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.
Careful consideration of institutional and school-level data is an important tool to foster student success and to develop targeted services that reduce achievement gaps and/or help struggling schools identify domains in need of targeted intervention. While 'hard data' such as these are vital components of school success and data-driven decision-making, consideration of 'hard data' shouldn't come at the expense of other metrics of a school's success.
If you ask any parent if they want their child to get a good education, they will undoubtedly say 'yes.' If you ask that same parent if they believe education is important to fulfilling one's life dreams, in almost all cases the answer will still be 'yes.' Yet when I ask educators what factors contribute to the achievement gap, a common response is the lack of parent involvement in their child's schooling. In my career as a K-12 educator, teacher educator, and researcher I have often been in conversations where the topic of parental involvement is being discussed. I cringe each time I hear these remarks: "they just don't value education," "they don't care about education" or "we just can't get them to come to school." These comments are about parents. My recent experiences working to close achievement gaps with educators in one rural school district with a high percentage of working class and low-income Latino families and in an urban school district with a high percentage of working class and low-income African American families underscores the normative nature of such sentiments. Far too often these comments reflect individuals' coded racialized and classed perceptions of parents of non-white and high-poverty children. A study of high school teachers' beliefs about the reasons for low achievement in Black male high school students reported that 45 of 50 teachers and counselors surveyed cited home factors as the primary factor explaining these students' lack of success. While we know that parental involvement in the educational process enhances students' academic performance, a variety of barriers related to culture, social class, and language diversity all contribute to lower levels of engagement by many parents, particularly non-white parents and lower-income parents. Thus, it is too simplistic to reduce the lack of parental involvement to an issue of family values.
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) defines Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) as an integrated, multi-tiered system of instruction, assessment, and intervention designed to meet the achievement and behavioral health needs of ALL learners. In short, a MTSS framework is designed to ensure that each and every student that walks into a classroom will have their individual needs met through high-quality instruction. In addition, the integration of a MTSS framework within the Michigan Continuous School Improvement Process is an essential component for improving academic achievement for all learners. The MDE is striving to improve achievement for all learners through the strategic support of Michigan districts and schools.
Traditional plans for school improvement are often written and implemented in silos. While the plans may be well-written and solid in their own right, the lack of collaboration and common planning frequently results in each plan competing for the resources within that system. This approach divides resources, which can negatively impact efforts to improve student achievement. Experience has demonstrated that in order to increase achievement, successful systems plan their improvement efforts collaboratively.
Developing one common plan for improvement streamlines the school and district’s efforts and resources, and maximizes improvement for all learners. The Michigan Continuous School Improvement process serves as a comprehensive process to organize the work through data analysis, goal setting, planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating. By strategically embedding an MTSS framework into the district and school improvement plan, a school system sets itself up for continuity and alignment in the implementation of a research- based system of MTSS. When working together, the Michigan Continuous School Improvement process and the MTSS framework enhance and strengthen each other, for the benefit of all learners.
As a high school math teacher at a charter school in Boston, I struggled to teach algebra to students with varying levels of math skills. Some entered my classroom still needing to master changing fractions to decimals and percentages, while others were ready to grapple with the quadratic equation, point-slope form and writing linear equations. At this school I was one of two ninth-grade algebra teachers among a team of four math teachers in the building. Through regular dialogue with my colleague Jeff, I learned that he faced similar challenges in his algebra classroom. Together we decided at the end of the first term of the school year to engage in a discussion with the math staff around how to better meet the mathematical learning needs of all of our ninth-grade students. We believed something could be done to correct the teaching and learning challenges in our classrooms before the end of the school year. It was evident to Jeff and me that heterogeneous grouping in the algebra classroom was not working. The inability to provide curricular challenge for higher performers was affecting student engagement and motivation, and the inability to adequately support struggling students (due to lack of time and resources) was impacting students’ self-efficacy in math and overall academic self-confidence.
When we talk about race, race matters; when we don’t talk about race, race matters. This is one of several arguments that educational researcher Mica Pollock makes in her book, Colormute, to underscore many educators’ inability to talk explicitly about race in meaningful ways in schools. Her statement highlights our need to acknowledge and respond to the ways in which race isdiscussed in schools and the silence around race in learning spaces – both of which can have adverse effects on the schooling experiences and life outcomes of the young people we serve. I believe data dialogues can provide opportunities for school leaders and staff to more accurately frame data discussions and address equity issues in schooling by culturally situating these conversations. You might ask, “What does this mean?”