Can school-wide interventions change school climate?

School climate is a critical component for successful school outcomes. The type of engagement occurring between students, faculty, and the community, the level of safety, and environmental factors all affect school climate.

Key Takeaway: School climate is a critical component for successful school outcomes. The type of engagement occurring between students, faculty, and the community, the level of safety, and environmental factors all affect school climate. With school-wide programs focusing on specific domains, like School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports for discipline and social and emotional learning for safety, schools can change the perceptions and overall climate. - Ashley Parnell

A safe, supportive school climate is critical for school effectiveness. From teacher longevity, satisfaction, and stress to student academic achievement, problem behavior, and social-emotional health, the impact of school climate on all stakeholders is well supported by research. 

The association of school climate and key school outcomes supports the need for educators to be concerned with creating and sustaining a healthy school climate. Yet, evidence regarding ways to implement change remains limited and reviews focusing on the effects of intervention to improve school climate have not been conducted.

In this systematic review, Charlton, Moulton, Sabey, and West examined methodological quality and findings from 18 experimental studies evaluating the effects of schoolwide intervention programs on teacher and student perceptions of school climate.

Specifically, school climate refers to the comprehensive social and physical conditions, which involve three critical/core domains (DoE, 2014): 

  • Engagement. Relationships between students, teachers, families, and the broader community.
  • Safety. Schools and school-related activities where students are safe from violence, bullying, harassment, and controlled substance use.
  • Environment. Facilities, resource & technology access, teacher-student ratios, and teacher-student retention.

Researchers summarized and analyzed all available experiential research on the topic while prioritizing the highest quality literature when drawing conclusions.

Evidence identified supports the following key conclusions:

  • Careful, systematic implementation of schoolwide programs is likely to improve multiple domains of school climate, specifically the engagement and environment domains for School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) and social and emotional learning (SEL).
  • Findings suggest that programs targeting specific domains of school climate (e.g.., SWPBIS for discipline, SEL for emotion safety) seem effective in changing perceptions. 
  • School climate improvement is amenable to change. This review identified evidence supporting the malleability of school climate and the finding that schoolwide intervention can improve school climate.

While these findings are encouraging, some limitations and recommendations of the current study as they relate to: a) the quality of literature, b) definitions of independent variables, and c) measures of school climate warrant consideration. 

Summarized Article:

Charlton, C.T., Moulton, S., Sabey, C.V., West, R. (2021). A systematic review of the effects of schoolwide intervention programs on student and teacher perceptions of school climate. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions. 23(3), 185-200.

Summary by: Summary by: Ashley M. Parnell—Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment, and passion and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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