Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the Encyclopedia of Social Work, accessed online. (c) National Association of Social Workers and Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the applicable license agreement governing use of the Encyclopedia of Social Work accessed online, an authorized individual user may print out a PDF of a single article for personal use, only (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

Subscriber: null; date: 18 October 2018

School Climate

Abstract and Keywords

School climate has received increasing attention from researchers and policy makers during the past two decades, as research points to its impact on student behavior and academic performance. This chapter presents definitions of school climate in the literature and provides a brief historical context for school climate research. In addition, it presents methods for assessing and intervening to improve school climate.

Keywords: academic outcomes, interpersonal relationships, research, safety school climate

Defining School Climate

The National School Climate Council defines school climate as the “quality and character of school life” (Cohen & Geier, 2010). Scholars have operationalized school climate in a number of different ways, leading at times to conceptual confusion about the meaning of school climate. Despite the wide range of views on key dimensions of school climate, most of the research focuses on one or more of the following: relationships, safety, methods of teaching and learning, and the structure of the learning environment (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, & Pickeral, 2009). School climate has to do with the psychological impact of these factors on individuals within and connected to the school. More directly, the character of the school climate is defined by collective perceptions of physical and psychological safety and connectedness to school that result from these factors. School climate is typically used to describe the collective experience of the school environment, rather than the experience of individuals within the school.

Distinguishing School Culture and School Climate

Some of the conceptual confusion surrounding discussions of school climate results from the fact that the terms culture and climate are often used interchangeably in the literature. However, school culture is most often understood to be the norms and values held collectively by individuals within the school. For example, norms include typical behavior, behavioral expectations, social interactions, teaching methods, and disciplinary practices. Values held collectively within a school may include the school’s mission or a respect for diversity. The school culture relates to climate because these norms and values influence whether individuals feel physically and psychologically safe and connected to school.

Historical Perspective

Scholars have been discussing the importance of school climate for over a century. In the early 1900s, education scholars began writing about the influence of school climate on learning (Perry, 1908). It wasn’t until the 1950s, with the emergence of research on organizational climate (Argyris, 1958), that researchers began to dissect school climate and systematically examine its impact of learning and youth development (Zullig, Koopman, Patton, & Ubbes, 2010). Much of the early research on school climate focused more on the impact of the school’s physical structure and condition (Anderson, 1982), rather than more complex social processes that are the focus of most school climate research today (Cohen et al., 2009). Brookover and colleagues (1978) were some of the first to investigate social processes by examining relationships between academic performance, school-level racial composition and socio-economic status, and students’ collective perceptions of the school’s social environment (school climate). They found that school climate was the strongest predictor of academic performance.

During the past two decades, researchers have taken on more inclusive definitions of school climate. In particular, researchers have examined dimensions of school climate related to relationships, safety, methods of teaching and learning, connectedness to school, and the physical structure of the school. Each of these domains is interrelated, and their effects may be bi-directional. For example, positive student–teacher relationships are likely to promote collective perceptions of safety and positive behavior. Teachers may, in turn, be more likely to form positive relationships with students who behave well in school. These interdependent relationships make it difficult to disentangle the dimensions of school climate and understand their relative importance for student outcomes. Individual studies tend to examine one or two dimensions, rather than tackling broader definitions of school climate. However, the collective findings of the extant research point to the importance of each of these school climate dimensions in promoting academic success and, more broadly, healthy development. The sections below highlight key research findings from the past decade of school climate research.


School climate is influenced by the quality of relationships among individuals within and connected to the school. Research has focused primarily on five types of relationships: (a) relationships among students, (b) relationships between students and school personnel (that is, teachers, staff, and administrators), (c) relationships among school personnel, (d) relationships between school personnel and families, and (e) school–community relationships (Richman, Bowen, & Woolley, 2004).

Relationships between Students and School Personnel

Students’ relationships with school personnel, and teachers in particular, have been the focus of much of the school climate research during the past two decades. Students perform better when there are positive relationships between students and adults in the school. Students who feel supported by teachers tend to be engaged in school and have few disciplinary problems (Baker, 1999; Brewster & Bowen, 2004; Powers, Bowen, & Rose, 2005; Rosenfeld, Richman, & Bowen, 2002). They also perform better academically than students who do not report receiving support from teachers (Niebuhr & Niebuhr, 1999; Waxman, Anderson, Huang, & Weinstein, 1997). The protective effect of positive student–teacher relationships also extends to preventing risk behavior, such as substance use (Erickson, Mattaini, & McGuire, 2004).

Relationships Among Students

In contrast to research on student–teacher relationships, relatively few studies examine the effect of positive relationships among students. However, the existing studies indicate that school climates characterized by positive relationships among students are associated with fewer conduct problems and depressive symptoms (Loukas & Robinson, 2004), greater connectedness to school and improved satisfaction with school (Loukas, Suzuki, & Horton, 2006).

