School climate – revisited

4th August 2020  |  by Greg

This post is by our new partner, Dr Maria Peek. Maria studied PBIS and school climate for her Phd. Basically, she knows her stuff!

As an experienced school leader with a concentrated focus on student behavior and interaction, I can appreciate the difficulties schools are currently facing, and will continue to face in light of our current reality.  It is safe to say that one of the main areas of concern, as schools far and wide reopen, is school climate.  In today’s educational reality, it is always paramount to maintain a climate conducive to positive learning experiences; coupled with the quarantine and general uncertainty of the times, it is now even more challenging, and more important, than usual.

As staff and students re-enter schools, many will struggle with the changes and new routines resulting from this global pandemic. The departure from the norm, necessitated by the ongoing health risks to all, will impact all students, especially those already at-risk for behavioral issues.    

As we educators know, there are many factors involved in building and maintaining a positive climate, and that climate impacts every aspect of school success, from student/teacher interaction, to teaching and learning practices, to the school’s overall organizational structure. From my experiences in leading schools at various levels, I have gleaned some key suggestions for schools focused on best meeting students’ needs as they return to school.

Relationships are more important than ever

All students will need positive rapport with school staff and an atmosphere of mutual trust. It will be important to prioritize positive relationships, especially since there will be so much unchartered territory that staff and students will need to navigate together.

  • Greet students at the door as they enter your classroom, and demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to building rapport with all students.
  • Work to know students’ names quickly, and address them by name when possible.  
  • Take a few moments throughout the day to ask questions and learn about each student as an individual.
  • Use knowledge of students to provide specific and relevant examples in your teaching.  
  • Make the first contact; call parents or guardians and make an effort to share positive observations and begin building rapport.

Communication will be key

In order to maintain that aforementioned climate of trust, it is imperative that two-way communication be prioritized. School leaders will need to ramp up communication with students and staff, not only to share information, but also to garner feedback and keep a finger on the “pulse” of the school environment.

  • Use traditional methods of communication, such as parent letters, newsletters, and e-mails as usual, but provide these updates more often than in usual circumstances and address pertinent issues surrounding the pandemic situation.
  • Administrators should provide virtual meetings that parents and community members can attend to hear important updates, be briefed on the school’s efforts to navigate this situation, and provide feedback.
  • Consider open-ended surveys or other tools to collect feedback and concerns.  
  • Administrators should also reiterate their open door policies and work to ensure that all stakeholders find them approachable and attuned to concerns that may need to be addressed. If you have operated without an open door policy in the past, it is undoubtedly time to make that change.
  • Schools will need to share information regarding supports available to students and parents, such as contact information for counseling staff and school social workers.

Individual students will need individual supports

There has rarely been a time when individual supports for at-risk students were more crucial.  The current state of our world will make it more difficult for students to regulate their behavior.  A proactive approach to assist those students who need extra support will be extremely important.  

  • Administrators should work with the appropriate staff members to provide all staff with existing documentation regarding both academic and behavioral supports for individual students.
  • These staff members must implement safeguards to ensure that these supports are met, and that students are provided with the scaffolding and/or accommodations that they need.
  • Use FBA’s or other methods of analyzing student behavior early and often when students show signs of being behaviorally at-risk. Making proactive behavior decisions based upon data rather than arbitrarily giving consequences to students will more effectively help to combat problem behaviors.
  • Administrators should ensure that teachers have time built into their work day to communicate and collaborate with the other teachers of any students struggling with behavior in their classes.  
  • More formal “round-table” meetings should be conducted in person or virtually as appropriate to the situation so that all staff who work with the student in question can share with the student and his/her parents positive observations or strengths, opportunities for growth, and strategies for success moving forward.
  • Proactively demonstrate a genuine concern for each student by informing parents of any behavioral needs or concerns as they emerge.

Revisit your “Why”

From the top down, schools and educators will need to revisit their reasons for the work they do.  Revisiting our “why” puts our work and our challenges in perspective and gives us renewed motivation to work even harder than we previously have to meet student needs. Reiterating our mission, vision, and core values can help us to work more fluidly as a team and can aid in returning to “business as usual.”

  • In opening meetings/addresses, administrators should share, reiterate, and model the “why” of the school using the mission, vision, and core values as tools for getting staff “on the same page.”
  • Administrators should use meetings, e-mails, and other forms of communication to monitor and take steps to increase teacher morale, as well as keeping a reminder in front of staff of the school teams’ overall values at all times.
  • Schools can utilize social media, e-mail blasts to parents, and announcements during the school day to remind all stakeholder groups of the school community’s mission and vision, and to demonstrate a genuine commitment to making that vision a reality. 

Be world class at the basics

As students return from a lengthy absence, schools can help avoid a large number of behavioral issues by teaching, reteaching, and modeling the key habits or responsibilities they want/need students to see and duplicate.  

  • Administrators and teachers should deliver a concise list of rules and priority expectations–5 or 6–that are clear and easy to follow, along with the consequences for not abiding by those rules, to all students, both verbally and in writing.  It is important to have students sign off on their receipt of this information so that they can be held accountable if need be.
  • Consider using humor to demonstrate/model what to do and what not to do through videos and skits involving students leaders and/or school staff; the more engaged the students are, the better the future behavior.
  • Every school should determine how to deliver this information and follow through on providing it to all parents/guardians.
  • These rules and expectations should be taught explicitly and then brought back through official reminders when students begin to veer off course. Even more so, students nearby who are abiding by these expectations should be praised specifically for their action/s.  
  • Rules and expectations, along with other important guidelines, should be shared in multiple ways.  This can be accomplished in a handbook with signoff for receipt, published on the school website, shared through announcements to students that can then be posted on social media, and/or delivered by individual teachers to their groups of students.                                                                                                  

This time in our educational world is one of great difficulty and uncertainty for many.  As role models and leaders, we can positively impact our students by teaching them to seek the good in an inherently bad situation, and to embrace the life lessons that have been/will be presented to us. This will not come easy, but as Theodore Roosevelt said, “nothing worth having” ever does.

This post is by our new partner, Dr Maria Peek. Maria studied PBIS and school climate for her Phd. Basically, she knows her stuff!

Follow Maria on Twitter here:

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