Culture & Climate
School culture and school climate, while not synonymous, are inextricably intertwined with one another and with the ability of a school or district to transform itself into an entity that:
- is responsive to the needs of all students;
- creates an environment of shared values and high academic and behavioral expecations for students and staff; and
- fosters excellence in its students, teachers, parents, and administrators.
The twin pillars of climate and culture are what create a sense of community among all individuals, a community built around the values of respect, creativity, caring, rigor and the shared expectations that all students can and will succeed.
The articles and videos in this category will explore topics around school culture and climate.
We are in a critical time in education, perhaps now more than ever before, as we reflect on the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision and the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act. In many areas of our educational system, inequities have widened and not narrowed. As we think about opportunities for children to learn in school, we have to consider the structural barriers that prevent students from maximizing their learning potential in schools. The problem of inequitable access to quality learning opportunities is compounded by many factors in high-needs schools and communities, yet we find similar structural barriers in well-resourced communities as they play out for varying demographics of students (e.g., race/ethnicity, social class, religion, etc.). It is important for educational leaders from the school board to the community to consider how they can most effectively advocate for and implement policies and procedures that support equal access to opportunities for learning for all children.
Nah Tah Wahsh Public School Academy is a rural school located on the Potawatomi Reservation in the Upper Peninsula. Nah Tah Wahsh was founded in the 1970s to improve the high dropout rates among Potawatomi students by providing a schooling option that was closer to the reservation, and incorporating a deeper awareness and appreciation of the Potawatomi culture. Since opening its doors in 1976, the school has served a large number of Native American students, as well as non-Native students from outside of the reservation. Teachers and administrators alike describe Nah Tah Wahsh as a school that is deeply committed to fostering student academic success. Operating under this belief, the school has worked tirelessly to improve the learning opportunities for their students by offering a number of programs around early childhood education, as well as extracurricular and academic support activities. Additionally, Nah Tah Wahsh created a strong community-based school that fosters a sense of pride and belonging among students, their families and staff members.
If you ask Alvin Ward, the new principal of Lansing Charter Academy (LCA), how has the Priority status of LCA affected student learning, he will tell "I embraced the designation to rally teachers to change practices and improve educational opportunities for all students." Principal Ward was hired this past summer to turn around LCA and, nine months later, the improvements are very apparent. In conducting MI Excel walk-throughs, students are visibly on task and teachers are teaching rigorous lessons using best practices that are apart of LCA's embedded Professional Development (PD) plan for the 2013-2014 school year.
Close connections between schools and their communities reflect maxims such as 'It takes a village to raise a child' and are a centerpiece of the neighborhood schools movement. The public debate and consternation about school closings and/or reorganizations are clear indications of how we value school-community relationships.
Although school-community partnerships are inarguably 'a good thing,' we don't always think as carefully about how and why they are contributors to student success. Despite the fact that excellent thinking about school-community interactions as 'mesosystems' dates back over thirty-five years (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), the importance of the interaction between these two systems is often ignored.
"Classrooms are the ideal laboratory for helping young people develop persistence, resourcefulness, coping skills, optimism, and hardiness. We're wise to live in that laboratory – and our students are the better for it."