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Building a Positive School Climate: What Principals Have Done to Effect Change, an Ethnographic Case Study

Suzanne C Showers, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The importance of school climate has been known for over 100 years. School climate sets the tone for the teaching and learning interactions that take place within the school setting. “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” (National School Climate Center, 2015). Research indicates that positive school climates increase teacher retention, lower dropout rates, decrease school violence, and increase student achievement (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, & Pickeral, 2009). Broad categories that contribute to school climate include safety, teaching and learning, interpersonal relationships, and the institutional environment. Two additional dimensions of school climate that are specific to staff are leadership – creation and communication of a clear vision, accessible to and supportive of staff (including certificated and classified staff), providing staff development – and professional relationships – positive attitudes and relationships among staff that support working and learning together effectively (National School Climate Center, 2015). A widespread belief exists that the leadership of a school is central to the climate of a school (Stoll, 2002), and “The behaviors of building level principals are linked to the climate of school buildings – effective leadership is critical” (Kelley, Thornton, & Daugherty, 2005). Organizational leaders set the tone for their staff and are responsible for instilling the implicit and explicit norms of behavior of a school’s climate (Cohen et al., 2009). In 1985, Blake and Mouton (as cited in Kelley et al., 2005) posited that leaders who possess a full understanding of leadership theory and are able to improve their leadership skills can reduce negative attitudes and employee frustration. KEY WORDS: middle school, culture, climate, leadership strategies, principal

Subject Area

Educational administration

Recommended Citation

Showers, Suzanne C, "Building a Positive School Climate: What Principals Have Done to Effect Change, an Ethnographic Case Study" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13859863.