Take a moment and imagine a school in your district. How do you feel when you think about this school? Who are the students, teachers, and staff members you see? How do they seem to be feeling?
What’s going on in the classrooms? Think about the physical environment. What does it look like? What posters and signs are on the walls? Do the students and teachers look happy?
All of these pieces work together to create the school climate, a collection of attributes that inform how students, families, faculty, and staff relate to each other and the school itself. While each person may have a different experience, everyone’s actions work together to create the overall character of school life. This can show larger trends within a school district.
In this post, we’ll explore what it means to have a positive school climate. We'll also share some questions you can ask in a school climate survey to gather feedback to make your district a safe and supportive learning environment.
What is School Climate?
School climate refers to the quality and character of school life. According to the National School Climate Council, it is based on student, parent, and school personnel experiences of school life and reflects the norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures of a school.
Indicators and staples of a positive school climate include:
- A high level of respect between students and teachers
- A high degree of psychological and physical safety
- Norms that support individuals feeling socially and emotionally safe
- Continuous improvement processes to evaluate and iterate on policies and programs
- A shared school vision among caregivers, staff, educators, and students
School climate is often used interchangeably with school culture and school community. While the three terms are related, it’s important to understand how they differ:
- School culture refers to the values, shared beliefs, and behavior of the various stakeholders within a school community. It reflects the school community’s social norms, everyday interactions, and routines. The school culture defines the climate experienced by those in the school community. At the district level, culture includes the experience in the administrative offices, human resources, maintenance, transportation, special services, or any other organizational unit.
- School community refers to all entities that support the activities of the school. Beyond students, teachers, non-instructional staff, and administrators who are active in school buildings, this includes caregivers, volunteers, district-level administrators, paraprofessionals, school board members, and community-serving organizations that work with schools.
The Effects of a Positive School Climate
Decades of research consistently show what educators often see first-hand: a healthy and vibrant school climate leads to better student outcomes in academic achievement, social-emotional learning (SEL), behavior, and relationships. Today, researchers and education leaders consider school climate a key lever for fostering safe, supportive communities.
So how can educators create the conditions necessary for this environment? The National School Climate Center lists the following as the four core components of a positive school climate:
- School safety: Perceptions of students' physical and psychological safety while at school
- Strong relationships: Perceptions of the strength of social connections between teachers and students within and beyond the classroom
- Effective and productive teaching and learning: Perceptions of the quality of teaching and amount of learning students experience
- Healthy, welcoming external school environment: Perceptions of the overall physical, social, and learning environment of the school
By working to improve each of these areas, school and district leaders can create a climate where students, educators, and family members feel safe, seen, supported, and welcomed.
Understanding Community Needs with School Climate Surveys
In order to take meaningful action on school climate improvement, educators need to understand the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of members of the school community.
A school climate survey is a great tool to gather valuable feedback from students, teachers, school staff, and family members. By elevating stakeholder voices, district leaders will gain important insights into the lived experiences of community members. And they'll be able to surface larger trends within the district.
Survey results from Panorama's Family-School Relationships Survey (demo data displayed)
Feedback from surveys gives district leaders important data that can be used to identify areas for growth and plan initiatives and interventions for improving school climate. If your school or district needs help getting started, feel free to download and share our open-source climate survey starter pack. It includes Panorama's complete set of feedback surveys for students, families, and teachers and staff.
21 Questions to Ask in School Climate Survey
Based on the four elements of school climate described above, we've highlighted a selection of survey questions from three of Panorama’s survey instruments: the Panorama Student Survey, the Family-School Relationships Survey, and the Panorama Teacher Survey. These questions can help you learn about the teacher, staff, family, and student perceptions of school climate.
Questions for Students
- How often does this teacher give you feedback that helps you learn?
- At your school, how much does the behavior of other students hurt or help your learning?
- If you walked into class upset, how concerned would your teacher be?
- How fair or unfair are the rules for the students at this school?
- How often are people disrespectful to others at your school?
- How likely is it that someone from your school will bully you online?
- How positive or negative is the energy of the school?
Questions for Teachers
- How effective is your school's evaluation system at helping you improve?
- How often do you see students helping each other without being prompted?
- On most days, how enthusiastic are the students about being at school?
- How clearly can you explain the most complicated content to your students?
- How often do you meet in person with the families of your students?
- How optimistic are you that your school will improve in the future?
- Overall, how positive is the working environment of your school?
Questions for Families
- To what extent do you think that children enjoy going to your child's school?
- How motivating are the classroom lessons at your child's school?
- Overall, how unsafe does your child feel at school?
- How fair or unfair is the school’s system of evaluating children?
- Overall, how much respect do you think the children at your child's school have for the staff?
- Overall, how much respect to you think the teachers at your child's school have for the children?
- How well do the administrators at your child's school create a school environment that helps children learn?
Next Steps: Resources for Action
Using a school climate survey to collect feedback from family, faculty, staff, and students is an easy way to understand what’s happening district and school-wide. Surveys offer an important opportunity to improve school climate in ways that matter to your community to create a safe and supportive school environment.
From our work with schools and districts around the country, we’ve produced a set of resources that will help you meaningfully understand and act on your school climate data. Download the full pack of Panorama’s climate surveys to learn more about collecting high-quality feedback on climate from students, families, teachers, and staff this school year.