Much of the recent research on relationships among students has focused on bullying. In fact, over the past decade, bullying has become a central issue in school improvement planning. This trend results in part from the growing body of research demonstrating the adverse psychological and academic consequences of bullying. School districts have also been held responsible for failing to adequately address bullying (that is, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, Gendelman, et al. v. Glenbrook North High School, T.K. and S.K. v. New York City Department of Education).

Bullying is defined as behavior that is intended to cause physical or psychological harm to a child who is perceived as unable to defend himself or herself. Bullying is often used as a means of elevating or maintaining social status. Bullying is now known to have adverse consequences for bullies, victims, and witnesses, implicating most individuals within the school building (Cohen & Geier, 2010; Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005). As a result, many school districts have implemented bullying prevention programs.

Students frequently report bullying as a severe problem in their schools, even when the adults in the school view it as less serious (Cohen, 2006). School personnel may be unaware of most of the bullying on school grounds because bullying occurs most often in parts of the school where there is little or no adult supervision, including hallways, bathrooms, and in the cafeteria. A growing body of research demonstrates compromised emotional well-being for witnesses of bullying, in addition to adverse consequences for bullies and their victims (Cohen & Geier, 2010; Rivers, Poteat, Noret, & Ashurst, 2009). Thus, bullying becomes a critical issue in defining the school climate because it determines whether students feel safe at school and whether they feel cared for as individuals. Bullying may also affect whether school personnel feel safe and connected to school (Cohen & Geier, 2010; Nesdale & Pickering, 2006).

Relationships Among School Personnel

Students perform better in schools in which teachers and staff collaborate in decision-making, share a common mission, and trust each other (Bowen et al., 2006; Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Harris & Hopkins, 2000; Hofman, Hofman, & Guldemong, 2001; Keys, Sharp, Greene, & Grayson, 2003). Active collaboration between school social workers and teachers, for example, is associated with a range of positive outcomes for students including improved behavior, self-control, social appropriateness, and student responsibility for homework, and fewer absences (Viggiani, Reid, & Bailey-Dempsey, 2002).

Students are also likely to perform better in schools where teachers and staff feel appreciated and supported by administrators (Cohen et al., 2009). These schools are less likely to experience teacher turnover (Ingersoll, 2001), thereby increasing opportunities for students to develop meaningful relationships with their teachers.

School–Family Relationships

Parent participation in school decision-making is associated with improved outcomes for students. When parents provide emotional support and have high expectations for their children’s behavior, these children tend to perform better academically (Crosnoe, 2004; Hopson & Weldon, 2013). Because the family environment is a strong predictor of academic outcomes, schools need to partner with families to have a meaningful impact on achievement.

School and family social environments have interactive effects on academic outcomes. For example, a supportive home environment may increase the likelihood that students form positive relationships with teachers. In addition, a positive school environment may compensate for the adverse effects of less parental support (Crosnoe, 2004). On the other hand, students tend to benefit less from a safe and supportive school environment when they have less support at home (Hopson & Weldon, 2013). Thus, parental support and involvement in school can potentially enhance or compromise the effectiveness of school-level interventions aiming to improve academic outcomes. Students perform best when they have the benefit of safe and supportive environments in their homes and schools (Hopson & Weldon, 2013).

School–Community Relationships

Schools that involve community organizations in supporting their students tend to have better academic performance (Cohen et al., 2009). This is especially true in schools that serve high poverty communities. In addition, students benefit from engaging in community service. These programs provide opportunities for students to apply classroom material to real-world situations (Cohen & Geier, 2010; Morgan & Streb, 2001). They also promote civic engagement and may be instrumental in helping students to develop their own opinions about political and social structures (Torney-Purta, 2002).


Much of the research on school safety overlaps with the bullying research described earlier. Students feel safer in schools characterized by positive, supportive relationships among students and between students and adults in the school. Other research has operationalized school safety through behaviors and events in the school, including damaging school property and fighting. These events lead to the perception of a disordered and unsafe school environment for students and adults. In these studies, more frequent incidents of behaviors indicative of safety problems are associated with adverse academic and behavioral outcomes (Mayer & Furlong, 2010).

In addition, schools that have clearly communicated rules and consistent responses to violations are typically perceived as safer (Cohen et al., 2009). However, a strong emphasis on punitive discipline compromises school climate (McNeely, Nonnemaker, & Blum, 2002). In these schools, students tend to feel less connected to school and have more problem behaviors (Bradshaw, Mitchell, O’Brennan, & Leaf, 2010; Sprague et al., 2001). Thus, climates in which rules are consistently enforced using positive reinforcement, in addition to discipline, are more likely to promote school connectedness and academic success than schools relying solely on discipline.

Teaching Methods

Student-centered teaching methods, including individualized curriculum components, assignments that call for student collaboration, and opportunities for students to have one-on-one instructional time with teachers, are associated with improved connectedness to school and academic performance. This research is important in the current political context shaped by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. Some research indicates that teachers perceive a significant decrease in collaborative learning and student-centered teaching practices since the implementation of NCLB. These changes are attributed to teachers’ emphasizing test preparation in their teaching methods (Musoleno & White, 2010).

