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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