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School Climate & Culture: Conditions for Learning CNY SEL Regional Summit November 5, 2010 Syracuse, NY Mark Barth Climate and Culture.

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school climate culture conditions for learning http www p12 nysed gov sss sedl

School Climate & Culture: Conditions for Learning

CNY SEL Regional Summit

November 5, 2010 Syracuse, NY

Mark Barth

climate and culture
Climate and Culture

“Climate” and “culture” are terms used interchangeably in research to describe a student workday environment, specifically the degree to which it is socially, emotionally and physically safe and conducive to learning.

“School climate refers to the

quality and character of school life.”

Cohen, McAbe, Michelli, Pickeral (2009) Teachers College Record


is “a set of instructions from policy makers to policy implementers that spell out both goals and means for achieving these goals”

Nakamura and Smallwood (1980)

The Politics of Policy Making

school safety
School Safety
  • School violence interferes with student psychological development and academic learning, and generates anxiety among teachers and students.
  • Aggressors and victims are both at risk of academic and behavioral failure leading to school dropout, occupational difficulties and social maladjustment.
  • School safety is a precondition to efficient and effective academic programs and it impinges on
    • the achievement gap,
    • teacher attrition,
    • classroom management and student engagement.
state and federal laws
State and Federal Laws
  • Educate America Act, 1994

Schools to be “free of drugs and violence, firearms and alcohol and offer a disciplined environment.”

  • Gun-Free Schools Act

Mandated expulsion of a student who brings a fire arm to school

  • States’ legislation: expulsions, suspensions or transfers to specialized schools for lesser offenses
zero tolerance
Zero Tolerance
  • Such penalties helped schools manage problems
  • Separation practices decreased many students’ chances for success; accelerated dropping out.
  • Some practices brought challenges to the disproportionate exclusion of racially and ethnically diverse students.
nys response save
NYS Response: SAVE
  • Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (SAVE) of 2000.
  • Directs SED to establish a process and metrics to assess level of violence in schools.
  • Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting (VADIR)
  • A “school violence index” (SVI) becomes basis of designating a school “persistently dangerous.”

Required districts to develop

  • safety plans,
  • a detailed code of conduct for maintaining order on school grounds and
  • compliance with a uniform violent incident reporting system.
school safety since columbine
School Safety Since Columbine
  • Incidence of violent crimes in schools decreased from 1992 to 2007,
  • Students are more likely to experience serious crimes in school than outside of school.
  • Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2009 National Center for Education Statistics
bullying in schools has increased
Bullying in schools has increased
  • In 2001, 14% of students ages 12 -18 reported they had been bullied in school
  • By 2007, 32% of students ages 12 - 18 reported they were bullied at school
  • 4% reported being bullied over the Internet

National Center for Education Statistics. Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2009.

school discipline
School Discipline

Disciplinary matters occupy an enormous share of school resources; and are the greatest source of workplace stress.

incidents and suspensions
Incidents and Suspensions
  • Disruptive and aggressive behaviors in the classroom,
  • The resulting suspensions and expulsions,

Diminish teachers and students’ instructional and learning time.

comprehensive effort to improve school climate
“Comprehensive effort to improve school climate”

Redesign the current system so that it measures overall school climate. 

Move the conversation about a school’s conditions for learning

from a process of proving they are not dangerous,

to a system to create conditions for safe and supportive environments for all students.

NYSED Commissioner David Steiner, August 2010

the school climate challenge
The School Climate Challenge

In the 1950’s

Educators began to systemically study school climate.

The development of scientifically sound school climate assessment tools spurred a research tradition that grows to this day.

National School Climate Council (2007)

school climate research findings
School Climate Research Findings
  • Studies show a relationship to

- student absenteeism and

- rate of student suspension.

  • And climate is a critical dimension to
    • effective risk prevention,
    • health promotion efforts and
    • learning.
school culture
School Culture

“A school’s culture has far more influence on life and learning in the schoolhouse than

the state department of education,

the superintendent,

the school board, or

even the principal

can ever have.”

