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Achieving Stronger School Climate: 5 Key Steps

By now, you understand how vital a positive school climate is to school success.

Throughout this week’s special series on climate, we’ve discussed the role that school climate plays in encouraging student achievement and we’ve offered up some suggestions for how to effectively assess perceptions in your school community.

But how do we take what we know about school climate and use it to affect concrete, long-lasting change in schools?

It’s important to understand that improvements in school climate or public perception don’t happen overnight.

Effective change requires a change in attitude, a commitment to community engagement, and careful strategic planning and execution.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of new policies and initiatives, especially as new rules and regulations from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act begin to take shape in your schools, you’re not alone.

School climate has become such an important issue in schools that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently released a guide to help.

“Research shows that when schools and districts effectively focus on improving school climate, students are more likely to engage in the curriculum, achieve academically, and develop positive relationships,” the authors write.

ED’s Quick Guide on Making School Climate Improvements outlines 5 steps school districts can take to improve the climate in their schools:

1. Create a comprehensive plan of action
Before jumping into anything, create a timeline and strategy for tackling your school climate issues. This includes forming a dedicated team to lead those efforts. It also means thinking through what resources are required to effectively gather data and engage and inform your school community.

Speaking of engagement—it’s important to draft a comprehensive communications plan to ensure your community understands your goals and how their participation can help.

Whenever possible, make sure to align any new school climate initiatives with ongoing strategic school improvement planning measures.

2. Engage stakeholders
No school improvements stick without buy-in from the community.

Invite students, parents, and staff to weigh in on your strategy ahead of time. Kick off a running dialogue between your community and your school district. Do this both in person and online.

Help your community understand your information-gathering process and provide training, so that school leaders can use the data and information collected during school climate surveys to make meaningful change.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to partner with community members and outside organizations to help power your reform efforts.

3. Effectively collect data
How you choose to collect data is as important as the data you collect.

Will you use a survey or focus groups to understand community concerns about school climate? Or, do you have other means of collecting candid feedback from your school community? Maybe a combination of all of the above?

Whatever your approach, make sure you’ve thought through the data-collection process to ensure you’re asking the right questions—and getting reliable answers.

Analyze that data and use it to create a clear plan of action, or to otherwise inform ongoing strategic initiatives. Let your community see and comment on the findings

4. Set your strategy
You have data and input from your school community. Now, it’s time to develop interventions that lead to lasting change.

Review all current and past reform efforts. For example, did your last teacher training program improve student attitudes? Was that the goal? If so, you might choose to continue that work. If not, the data might be telling you to try something new.

Decide what’s possible. Then, with input from your school community, develop next steps to turn your plans into a reality.

5. Evaluate your progress
Don’t get ahead of yourself. It’s important to understand that not every action you take will lead to a stronger school climate—not right away.

That’s why you need to constantly assess your progress.

This means having a community-wide dialogue about school climate and constantly gathering new data.

Have you implemented strategies for achieving stronger school climate in your schools? How’s it going so far?  Tell us in the comments.

Want more ideas for how to assess school climate in your district? Join us for our upcoming webinar Making Feedback Matter: How School Climate Affects School Quality, Oct. 12. Space is limited, so sign up now!