Providing students with a voice in decision-making is another promising strategy for building a positive climate. This can be accomplished by creating student advisory groups. These groups provide a mechanism for administrators, teachers, and staff to consult with students in planning related to school activities, community involvement, and the curriculum, and other issues that directly affect students.

Physical Structure

Small learning communities tend to promote better school connectedness and academic achievement. This research tends to favor smaller schools with a smaller student–teacher ratio. However, some larger school districts have successfully created small learning communities within large schools (Cohen & Geier, 2010).

The school’s physical appearance also influences how students and teachers experience school life (Tanner, 2008; Uline, Wolsey, Tschannen-Moran, & Lin, 2010). Students perform better academically when their schools have adequate physical space and good lighting. Students seem to learn better in flexible classroom environments that can accommodate large group meetings, small group interactions, and private spaces for students. This research is timely, since a growing number of schools report problems related to over-enrollment, lighting, air quality, noise pollution, and safety (Tanner, 2008).

Assessment of School Climate

A thorough assessment of the school climate is the first step in planning for intervention. Fortunately, as interest in school climate has grown, so has the number of reliable and valid measurement instruments. The most useful measures are comprehensive, easy to administer and understand, and gather input from a range of stakeholders, including students, adults in the school, and parents. They also have research supporting their reliability and validity (Cohen et al., 2009). Table 1 provides a list of reliable and valid measures that assess multiple dimensions of school climate.

Table 1 Measures of School Climate

Measure name



CFK School Climate Profile

Assesses teacher, administrator, and student perspectives of mutual respect, trust, morale, caring, opportunities for input, and opportunities for growth, cohesiveness.

Johnson & Johnson, 1997

Classroom Environment Scale (CES)

Initially developed for use in secondary level classrooms, this instrument was adapted to assess school-level climate.

Felner, Aber, Cauce, & Primavera, 1985; Moos, 1979; Trickett & Moos, 1973

Comprehensive Assessment of School Environments (CASE)

Assesses student, teacher, and parent perceptions of student–teacher relationships, relationships among students, safety, school administration, school–family relationships, school–community relationships, student academic orientation and behavior.

Keefe & Kelley, 1990

Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI)

Assesses student, school personnel, and parent perceptions of school climate and barriers to learning, including safety, teaching and learning, interpersonal relationships, and the institutional environment.

National School Climate Center, n.d.; Stamler, Scheer, & Cohen, 2009

Inventory of School Climate—Student (ISC-S)

Assesses student perceptions of the following climate dimensions: student commitment, teacher support, structure, positive peer interactions, negative peer interactions, instructional innovation, student participation in decision-making, support for cultural pluralism, disciplinary harshness.

Brand, Felner, Shim, Seitsinger, & Dumas, 2003

School as a Caring Community Profile-II (SCCP-II)

Assesses perceptions of students and adults in the school related to the school as a caring community.

Lickona & Davidson, 2003

Organizational Climate Description Questionnaire

Assesses teachers’ perspectives of school climate. The climate is characterized as open, engaged, disengaged, or closed.

Hoy & Clover, 1986

Organizational Health Inventory

Assesses staff perceptions of internal conditions and relationships within each school.

Hoy & Feldman, 1987

School Climate Scale

Assesses students’ perceptions of achievement motivation, fairness, order and discipline, parent involvement, sharing of resources, relationships among students, student–teacher relationships.

Haynes, Emmons, & Comer, 1993

School Success Profile (SSP)/School Success Profile—Learning Organization (SSP-LO)

The SSP measures student-reported risk and protective factors in the home, peer group, neighborhood, and school, including school climate. The SSP-LO assesses perceptions of school culture. and climate from teachers, staff, and administrators.

Bowen & Powers, 2003; Bowen, Rose, & Bowen, 2005

Interventions to Improve School Climate

Schools have attempted to improve school climate with a range of interventions that address selected dimensions of school climate (that is, student–teacher relationships or bullying), as well as interventions that aim to alter the whole school environment. Whole school improvement interventions have the benefit of engaging all school stakeholders in the intervention, thereby increasing the chances that there will be meaningful change in school climate. However, schools that do not have the capacity to implement whole school interventions can achieve significant improvement in school climate through smaller scale interventions that foster more supportive, caring relationships within the school.

Whole School Improvement

Perhaps the most widely implemented intervention designed to improve the school climate is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which is being used in over 8,000 schools nationwide. PBIS is grounded in principals from behavioral, social learning, and organizational theories. It uses clear expectations and positive reinforcement of desirable behaviors to promote positive behavior (Bradshaw, Koth, Thornton, & Leaf, 2009). For example, the school provides incentives, such as a field trip or party, to students for positive behavior. Positive behavior may also be recognized by displaying students’ names in a prominent place (Spaulding, Horner, May, & Vincent, 2008).

The school-wide PBIS process is intended to build capacity for implementing evidence-based practices that will improve outcomes for all students. It is a multi-tiered strategy that creates systems of support at three levels: primary (school-wide or universal), secondary (targeted or selective), and tertiary (individual or indicated). Data is used to identify students who could benefit from services at each of the three levels. Each student’s progress is monitored through ongoing data collection. If students are not improving, the teachers and staff modify their interventions and services. School personnel continuously monitor data on student progress, and they adjust the students’ services until the data indicate that they are improving.

