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Culture & Climate

Supportive learning environments and opportunities.
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Physical, environmental, and social aspects of a school have a profound impact on student experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and performance. School culture and climate help determine whether students are motivated to learn and stay in school. In a healthy and positive school culture, all students experience equally supportive learning environments and opportunities that help them learn and thrive.

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These tools are provided as resources to support implementation of the QSF. Their use is not intended as a requirement for schools and districts.

  • Time to Reclassification: How Long Does It Take English Language Learners in the Washington Road Map School Districts To Develop English Proficiency? External link opens in new window or tab.
    Local educational agency leaders may use the six primary findings from this report to examine the different levels of support that English learner students (ELs) need to achieve reclassification when entering school at different grade levels with differing levels of English proficiency. This knowledge may also help educators identify specific programs and practices that help ELs gain English proficiency quickly and effectively.
  • Speak Out, Listen Up! Tools for Using Student Perspectives and Local Data for School Improvement External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    This toolkit offers three tools designed to engage students and adults as partners, then methodically gather and analyze student input to inform school improvement efforts. These tools are designed to help produce suggestions for school improvement, structure student involvement in developing an action plan, and encourage students to host forums with educators to suggest improvements. The toolkit provides thorough guidelines for student-educator collaboration, targeted questions, and a template so schools and districts can customize student voice tools to their local needs and interests.
  • Climate Connection Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    Climate Connection Toolkit (2nd Edition) outlines no- and low-cost strategies to help school personnel improve the quality of relationships shared within and between adult and student groups on their campuses. The kit contains 13 activities that can be implemented as stand-alone events or incorporated together as a series. Every activity is outlined in detail, including the activity's description and rationale; materials, space, and time requirements; and step-by-step procedures for facilitation in a school setting.
  • California Healthy Kids Survey External link opens in new window or tab.
    Additional survey modules include California School Climate Survey and California School Parent Survey as part of the comprehensive Cal-SCHLS data system developed for the California Department of Education. The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) is a comprehensive survey used to assess many aspects of a school’s climate and culture. The district CHKS fee for the biennial survey and data analysis is $0.30 per student.

Promising Practices

  • A Practitioner's Guide to Implementing Early Warning Systems External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    This guide describes and provides promising practices of early warning system implementation strategies while accommodating districts’ financial and time constraints. Educators will find tools to help implement early warning systems to help address challenges with students who unexpectedly begin to struggle and appear to fall off track without apparent reason.
  • Building and Sustaining Talent: Creating Conditions in High-Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning External link opens in new window or tab.
    This document discusses how states and districts can attract, nurture, and retain talented teachers in schools with the greatest academic need. Three case studies are highlighted that have seen some positive changes in student achievement—including one in Fresno, California.
  • Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    This resource draws from emerging research and best practices to create guiding principles to assist policymakers, district officials, school leaders, and stakeholders in developing safe and productive learning environments for all students. The U.S. Department of Education has identified three guiding principles to improve school climate and discipline for all students: climate and prevention; clear, appropriate, and consistent expectations and consequences; and equity and continuous improvement. There are action steps listed for each of the guiding principles which may be considered when creating a positive climate, including evidence-based strategies, professional development, collaborative partnerships, policy development, family engagement, and data analysis.
  • How to Create a Positive School Climate External link opens in new window or tab.
    This brief article from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, contains three strategies for creating a positive school climate. It references the work and resources the National School Climate Council and the Safe and Supportive Schools website as well as principles from psychology and organizational leadership experts such as Peter Senge. Though the straightforward overviews are brief, the article includes links to other resources that more fully describe ways to implement the strategies.
  • What Works Brief #7: Harassment and Bullying External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    This is one of 10 What Works Briefs that provide state-of-the-art strategies, practices, and programs that are proven by research to improve school climate. Each brief is about 4–5 pages and includes practical strategies for use by school staff, parents, and community members. All What Works Briefs are organized into three sections: Quick Wins--What Teachers & Adults Can Do Right Now; Universal Supports—Schoolwide Policies, Practices, & Programs; and Targeted Supports—Intensive Supports for At-Risk Youth.
  • Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline External link opens in new window or tab.
    The goal of this report is to create safe schools where effective teaching and learning can take place. The Department of Education identifies three guiding principles for policymakers, district officials, school leaders, and stakeholders to consider in improving school climate and discipline. They are to: create positive climates and focus on prevention; develop clear, appropriate, and consistent expectations and consequences; and to ensure fairness, equity, and continuous improvement. The appendices include a directory of "Federal School Climate and Discipline Resources", an online  "Compendium of School Discipline Laws and Regulations" and an "Overview of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative".
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports External link opens in new window or tab.
    Evidence-based framework proven to improve school climate and safety, promote positive behaviors, and reduce suspensions. Implementation is three-tiered, and full implementation takes a minimum of three years. Several county offices of education offer training and technical assistance to support district and school implementation.


  • Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Development Framework External link opens in new window or tab.
    Educational leaders will find this seminal work relevant for assisting in the school improvement process by bringing elements such as school culture, instructional strategies, and discipline policies and practices into alignment with healthy child and youth development research and practice.  This resource provides a framework for developing social/emotional learning strategies that is becoming increasingly a priority in California.
  • How School Climate Distinguishes Schools That Are Beating the Achievement OddsExternal link opens in new window or tab.
    This report investigates schools referred to as beating-the-odds (BTO) schools. These schools are more successful because of two factors, school climate and school personnel resources. This study suggests that a positive school climate may be beneficial for all schools, serving all types of students. This news is especially encouraging for schools whose students face socioeconomic barriers to academic success.
  • Fostering Educational Success: An Analysis of Investments in School Climate and Foster Youth Through the Local Control Accountability Plan External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    Fostering Educational Success is the first statewide report that investigates how school districts have responded to the school climate and attendance LCFF requirements for foster youth in their LCAPs for the 2014–2015 school year. The districts that are the subject of this report serve approximately 55% of the foster youth enrolled in California schools. The enlightening findings are a call for all school districts in the state to take a critical look at the unique school climate needs of foster youth and revise their baseline data, goals, actions, and expenditures to address those needs. And the recommendations are, in the authors’ words, “concrete, simple and aligned with the letter and intent of the law.”

Excerpted from CDE’s External Linking Policy: The CDE is providing these external links only as a convenience, and the inclusion of any external link does not imply endorsement by the CDE or any association with the sites' operators.


“National initiatives to improve schools tend to focus heavily on curriculum, testing, and personnel. But a growing consensus also recognizes that the elements that make up school climate—including peer relationships, students’ sense of safety and security, and the disciplinary policies and practices they confront each day—play a crucial part in laying the groundwork for academic success.” (1)

The school environment, like family and community environments, has powerful influence on a student’s ability to learn and thrive. School culture and climate are formed by a range of factors that shape students’ perceptions of school and their motivation to learn. These factors include the physical, social, and emotional aspects of the school that support meaningful teaching and learning. These environmental factors affect all school experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and the performance of both students and staff.

A healthy and positive school culture means that all students experience supportive learning conditions and opportunities that promote achievement and prepare them to succeed in college, career, and adulthood. Research has shown that schools that “beat the odds,” with higher student achievement scores than anticipated, are distinguished by having significantly more positive school climates regardless of student characteristics and resource levels. (2)


When students believe they have positive relationships with teachers who set high expectations, students report improved achievement, more school connectedness, better attendance, and an increased sense of safety. (1)

Research in California and across the nation has shown that particular aspects of school climate and culture are strongly associated with students’ academic, social, and emotional well-being. Schools with positive school climate have been shown to have:

  • Higher rates of healthy behavior in general, and lower rates of such learning barriers as school violence, substance abuse, depression and other social-emotional issues, and delinquency. (2)
  • Stronger student motivation to learn, which is associated with later improvements in grade point average and attendance as well as fewer out-of-school suspensions. (3)
  • Higher rates of student self-esteem. (4)
  • Higher standardized test scores, grade point average, school attendance, graduation rates, and academic success. (5)

Research also shows that teachers experience greater job satisfaction and stay longer in positive working environments that promote both student and teacher success. (6)


The following characteristics of school climate and culture have been consistently associated with a range of positive student outcomes, including school attendance, learning motivation, grades, test scores, and graduation.

  • Safety and discipline: Safe schools provide orderly, civil conditions for learning.  Schools that are safe places to learn provide protection from physical and psychological violence and freedom from bullying and harassment. A growing body of research has identified harassment-related distress as a key factor in poor school attendance and poor student performance. (1)
  • Equity and respect for diversity: Schools embrace the diversity of the students they serve, respecting them regardless of differences in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. (2) All students, regardless of their individual characteristics, receive personalized support and equal opportunities to participate in classroom and school activities. (3)
  • Developmental support: Schools provide students with a sense of belonging evidenced by caring and respect; encourage students to grow in competence by offering balanced, challenging tasks; and support students to realize their potential. (4) Schools are growth-oriented, with a clear and consistent focus on student success where individual learning for students and staff is promoted. (5)
  • Relationships: Schools are characterized by positive and trusting relationships among students, staff, and parents. These relationships are the key to student’s identification with a school community, student motivation, classroom management, and, ultimately, academic performance. (6)
  • High expectations: Schools are staffed by teachers and administrators who communicate high expectations for student success, and who clearly demonstrate their willingness to help students achieve. (7)
  • Positive professional relationships: Schools with effective leaders help create a positive organizational culture and climate by treating all members of the school community with respect—without regard to professional status or position. They invite a broad range of community participants to the school. (8)
  • Web of supports: Schools provide a comprehensive web of supports for students, teachers, and parents to be engaged in education and ensure that all students succeed. This includes addressing barriers to learning that challenge many students, including health, social, emotional, behavioral, and learning barriers. (9)

    • Participation and student engagement: Schools provide students opportunities for meaningful participation in activities and decision-making throughout the school and in each classroom. All students and teachers have a voice and a sense of responsibility that fosters community and engagement. (10)

    • Family and community engagement: Schools purposefully foster family engagement in their students’ education and school-community collaboration in addressing barriers to student learning. (11)

  • Physical health: Schools provide opportunities for all students to engage in physical activity and make healthy dietary choices. A growing body of research indicates that improvements in physical activity and nutrition have a positive impact on student achievement. (12)
Questions: Quality Schooling Framework | | 916-319-0836 
Last Reviewed: Monday, February 8, 2021
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