective without them.

And all of those factors, as it turns out, are largely shaped by administrators. A school is only as effective as its leadership.

School Climate Is a Predictor Of Success

It’s not just about warm and fuzzy feelings — school climate is a legitimate indicator of a school’s success.

“Students who feel connected to their school are more likely to graduate and move on to successful postsecondary educational and career opportunities,” explains Beth Doll, a school psychology professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Students aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from positive relationships and trusting environments, either.

Teachers need an atmosphere of trust and collegiality as well. Teaching isn’t a job you can do alone — it takes a lot of collaboration and teamwork.

If good teachers are leaving, student achievement suffers.

Likewise, parents indicate that their perceptions of school climate play a big role in determining how deeply they will get involved with their child’s school. That involvement can help boost morale and students’ test scores, research shows.

Successful schools bring everyone to the table and make them feel welcome. It’s like planting seeds — if you want to build stronger schools, focus on the conditions that will allow them to flourish.

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