How to pick culture and climate measures to get actionable insights

Improving schools’ culture and climate is foundational to maximizing value for all stakeholders, especially student college and career readiness.  But improvement can’t happen without measurement.  There are several ways to measure culture and climate, but the most efficient and most commonly recommended approach is student, staff, and family surveys.  The National Association of School Psychologists and Council of Chief State School Officers both recommend surveys as the best method for measuring culture and climate.  Cohen, Pickeral, and McCloskey concluded:

“School climate is best evaluated with surveys that have been developed in a scientifically sound manner and are comprehensive in two ways: (1) recognizing student, parent, and school personnel voice and (2) assessing all the dimensions that color and shape the process of teaching and learning and educators' and students' experiences in the school building.”

There are many perspectives on the dimensions that should be included in culture and climate surveys, and research has not yielded a single set of recommended dimensions.  Some of the most common dimensions included in surveys are:

Staff Surveys Student Surveys Parent Surveys
Appreciation & recognition Health and wellbeing Communication
Career development Student satisfaction My child's learning
Culture fit Academic experiences My child's safety
Job satisfaction School environment My child's wellbeing
Meaningful work Relationships with students School culture
Relationship with colleagues Relationships with teachers School Environment
Relationship with supervisor Reward and recognition School leadership
School management School culture Teaching staff

 

There are challenges associated with using surveys as a measurement tool, including time and effort, infrequent data cycles, and roadblocks to effectively using the results.  However, these challenges can be overcome and the benefits of measuring culture and climate far outweigh the challenges.  Administering the surveys signals to your stakeholders that you care about them and the climate and culture of your schools, especially if you respond to the data by telling them what you’re doing to improve.  

A successful approach to culture and climate surveys requires attention to several key factors.  First, the survey design needs to be research-based and conducted by experienced professionals.  You want your effort to yield reliable and valid results.  Second, the measurement frequency needs to match your decision frequency.  While many school districts survey only once each year, changes must be made throughout the year to improve the culture and climate.  Surveys should be administered throughout the year in order to monitor the need for and impact of those changes.  Third, instead of hearing only from the eager supporters and detractors, make sure you hear all the voices in your community by maximizing your return rates.  Last, be efficient in the administration and analysis of the surveys.  The sustainability of your culture and climate measurement system depends on minimizing the time and effort associated with each cycle of the surveys.  

An effective system for measuring culture and climate will provide the critical information needed to understand the current state of your schools.  It will also provide you the results to identify areas in need of improvement and the ability to monitor those improvements.  Done well, culture and climate surveys for students, staff, and families will build trust with your stakeholders as you prove to them that you are listening.  This trust will be further enhanced as you demonstrate through your results that changes made are improving results.  Most importantly, the improvements in your culture and climate will actuate untapped gains in student achievement.  

It can be tempting to continue trusting your gut and believing that the culture and climate are just fine.  The reality is they must be managed, and to be improved, they must be measured.  When you optimize your culture and climate surveys, you will actuate powerful benefits for all stakeholders, most importantly, your students.

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