Improving School Climate is a Key Factor in Bullying Prevention

by Craig Wethington, Interim Director of the School of Safety & Technical Assistance Center, Minnesota Department of Education

0
253

D

eveloping a positive school climate and improving school discipline policies and practices are becoming widely recognized as a critical strategy for bullying prevention. There is no single formula for improving school climate, but there is substantial evidence that a positive school climate is one that engages students in learning, promotes academic success and reduces school bullying.

School climate refers to the quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of students’, parents’ and school personnel’s experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures, according to the National School Climate Center.

Benefits of School Climate

One large study of high schools found that a school climate characterized by lower rates of bullying and teasing predicted higher graduation rates four years later (Cornell, Gregory, Huang, & Fan, 2013). Schools with high amounts of bullying and teasing had dropout rates 29 percent above the state average, compared with schools with less bullying and teasing, which had a dropout rate 28 percent below average. The association between school climate and graduation rates was just as strong as the association between student poverty and graduation rates.

Characteristics of Schools with Less Bullying

Schools with both fair discipline and a positive school climate have less bullying. Research shows that high schools with a strong school climate, characterized by high levels of both disciplinary structure and adult support for students have lower levels of bullying and other forms of student aggression (e.g., fights among peers, theft) (Gregory, Cornell, Fan, Sheras, Shih, & Huang, 2010). Equally, high schools with low structure and low support had higher levels of bullying and other forms of student aggression and violence.

Conclusions and Implications

A positive school climate is essential to bullying prevention and to student retention in school. There are research-based steps that educators can take to improve school climate, according to the National School Climate Center.

The steps include:

  • Developing a shared vision among the entire school community about what kind of school they want their school to be.
  • Assessing the school’s climate strengths and needs in a comprehensive, reliable, and valid manner.
  • Teaching prosocial skills in regular classes, advisory classes, and other small-group experiences with opportunities for practice.

Engaging in prevention efforts that range from on-the spot teaching with students who engage in teasing or bullying behavior to formal school-wide programs. Supporting partnerships among parents, educators, and mental health professionals who seek to interrupt the bully-victim-bystander cycle and encourage bystanders to be upstanders who do not allow bullying to continue.

While successfully implementing these strategies is highly complex work in practice, this work is essential to achieving the goal of supporting all students in safe and supportive learning environments that promote academic excellence and student success.

Craig Wethington is the Interim Director of the School Safety and Technical Assistance Center, which helps districts and schools provide a safe and supportive learning environment and foster academic achievement for all students.

Prior to assuming the role of Interim Director, he served as the Deputy Director for the Division of Safety, Health and Nutrition.

Mr. Wethington came to the department with more than 15 years of experience coordinating local and state level efforts in public health and education related initiatives addressing a myriad of health issues that may impact a students ability to learn. He has a Master of Public Health from The Ohio State University.

Craig Wethington is the Interim Director of the School Safety and Technical Assistance Center, which helps districts and schools provide a safe and supportive learning environment and foster academic achievement for all students.

Prior to assuming the role of Interim Director, he served as the Deputy Director for the Division of Safety, Health and Nutrition.

Mr. Wethington came to the department with more than 15 years of experience coordinating local and state level efforts in public health and education related initiatives addressing a myriad of health issues that may impact a students ability to learn. He has a Master of Public Health from The Ohio State University.

Leave a Reply