Research on PBIS indicates that schools implementing the model experience significant improvement in organizational health (Bradshaw et al, 2009). In a longitudinal study of 37 elementary schools, which were randomly assigned to receive PBIS or serve as a comparison site, PBIS schools experienced significantly greater improvement in organizational health. Organizational health was characterized by friendly, collegial relationships among teachers and staff, egalitarian leadership, and respectful, collaborative relationships among students (Bradshaw et al., 2009).

Project ACHIEVE is another whole school improvement model that includes seven interdependent components that aim to improve the school’s capacity to meet the education and social-emotional-behavioral needs of all students ( The seven components include:

  1. 1. Organizational Analysis and Strategic Planning focused on implementing the organizational policies and procedures that create a positive school climate and support the academic and social-emotional or behavioral success of all students.

  2. 2. Problem Solving, Teaming, and Consultation Processes. This is a team approach to data-informed problem solving and decision-making aimed at improving outcomes for students who are not responding to current instructional practices.

  3. 3. Professional Development that involves all teachers, administrators, and staff to promote effective and differentiated instruction and effective and positive behavior management in every classroom for every student.

  4. 4. Academic Instruction linked to Assessment, Intervention, and Achievement. Teachers here learn how (a) to identify and analyze the relationship methods of instruction and student achievement, (b) to evaluate student mastery as it relates to instructional practices, and (c) to link task analyses and authentic assessments to classroom-based intervention.

  5. 5. Behavioral Instruction linked to Behavioral Assessment, Intervention, and Self-Management, which engages students, staff, administration, and parents in building and reinforcing (a) students’ social and problem-solving skills; (b) positive, safe, supportive, and consistent school climates; and (c) capacity at the school and district levels to sustain individual and school-level interventions that promote positive behavior.

  6. 6. Parent and Community Training, Support, and Outreach, which focuses on increasing parental involvement at school and with their children’s education.

  7. 7. Data Management, Evaluation, and Accountability focuses on actively evaluating the process of implementing Project ACHIEVE activities and students’ progress toward mastery of academic and behavioral skills.

Research on Project ACHIEVE consists predominantly of case studies and indicates that students in schools implementing the program are more engaged in school, have fewer disciplinary problems and perform better academically over time (Knoff, 2012).

Another promising intervention draws on the philosophy and techniques of solution-focused therapy to create solution-building schools. All school personnel and students are trained in solution-focused techniques, which emphasize student strengths. Solution-focused techniques foster mutual respect, collaboration, relationship building, trust, and high expectations. Research on the effectiveness of solution-building schools indicates that the solution-focused strategies are associated with a positive school climate, school engagement among students, and academic success (Franklin, Streeter, Kim, & Tripodi, 2007).

Interventions That Target Relationships Between Students and Adults at School

A growing number of schools have implemented mentoring programs as a means of promoting positive relationships between students and school personnel and increasing connectedness to school. Although there is little research documenting the effectiveness of such programs, the existing research suggests that school-based mentoring is helpful in increasing connectedness to school. The duration of the mentoring relationship and the consistency and frequency of mentor-mentee meetings impact the effectiveness of the mentoring program (Dubois, Holloway, Valentine, & Cooper 2002; Grossman & Rhodes, 2002).

There are some feasibility issues with implementing mentoring programs in schools. It is difficult to recruit enough teachers and school personnel to serve as mentors, especially in under-resourced schools where teachers may already be providing extra services to high needs students. School-based mentoring programs may provide fewer contact hours between mentors and youth than traditional programs. Services often last for a shorter period of time (Komosa-Hawkins, 2009) and are limited by the academic school year (Randolph & Johnson, 2008). To enhance their impact, schools will need to provide incentives for school personnel to serve as mentors and ensure that mentors are able to work with students for the entire academic year and even during the summer months.

Check and Connect is a dropout prevention program that partners students with a monitor, an adult within the school who works with the student and their family to monitor school performance and intervene to address needs. The check component of the program involves assessing student engagement and performance. The connect component calls for providing individual attention to students, intervening to address problems, connecting the student and family to appropriate services, and providing support and encouragement. Research on Check and Connect indicates that the program has promising results in the areas of staying in school and progressing in school (Sinclair, Christenson, & Thurlow, 2005; What Works Clearinghouse, 2006).

Using similar methods, Check In Check Out (CICO) is a program in which teachers or staff complete a behavior report card that provides students and parents with daily feedback about positive behavior, in addition to disciplinary problems. Students check in with a teacher or staff member when they enter the school building and check out with the same adult at the end of the day. In addition to receiving daily feedback, students are typically provided with reinforcement for positive behavior, such as points that they can use to receive a reward. Research on CICO indicates that it is associated with improved behavior, especially for children who tend to engage in attention-seeking problem behavior (Hawken & Horner, 2003; Todd, Campbell, Meyer, & Horner, 2008).

