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School Climate and Cultural Proficiency

Assess and Enhance School Climate

"Structural change that is not supported by cultural change will eventually be overwhelmed by the culture, for it is the culture that any organization finds meaning in stability." - Phillip Schlechty

A school's climate has a strong influence over students and staff. Assess the school's climate and working to increase positivity and collaborative efforts is essential for institutional change from a systems perspective. Shaping and influencing a school's culture and climate can and should be intentional. (Elbot & Fulton, 2005)

A positive school climate consists of:

  • Relational Trust
    • How well each key stakeholder (students, parents, teachers, administration) believes that members of the other groups are fulfilling their role and obligations.
  • Supportive Leadership
    • Shared mission and goals, instructional guidance and staff feeling validated and that they have a voice.
    • Organizational change, roles, and expectations clearly defined. Having clear and fair policies, procedures, and practices that are clearly defined and consistent.
  • Trust and Respect
    • Positive rapport and relationships built between key stakeholder groups.

  • Professional Development
    • Staff feels valuable, knowledgeable, and prepared.
  • Expectations, Trust, and Accountability
    • Having high expectations that are consistently followed through, however, expectations need to be accompanied with trust and accountability. Collaborative and shared conflict resolution efforts will increase consistency and build trust and a positive school climate.
  • Physical Environment
    • School safety policies and cleanliness impact culture and climate.
  • Markers, Rituals, and Transitions
    • Creating an event/assembly/tradition to positively reinforce successes, effort, and accomplishments for students as well as staff.


  • Schools that Beat the Odds, 2005, McRel
    Discusses common factors for successful schools. 
  • Identifying Differences Between Two Groups of High-Needs High Schools, 2008, McRel
    Discusses the differences between high performing and low performing high needs schools, specifically significant differences in various factors.
  • STEM: Establishing a Culture of High Expectations (webinar)
    This webinar is part of an on-going webinar series from NASSP's Breaking Ranks Framework, a comprehensive framework for school improvement that can support all schools in the K-12 continuum. This webinar is presented by Trevor Greene, Principal, Toppenish High School, Toppenish, WA. Nestled on the Yakama Indian Reservation in southern Washington, Toppenish serves a high-minority (95%), high-poverty (99%) student population, and boasts 28 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes. Listen as Trevor discusses how he has transformed Toppenish into a high-performing place of learning and brought a renewed sense of hope to rural Washington. Learn how this rural school has increased higher-level math and science enrollment through implementation of engineering and biomedical science classes. A child of the reservation, Trevor's goal for every member of his community is to "be bold enough to do what other don't even dream."
  • Transforming School Culture (webinar)
    This webinar is part of an on-going webinar series from NASSP's Breaking Ranks Framework, a comprehensive framework for school improvement that can support all schools in the K-12 continuum. This webinar is presented by Laurie Barron, Principal, Smokey Road Middle School, Newman, GA. Names as only one of five middle schools in the nation to be selected as a 2011 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School, Smokey Road Middle School adheres to the student-centered comprehensive framework for school improvement and reform as outlined in the NASSP publication Breaking Ranks in the Middle. This webinar demonstrates how focusing on the areas of collaborative leadership, personalizing the school environment, and curriculum, instruction, and assessment, can increase student achievement and foster a culture of continuous improvement by developing significant relationships with students, making classes more relevant, and increasing instructional rigor.

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