School Culture and Climate

"School culture and climate have a profound effect upon students’ academic achievement and social interactions with peers and adults. Briefly, school climate is how students and staff feel about their school. School culture is why they feel the way they do. A school’s culture is determined by the values, beliefs and behavior of those in the school community and reflects the school’s social norms. Stakeholders in the school include students and their families, teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, parent coordinators, related service providers, school safety agents, cafeteria, custodial and bus staff" (DOE).

Who is the school community?

  • Students and their families
  • Teachers
  • School administators
  • Counselors, Social Workers, Parent Coordinator
  • Service providers
  • School safety personnel
  • Cafeteria staff, Custodial staff, and other school staff
  • Transportation staff
  • Community members
  • Community based organization support staff

Factors affecting school culture

  • Staff expectations of student behavior and academic achievement
  • School policies and procedures
  • Consistent and equitable treatment of all students
  • Equity in, and access to, resources (budget, space, time, personnel, equipment, supplies, etc.)
  • Equity in, and access to, support services
  • Student and family engagement

Taking a Whole School Approach

"It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.” - John Baptiste Moliére

Each school is expected to promote a positive school culture that promotes interpersonal and inter-group respect among students and between students and staff. To ensure that our schools provide all students with a supportive and safe environment in which to grow and thrive academically and socially requires attention to each of the following facets of a school community:

Social Environment

Interpersonal Relations: Students & Staff

Respect for Diversity

Emotional Well Being and Sense of Safety

Student Engagement

School & Family Collaboration

Community Partnerships

Physical Environment

Building Conditions

Physical Safety

School Wide Protocols

Classroom Management

Behavioral Environment

Physical & Mental Well Being

Prevention & Intervention Services

Behavioral Accountability (Disciplinary and Interventional Responses)

The periodic review of a school’s social environment, physical environment and behavioral environment, expectations and supports enables school leaders and personnel to play an incalculable role in establishing and sustaining school norms that foster a positive culture and climate in which all students can thrive.

The Role of Social Norms

"Not everything that counts can be measured, and not everything that can be measured, counts." - Albert Einstein

The "Grammar of a Society"

Social norms have been called the “grammar of a society” because norms, like the rules that govern a language, delineate what a social group finds acceptable or unacceptable. The social norms of a school community are established based upon the beliefs and expectations that members of the school community have regarding what is acceptable and unacceptable within the context of the school environment. They are spread through the school community by way of policies and protocols, level of access to opportunities and services, stories, equity and standards of accountability, interpersonal and intergroup interactions, choice of language and tone of voice, non-verbal communication (gestures, body language, personal space, eye contact), penalties, formal and informal rituals and ceremonies, use and condition of space, rewards systems, role-model behavior, allocations of resources, etc. In short, a school’s norms are the spoken and unspoken “rules” everyone in the school community knows and which govern how the school “works” (or doesn’t work) for all members of the school community, especially students.

The Impact of Beliefs and Expectations

The impact of beliefs and expectations on students’ academic performance has been well documented. An analogous body of research has also demonstrated the equally powerful impact of beliefs and expectations on behavior. Whether our behavior is: a) motivated by standards we have about our own actions; or b) because we perceive certain actions are approved of by other people; or c) because of our perception of how other people are actually behaving; or d) because of the expectations that people we value have about how we will behave; or e) because we fear some form of exclusion from the group, our actions are influenced by the “social grammar” of our environment.

When we reflect on our own beliefs and expectations about what is acceptable and unacceptable and if we think about the “rules” that govern our social interactions, we begin to see what it means to be literate in both the explicit and implicit norms of our community. We also begin to realize how both adults and peers, at home and in school, influenced our own understanding when we were students of what was acceptable and what was not acceptable at school. Adults in the school should always be aware of their impact as role models and treat others in the school with dignity and respect.

School Connectedness/Student Engagement

Students are the largest group of stakeholders in a school community and its greatest natural resource in creating and sustaining a safe and supportive school environment. School connectedness is defined as the extent to which students feel accepted, valued, respected and included in a school. It is the belief held by students that adults and peers in the school care about their academic progress as well as about them as individuals.

Connecting students to school through various forms of student engagement is integral to creating a positive school culture and climate that effectively fosters students’ academic achievement and social/emotional growth. Providing students with multiple opportunities to participate in a wide range of pro-social activities and, at the same time, bond with caring, supportive adults militates against negative behaviors. Such opportunities, coupled with a comprehensive guidance program of prevention and intervention, provide students with the experiences, strategies and skills, and support they need to thrive.

Equally important, school connectedness is an important protective factor for fostering resiliency in youth. The quality of student life and the level of student engagement or school connectedness may be the best single indicator of potential or current school safety and security concerns as they pertain to student behavior.

Key Resources