Interventions That Target Relationships Among Students

The most well-researched programs for promoting positive relationships among students are bullying prevention programs. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is perhaps the most well-researched intervention. It could also be characterized as a whole-school improvement intervention, as it aims to inhibit bullying by creating a school environment that engages students, sets firm limits on bullying behavior, and consistently applies consequences for bullying. It includes four categories of interventions: school-level, classroom-level, individual-level, and community-level. Table 2 provides examples of interventions for each level. Research on the model indicates that students report significant improvement to school climate and reductions in bullying behavior following implementation of the Olweus program (Olweus & Limber, 2000).

Table 2 Olweus Bullying Prevention Program Interventions

School-level interventions

Individual-level interventions

Establish a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee.

Supervise students’ activities.

Provide trainings for school personnel.

Ensure that staff intervene when bullying occurs.

Administer the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire schoolwide.

Meet with students involved in bullying.

Introduce the school rules against bullying.

Meet with parents of involved students.

Improve the school’s system of supervision.

Develop individual intervention plans for students involved in bullying.

Increase parental involvement.

Classroom-level interventions

Community-level interventions

Post and enforce school-wide rules against bullying.

Involve community members on the Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee.

Meet with students’ parents.

Disseminate anti-bullying messages in the community.

Source: Olweus Bullying Prevention Program Website (

Interventions That Target Family Involvement in School

Family involvement in school results in better academic performance, improved behavior, and increased likelihood of post-secondary education. Most of the interventions described above include a component that engages families. PBIS, Check and Connect, and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, among others, involve families in decision-making and problem-solving. For example, the Family Check Up (FCU) is an intervention that has been used in conjunction with PBIS to match families with needed services (Reinke, Splett, Robeson, & Offut, 2009).

Family Resource Centers (FRCs) are another means of integrating social services into school life, often as part of a full-service school. The purpose of these centers is to promote collaboration between parents and school staff and to provide information and education related to parenting practices that promote academic success (Reinke et al., 2009). FRCs often provide core services such as medical care, counseling, and parenting classes. They also may connect families with childcare and early childhood programs, including Head Start.

Interventions That Target Community Involvement in School

Full-service or community schools are schools that integrate physical and mental health services into the school building and the regular school day (Dryfoos, 2005). They are, in effect, one-stop centers in which families can access a range of social services under one roof. There are few studies that evaluate the effectiveness of full-service schools. Our understanding of these schools is also limited by the wide variation in the existing models. Each full-service school may provide different services. However, the limited research that exists suggests that the model is helpful for economically disadvantaged youth, who may have more non-academic barriers to learning than their peers from higher income families (Hocutt, McKinney, & Montague, 2002).

Integrating community-based services into the school building can be essential for academic success, especially for students from impoverished communities. Yet, few schools have the capacity to implement full-service schools. Communities in Schools (CIS) provides another mechanism for connecting students with important support services. CIS is a community-based social services program that is located within the school. They are able to provide services, including mental health treatment, prevention programs, and health education, which schools are often unable to provide. CIS program activities are grounded in the expectation that students perform best when they have (a) one-on-one relationships with adults, (b) a safe environment, (c) a healthy start in life, (4) a marketable skill upon graduation, and (e) opportunities to serve their peers and community. Research indicates that CIS schools experience higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates than schools that do not have CIS (Porowski & Passa, 2011).

Full-service schools and CIS programs appear to be especially helpful for schools that serve impoverished communities (Hocutt et al., 2002; Porowski & Passa, 2011). Students in these schools may have unaddressed health and mental health needs. Their families are often coping with stressors related to a lack of social and economic capital that compromise students’ readiness to learn. Parents may need to work multiple jobs and may have difficulty paying for basic needs, including food and shelter. Thus, policies that reduce poverty-related stressors for low income families will be essential for meaningful improvement in academic outcomes for schools serving impoverished communities (Berliner, 2010).

Conclusion and Future Directions

The common themes that emerge from the growing literature on school climate point to a healthy school climate as an important condition for learning. Within these environments, students have opportunities to form positive relationships with adults and peers that foster connectedness to school and feelings of psychological and physical safety. Students benefit most when schools also engage with the community in positive ways, since academic success depends on children feeling safe and supported in their homes and neighborhoods, as well as in their schools.

Fortunately, whole school interventions, including PBIS, provide promising means of creating healthy school environments that are connected with families and community stakeholders when schools have the capacity to implement them. The challenge will be finding the resources and personnel to successfully implement these large-scale interventions. The professional development of educators has not traditionally emphasized social processes within the school and how they affect student outcomes. They may have little training in engaging families and communities in their work with students. In addition, teachers and administrators are often stretched in terms of time and resources to develop the academic skills of all of their students. These challenges are exacerbated in a difficult economic environment in which schools are facing significant budget cuts.

Most educators would acknowledge the importance of school climate. However, plans for implementing complex school climate interventions must often take a back seat to strategies for improving grades and test scores, even though school climate is strongly linked with academic outcomes. Thus, schools typically need the assistance of social workers and other professionals who can assist them in addressing the school’s climate.

