Establishing a positive school climate meets the needs of English learners — and all students
Monday, April 22, 2019
It is clear that a positive work environment benefits everyone and allows for a healthy, happy, and collaborative environment where everyone can work to accomplish goals in a meaningful, engaging way. When it comes to schools, a positive environment not only benefits the staff but the students, too.
This is especially important when we are discussing potentially marginalized populations in schools. We can best meet the needs of English learners, students with special needs, and other student groups when we consider their needs along with each of the populations of students in the school.
The process of meeting the needs of each child begins with establishing a positive school climate.
It is helpful to have a set of common goals within a school so that everyone understands what is to be accomplished and can begin to work towards them. To develop a positive school climate, consider setting goals that are inclusive or focus on English learners and other populations of students.
Develop goals based on data from your school, including information on student achievement such as grades or language proficiency assessments. For example, goals might be developed around increases in overall GPA, increases in English proficiency, or increases in bilingualism in a dual language or bilingual program.
Goals can also be set around inclusion topics, like having more students of a specific population (such as English learners or students with special needs) participating in activities, clubs, sports, etc. Increasing parent and community participation and involvement also helps to build an inclusive community.
Disciplinary goals can also be set, including decreasing the number of incidents or referrals being made. By setting these goals, we can begin to address issues that are arising and help focus the school community on creating an inclusive environment where the needs of each student are met.
Engaging All Stakeholders
As you develop and set goals, and consider how to continually develop a positive school community, be sure to include all stakeholders. It is important to include everyone in the discussions as a way to build an inclusive environment and to be sure to identify as many of the positive aspects of the school community and areas that need to be worked on.
This relates directly back to common goal creation but also ensures that you are beginning to build a positive school climate wherein all voices are shared, heard and appreciated.
Engaging all stakeholders is not always and easy feat. We first must identify who the stakeholders are in the school and in the community. Consider how you will engage students, parents, and the variety of staff members in the school, including the teachers, administrators, instructional assistants, custodial staff, office staff, security personnel, and community members.
Outreach may need to be conducted to ensure that every stakeholder has the opportunity to have their voice heard. The stakeholders should be able to share their perceptions of what is going well and what needs improvement; their own goals for the school; and celebrations and grievances. When each person’s voice is heard, acknowledged and considered, a positive school climate is built.
Establishing Appreciation and Respect of Diversity
By establishing goals and including all stakeholders into the conversation, we begin the process of building an appreciation of and respect for diversity in the school. When people think of diversity, the first thing that often comes to mind is race. However, diversity refers to variety and multiformity, and as educators it is important that we recognize, appreciate, respect, and celebrate the diversity we have in our schools.
Consider all of the people that work at, learn at, visit, and are associated with your school. Each individual has unique experiences, beliefs, values, heritage, cultural norms, abilities and strengths, areas of needed support, etc.
As mentioned, appreciation and respect begins first by recognizing the diversity in schools and then having all stakeholders involved in conversations, planning, and activities that are school-based. When we value, respect, and appreciate everyone’s voices, we begin to value, respect, and appreciate diversity.
Focusing on empathy is another way to establish an appreciation of others. We can build empathy by getting to know each other and hearing and sharing our stories of both triumph and hardship.
By understanding the experiences and backgrounds of others, we begin to change people’s hearts and minds. Everyone in education came to the field for the right reasons; they care about children and want to make the world a better place. At times, we need to be reminded about that fact and recognize the diversity in the school, community, and those that we serve in the school.
Ways to show appreciation and respect for one another are through genuine compliments, appreciations and gratitude. Schools can develop a challenge or expectation for their staff and students: compliment or appreciate/express gratitude to at least one person each day.
For the staff, ask people to give a genuine compliment to at least one person each day. This can be in the form of a “shout out,” in which staff write a compliment or appreciation on a sticky note and post it on a “shout out wall” in the staff room, or through an email, text, or verbal compliment or appreciation. While there is not necessarily a formal accountability measure for this, continuing to encourage each other to recognize, appreciate, and respect our diversity will help to build a more positive school climate.
Collaboration and Support
In a school with a positive school climate, collaboration is the norm. Teachers seek each other’s expertise and share ideas with each other. Through collaboration, teachers can better their practice by sharing specific techniques for teaching English learners and developing academic language.
Specialists can share data on the proficiency levels of the English learners in the school, and teachers of students with special needs can inform teachers about the specific needs of the students they serve. In addition, resources can be openly shared and distributed, especially when they have been found to be helpful in terms of teaching specific students or populations of students.
Along with collaboration, teachers will need professional development to continue to improve their practice. Teachers should make their needs known so that professional development can be planned and provided. Through these professional development opportunities, teachers can learn the skills needed to best meet the needs of each student.
Creating a positive school environment begins at the individual level and grows when we share our common goals, bring all stakeholders to the table, and collaborate to better our practice.
The process does not happen overnight; creating a positive school culture takes time and effort for all those involved. Remember to keep your eye on the prize, and continue working towards making your school a positive work environment that best serves the needs of the students that are attending.
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