School Climate and Social and Emotional Learning
The concept of “school climate” is of great interest to educators today who, in light of regular news reports of school violence, are seeking a way to keep their school community safe for everyone. Although the term has been in use for more than 100 years (Perry, A. 1908), the exact meaning of school climate is still difficult to pin down. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the definition set forth by the National School Climate Council, co-led by The Center for Social and Emotional Education (CSEE) and the Education Commission of the States: “the quality and character of school life,” with an elaboration: “School climate is based on patterns of students’, parents’, and school personnel’s experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures.” Within this concept of school climate lie many dimensions. The National School Climate Council and CSEE point to four major areas that any school climate assessment should include, then, deeper still, a series of sub-scales:
1. Rules and Norms
2. Sense of Physical Security
3. Sense of Social-Emotional Security
Teaching and Learning
4. Support for Learning
5. Social and Civic Learning
6. Respect for Diversity
7. Social Support—Adults
8. Social Support—Students
9. School Connectedness/Engagement
10. Physical Surroundings
12. Professional Relationships
For teachers and administrators looking to improve the overall feelings and attitudes about their school expressed by students, teachers, staff, and parents, this multilayered description of school climate is a good place to start. Research is catching up with what educators already instinctively know: that students might have a hard time learning if they feel uncomfortable, fearful, or unsafe in school. In fact, one study demonstrates that school climate is a predictor of school disorder: “school climate explained a substantial percentage of the variance in all measures of school disorder.... Schools in which students perceived greater fairness and clarity of rules had less delinquent behavior and less student victimization” (Gottfredson et al., 2005).
Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs have been shown to improve “students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance; they also reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress,” according to a meta-analysis by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. SEL programs such as Committee for Children’s SECOND STEP and STEPS TO RESPECT curricula can support the elements that contribute to a positive school climate by fostering an environment of respect, inclusion, and safety. Following are some of the specific ways that these programs can help meet the standards set out in the 12-point scale of indicators, above.
Reprinted with the permission of the Committee for Children. © 2007 Committee for Children.
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