Social workers who are based in schools or linked to schools have foundational skills that are essential for assessing school climate and implementing school climate interventions successfully. Their professional development, grounded in ecological and systems theories, prepares them well for assessment of social processes within the home, school, and community that define school climate. This training will also serve them well in implementing school climate interventions that prioritize building positive relationships within the school, as well as engaging parents and community stakeholders.

Although the extant research on school climate has greatly improved our understanding of its importance for academic success and healthy development, there are important questions that remain unanswered. Since few studies have undertaken multiple dimensions of school climate, it is difficult to discern which dimensions are most important. Much of the research is descriptive or cross-sectional in nature, so we have yet to understand the direction of causal relationships between school climate and youth outcomes. Improved relationships among individuals within the school may improve academic performance. On the other hand, a school in which students are performing well may have a more positive climate because morale is higher and stress is lower.

More research is also needed to provide evidence about the effectiveness of school climate interventions, such as PBIS, since they are becoming more widely implemented. It will be important to learn more about whether these interventions are effective for all subgroups of students, including students from impoverished families or those who have disabilities. For example, students who struggle to meet expectations at school are less likely to receive incentives and recognition in the context of interventions such as PBIS. The result could be that these higher risk students remain disengaged and disconnected from school.

Notwithstanding the limitations in the current research literature, it is evident that school climate has a meaningful impact on youth and adults within and connected to the school. Thus, all school-based interventions will need to be implemented with attention to the school environment and the extent to which schools engage families and communities.

Schools, of course, cannot undertake this work alone. The research points to the interdependent relationships between school, family, and neighborhood environments. Schools will need to engage families and communities. At the same time, families and communities will need to support the work of school personnel. Namely, parents will need to be involved in their children’s academic life, and community agencies will need to reach out to schools. Here, educators need the assistance of professional colleagues who have potential influence in students’ homes and neighborhoods. Social workers have pivotal roles to play in building awareness of importance of school climate and strategies for developing supportive and safe school environments.


Anderson, J. R. (1982). Acquisition of cognitive skill. Psychological Review, 89, 369–406.Find this resource:

    Argyris, C. (1958). Some problems in conceptualizing organizational climate: A case study of a bank. Administrative Science Quarterly, 2, 501–520.Find this resource:

      Baker, J. A. (1999). Teacher–student interaction in urban at-risk classrooms. Elementary School Journal, 100(1), 57–70.Find this resource:

        Berliner, D. C. (2010). Are teachers responsible for low achievement by poor students? Education Digest, 75(7), 4–8.Find this resource:

          Bowen, G. L., & Powers, D. (2003). School Success Profile—Learning Organization (SSP-LO). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Social Work, Jordan Institute for Families.Find this resource:

            Bowen, G. L., Rose, R. A., & Bowen, N. K. (2005). The reliability and validity of the school success profile. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris Corporation.Find this resource:

              Bowen, G. L., Rose, R. A., & Ware, W. B. (2006). The reliability and validity of the school success profile learning organization measure. Evaluation and Program Planning, 29, 97–104.Find this resource:

                Bradshaw, C. P., Koth, C. W., Thornton, L. A., & Leaf, P. J. (2009). Altering school climate through school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports: Findings from a group-randomized effectiveness trial. Prevention Science, 10, 100–115.Find this resource:

                  Bradshaw, C. P., Mitchell, M. M., O’Brennan, L. M., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Multilevel exploration of factors contributing to the overrepresentation of Black students in office disciplinary referrals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(2), 508–520. doi:10.1037/a0018450Find this resource:

                    Brand, S., Felner, R., Shim, M., Seitsinger, A., & Dumas, T. (2003). Middle school improvement and reform: Development and validation of a school-level assessment of climate, cultural pluralism, and school safety. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(3), 570–588.Find this resource:

                      Brewster, A. B., & Bowen, G. L. (2004). Teacher support and the school engagement of Latino middle and high school students at risk of school failure. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 21, 47–67. doi:10.1023/B:CASW.0000012348.83939.6bFind this resource:

                        Brookover, W. B., Schweitzer, J. H., Schneider, J. M., Beady, C. H., Flood, P. K., & Wisenbaker, J. M. (1978). Elementary school social climate and school achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 15, 301–318.Find this resource:

                          Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Find this resource:

                            Cohen, J. (2006). Social, emotional, ethical, and academic education: Creating a climate for learning, participation in democracy, and well being. Harvard Educational Review, 76(2), 201–237.Find this resource:

                              Cohen, J., & Geier, V. K. (2010). School climate research summary: January 2010. New York, NY: National School Climate Center. Retrieved from this resource:

                                Cohen, J., McCabe, L., Michelli, N. M., & Pickeral, T. (2009). School climate: Research, policy, practice, and teacher education. Teachers College Record, 111, 180–193.Find this resource:

                                  Crosnoe, R. (2004). Social capital and the interplay of families and schools. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 267–280. doi:10.1111/j.1741–3737.2004.00019.xFind this resource:

