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An Inclusive Positive School Climate is a Good Thing

A positive inclusive school climate improves student achievement and a sense of belonging. This year, more than ever, school leaders need efficient, low cost and effective ways to boost school achievement. Paying attention and leading on a positive inclusive school climate is a strategy that pays off long term for youth, faculty and school districts – with stronger student learning achievement – a good return on investment of human and financial resources.

Starting the new school year means new opportunity to improve student learning. Education is changing right before our eyes across our nation. Successful schools build on their tradition of excellence in serving children; keeping on eye on engaging youth and children in their education so they achieve and become well-rounded adults.

Dr. James Comer of Yale University writes that “A positive school climate exists when all students feel comfortable, wanted, valued, accepted, and secure in an environment where they can interact with caring people they trust.” An inclusive school climate affects everyone associated with the school: students, staff, parents, and the community. It is the belief system or culture that underlies the day-to-day operation of a school. Collectively and individually, a inclusive school climate has a major impact on the success of all students in the school. Research and experience show a link between inclusive school climate and other important measurements of school success, including:
  • Academic achievement
  • High morale
  • Faculty productivity
  • Effective leadership

Inclusive schools are places where all children can learn and be successful within a shared academic environment. Inclusive opportunities for youth and children that help them become self determined, productive and socially involved citizens. Inclusive schools focus on:
  • Continuous improvement.
  • School-community collaboration
  • Youth leadership
  • Communication
  • Collaborative professional development

Here are key factors towards creating a positive inclusive school climate:
  • Improved academic achievement linked to standard based teaching
  • Respect – Stronger self esteem and consideration of others
  • Trust – Faculty and youth can be counted on
  • Morale – Students and staff feel good about being in the school
  • Belonging – Everyone, especially youth want cohesiveness; to fit in – grow
  • Collaboration – able and accepted to talk about; improve teaching and learning
  • Renewal – openness to change, improvement and spiritually renewed
  • Caring – Kindness and concern for others – a norm

Schools are experiencing budget shortfalls unseen in our career, and are likely to continue. Over the next few years, schools will be forced to reduce spending due to a drop in revenue and in some cases, public support. Savvy school and teacher leaders are proactively working with their staff and community; finding simple, low cost high return strategies to plan their schools and districts and concentrating on improving student achievement with an eye on the relationships teachers have with youth so they learn more. Focusing on a inclusive school climate costs little; yields high return as youth connected and respecting their teachers – who give them voice and respect while setting high expectations learn more.

School and teacher leaders work in a humble yet confident manner, adapting to the needs of students and their families while respecting what excellence in education is all about. Creating a inclusive school climate takes reflective relationship-oriented school leaders who put greater effort into building and improving relationships than buying a canned program that really won’t work out well. Putting into place a set of low cost/high return strategies over the next year or two will create a inclusive school climate, resulting in higher student achievement and a school where as Paul Houston says, “A place students run to in the morning faster than they leave at the end of the day.”

We can all agree that starting the school year with a inclusive school climate is a great way to begin for school and teacher leaders, not to mention the youth and children they educate.

Image: William Hughes
About the author: Dr. William Hughes has worked in education for  31 years as a teacher, principal, superintendent of schools. He has served as Superintendent of the Greendale School District in Greendale, Wisconsin for the past 14 years. Greendale is a garden community and one of three greenbelt communities in the United States. It is a suburban district of about 2,600 students located in the Milwaukee metro area; an area known for high achieving schools.  Greendale is known for its high level of student achievement with over 90 percent of graduates attending higher education institutions, ongoing community engagement on multiple levels, along with collaborative relationships with bargaining groups while retaining a focus on children, service, citizenship and learning. He is a former board member of the Milwaukee Area Technical College, a member of the National School Climate Council, board member of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship and adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

This article is one in a series on the topic of Engaging the Public in Public Education. It was developed to provide a set of resources to assist schools in discovering innovative strategies for engaging the full spectrum of stakeholders in the education process. To read other entries in the series, please click here. To download the entire series with links and resources, please click here.

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