The Distinction Between School Climate and School Culture

culture and climate in schools

Culture and climate have been big buzzwords in organizational success stories in recent decades. Companies that top lists of the best places to work for have great company culture. On the other side of the coin, a toxic culture can sink a promising company. It extends to schools, too. 

The culture at a college can single-handedly change prospective students’ views of the institution. But even schools with great culture can

Culture and climate in schools have a direct impact on the quality of education students receive. So, what is the difference between culture and climate?

There is a simple way to discern the difference between culture and climate in schools. One relates to the values and expectations of the community. The other deals with the way we exemplify the culture. Let’s look.

What is Culture?

Culture is an important psychological concept in establishing a purpose for any community. It involves a set of values and expectations that the community espouses and works toward. It also involves assumptions about how members of the community live up to those values and expectations. Culture is reinforced through symbols, stories and leadership by example. 

Social clubs are well known for promoting culture among their members. The pride we feel through our association comes partially through service and caring for others. By showing that we care about our communities and the people who live and work there, we encourage others to care. We also project a sense that our club is an important part of the community. That’s a great way to get the community behind us. This concept is prevalent through nearly all aspects of the school experience.

The Importance of a Positive School Culture

Culture is just as important in schools as it is in our communities. When students see signs that the staff doesn’t care, they don’t feel that there is any need to push themselves to succeed. They won’t reach out to a trusted teacher when they need help. If no one else cares, why should they?

Inversely, when students receive positive messaging and reinforcement, they are more likely to put forth the effort to do well. Students see themselves as important members of the community. That’s the first step in taking pride in the way we act and perform in our duties. 

What is Climate?

Climate looks a little different than culture. It has to do with the way the members of the community exemplify local culture. It’s a physiological subject, and It relates to our behaviors in relation to the climate. When community members believe in the culture, the climate will be a positive one. When they don’t, the climate becomes toxic and does not promote a healthy learning environment.

The Importance of a Positive School Climate

A positive school climate is an absolutely essential part of creating a learning environment where students thrive. According to the U.S. Department of Education, negative school climate is linked to lower student achievement and graduation rates, and it creates opportunities for violence, bullying, and even suicide.

If the overarching attitude of the community is negative, it can take individual students down with it. On the other hand, if the attitude is positive, it can provide students with the environment and support they need to succeed.

Cultivating a positive school climate starts with a rock solid school culture.

How Does Culture Affect Student Learning?

The impact of culture in education is profound. Students in schools with a positive culture are more likely to succeed than their counterparts in schools with negative culture. Many of us may understand this more intimately than we might think. Here’s why.

Anyone who has had experience with negative culture in an institutional setting knows how detrimental it can be. Whether at work, school, or any other organized group, a negative culture prevents us from performing at our best. The impact is so great, we see it played out in popular culture on a regular basis.

There are dozens of movies built on the premise of a school’s culture degrading due to its climate. The students become out of control, fail their classes, and drop out. The school no longer expects anything from students, and students no longer expect anything from themselves. Then, a renegade teacher shows up to seemingly do the impossible. Change the culture.

We’ve seen this storyline a hundred times, and there is good reason for it. That’s because a positive culture can make all the difference. Culture and climate in schools are big parts of the learning experience. When leadership doesn’t trust us to do our jobs, we don’t feel the pride and ownership to succeed. When they provide us with the tools we need to perform at our best, the outcome is a cultural climate that supports all students. What is cultural climate?

Positive Culture Fosters Better Relationships

Trust is a big part of the learning process. In order for students to access the help they need, it’s important that they can reach out to teachers and mentors. When we see a positive culture and climate in schools, this is built in. Staff genuinely cares about the success of the school and all its students.

That same trust must extend to faculty members as well. Teachers need to know that the administration has everyone’s best interest in mind. They need the ability to work with the principal and other members of leadership to fill their needs.

Students are More Likely to be Engaged

Student engagement is one of the biggest barriers when it comes to learning. When students aren’t engaged, they miss out on a lot of learning. A lack of engagement may come from poor self-esteem, lack of community, lack of goals, or a poor learning environment. Fostering a positive culture provides the goals and sense of community that creates successful students.

Culture and Climate in Schools Begins with Leadership

If you’ve ever worked for a bad boss, you understand the impact of leadership on culture. It’s hard to live up to a set of standards if the people in charge aren’t reciprocating. It’s no different in schools. Creating a culture that students and staff can feel good about begins with leadership. If the school’s leaders don’t espouse the culture, the climate will suffer as a result.

When it comes to culture and climate, the importance of leadership in schools cannot be overstated. Let’s look at some ways leadership can work to improve the culture and climate in schools.

Create a Culture of Inclusion

In order to create a culture that nurtures education, everyone needs to be involved. That means valuing the input of the group, and not just of leadership. If everyone feels that their input is valued, the culture must involve inclusion.

Support Students and Teachers

Feeling heard is nice, but if we don’t have the support of leadership, it means little in the way we operate. Schools that support students and teachers in their learning endeavors drive better engagement. A supportive school environment shows that leadership sees and values individual differences in the community. When we feel supported, we are free to do great things.

Schools Should be Safe Spaces

Students don’t learn well if they don’t feel safe in their environment. It’s up to the administration to provide that. By addressing issues like bullying and harassment wherever they are found, we can create better learning environments. We also ensure the safety of students and reduce liability the school may face if something bad were to happen.

Culture and Climate in Schools is Contagious

Creating a positive culture reaches far beyond the current class. When we create a strong sense of positive culture, each new class is more likely to want to be a part of it. Positive culture creates a climate of inclusion and drives adoption.

It Takes a Village

Culture and climate in schools can make or break the educational experience of the students. When we don’t pay these concepts enough attention, we create barriers to learning. Strong people in leadership roles are important in creating a strong culture and climate, but It isn’t all on them. The community needs to be involved to reinforce the same values and expectations. 

We can all help out by simply being positive influences. Institutions are much more successful at creating positive culture and climate in schools when the community has their back.

The Distinction Between School Climate and School Culture