                                    Dryfoos, J. (2005). Full-service community schools: A strategy—not a program. New Directions for Youth Development, 2005(107), 7–14.Find this resource:

                                      DuBois, D. L., Holloway, B. E., Valentine, J. C., & Cooper, H. (2002). Effectiveness of mentoring programs for youth: A meta-analytic review. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(2), 157–197.Find this resource:

                                        Erickson, C., Mattaini, M. A., & McGuire, M. S. (2004). Constructing nonviolent cultures in schools: The state of the science. Children & Schools, 26, 102–116.Find this resource:

                                          Felner, R. D., Aber, M. S., Cauce, A., & Primavera, J. (1985). Adaptation and vulnerability in high-risk adolescents: An examination of environmental mediators. American Journal of Community Psychology, 13, 365–379.Find this resource:

                                            Franklin, C., Streeter, C. L., Kim, J. S., & Tripodi, S. J. (2007). The effectiveness of a solution-focused, public alternative school for dropout prevention and retrieval. Children & Schools, 29(3), 133–144.Find this resource:

                                              Grossman, J. B., & Rhodes, J. E. (2002). The test of time: Predictors and effects of duration in youth mentoring programs. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(2), 199–219.Find this resource:

                                                Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2000). Introduction to special feature: Alternative perspectives on school improvement. School Leadership and Management, 20(1), 6–14.Find this resource:

                                                  Hawken, L. S., & Horner, R. H. (2003). Evaluation of a targeted intervention within a schoolwide system of behavior support. Journal of Behavioral Education, 12, 225–240.Find this resource:

                                                    Komosa-Hawkins, K. (2009). Best practices in school-based mentoring programs for adolescents. Child & Youth Services, 31(3/4), 121–137.Find this resource:

                                                      Haynes, N. M., Emmons, C., & Comer, J. P. (1993). Elementary and middle school climate survey. New Haven, CT. Yale University Child Study Center.Find this resource:

                                                        Hocutt, A. M., McKinney, J. D., & Montague, M. (2002). The impact of managed care of efforts to prevent development of serious emotional disturbance in young children. Journal of Disability Studies, 13, 51–60. doi:10.1177/10442073020130010501Find this resource:

                                                          Hofman, R. H., Hofman, W. H. A., & Guldemong, H. (2001). The effectiveness of cohesive schools. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 4(2), 115–135.Find this resource:

                                                            Hopson, L. M., & Weldon, P. (2013). Parental expectations and academic success in the context of school climate effects. Families in Society, 94(1), 45–52.Find this resource:

                                                              Hoy, W. K., & Clover, S. I. (1986). Elementary school climate: A revision of the OCDQ. Educational Administration Quarterly, 22(1), 92–110.Find this resource:

                                                                Hoy, W. K., & Feldman, J. A. (1987). Organizational health: The concept and its measure. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 20, 30–38.Find this resource:

                                                                  Ingersoll, R. M. (2001). Teacher turnover, teacher shortages, and the organization of schools. Seattle: University of Washington, Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy.Find this resource:

                                                                    Johnson, W. L., & Johnson, A. M. (1997). Assessing the validity of scores on the Charles F. Kettering Scale for the junior high school. Educational & Psychological Measurement, 57(5), 858–869.Find this resource:

                                                                      Keefe, J. W., & Kelley, E. A. (1990). Comprehensive assessment and school improvement. National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP Bulletin, 74(530), 54–63.Find this resource:

                                                                        Keys, W., Sharp, C., Greene, K., & Grayson, H. (2003). Successful leadership of schools in urban and challenging contexts: A review of the literature. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                          Knoff, H. M. (2012). School discipline, classroom management, and student self-management: A PBS implementation guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.Find this resource:

                                                                            Lickona, T., & Davidson, M. (2003). School culture inventory. Cortland, NY: Center for the 4th & 5th Rs (Respect & Responsibility).Find this resource:

                                                                              Loukas, A., & Robinson, S. (2004). Examining the moderating role of perceived school climate in early adolescent adjustment. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14(2), 209–233. doi:10.1111/j.1532–7795.2004.01402004.xFind this resource:

                                                                                Loukas, A., Suzuki, R., & Horton, K. D. (2006). Examining school connectedness as a mediator of school climate effects. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 16, 491–502.Find this resource:

                                                                                  Mayer, M. J., & Furlong, M. J. (2010). How safe are our schools? Educational Researcher, 39(1), 16–26. doi:10.3102/0013189X09357617Find this resource:

                                                                                    McNeely, C. A., Nonnemaker, J. M., & Blum, R. W. (2002). Promoting school connectedness: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Journal of School Health, 72(4), 138–146.Find this resource:

                                                                                      Moos, R. H. (1979). Evaluating educational environments: Procedures, measures, findings, and policy implications. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Find this resource:

                                                                                        Morgan, W., & Streb, M. (2001). Building citizenship: How student voice in service learning develops civic values. Social Science Quarterly, 82(1) 155–169.Find this resource:

                                                                                          Musoleno, R. R., & White, G. P. (2010). Influences of high-stakes testing on middle school mission and practice. RMLE Online: Research in Middle Level Education, 34(3), 1–10.Find this resource:

