High Hopes for High School: How Climate Affects Student Behavior

The climate of an institution refers to how it is perceived, morally, legalistically, socially, and organizationally, by its members. In schools, the climate is directly influenced by student and staff interactions, acceptance of school values, and social temperature. Schools with positive climates may help protect students from violence, aggression, bullying, and substance abuse. Although there is an abundance of evidence demonstrating the benefits of positive school climate on student performance and personal development, much of it focuses on middle school settings. To expand upon the existing research, Jennifer Klein of the University of Virginia recently conducted a study assessing high school climates based on reports obtained from 3,687 students. Klein used the School Climate Bullying Survey and evaluated other risky behaviors using the Youth Risky Behavior Surveillance Survey.

She found three primary factors that accurately gauged climate in high schools: aggressive attitudes, willingness of the students to seek help, and bullying. Aggressive attitudes included behaviors that were external in nature, such as drug and alcohol use, fighting, and defiance, as well as internal issues such as depression and sadness. Klein chose to consolidate these behaviors because many studies have demonstrated an overlap among them. High levels of aggressive attitudes predicted poor school climate. Also, high levels of bullying, demonstrating intolerance and discrimination, predicted poor climate. However, Klein found that the students’ willingness to seek help for issues indicated a strong student-staff alliance and predicted a positive school climate. She believes that identifying negative behaviors and working to reduce them could positively impact school climate, although she did not test that theory in this study. Despite the limitations of her research, Klein also believes the results support existing evidence that demonstrates the critical link between climate and character. “This work suggests that schools consider interventions that can have broad impact on students, consistent with the principles of positive youth development,” she said.

Klein, J., Cornell, D., Konold, T. (2012). Relationships between bullying school climate and student risk behaviors. School Psychology Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029350

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  • Ken


    September 5th, 2012 at 3:57 AM

    Just like with anything else and any other situation, the climate and how it is perceived that people want you to behave is generally how students will relate to and emulate. If the school has high expectations for them then the students will try to achieve that bar. If on the other hand the expectations are low, then that is what the students will live up to as well.

    Students are at an age where they are very easily influenced and molded. Don’t we wnat to place them in an environment where they will strive to achieve more rather than aspire to do as little as possible to get by?

  • Yasmine


    September 5th, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    How could there be a school that does not invest it’s time and money into programs that ultimately improve its atmosphere and the climate that the students encounter on a daily basis?
    Any teacher or school administrator worth a grain of salt would want to make school a place that is conducive to learning and positive social interactions for their students. This is where students learn how to succeed, learn what it is like to be an inspiration for themselves and others, those are the feelings and the rewards that students should gain from their school.
    They should not have to worry about being bullied or put in a situation that actually makes them feel bad and does not provide them an atmosphere which makes learning and succeeding not only a possibility but also a realty.

  • Denise.P


    September 5th, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    Growing up in a small town, I witnessed quite a bit of negative things in school but as long as me and many others were concerned,those things did not really affect us.It was almost like isolated to a few groups of people.

    But I do think if this was on a bigger scale it would eventually get to us.What the majority is is what is reflected and that certainly needs to be the positive climate!

  • victoria


    September 6th, 2012 at 1:11 AM

    the environment at school can often make or break a student’s prospects.and that is exactly why people are so particular about what school their kids go to isn’t it?!

    and one thing I think that contributes to the school environment is the discipline on campus. yeah you can call me whatever but I certainly believe discipline can play a big role in how kids turn out to be.

  • doro


    September 6th, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    But students still have to be in a positive enviroment to even be able to feel like they can seek help, yes?

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