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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.

QSF LogoResources

Tools

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

  • Why Assessing Well-Being is Important in Schools: Introducing the Well-Being Index External link opens in new window or tab.
    The Well-Being Index is a brief self-assessment designed to capture a holistic view of each student’s sense of their own physical, emotional and social health. This tool can minimize making assumptions about students and instead support students to proactively understand and look after their own well-being without being stigmatized.
  • 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

  • Teaching Social-Emotional Competencies within a PBIS Framework External link opens in new window or tab. (New 02-Jun-2021)
    The purpose of this brief is to describe how school personnel can teach social-emotional competencies within a PBIS framework to support systematic, school-wide implementation through one system, rather than trying to improve student outcomes through separate, competing initiatives. Recommendations for how to adjust the PBIS framework to support instruction of social-emotional competencies are included.
  • Research Eclipsed: How Educators Are Reinventing Research-Informed Practice During the Pandemic External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF; New 02-Jun-2021)
    The report aims to give educators and school leaders—as well as researchers—a glimpse of what is possible and encourage them to bring the questions raised and findings offered in this report to their own classrooms and learning communities. In so doing, this report tries to bring research into practice and practice into research.
  • Shifting the Current School Climate Sense of Belonging and Social and Emotional Learning External link opens in new window or tab. (New 02-Jun-2021)
    This is a graphic summary of the Social Emotion Learning resources that address beliefs, adopt policies, and implement strategies to take action at the classroom and school level.
  • Improving Attendance and Reducing Chronic Absenteeism, PBIS – Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports, January 2020 External link opens in new window or tab. (New 02-Jun-2021)
    This short practical report explains which specific attendance metrics to analyze, the contributing factors for chronic absenteeism to analyze, and which practices best address the problem to get you started.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Research

  • Restorative Practices and the Integration of Social Emotional Learning as a Path to Positive School Climates External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF; New 02-Jun-2021)
    Restorative practices (RP) have been looked to as an alternative to zero tolerance policies. At the same time, social emotional learning (SEL) programming has been implemented to provide students with the skills to communicate and build relationships with peers. The purpose of this paper is to provide a look at the historical context shaping the development of RP, and explore connections between RP and SEL. Considerations for implementation and conceptual models for implementing RP are also discussed.
  • Can Restorative Practices Improve School Climate and Curb Suspensions? External link opens in new window or tab. (New 02-Jun-2021)
    This study represents one of the first randomized, controlled trials of the impacts of restorative practices on classroom and school climate and suspension rates. Restorative practices have gained buy-in among school districts, their stakeholders, and policymakers as a strategy to reduce suspension rates.
  • Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success External link opens in new window or tab. (New 02-Jun-2021)
    This paper examines how schools can use effective, research-based practices to create settings in which students’ healthy growth and development are central to the design of classrooms and the school as a whole. The paper describes key findings from the sciences of learning and development, the school conditions and practices that should derive from this science, and the policy strategies that could support these conditions and practices on a wide scale.
  • Using Surveys of Students’ Social-Emotional Learning and School Climate for Accountability and Continuous Improvement External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF; New 02-Jun-2021)
    The paper analyzes social-emotional learning (SEL) and culture and climate (CC) data to better understand differences across schools, comparing these measures to a broader set of school performance indicators. The paper describes how schools’ SEL and CC performance corresponds to other accountability metrics, and how the addition of the SEL and CC surveys changes the overall picture of school performance based on the other measures.
  • A Culture of Success—Examining School Culture and Student Outcomes via a Performance Framework, January 13, 2016 External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF; New 02-Jun-2021)
    The culture within a school also influences student achievement (Levin, 2004). Deal and Peterson (1998), contend that higher achieving schools were those that demonstrated cultures that fostered collaboration, empowerment, and engagement.
  • 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.”
  • Equity & Social and Emotional Learning: A Cultural Analysis External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    This brief outlines how CASEL’s 5 core SEL competencies reflect issues of equity and offers implications for the growing demand for SEL assessments. The literature points to promising approaches, programs, and practices that advance aspects of equity-elaborated social and emotional competencies for children and youth.

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.

Definition

“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)

Importance

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)

Characteristics

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 | QSF@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0836 
Last Reviewed: Thursday, June 3, 2021
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