How to Create a Positive School Culture and Climate?.

The concepts of school climates and school cultures run parallel. Yet, there are two different components.

According to the National School Climate Council, school climate defines the quality and character of school life. It embodies a school’s attitude or feelings.

On the other hand, school culture resembles more of the school’s personality. It defines:

  • Shared values, perceptions, and belief patterns
  • School relationships (student-student, parent-teacher, students-staff)
  • School and classroom rules
  • School norms and expectations
  • Teaching and learning approaches
  • School discipline

Even when the climate is as negative as the stigma around ‘draining Monday mornings,’ the school culture dictates how the students and staff will feel throughout the week.

8 Key Steps to Creating a Positive School Culture and Climate

Positive Action provides a research-based framework and key strategies for educational leaders to improve and support their school climate. Our school climate kit covers elementary and secondary level schools.

The program embeds all the principal key steps to a positive school culture, including:

  1. Setting a clear vision, school norms, goals, and expectations that support social, emotional, and physical safety
  2. Establishing school safety for a more positive climate
  3. Advocating for students as well as parent’s involvement in school policies and practices
  4. Engaging teachers and administrators
  5. Setting boundaries through school and classroom rules
  6. Creating fun and positive experiences
  7. Creating a healthy physical, emotional, and social environment for student growth
  8. Improving your current school climate through assessments and surveys

1 - Set a Shared Vision and Goals

What are your school’s expectations for the rest of the school year?

The initial step to building a positive school climate is to have your whole school community take ownership of the school’s vision and goals.

As the African proverb says, ‘It takes a whole village to educate a child.’ From the school leaders, students, teaching staff, and even the support staff. Everyone has their designated vital role that will help produce a conducive environment to attain positive school outcomes.

Positive school culture is supported when there’s a shared sense of oneness and belonging.

Therefore, a solid school vision should be implemented to enhance and sustain a positive school climate.

There’s a global vision that is set by the school leaders and other stakeholders, but there are also individual goals that include;

  • Parent’s expectations for their child
  • Teacher’s skill and commitment to the school
  • Student engagement and personal ambition

As a school leader or educator, you should be exemplary in how you set and track your school goals.

Teachers can also involve students in setting goals for themselves and the school. The plan should convey a clear message of what is expected of them.

2 - Establish School Safety

A physically secure, emotionally, socially, and intellectually safe school creates a positive learning community.

School safety refers to being free from danger or harm. It is a fundamental need.

Students who feel intellectually safe have a higher academic performance. They feel comfortable enough to explore their academic potential and show continuous improvement in their work.

When students feel safe socially, it promotes healthy relationships within the school.

School leaders can address school safety issues by;

  • Implementing behavior management strategies through positive lessons. The lessons include how to resolve conflicts, school violence, and prevent bullying.
  • Enforcing school rules and disciplinary measures — Children behave more positively when they understand that there are consequences for their behaviors.
  • Increasing the security measures around your school. For example, setting metal detectors and guards around the school premises.

3 - Promote Positive Relationships

The quality of relationships within the schools elevates the school’s vision, academic success, and school safety. It also sustains a positive school culture.

Parental Involvement

Families play a positive role in improving the school climate.

Children are constantly learning and absorbing information, even outside the school walls. It gives both the school leaders and the schools’ families the crucial role of nurturing their children’s brains concurrently.

Families can become more involved in their student's school by using the Positive Action Family Kit.

Parents can be involved beyond the occasional parent-teacher meetings.

School leaders can help by planning workshops that include the whole school community. This will build healthier interpersonal relationships through trust and respect for adversity and having that sense of belonging.

Student Engagement

There are different types of students, and with each comes their unique challenges.

Implementing positive youth development programs in your school can help some students tackle these issues.

Students can learn how to improve their health, mental awareness and set better goals for their future.

4 - Assess Your Academic Curriculum

The quality of the learning experience affects academic school success.

Improve social and emotional learning

Social and emotional lessons help children develop self-awareness and social skills. As a result, it reduces cases of school violence and improves academic performance.

Positive Action implements a proven method for social-emotional learning that works in community centers, mental health centers, and other institutions beyond a classroom setting.

Employing character education lessons can have another positive impact on the community. It also fosters good behavior and helps build healthier relationships.

Support Professional development

Creating a fun and engaging curriculum for the school will keep the students interested and reduce the dropout rate and absenteeism.

