Formal and informal approaches to school climate improvement: a descriptive field study

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Recently a variety of national reports have been completed which call for school reform. Additionally, there has been an abundance of research which attempts to identify the characteristics of effective schools. Throughout the literature on school reform and effectiveness, school climate is consistently identified as an important factor in effective schools. However, questions concerning how schools improve their climate and what the effects and obstacles of such efforts are remain unanswered.

School climate improvement efforts tend to fall into two major categories which can be referred to as either formal systematic approaches or informal non-systematic approaches. Formal approaches exist where the developer of the approach states specific steps and procedures which are followed by a school to improve its climate. Informal approaches are also being used by schools where the principal and staff identify and implement various actions which are undertaken to improve the school's climate for learning.

This study identified and described both a formal and an informal approach to school climate and determined the effects and obstacles encountered with each approach. Two secondary schools using each type of approach were studied and compared. The procedures and activities used by each of the four schools under study were described. The outcomes and obstacles encountered in each school's climate improvement process were identified.

The findings of the study were that all four schools in the study had positive outcomes regardless of the approach used. Common obstacles occurred in all four schools. They included lack of staff time to address school concerns, some staff did not support the school's efforts and students and parents were slow to respond positively to the staff's efforts.