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6 Ways to Improve School Culture and Climate for All Students

School plays an important part in the formative years of a child’s life, and then through to their development as a teen. A school’s culture and climate can have a huge impact on a child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. Whether you’re in a position to make a difference in school culture and climate, like a principal or school executive, or studying a Master of Education in Leadership to attain the required qualifications for those roles—it’s essential to understand the meaning of school culture and climate, and how it can be improved.

The terms school ‘culture’ and ‘climate’ are often used interchangeably but have separate definitions. A school’s culture refers to the long-term physical and social environment, as well as the shared values and beliefs that the school’s students and faculty hold. In comparison, a school’s climate refers to the individual thoughts and feelings that a student, teacher, or other staff member might have towards the school. The best way to describe the difference is that the climate is the “attitude or mood” while the school culture is the “personality or beliefs”. Both are just as important as each other, with the climate being a metric for how people feel towards the school, and the culture being how they act.

Research has shown that school climate can impact bullying and delinquent behaviour. For example, at a school that fosters a positive climate with strong teacher support—students experienced less bullying. In turn, when a student is bullied, there is an increased likelihood of delinquent behaviours. So, what can school leaders do to improve school culture and climate for students to provide a safer environment?

6 Ways to Improve School Culture and Climate for All Students

01.  Clear school values and goals

Positive school culture and climate don’t just happen, it has to be worked towards by the staff and students. By creating clear school values and rules, both students and staff members will know what to strive towards. By clarifying your school’s specific behavioural and educational objectives, it can be adopted more easily by the people in the environment.

A great way to do this is by creating a concise mission statement for your school, which includes key objectives and values. If you’re struggling to write a mission statement, a great idea is to include the broader school district, key members, and the community. Schedule a meeting and include their views when creating a mission statement along with outlining the school’s key values.

02. Hold regular assemblies and school events

Hosting school-wide events and assemblies is a good opportunity to increase school pride and create a sense of togetherness. For example, assemblies are a great way to create a sense of belonging, ignite school spirit, and communicate a school’s core values.  A few examples of some school-wide events could include events like Sports Day, which includes all year levels, or community fundraisers.

03. Encourage ‘mentoring’ between students

A great way to break down student hierarchies and foster positive relationships between year levels is through mentoring. Set up mentoring programs or encourage older students to befriend younger students. It can build lifelong friendships, empower students, improve school culture, and help ease anxieties that new students might have at school. For example, the older schoolmate can help with any questions the new student might have, show them around the school, and make sure they’re settling into the new environment comfortably.

04. Publicly recognise and reward student achievements

Everyone loves to feel appreciated when they do something positive. Research shows that even small rewards for positive behaviour or achievements can boost motivation and also be used to positively change behaviour.

Recognising student achievements can come in many forms, such as announcements at assemblies, work displayed in public areas, or a certificate for an achievement. Privileges to reward good behaviour could include parking spots (for high school), special lunch options, or extended frees. Frequently rewarding student behaviour can help change their attitude towards the school, improving the culture and instating the school’s values.

05. Supporting staff members

Improving school culture and climate doesn’t just begin and end with students—it also includes the teachers and other members of the faculty. It’s important that staff members feel properly appreciated and have the right support systems in place for when they need it. If a staff member has a negative attitude towards the school or isn’t enthusiastic about teaching—how do you think that makes their students feel? 

To ensure teachers remain committed to their job, it’s the role of the school principal and other leadership roles to ensure that staff feedback is closely listened to and show support when issues arise. It’s also critical to ensure there are proper systems in place to deal with teaching burnout and mental health issues if they ever require it.

Accepting and encouraging diversity

Statistics from the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital estimate that 1 in 20 children have ADHD, with more than that figure having some type of disorder that can impact learning. Every school needs to foster a supportive culture and climate for all students, including those who require different learning styles.

It’s important to accept and properly educate staff as well as students about different learning styles, and provide adequate support for those who need it. It’s also essential to ensure that people from diverse backgrounds or communities also feel accepted and encouraged in the school. If a student doesn’t feel safe in their environment and among their peers, they can struggle with motivation and learning, as it’ll negatively impact their thoughts about the school.

All schools should strive towards more positive school cultures and climates, for staff and students alike. A positive school climate has been shown to contribute towards the success of students, learning, and development. Positive learning environments have also been shown through research to be beneficial when it comes to trust between students and teachers, as well as in scenarios such as bullying and delinquent behaviour. It also shows an increase in student motivation, preventing school dropout, decreasing teacher turnover, and improving teacher satisfaction.

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