Monday, January 20, 2014

Overcoming a Negative School Climate

In the movies, whenever there is a "tough" school, it's obvious. Lots of graffiti, big really mean looking kids, uncaring teachers, metal detectors, armed guards patrolling the hallways, and a pervasive sense of doom.

In reality, lots of schools can have a negative school climate without all of the cinematic trappings. Just low test scores and the struggle to help students overcome the obstacles to success can take a toll on any school. And that would be just the beginning.

In Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, I offered some small suggestions for those teachers who want to take a constructive stance toward the despair that permeates a building with a negative climate.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that any climate can be changed if enough people work together to make it happen. Start small, but start.

"Despite our best intentions of providing a positive, productive classroom environment for every student, when the schoolwide climate is negative, we struggle to teach and our students struggle to succeed. Contrary to what many people may believe, schools with a negative environment are not confined to the inner city or to impoverished rural areas. Any school can have a negative climate.

 Although there are many influences that can have a negative bearing on the climate of a school, there are some that are obvious: an unsafe location, a history of low academic success, a strong gang presence, a physical plant that is in need of cleaning and repair, a lack of effective procedures and policies, and a lack of administrative support for teachers, just to name a few.

 Unfortunately, schools with a negative climate are easy to identify. At these schools students tend to

• Focus on other activities instead of academics

• Report that they do not feel safe

• Experience little academic success

• Have poor attendance

• Experience problems with their peers as well as with their teachers

• See very little purpose for an education

• Flaunt school rules

• Report that their morale or school spirit is low

• Experience class disruptions due to violence and threats of violence

• Have a high percentage of discipline referrals

   If you teach in a school where the environment is not always constructive, there is a great deal that you can do to make a positive difference in the lives of your students. More than other teachers, the effectual educators in a school where the environment is not positive tend to direct their students toward the future. They help students establish goals and develop skills that will lead to a productive and happy life ahead.

 In order to manage this, though, your attitude should be one of realistic optimism. Teachers who are effective in schools with negative climates are not unmindful of the daily challenges that they and their students face. Instead, they acknowledge their problems and then find ways to solve or at least manage them so that students can be successful.

 Along with a sense of realistic optimism, successful teachers in a school where the climate is not positive tend to acknowledge the big picture of the school and not just focus on the problem areas. This perspective will allow you to acknowledge the problems you encounter at school and then move forward to help students find success.

 Finally, these teachers also tend to believe that change is possible and that they are the agents of that change. With this attitude firmly in place, teachers have been known to inspire entire classes to reach unprecedented and unanticipated success.

 With this attitude, you will have a much greater chance of successfully managing your daily challenges than if you spend your days bemoaning your school’s problems. In addition to these productive attitudes, there are several strategies that you can use to cope with the negative elements of your school’s climate.

• Start small. Keep your classroom clean and organized so that students have an orderly place for learning.

• Focus on the positive elements in your school and work to strengthen them. Become a band booster, football team fan, or sponsor of a student club.

• You should involve as many people as you can to make positive changes at your school. Enlist support and help from student organizations, community groups, the parents and families of your students, and your colleagues.

• Do what you can to strengthen your students’ literacy and math skills. In secondary schools, many of the problems that began when students were younger impede their ability to learn independently.

1 comment:

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