Abstract: School Climate and Classroom Climate: Developing an Understanding of Schools As Protective Contexts for All Stakeholders (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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601P School Climate and Classroom Climate: Developing an Understanding of Schools As Protective Contexts for All Stakeholders

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Gordon Capp, PhD, Assistant professor, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA
Ron Avi Astor, PhD, Professor, UCLA, Woodland Hills, CA
Hadass Moore, PhD, Assistant professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
Background and Purpose: School climate is a critical element for ensuring student success, and positive school climate is considered a protective element for students. School social workers are often expected to address all components of a school’s ecology with assessment and intervention. Yet, teachers are often, and implicitly, charged with the creation of positive school climate. Recent findings suggest that there is wide variation in the kinds of climate staff members experience. If teachers experience negative climate in their own schools, are they still able to manage their classrooms in ways that are prosocial and effective? This study seeks to understand how teachers perceive their classroom and school climates, and how this may connect to pathways for school social workers to maximize the capacity of schools to respond to the academic and social emotional learning needs of diverse student populations.

Methods: Data for this study comes from a larger qualitative case study that investigated the influence of district, and school contexts on staff member perceptions of school climate.A case study the examination of individual experiences within an organizational context and to observe various situations where teachers were interacting simultaneously with the school and classroom contexts. Multiple sources of evidence were gathered over a span of approximately 6 months. Two elementary schools and two high schools were purposively selected from two school districts in Southern California. Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants, and observations captured classroom activities and instruction, informal interactions between teachers and students, and interactions among teachers and other staff members. Materials included field notes, documents, and interview transcripts. Key informant interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Results: Findings indicate that classroom climate is closely connected to the overall school climate, and that the quality of classroom climate reflects decision making that is likely amenable to change. Themes include: Positive or Negative school climate matters for classrooms; teachers that create climate; teacher decisions regarding climate; and the centrality of staff relationships. According to teachers and staff members, the quality of climate is an important factor in their schools and their ability to do their jobs, whether the climate is negative or positive. Staff members also highlighted connections between the quality of climate in their schools and their experiences in their classrooms. Many teachers indicated that the positive climate in their schools was related to positive experiences in their classrooms.

Conclusion: One key implication from this study is that experiences of school climate are clearly connected to and likely intertwined with classroom contexts, including classroom management and discipline. In addition, teachers that described positive climates in their schools often spoke positively about their classrooms. However, these findings suggest that there is important classroom-centered variation in the quality of school climate and classroom practices. School social workers are in a unique position to monitor the climate experiences of all school stakeholders and advocate for actions that support teachers as they endeavor to positively manage classrooms and foster academic and social emotional growth in their students.