School Climate Impacts Learning
A growing body of research demonstrates that a strong school climate is associated with positive youth development, effective risk prevention and health promotion efforts, student learning and academic achievement, increased graduation rates, and teacher retention.(1) As defined by the California Department of Education and WestEd, “school climate refers to the conditions or quality of the teaching and learning environment–as created by the community of people involved, their values, beliefs, and interpersonal relationships, and the physical setting itself–that affect the subjective school experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and performance of both students and staff. A positive school climate is one that is supportive, safe, caring, challenging, and participatory for all.”(2)
In California, 42% of 9th graders do not perceive school to be either a safe or very safe place for them to spend their time: over the past year, 37% reported that they had been made fun of because of how they look or talk, 39% reported that mean lies or rumors had been spread about them, and 46% reported that they had been the recipient of sexual comments, gestures, or jokes–while 30% reported being pushed, shoved, or hit and 21% reported being in a physical fight.(3) In addition, fewer than 50% of 9th graders experience high levels of other important features of a positive school climate: high expectations (47%); caring adult relationships at school (30%); and meaningful school participation (13%).(4) Given its well-documented impact on student health and learning, as well as on teacher retention, improvements to school climate are a clear priority.
To learn more about the research on school climate and its impact on student learning, see this 2010 brief from the National School Climate Center (formerly the Center for Social and Emotional Education).
School-Based Health Centers Can Play a Role
School-based health centers (SBHCs) and other school health professionals can play an important role in enhancing school climate, particularly in improving student behavior and rethinking disciplinary approaches. Recently, many schools have begun to move away from zero-tolerance disciplinary policies and to acknowledge the social, emotional, and physical factors that shape student behavior. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an increasingly popular approach. It engages all stakeholders—including teachers, administrators, service providers, and families—in actively teaching and reinforcing expected behavior. PBIS prompts schools to identify and meet student needs that manifest as inappropriate behavior, reducing serious problems and improving overall climate.
Mental health specialists and other school health staff can be integral to the assessment process, through which the underlying causes of a student’s disruptive behavior are identified. SBHCs can also lead the implementation of alternative behavioral interventions, such as anger management sessions, leadership development programming, individual and group counseling sessions, and peer support groups. According to the Center for School, Health and Education at the American Public Health Association, SBHCs have a “natural role” and are a “powerful ally” in efforts to improve school climate.(5)
Resources for Practice
For tools to help you contribute to enhanced school climate, see School Climate Resources.
To read about SBHCs that are enhancing school climate, see School Climate Case Studies.
To learn more about how SBHCs can maximize their impact on student achievement, including through contributing to enhanced school climate, see our Ready, Set, Success! toolkit.
(1) Center for Social and Emotional Education. (2010). School Climate Research Summary: January 2010.http://www.schoolclimate.org/climate/documents/SCBrief_v1n1_Jan2010.pdf.
(2) WestEd. (2010). Workbook for Improving School Climate and Closing the Achievement Gap: Using your California Healthy Kids and & California School Climate Surveys. http://www.wested.org/online_pubs/WB_1221_allv5.pdf.
(3) WestEd. (2010). California Healthy Kids Survey: Weighted Statewide Secondary 2008-2010 Main Report. http://chks.wested.org/resources/Secondary_State_0810_Main.pdf.
(4) WestEd. (2010). California Healthy Kids Survey: Weighted Statewide Secondary 2008-2010 Main Report. http://chks.wested.org/resources/Secondary_State_0810_Main.pdf.
(5) Center for School, Health and Education, at the American Public Health Association. (2011). School Climate, School Success and the Role of School-Based Health Care. http://www.schoolbasedhealthcare.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/APHA4_article_SchoolClimate_9_14_FINALlores.pdf.