School Climate NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt
The principal is primary in establishing the climate of the school. The school climate reflects the effectiveness of the spiritual and scholastic growth taking place in the school. The climate, good or bad, is determined by the school spirit demonstrated by the students, by esprit de corps on the part of the staff, and by the communication program between administration, staff, students, parents, and the local community.
Because school climate affects teacher productivity, the instructional quality received by students will generally be affected. Following are some of the effective principal’s roles in fostering and sustaining a positive school climate:
Why is School Climate Important?
Barbara Davis | Superintendent of Education, Southeastern Conference of SDA
Ahs parents hustle and bustle to secure a place for their children to grow and learn there are certain things they take into consideration. Some of these are not usually mentioned; however, they are a priority for most parents. A primary thing parents judge in a school is its climate. What is the school climate? Merriam-Webster defines the word climate as, “the prevailing influence or environmental conditions characterizing a group or period: Atmosphere;” therefore, it is fair to say that school climate is the overall quality and atmosphere of school life.
One may ask why is school climate important? Schools are learning communities. Each of these communities have people occupying the environment daily for an average of seven to eight hours a day. There are certain norms and values that must be cultivated and if the climate of the school is unhealthy then the quality of school life will reflect negatively in the students, instructional and support staff, and parents. As students grow and learn they grow best in an environment that fosters the development of a person’s interpersonal skills as they build relationships.
A school’s climate is reflective of each student’s spiritual, academic, social, physical, and emotional growth. It also mirrors the way teaching and learning is carried out daily. Here are a few questions to ask to see if a school’s climate is healthy:
Students’ health, safety, and wellbeing are paramount for school climate. Additionally, teachers must feel valued and the entire learning community must have clear goals and objectives by which they operate. Teachers must buy-in into the overall mission and philosophy of the learning environment and should be given a voice in the decision making for areas that affect their instructional duties, student learning, and the school environment.
School climate is the catalyst for any and every institute of learning and must not be taken lightly. The character of the school is its climate and it sets the tone for the organization’s strength and structure where goals and values are cultivated to ensure the seamless and effective operation of the school. A positive school climate is optimum for school functioning and stability.
Leading the Journey: School Climate
Murray Cooper | Associate Superintendent
for Administration, Florida Conference of SDA
Perusing through the Principals’ Handbook, one could easily make the argument that any one of seven topics listed in the leadership section is the most important. The focus of this month’s edition is on school climate, so please consider this a very important part of the leadership responsibilities at your school.
When the handbook was created, it was quickly realized that extensive manuals could be written for each of the topics, and so with intention, the focus in the Principals’ Handbook is to bring awareness through a brief description to all principals on the importance of these components for school success.
Please take a look at the brief summary in the handbook regarding school climate to remind you of the scope of school climate. “Involving students, staff, parents, and the community to create and sustain a safe learning environment.” As with all topics in the handbook, you, as principal, are the primary force in the creation of the climate in your school.
In 2019, safety in schools has become the lead story far too often in news reports with the incidents ranging from gun violence, to bullying and resulting suicides, to young children dying after being forgotten on school buses.
In the Southern Union Tidings magazine, July 2018, James-Johnson, Kossick, and Bralley shared some research from the Barna Group listing the top four priorities of Christian parents when choosing a school and the number one priority was student safety. Coupling the Barna information with the School Climate focus this month, I began thinking about a list of all the safety things that you are responsible for. Failing to take care of one or more of these issues can severely impact the school climate in a negative way, and if parents don’t believe your school is a safe place you will have a hard time building a positive school climate.
Many schools across the division have extensive plans and security in place to increase the safety on campus. Here are questions to think about:
Although this list is not comprehensive it gives a solid foundation to build on to ensure that your school is doing all it can to ensure the safety of the students you serve. We know that parents are very concerned about the safety of their children while at your school. You must do all you can to build that trust and confidence of the safety of your school program with your parent and church stakeholders. It is an important step towards having a healthy school climate.
Climate vs. Culture
Stephanie Cooper | Vice-principal, Forest Lake Education Center
Climate changes, culture stays. This is the guiding mantra of the leadership at Forest Lake Education Center. In a school where it can literally be raining on the front of our campus and sunny in the back, we have learned not to depend too much on climate. Just as our weather can shift so can school climate. School climate is often defined as the patterns and norms that are held by the stakeholders, but stakeholders shift. Students graduate and their parents’ interests follow them, administration and teachers retire and others are hired, and board leadership is voted in or out by constituent churches. The climate shifts with the stakeholders.
Climate is built on individuals and short-term goals. It shifts with emotions and agendas. For example, our last principal focused his energy inward on building teacher morale. He moved the school climate to one of emotional safety and stability. Our current principal focuses outward with the goal of creating bridges in our community. The school climate has shifted to one where collaboration is the driving force towards growth. Both the previous and current climate positively impact Forest Lake Education Center though they are achieving different goals.
Despite this change in climate, the culture at Forest Lake Education Center remains consistent. Our culture is built on one simple question, is it best for our kids?
In a recent board executive committee meeting, a major change to our school was being hashed out with the conference leadership. Picture a room full of the decision makers; on one side conference leadership is asking a stable, happy, functioning school to take a risk while on the other side, the executive committee is considering what makes sense for Forest Lake Education Center. The meeting is productive, but each group definitely has their own goals. Finally, one member asked for clarification as to why we would even consider making such a major change to our school. The proposed change will be hard. As a whole, the board focused on our principal. He simply replied, “Is it best for our kids?” The room was quiet for a moment. Then everyone began to nod. This hard change is best for our kids. The discussion switched from “should we implement?” to “how do we implement?” once we know that it is best for our students. Our culture demands action.
At Forest Lake Education Center, our whole culture is built on answering this one question: “Is it best for our kids?” We ask it in committees and classrooms, on the playground and in planning sessions. As the climate and stakeholders change, our culture at Forest Lake Education Center is constant. Our culture centers us.
MISSION: STRENGTHENING ADVENTIST EDUCATION ONE LEADER AT A TIME
Associate Superintendent for Administration
Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Berit von Pohle, Editor
Pacific Union Conference, Director of Education
Ed Boyatt, Editorial Advisor