Positive school climates are critical to raising academic success for students

Schools, families and communities can work together to promote excellence by creating safe, productive and equitable learning environments.

No young person or adult should feel unsafe in school settings. And according to the U.S. Department of Education this is too often a reality, particularly for students with a difference such as race and disabilities. The department released a resource guide recently to assist school leaders, teachers, staff, students, parents and other community members in creating positive school climates and discipline policies that are fair and equitable for all. The report stresses that positive and safe school climates are linked to academic achievement and student success. The bottom line is that schools must be safe and supportive for effective teaching and learning to take place.

The report called Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline provides three overarching guiding principles as well as action steps that can help schools, families and communities work together to achieve these goals. The three principles highlighted in the guide are:

  1. Climate and prevention: Schools that foster positive school climates can help to engage all students in learning by preventing problem behaviors and intervening to support students who need it most. Action steps include engaging in deliberate and intentional efforts to create positive school climates, promoting social and emotional learning and partnering with local agencies and stakeholders.
  2. Expectations and consequences: Schools that have discipline policies and codes of conduct with clear, appropriate and consistently-applied expectations and consequences will help students improve behavior, increase engagement and boost achievement. Action steps include setting high expectations for students and adopting an instructional approach to discipline that helps students grow and learn from their mistakes. Other steps include involving families and students in the development of policies, adopting restorative justice practices and removing students from the classroom only as a last resort.
  3. Equity and continuous improvement: Schools that build staff capacity and continuously evaluate the school’s discipline policies and practices are more likely to ensure fairness and equity and to promote achievement for all students. Action steps include providing training for all staff focused on applying school discipline policies and practices in a fair and equitable manner, gathering and using data from families, students, teachers and other school personnel, and providing training for all staff focused on race, gender, disabilities, sexual orientation and other areas of difference.

Michigan State University Extension provides education and resources for schools and other community organizations focused on creating safe, affirming and fair environments – as well as issues related to diversity, cultural competency and social justice.

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