The Whole Enchilada: Comprehensive School Climate Change
This PRIMA 2016 session was presented by William Grace Frost, Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters. Community Matters is a national leader in student‐centered school safety programs and school climate improvement since 2000 Founders of the evidence‐based Safe School Ambassadors Program implemented in over 2,000 schools nationwide and in Canada, Puerto Rico and Japan.
The intent of this session was to provide a school climate improvement framework and assessment process, designed to implement an effective and sustainable risk reduction strategy. To do this, one must think outside of the box.
Bullying and cyber bullying are becoming more prevalent, much more pervasive and often difficult to identify. In response to this, schools have found it necessary to boost safety and security. The zero-tolerance policies and “outside-in” approaches, however, have been found to be ineffective in reducing school violence. 163,000 students stay home every day due to bullying fears or issues.
There is a need for a balanced approach between security and climate. Climate is important in creating familiarity, trust, connectivity and ultimately safety. Strong connections will lead to a healthier school climate.
For school climate improvement to occur, positive characteristics must be present such as:
- A strong sense of belonging
- Positive relationships between students and staff
- Discipline using formative or restorative consequences
- Engagement, recognition and leadership opportunities for students in a variety of activities
The inside-out approach is far better at creating a positive school climate. Where do you start? First you must have an organizing structure where there is a school climate alignment of staff, students, families, community and organizations that can provide leadership and governance. It is critical to enroll all allies and inspire champions within all of the stakeholders groups.
This involves a paradigm shift to restorative justice. Here, it is critical that staff build positive relationships – be “hall friendly” adults, use effective communication skills with active listening and be an asset-building adult, demonstrating caring and kindness and accentuating positives.
School staff must know and notice mistreatment such as exclusions, put downs, intimidation, unwanted physical contact, acts against campus and cyberbullying which can include most of the others.
Leveraging the power and potential of students is also critical. They need a voice and they want to be empowered. This can be achieved in ways such as peer mediating and peer mentoring.
Also, for climate change to occur it is important to empower the “bystanders.” This can be done by identifying and enrolling social leaders, waking up their courage and nurturing connectedness and being a positive example to others.
Getting families, community and organizations involved and engaged is also necessary.
For school climate transformation to really occur, “the whole enchilada” involves all of the following:
- Creating a school climate committee
- Organizing your vision, plans and initiatives with the Whole School Climate Framework (WSCF)
- Engaging all stakeholders in the dialog and process
- Conducting a comprehensive 360 climate assessment
- Developing and choosing strategies that address each of the 5 WSCF determinant areas
- Shifting from zero tolerance policies to restorative practices
- Engaging, equipping and empowering students with evidence-based programs
- Providing staff training and development
- Evaluating progress and modifying the plan as needed
- Celebrating success!