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School Climate: Research, Policy, Practice, and Teacher Education


by Jonathan Cohen, Libby McCabe, Nicholas M. Michelli & Terry Pickeral — 2009

Background/Context: Educators have written about and studied school climate for 100 years. School climate refers to the quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of people’s experiences of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures. However, school climate is more than individual experience: It is a group phenomenon that is larger than any one person’s experience. A sustainable, positive school climate fosters youth development and learning necessary for a productive, contributive, and satisfying life in a democratic society. This climate includes norms, values, and expectations that support people feeling socially, emotionally, and physically safe. People are engaged and respected. Students, families, and educators work together to develop, live, and contribute to a shared school vision. Educators model and nurture an attitude that emphasizes the benefits of, and satisfaction from, learning. Each person contributes to the operations of the school and the care of the physical environment. School climate refers to spheres of school life (e.g. safety, relationships, teaching and learning, the environment) as well as to larger organizational patterns (e.g., from fragmented to cohesive or “shared” vision, healthy or unhealthy, conscious or unrecognized). These definitions were collaboratively developed and agreed upon at a consensus-building meeting of national practice and policy leaders organized in April 2007 by the National Center for Learning and Citizenship, Education Commission of the States, and the National School Climate Center at the Center for Social and Emotional Education.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article examines the relationship between school-climate-related research findings on the one hand and educational policy, school improvement practice, and teacher education on the other.

Research Design: This article uses several research methods to understand the current state of school climate research, policy, practice, and teacher education: historical analysis, a review of the literature, a systemic national State Department of Education policy scan, and a national survey (N = 40) of building, district, and state educational leaders about school climate measurement and improvement practices.

Findings/Results: A review of the literature reveals that a growing body of empirical research indicates that positive school climate is associated with and predictive of academic achievement, school success, effective violence prevention, students’ healthy development, and teacher retention. There is a glaring gap between these research findings on the one hand, and state departments of education, school climate policy, practice guidelines, and teacher education practice on the other.

Conclusions/Recommendations: We detail how the gap between school climate research, policy, practice, and teacher education is socially unjust and a violation of children’s human rights. We now have research-based guidelines that predictably support positive youth development and student learning. If we do so, we are supporting children, educators, parents, communities, and the foundation for democratic process, but as a country, we are not doing so. Our children deserve better. A series of detailed recommendations are suggested for policy makers, practice leaders, and teacher educators to narrow this gap and support student’s healthy development and capacity to learn.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 1, 2009, p. 180-213
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15220, Date Accessed: 9/1/2014 2:33:20 PM

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About the Author
  • Jonathan Cohen
    Center for Social and Emotional Education; Teachers College, Columbia University; City University of New York
    E-mail Author
    JONATHAN COHEN is the president of the Center for Social and Emotional Education; adjunct professor in psychology and education, Teachers College, Columbia University; adjunct professor in education, City University of New York; and co-chair of the National School Climate council.
  • Libby McCabe
    Center for Social and Emotional Education; George Washington University
    ELIZABETH M. MCCABE is a research associate at CSEE. She is also a doctoral candidate in Education Administration and Policy Studies at George Washington University.
  • Nicholas M. Michelli
    City University of New York
    NICHOLAS M. MICHELLI is Presidential Professor in Urban Education, City University of New York.
  • Terry Pickeral
    National Center for Learning and Citizenship; Education Commission of the States
    TERRY PICKERAL is executive director of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship, Education Commission of the States. He is also a co-chair of the National School Climate Council.
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