School Climate

What is School Climate?

The National School Climate Center (NSCC) defines school climate as the quality and character of school life. A school’s climate is based on patterns of students', parents' and school staff member's experience of school life. School climate also reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning, and leadership practices and organizational structures. (1) Every student, parent or caregiver, school staff, and school community member have different experiences of school life all day, every day. When schools are intentional about creating a positive school climate, the school community’s experience improves. This leads to students being more engaged in school and feeling more connected to school–resulting in a school climate that supports the success of all students in school and throughout their life.

School Climate and Bullying Prevention

Students may bully other students for many reasons. Problems at home may prompt some students to bully–they are directing the anger they feel at others. Some students may bully to compensate for their low self-esteem, while other students may bully because they lack the social and emotional skills to handle difficult situations. Bullying impacts all students and staff–bullying disrupts the sense of safety and school connectedness they feel, and it interrupts the learning environment.

When school staff, students and families work together to create an environment where mean and unkind behavior is not tolerated, schools experience a reduction in bullying behavior. Intentional school climate improvement practices increase students sense of safety, build pro-social skills, develop a respect for diversity, increase social support, and create positive connections and engagement in school. (2) At its core, school climate is about healthy, positive and connected relationships–the ultimate remedy for bullying.

Why School Climate Matters

Many education leaders understand that students learn best in school environments where they feel safe, supported and engaged. Research shows that when schools and districts focus on improving school climate, students are more likely to engage in the curriculum, develop positive relationships and demonstrate positive behaviors. (2) Attendance problems, high rates of in-school and out-of-school suspensions, and student dropout are often the result of poor school climate. (3) (4) address these school climate-related issues, schools often need to make changes in district and school policies, practices, and services.

School Climate Improvement

School climate improvement is a process that engages all members of the school community and involves them in a series of overlapping systemic improvements, school-wide instructional practices and relational management practices that promote safe, supportive and engaging schools. An effective school climate improvement process is an intentional, strategic, data-driven, collaborative (“bottom-up” as well as “top-down”), and continuous process. The assessment of school climate includes analyzing data on perception of students, family or caregivers, and school staff on a range of safety, relationship, teaching and learning, and institutional dimensions. School climate improvement is a five-stage continuous process: preparation, assessment, planning for improvement, implementation and evaluation.

The school community’s perception of school climate improves when schools are attentive to systemic, instructional, and relational policies and practices that drive school climate improvement.

The School Climate Improvement Model


(1) National School Climate Council, 2007.
(2) Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Higgins-D’Alessandro, A., & Guffey, S. (2012). School climate research summary: August 2012 (School Climate Brief No. 3). New York, NY: National School Climate Center.
(3) Allensworth, E.M., Gwynne, J.A., Moore, P., and de la Torre, M. (2014). Looking Forward to High School and College: Middle Grade Indicators of Readiness in Chicago Public School. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.
(4) Doll, J. J., Eslami, Z., & Walters, L. (2013, October-December). Understanding why students drop out of high school, according to their own reports: Are they pushed or pulled, or do they fall out? A comparative analysis of seven nationally representative studies.

  • Best Practices to Improve School Climate Guide - 9/27/18
    To help schools and school districts in efforts to improve school climate, the School Safety Technical Assistance Center developed the Best Practices to Improve School Climate Guide. To be most effective, we recommend that schools and school districts use this tool as part of a comprehensive school climate improvement process.