What is culture & climate? Why now is the right time to measure it

Working as a school district leader you will have your hands full and a list of tasks to get through. One of these tasks will be to start measuring school culture and climate and this needs to be a top priority.

What is culture & climate? 

"School culture is the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the 'persona' of the school," says Dr. Kent D. Peterson(1), a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. School culture controls the atmosphere in your school and affects everything that goes on inside its walls. This goes further than the student body and includes staff interaction with colleagues, students and parents.

Climate is more than a school experience from one individual; it is the overall experience or sense of the school. School climate is your school’s impact and effects on your students and their relationships with their teachers, other students and parents. It also includes student, parent and school staff beliefs, relationships, teaching, and learning, as well as the structural features of the school. Two creative millenial small business owners working on social media strategy brainstorming using adhesive notes in windowsSchool culture and climate have been described as overlapping notions, however, Hoy et al.(2) described that climate is viewed as behavior, while culture is seen as comprising the values and norms of the school. Measuring school culture and climate is critical in increasing student achievements, school safety, staff retention, student and staff wellbeing as well as healthy social relationships.

Why now is the right time to measure culture and climate?

At the moment, school district leaders are dealing with much more unrest and instability than ever before in their working lives. This uncertainty can create tensions between staff and the rest of the school community because of COVID-19 related issues and the schools plan for reopening and recovery. This divide can cause disagreements and arguments between the staff and parents with some extreme cases such as organizing protests at board meetings.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

(Peter Drucker, Management Expert)

Some school district leaders might be thinking that this is the worst time to gather culture and climate feedback from staff, students and parents. The main concern is that the feedback will be very negative and make the district look bad. In fact, when the culture and climate is most at risk this is the best time to gather feedback.

The importance of measuring now

By measuring the culture and climate now you will hear every student, staff and parent voice  and will not miss out on what they have to say. Using culture and climate surveys each individual in the school is heard and not just the most vocal members of the school community. The surveying process itself is important because it allows students, staff and parents “to be citizens, rather than tourists in the school, as they realize they have an opportunity to participate in shaping the education process.”(3) Elevating the community voice and having concrete feedback from all stakeholders allows you to factually report the communities’ sentiments, rather than relying on how you might think the community are doing.

By using culture and climate surveys, this will provide your school and district with a baseline of data and allows them to see what is and isn’t working as well as fully understanding the needs of their staff, parents and students. You can then build upon the baseline data by setting targets and watching this data improve over time. By gathering regular data for an identified issue and tracking the results over time, this will drive continuous improvement. Monitoring your district especially during these challenging times, will enable your district to come out of this difficult period and get back on track. 

In measuring culture and climate now you can see the significant benefits you stand to reap through continuous improvement especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make the time now to measure, monitor, and engage with your school culture and climate when it’s most needed.

 
 
 
References:
 
(1) Deal, T. E. and Peterson, K. D. (1999). Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership, San Francisco, CA: Jossey        Bass.
 
(2) Hoy, W.K., Tarter, C.J., & Bliss, J.R. (1990). Organizational climate, school health, and effectiveness: A comparative        analysis. Educational Administration Quarterly, 26, 260–279
 
(3) Freiberg, H. J. (1998). Measuring school climate: Let me count the ways. Educational Leadership, 56(1), 22-26.