It isn’t always easy to get students to enjoy school, and it’s even more challenging when the school environment isn’t a positive one. But the benefits of a positive school environment go far beyond merely motivating student attendance.
While schools with a positive climate do report better attendance rates, they also report higher test scores and better graduation rates. Schools with negative environments report poor student engagement, lower student achievement, and more disciplinary issues.
Given the benefits, it’s in a school leader’s best interest to promote a positive environment. Doing so, however, can be tough if you don’t know where to start. Let’s go over eight ideas that you can use to improve the school climate so you can have a safer learning environment and more engaged students.
Ideas to Improve School Environment
1. Model Positive Behaviors
Lectures and projects provide only one vector for lessons. Students also learn by watching the adults around them, as well as older students. Modeling respectful interpersonal behavior is one way to promote a positive climate.
When students see teachers and other staff treating one another with respect, they know that’s where the bar is set. The same level of attention and respect should be given when speaking with students.
Maintaining eye contact and giving a student your undivided attention when they are speaking indicates that what they are saying and doing is important to you. Active listening and responding with questions or comments that reflect what the student is telling you proves that you value their contributions and opinions.
2. Provide a Rewarding Environment for Staff
There is no doubt that teachers do what they do for the love of the work. However, even the most committed teacher needs to feel that they are valued and that they are making a difference. When your staff is happy and feels supported, they are better equipped mentally and emotionally to teach and help your students.
Appreciation goes a long way toward creating a rewarding environment for your teachers and staff. This can be done in various ways, from publicly acknowledging achievements and good work to sending a simple email or note thanking a staff member for everything they do.
Another means of creating a rewarding environment for staff is to support and encourage their continued development. Allow staff members to suggest areas where they can improve their skills or explore interests that can expand their knowledge and be incorporated into their lessons.
3. Maintain the Physical Safety of Students and Staff
Safety and a school environment are two sides of the same coin. Unsafe schools tend to have less student engagement and lower attendance. Positive environments see higher engagement, graduation rates, and attendance.
Feeling safe is an essential part of a positive environment, one that promotes social and emotional development that in turn, feeds back into creating a safer school. When violence or crime is present, students and staff are more concerned about their own care and self-preservation than about learning or teaching. Watch for signs of bullying and monitor cases of chronic absenteeism.
Ideas for improving the school environment include monitoring behavioral issues in students and offering mental health referrals and services as needed. Problems that arise should be handled quickly and consistently.
4. Use Positive Supports
Students who feel supported by their school also feel happier and more comfortable with their learning environment. The same goes for teachers and staff. Adopting a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) system can guide your support of students and provide opportunities for growth for staff.
PBIS is a framework that teaches students social competence and decision making, improves student behavior, and promotes academic achievement. Students benefit from the process and outcomes of a PBIS framework, while staff can expand their knowledge in their chosen field by learning the system.
There is flexibility built into a PBIS system so it can be effectively applied to a school’s unique situation and student population. Using data gathered through observations and assessment, your school can adopt PBIS practices that best meet the needs of students. The framework’s effectiveness is constantly evaluated, and the practices evolve based on outcomes and data.
5. Incorporate Community and Relationship Building
The community within the school, whether between students and staff or from student to student, is a bellwether for the climate. Research has shown that positive interpersonal relationships between these groups promote a healthy environment. Besides incorporating a social-emotional system like PBIS, there are other ideas to improve school climate leveraging relationship building.
Students should have opportunities to collaborate with one another, either for in-class projects or as part of committees and clubs throughout the school. These give them the chance to get to know each other, something that a lecture environment doesn’t provide.
It’s also vital that students feel like their voices are being heard by staff and teachers. One way to do this is through the creation of a classroom level behavior agreement. By working together with their teacher, students draft a collaborative document defining appropriate behaviors. Because they take part in the creation of the rules, students are more likely to hold their peers accountable for their actions and adherence to the agreement.
6. Add Innovative Learning Opportunities
When teachers can spread their wings through various workshops and growth opportunities, they will want to try new methods of teaching. Part of helping staff feel fulfilled in their roles is by encouraging these innovations.
Students can help innovate the curriculum too. Create space for students to suggest projects that are appropriate to the lessons and/or that are meaningful to themselves, to develop deeper connections with the subject matter.
Remember, however, all innovation involves a certain level of risk, which is a scary proposition for everyone. Take the time to reward appropriate levels and types of risk-taking in both students and staff.
7. Establish Clear Rules and Expectations and Live By Them
Setting clear rules and expectations instructs students on what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. However, having rules that aren’t enforced or that are enforced unequally is almost worse than having no rules at all.
When rules and expectations are defined, make sure that the consequences are also well understood. If and when the rules are broken, the declared consequences must be applied in the same way for every student. It’s this consistency that will let students know that poor behavior isn’t tolerated.
8. Understand Student and Staff Wellbeing in Real Time
It will be difficult to know if these ideas to improve school environment are effective for your institution if you don’t measure what the climate is like.
Typically, schools measure their climate in an annual survey. However, this only shines a light on past problems, not growing concerns. To understand issues within your school before they become problems, you must check on student and staff wellbeing frequently and on an ongoing basis.
Frequent data allows school leaders to see data trends as they are forming and address problems in near real time. Addressing issues quickly is not only a great preventative measure, but it also signals to your school’s population that you care about their comfort, safety, and state of mind.
These are just a few ideas to improve the school climate at your institution. Remember that encouraging engagement, keeping everyone safe, and offering caring support to students and staff are essential elements for a positive environment. To make sure that your efforts are effective and to continue to improve school environment, you must measure the impacts of these activities. When you can measure your student and staff wellbeing in real time, you can evolve your actions to meet your school population’s needs.
Educator Impact is dedicated to helping students find easier ways to ask for help, giving teachers real-time insights on those students, and helping school leaders identify trends in school wellbeing and culture trends.