An emphasis on climate and culture are not unheard of in the world of educational leadership. In fact, these terms are frequently used interchangeably although they differ in nature. In a crisis situation, however, it is imperative to distinguish between these two terms, and determine how, as school leaders, we can maintain our cherished school culture when it becomes impacted by climate.
Climate versus Culture
School climate references the impact a school has on students and staff, including relationships, teaching practices and diversity. Climate encompasses the way school members experience the school. School culture, by contrast, is the way that staff members work together and the inclusive set of values and beliefs that they share. Not surprisingly, both climate and culture influence a student's ability to learn and the way a school functions both pre and post crisis. What happens when climate suffers after a crisis? How can we keep the culture of the school in tact?
Improving school climate
School climate includes factors that serve as conditions for learning. These conditions can include the perception of physical and emotional safety and well-being, support services available, and engagement within the community. When a school's climate is positive, students and staff feel safe and supported and are more likely to engage collectively in fulfilling the school's mission. For example, the mission of my school reads as follows: A safe learning environment, committed to fostering personal growth and academic excellence. When our school climate is positive, both students and staff are maintaining high academic and behavioral standards in a supportive and inclusive way.
When a tragedy strikes, however, it is easy to see that there may be shifts in the climate of a school. When a school experiences an intruder situation, or endures the public ridiculing of a school member based on his or her race or sexual orientation, for example, the perception of physical or emotional safety may flounder. If this change in climate is not addressed, the school's culture may suffer. Staff and students may start to form new opinions about the organization's values and beliefs. They may become undeservingly critical or judgemental of others on their team if the leader isn't careful to bring the group back together and engage in conscientiously addressing feelings and concerns. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that leaders can employ to help:
By focusing on school climate post-crisis, and becoming attune to the ways that perceptions and beliefs about one's safety may be shifting, school leaders can continue to use the positive school culture to ameliorate the impact of a crisis event. By assessing the needs of the community, allowing a pivot in priorities and emphasizing relationships, leaders can keep a pulse on school climate and use it as a tool to sustain the culture of a school. This will sustain a school moving forward in a post-crisis world, a topic which we will discuss more in-depth tomorrow.
Linger a Little Longer:
1. Articulate the difference between school climate and school culture. How does one impact the other?
2. Identify a time when you have witnessed a shift in school climate after an event. What was the impact?
3. Of the aforementioned strategies for improving school climate after a crisis, which is the most important? Why?