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Is it getting cold in here? What happened to the school climate?


School ClimateIndeed, we are a culture consumed by hard data and academic accountability. Although the attention to quantifiable problems in our schools is not completely without merit, it is disconcerting that as teachers and administrators rise to meet the challenges of state and national standards, they are finding it increasingly difficult to spend the time necessary to building relationships and a healthy school climate. While we can’t change the expectations placed on administrators, we do have a few simple steps you can take to attend to your school climate.

Is it getting cold in here? What happened to the school climate?

Do continue teaching
What is your major field of study? Every principal has one. When was the last time you collaborated with students, prepared a lesson plan or taught a class?  If it’s been a while, break out the WD-40, become a “special sub” and take over for every teacher one time per year.  This will keep your “pedagogical chops” sharp; furthermore, it will give students the opportunity to view you—the person who runs the school, speaks to their parents and helps design the curriculum—through a completely different lens. Bet on them going home that night and telling their parents, “Guess what? The principal was our teacher today!”

Don’t bandy around “excellence” without interrogating its meaning
“Excellence…” the ubiquitous buzzword that’s managed to find its way into nearly every tagline and company slogan on the planet. Educators are keen on this word, too, but what does “excellence” truly mean? What do we mean when we say that excellence is our goal?” Surely, we all strive to have excellent schools, but do we—principals, teachers and staff—have a shared vision of what this looks like? Here’s an idea we got from M. Scott Norton’s and Larry Kelly’s book, The Principal As a Learning-Leader:

Before your next faculty and staff meeting, ask each of them, “What does excellence mean to you?” and give them a week to craft a two-sentence response. Their responses will be the subject of discussion and debate the following week.

Do take transitional students under your wing
Remember the day you crossed the border from middle school into high school? Even if you were one of the lucky ones who adjusted quickly, there was still a learning curve. Keep in mind that it can be intimidating for freshmen to enter what Susan Ohanian aptly describes as “a maze of corridors, fast-paced schedules, and rigorous course requirements.”

Helping these new students transition is a shared responsibility, but administrators will need to be the impetus behind it. One way to do this is by creating “articulation programs” that include taking students on a tour of the building and setting up a one-to-one mentor program so that when the new student arrives they are familiar with the layout and have an ally—someone they can approach with questions that older students take for granted. Give mentors a pin or an armband so that they can easily be identified as the person who will provide assistance.

Don’t forget that there are easy ways to facilitate creative environments
Do our learning environments support students’ natural instinct to discover and create? In their book, The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning Trung Le and Rick Dewar tell us about one school in Lincolnshire, Illinois that has integrated artwork directly into the school building by setting up art galleries dedicated exclusively to student artwork. The school has even set up a program where students can sell their artwork to the school. Not only do students receive a small sum of money for their work, they also have the satisfaction of knowing that their work will be on permanent display.