World Class Schools – Our School Climate

World Class SchoolsOn February 26, I posted my vision for world class schools at UCF.  In a series of six posts, I am going deeper into each of my six priorities for our schools.  Priority 1 is here; Priority 2 is here.

Priority 3:  A Great Environment for Learning

UCFSD schools must have a world-class learning environment, where every child is respected, feels safe, and can succeed.    This is means more than providing good facilities and ensuring physical safety (though those are both important.)   It is rather about improving the experience of school — how going to school makes our students and teachers feel.  It is the norms, values, goals, interpersonal relationships, and learning practices that shape the daily experience of school life.

Why is it important to improve the climate in our schools?  As it improves,  many benefits follow.  Research shows that a positive  school climate:

  • improves students’ motivation to learn
  • results in less harassment, aggression and violence
  • mitigates the effects of socio-economic disadvantages
  • contributes to positive academic outcomes
  • reduces drug and alcohol abuse among high-school students
  • improves teacher retention
  • supports the overall well-being of students, teachers, and staff

One prominent researcher has even examined anti-bullying programs (like the one used in UCFSD) and found that they are more effective when pursued in the context of improving the overall school climate.

Climate - kids on dockA world class school climate will create the right conditions for learning, foster a sense of pride and purpose, encourage mutual respect, emphasize the value of education, build commitment around the core values of the school, and amplify the motivation of teachers and students.   We need a positive culture that propels students to believe they can succeed, that invites teachers to innovate and collaborate with each other, and which celebrates students reaching their potential.

A focus on school climate may seem like a pretty soft and mushy goal. But it is actually one of the most impactful and difficult improvements we could choose to pursue.   As Roger Enrico, former Chairman of Pepsico once said, “The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”

The first step we should take as a district is to baseline our school climate in each school.  This is easily done using normed and validated survey instruments, some of which are free.  From there, we work as broad community to identify our strengths and weaknesses and begin to address them.   We ought to take those steps, and put ourselves on the path to a world class school climate.