To support Satchel Pulse’s Climate, this blog sets out to define the terms culture and climate, highlight their importance for teachers, and outline why teachers should care about them.
What is the difference between culture and climate in a school?
Often used interchangeably, the terms culture and climate are inextricably linked, though there are differences between culture and climate in a school. Together, they represent the values that are practiced within a school district, with culture often directly affecting climate. Individually, they denote different aspects of the school district. Culture is the school environment as a whole, specifically the behaviors within the school and how it operates. This is the district’s mission statement of values and beliefs. Climate, on the other hand, represents the relationships between school stakeholders and ultimately can impact student success. It both changes the way students respond to teachers and is changed by these responses.
What can impact school culture and climate?
Almost any aspect of a school environment can influence and be influenced by culture and climate. Here are a few examples.
- Staffing issues
If the school is understaffed, there is more work to be delegated and taken on which often results in higher stress levels and higher rates of burnout. When teachers’ working hours are spread thin across different tasks, there is, therefore, less time dedicated to student wellbeing and welfare. Having an adequate number of staff in schools is also important as it means that staff do not have to work outside of their job descriptions. For example, teachers being able to leave behavioral interventions to SEL coordinators and school counselors and instead focus on work inside the classroom.
- Relationships between community stakeholders
If there is tension between different community stakeholders, for example, if parents do not like their children’s teachers, this can negatively affect the behavior and wellbeing of students. Inversely, if the school community is involved and engaged, this will create a positive learning environment for all.
- Lack of communication within districts
Strong communication is not only key for keeping everyone in the loop, solving problems before they escalate, and creating a more cohesive school environment, but it is also important to spread positivity and pride in one’s district. Schools with their own School Communicators can easily disseminate positive news (eg. announcing your football team’s latest win!) and encourage others to do the same (eg. a parent giving thanks to a teacher for helping their child with a problem yesterday). Ultimately this will serve to improve your school’s culture and climate.
What is the impact of school culture and climate?
School culture and climate are therefore all-encompassing, having a direct effect on every community stakeholder. When push comes to shove, staff are going to be happier going to work in a positive environment, and students are more likely to want to go to school if they feel safe and respected there. Young learners are particularly perceptive, even those in younger grades, and can often pick up on what’s really going on under the surface in their schools.
This means that school culture and climate play a highly critical role in the success and wellbeing of the community. Not only do they impact the academic success and social emotional learning progress of students, but also whether teachers survive or thrive in their job. This is particularly true for new teachers and those from at-risk populations.
School culture and climate are all-encompassing, having a direct effect on every community stakeholder.
So why should teachers care about their school’s culture and climate?
1. Students perform better
Research suggests that students achieve higher grades on standardized tests when they attend schools with healthy, positive learning environments (Busch, et al., 2009). This is important for teachers as higher test results can ease the stresses and worries of strict state targets. It will also serve to improve staff morale and encourage teachers to understand that they’re great at what they do!
2. Teachers perform better
Additionally, a teacher’s mood directly affects the quality of their teaching, helping to create a virtuous cycle where improvement can be noted in all areas. Studies have shown that positive school environments are beneficial to teachers just as much as students. For example, research suggests that “school practices and school and community conditions… promote improvement [and] the absence of these spells stagnation.” (Allensworth, et al., 2010). Further research also shows that, on average, after 10 years of working, teachers in schools at the 75th percentile of work environment ratings improved 38% more than those at the 25th percentile (Kraft & Papay, 2014).
3. Better teacher wellbeing
Teaching is a social career and, given its nature, teachers have to spend a large portion of their day with other people, whether this be students in the classroom, other teachers in the staffroom, or with SEL coordinators and district leaders in meetings. The better quality these social interactions are, the less of a mental toll they’re going to have on a teacher’s mental health and wellbeing. Positive, stronger relationships with the people teachers surround themselves with increase the success and enjoyment teachers will have throughout their careers.
To conclude, culture and climate are two measurements of different aspects of a school community. Culture denotes the district’s mission statement, values, and beliefs, whereas climate refers to the community relationships and spirit. They are both important for many reasons and bring benefits to all school community stakeholders, including teachers. Three examples of these benefits are that students perform better academically, teachers perform better and give higher quality teaching, and teachers can enjoy more success and enjoyment in their professional lives.
Allensworth, E., Bender Sebring, P., Bryk, A.S., Easton, J.Q., Luppescu, S. (2010). Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Read it here.
Busch, S., MacNeil, A.J., Prater, D.L. (2009). The effects of school culture and climate on student achievement. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 12, pp. 73-84.
Kraft, M.A., Papay, J.P. (2014). Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience. Sage Journals, 36, 4, pp. 476-500.