Roland Barth

why a gap between research policy
Why a Gap between Research & Policy?
  • Inconsistency and inaccuracy in terms of school climate definition.
  • Poor choices in school climate measurements at the state level.
  • Authorities isolate school climate policy in

health, special education and school safety arenas, without integrating it into school accountability policies, or the beliefs of the community at large.

nscc recommendations for policymakers
NSCC Recommendations for Policymakers

Schools routinely and comprehensively evaluate school climate,


  • student, parent and school personnel “voice”
  • all major dimensions (e.g. safety, relationships, teaching and learning and the environment) that shape school climate.
race to the top nys education reform agenda
Race to the TopNYS Education Reform Agenda

Create the conditions for reform, innovation and conditions for learning by providing schools with flexibility and autonomy in such areas as:

  • Providing comprehensive services to high-need students
  • Creating school climates and cultures that remove obstacles to, and actively support, student engagement and achievement; and
  • Implementing strategies to effectively engage families and communities in supporting the academic success of their students.

Page 340

schools to be successful
Schools to be successful…

Need to move beyond the basics of discipline;

Focus on promoting youth development in a caring, nurturing environment;

Teach higher order social skills shown to reduce the prevalence of antisocial behavior.

See: “Guidelines and Resources for Social and Emotional Development and Learning”

what does it have to do with learning
What does it have to do with learning?

By attending to the students’ social-emotional parts of their brain

And creating conditions where school environments are calmer and safer:

  • Teachers can teach more effectively,
  • Students learn better,
  • Parents and community take pride in their children's school.

The Fixed Mindset

“Mindset” : Carol Dweck

I have a set amount of intelligence and a certain character.

I feel the need to validate myself. Success is about proving I’m smart or talented…smarter or better than others. Superior.

I avoid challenges and risk taking.

I am reluctant to put effort into something that doesn’t come easily to me. You either have ability or you don’t. I feel smart when I don’t make mistakes or when I finish something fast and it’s perfect.

I thrive when things are safely within my grasp. If it’s too challenging, I lose interest.

Effort is for those who don’t have ability. If you have to work at something, you must not be good at it. Dweck (2006)

ascd changed the conversation about learning and schooling
ASCD changed the conversation about learning and schooling

from re-structuring to transforming conditions so that each child can develop his strengths and restore his unique capacities for intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual learning:

Educating the Whole Child

school climate model
School Climate Model

Draft School Climate Model. Please do not circulate without consent from the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Please contact Kristen Harper ( with questions or concerns.


Engagement The quality of the relationships, including respect for diversity, between students and their peers, staff and their peers, students and staff, and staff and families; and (b) the level of participation and involvement by families, staff and students in school activity.

Draft School Climate Model. Please do not circulate without consent from the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Please contact Kristen Harper ( with questions or concerns.

Safety The physical and emotional security of the school setting as perceived, experienced, and created by students, staff, and families.

Draft School Climate Model. Please do not circulate without consent from the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Please contact Kristen Harper ( with questions or concerns.


Environment (a) The physical and mental health supports offered to students, (b) the physical plant, (c) the academic environment, and (d) the fairness and adequacy of disciplinary procedures.

Draft School Climate Model. Please do not circulate without consent from the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Please contact Kristen Harper ( with questions or concerns.

assessing the school environment
Assessing the School Environment

“School environment” = Every space students occupy:

Classrooms Hallways,

Auditorium Cafeteria,

Lockers Playground

Campus School Bus.

It refers to relationships between and among adults and students and the extent that its members share purpose and belonging and make sense of new information and demands

Deal & Peterson (1990) “The principal’s role in shaping school culture.” Washington, DC: U.S. DoE

the healthy school levers of school change
The Healthy SchoolLevers of School Change
  • Principal as Leader
  • Effective Use of Data
  • A Systemic rather than Programmatic Approach
  • Authentic Community Collaboration

ASCD Healthy School Communities

the challenge of assessing school climate
The Challenge of Assessing School Climate

There is no shortage of school survey instruments.

Their value lies in analyzing the data along with anecdotal and case study information, making program considerations based on them, and monitoring progress.


Their value lies in their usability and applicability year after year over time.

assessing and measuring progress
Assessing and Measuring Progress

The Chicago School Connection Survey

measures safe, respectful climate; high expectations; student support; social-emotional learning.

New York City began to survey parents, students and teachers on aspects of school environment like safety, communication, engagement, and expectations.

Available trend data school planning teams can track:

  • Suspensions,
  • Office disciplinary referrals,
  • Attendance, long term, short term
  • Participation in extra-curricular activity, etc.
promotion and prevention school environment and culture
Promotion and Prevention: School Environment and Culture

“We believe that the framework that improves the school culture must be in place first.”

James Comer, 2005

“School culture orients the behavior of members of the school community …”

Deal & Peterson, 1990