                                                                                            National School Climate Center. (n.d.). Measuring school climate. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from

                                                                                            Nesdale, D., & Pickering, K. (2006). Teachers’ reactions to children’s aggression. Social Development, 15, 109–127. doi:10.1111/j.1467–9507.2006.00332.xFind this resource:

                                                                                              Niebuhr, K. E., & Niebuhr, R. E. (1999). An empirical study of student relationships and academic achievement. Education, 119(4), 679–682.Find this resource:

                                                                                                Olweus, D., & Limber, S. (2000). Bullying prevention program. Boulder, CO: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.Find this resource:

                                                                                                  Perry, A. (1908). The management of a city school. New York, NY: Macmillan.Find this resource:

                                                                                                    Porowski, A., & Passa, A. (2011). The effect of communities in schools on high school dropout and graduation rates: Results from a multiyear, school-level quasi-experimental study. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 16(1), 24–37.Find this resource:

                                                                                                      Powers, J. D., Bowen, G. L., & Rose, R. A. (2005). Using social environment assets to identify intervention strategies for promoting school success. Children & Schools, 27, 177–185.Find this resource:

                                                                                                        Randolph, K. A., & Johnson, J. L. (2008). School-based mentoring programs: A review of the research. Children & Schools, 30(3), 177–185.Find this resource:

                                                                                                          Reinke, W. M., Splett, J. D., Robeson, E. N., & Offutt, C. A. (2009). Combining school and family interventions for the prevention and early intervention of disruptive behavior problems in children: A public health perspective. Psychology in the Schools, 46(1), 33–43.Find this resource:

                                                                                                            Richman, J. M., Bowen, G. L., & Woolley, M. E. (2004). School failure: An eco-interactional-developmental perspective. In M. W. Frasier (Ed.), Risk and resilience in childhood: An ecological perspective (2nd ed., pp. 133–160). Washington, DC: NASW Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                              Rivers, I., Poteat, V. P., Noret, N., & Ashurst, N. (2009). Observing bullying at school: The mental health implications of witness status. School Psychology Quarterly, 24(4), 211–223.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                Rosenfeld, L. B., Richman, J. M., & Bowen, G. L. (2000). Social support networks and school outcomes: The centrality of the teacher. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 17, 205–226. doi:10.1023/A:1007535930286Find this resource:

                                                                                                                  Sinclair, M. F., Christenson, S. L., & Thurlow, M. L. (2005). Promoting school completion of urban secondary youth with emotional or behavioral disabilities. Exceptional Children, 71(4), 465–482.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                    Smokowski, P. R., & Kopasz, K. H. (2005). Bullying in school: An overview of types, effects, family characteristics, and intervention strategies. Children & Schools, 27(2), 101–110.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                      Spaulding, S. A., Horner, R. H., May, S. L., & Vincent, C. G. (2008). Implementation of school-wide PBIS across the United States. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                                                        Sprague, J., Walker, H. M., Stieber, S., Simonsen, B., Nishioka, V., & Wagner, L. (2001). Exploring the relationship between school discipline referrals and delinquency. Psychology in the Schools, 38, 197–206.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                          Stamler, J. K., Scheer, D. C., & Cohen, J. (2009). Assessing school climate for school improvement: Development, validation and implications of the Student School Climate Survey. Internal report to Center for Social Emotional Education (the National School Climate Center). New York, NY: The National School Climate Center.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                            Tanner, C. K. (2008). Explaining relationships among student outcomes and the school’s physical environment. Journal of Advanced Academics, 19(3), 444–471.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                              Trickett, E., & Moos, R. H. (1973). The social environment of junior high and high school classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 65, 93–102.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                Todd, A. W., Campbell, A. L., Meyer, G. G., & Horner, R. H. (2008). The effects of a targeted intervention to reduce behavior problems. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 10(1), 46–55.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                  Torney-Purta, J. (2002). The school’s role in developing civic engagement: A study of adolescents in twenty-eight countries. Applied Developmental Science, 6(4), 203–212.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                    Uline, C. L., Wolsey, T. D., Tschannen-Moran, M., & Lin, C. (2010). Improving the physical and social environment of school: A question of equity. Journal of School Leadership, 20(5), 597–632.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                      Viggiani, P. A., Reid, W. J., & Bailey-Dempsey, C. (2002). Social worker–teacher collaboration in the classroom: Help for elementary students at risk of failure. Research on Social Work Practice, 12(5), 604–620.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                        Waxman, H. C., Anderson, L., Huang, S. L., & Weinstein, T. (1997). Classroom process differences in inner city elementary schools. The Journal of Educational Research, 91(1), 49–59.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                          What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report. (2006). Check and connect. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, IES, What Works Clearinghouse. Retrieved December 13, 2012, from this resource:

                                                                                                                                            Zullig, K. J., Koopman, T. M., Patton, J. M., & Ubbes, V. A. (2010). School climate: Historical review, instrument development, and school assessment. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 28, 139. doi:10.1177/0734282909344205Find this resource: