The 4 Characteristics of a Healthy School Culture
School climate and school culture directly affect how successful your students will be. As a result, it is crucial for the school and the classroom culture to reflect, acknowledge, and celebrate diversity.
Schools must recognize not only the diversity evident between broad ethnic groups (e.g., Asian or Hispanic) but also the diversity within these groups.
Teachers also need to engage in an interesting balancing act. They need to recognize how unique each student is. At the same time, they will need to treat students equally and giving them equal chances for success and equal access to the curriculum, teachers and administrators must recognize the uniqueness and individuality of their students.
Teachers have a particular responsibility to recognize and structure their lessons to reflect student differences. This encourages students to recognize themselves and others as individuals. It also encourages creates a sense of connection between students who have disparate cultural heritages within one school culture.
Recognizing and acknowledging our differences is part of treating students fairly and equally. School organizations and curricula are based on the needs and values of the societies they represent. Approaches to education emerge based on political and social structures and are replete with heroes, values, symbols, rituals, and norms.
As the American social structure expands to include a more diverse population, our schools must expand the curriculum to reflect a more global community. Students today will live as adults in a society more accepting of diversity, and one where global influences are more apparent. They must be prepared to live in that world. American schools attempt to monitor learning through nationally standardized assessment instruments such as the Criterion Reference Competency Test (CRCT), American College Testing (ACT), and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
Schools emphasize particular topics and fields of study and use mastery of these subjects to determine grade progression and the ability to gain admission to college. Schools also use age-level grouping, along with periodic assessment of students’ skills and knowledge, to regulate class sizes and progressions through a structured system of learning. Progress reports are frequent. In addition to these academic learning activities, state-mandated drills are held to learn school procedures for fire safety, inclement weather, and other emergency situations.
Most school systems implement a district-wide policy controlling disciplinary infractions with guidelines for truancy, suspension, and other serious infringements. Each of these processes and procedures reflect certain values of American society, such as the need for structure and order, the desire to maximize potential, the desire to recognize achievement, and the importance of multiple opportunities for individual success.
The customs and regular practices that reflect our beliefs and value systems with regard to education make up a school’s culture. The structure of school boards, districts, superintendents, and curriculum committees resembles the structure of the national government. It also parallels the values of a largely Protestant, capitalist population, with an emphasis on individual accomplishments, competition, and equality.
School infrastructure also reflects the cultural inequities and imbalances of the larger society. Even though the widely accepted values, norms, assessments, and practices described here are indicators of school culture, schools may have individual school climates. Educators have debated about the definition of school climate but haven’t developed a single, accepted definition. Some argue that the feelings and attitudes of teachers, students, staff, and parents are influenced by a school climate that is based on intangibles.
Hunt and coworkers have suggested that school climate has four domains and that to achieve a positive school climate, these domains must have the following characteristics:
- Physical Safety. The physical environment must be safe, and welcoming, and must support learning.
- Social Relationships. The school must encourage positive communication and interaction among students, teachers, and the wider community.
- Emotional Environment. Students must feel emotionally supported to encourage high self-esteem and a sense of belonging.
- Academic Support. The academic environment must be conducive to learning and achievement for all students.