Regular review and assessment of the educator’s teaching practices are necessary.

A teacher who lacks strong motivational and relationship skills undermines the effects of creating a positive culture.

Good teaching showcases;

  • Motivational skills to inspire students to learn
  • Classroom management skills
  • Knowing the subject, solid content, and teaching method
  • Ability to bond with students and be a role model

5 - Promote Positive Reinforcement Systems

Positive reinforcement propels anyone to do better and achieve more.

Achievements should be appreciated and celebrated.

Teachers can implement a positive culture by showcasing academic achievements.

All students should be supported. When a student is performing poorly, be candid but positive.

6 - Upkeep and Maintain the Institutional Environment

The structural organization of your school sets the first impression on your school’s culture and outcomes.

Spruce up the schools’ physical environment. Upkeep and maintenance of the school building including heating, lighting, cleanliness, and availability of resources are important.

Researchers concluded that effective class management strategies have positive outcomes on students’ behavior and academic achievement.

For example, having smaller class sizes creates better student-teacher engagement and adequacy of resources.

How Does the School Climate and Culture Affect Your School Outcomes?

Your school culture and climate have a huge impact on the general school outcomes and the whole learning experience for young people.

For instance, let’s talk about the experience of Kristin McMillan. She's an Arts in Education writing resident who had an opportunity to work with some of the children benefiting from our Positive Action elementary school program.

On her very first day, Kristin was dreading going to work. Regardless, the school's positive atmosphere and positive school culture created a welcoming environment for her. It uplifted her spirit and changed her whole mood.

From the positive school culture, her attitude was transformed for the rest of her experience.

“I trudged into the school, but as soon as I opened the door, my heart lifted. All feelings of dread and homesickness left me. I felt like I had come home, in the best sense of the word: to a place of light and order and joy, a place of belonging… The children in the audience were utterly polite, breaking into laughter as different negative actions were transformed into positive actions. Their delight was palpable. Their joy was unmistakable…This was the essence of my dream of school, the one that had attracted me to teaching in the first place”.

Effects of School Cultures and Climates on School Outcomes

As shown in the table below, a warm, inclusive, and positive school culture yields positive school outcomes. Contrarily, toxic school cultures can bring out the worst in students and school communities.


  • Behavior and Character
  • School Environment
  • Academic Performance
  • School Community

Positive School Climate

  • Generosity, Trust, and Respect
  • Students understand positive actions
  • Improved school safety
  • Quality student support
  • Coordinated teamwork
  • Physical and mental health promoted
  • Highly motivated students and teachers
  • Improved overall performance
  • Students continue with their education — low dropout rate
  • Common vision
  • High expectations
  • Healthy parent involvement
  • Good parent and teacher relationship
  • Student and teacher engagement

Toxic School Climate

  • Bullying, Rudeness
  • Disaffection with learning
  • Rule breakers
  • Reduced mental and physical health
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • School violence
  • Weapon possession
  • Absenteeism
  • Teacher burnout
  • School dropouts
  • School Conflicts
  • Bullying and violence

How can You Monitor and Improve your School Climate and Culture?

Which aspects of a positive school climate seem to be lacking in your school?

Do you see how you can improve and enhance your school climate?

There are several ways to analyze and evaluate school climate including:

  • Focus groups
  • Study circles
  • Interviews ( students, school staff, school parents)
  • Town Hall discussions
  • Observational methods
  • Participatory action research
  • Surveys

Student, staff, and family surveys are more popular today as they give more comprehensive results of the school climate from the different perceptions given.

However, Edgar Schein, one of the foremost organizational psychologists, advises that a survey will not reveal people’s underlying assumptions and beliefs.

School climate surveys evaluate different aspects of the school culture and climate and identify the strengths and weaknesses within the school.

According to the National School Climate Council, four major factors shape the school climate;

  • Safety
  • Relationships
  • Teaching and learning
  • Institutional environment

Researchers have conducted surveys on the effects of the Positive Action program on school culture outcomes.

Is There Hope for Your School?

The answer is yes!

Students are being transformed each day with the right tools at hand and positive leadership.

Received was from a 6th grader’s graduation ceremony speech back in 2011:

‘’School is no longer a joke to me. Fourth grade is where I changed my life around. I felt like I wasn't being threatened; safe. I made new friends and didn't care to fight. I realized I'm great at science, math, and of course, PE ’’.