Ask yourselves: Do your students feel good about school?
Likely, many of you would answer that most of your students do. That’s certainly a big takeaway from a new, nationally representative survey of principals and teachers from the EdWeek Research Center that asked about their views on the climate and culture in their schools.
But when principals and teachers were asked specifically about how certain groups of kids—Black students, immigrant students, and LGBTQ students—feel about school, 25 percent or more of respondents said they believe those children feel “very uncomfortable” or “somewhat uncomfortable.”
That’s a lot of kids whose principals and teachers say their schools aren’t making them feel welcome. And we can probably assume that if we asked students the same question, the numbers would look even worse.
The essence of your job is making sure students feel a sense of safety and belonging and that they believe there are adults who care about them. Creating the conditions for all students to learn and thrive is as important as crafting a strong instructional plan.
The hardships and upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and the renewed fight against racism are bringing even more urgency to school climate work, regardless of whether school is taking place in-person, virtually, or both.
The culture of your school is something you’ve got near-total control over. You select who works in your buildings. You can prioritize—and model—the import of nurturing connections with students and families. You can take real actions to eliminate policies and practices that are harmful to students of color and other marginalized groups.
Children who feel safe emotionally and physically flourish in their social and intellectual development. They do better academically. They are more engaged in their learning. It’s common sense. It’s backed by the research. And it’s something you and your peers know to be true from experience.
Says Jack Baldermann, the principal of Westmont High School in suburban Chicago: “[School climate] has everything to do with high achievement—because when people feel good, they feel like stretching themselves.”
We know you are juggling a million tasks, many of them complex and arduous, especially now. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you get clarity on the importance of building a healthy climate for all students and ideas for how to pursue that, including tackling racism in your schools.
—Lesli A. Maxwell
A version of this article appeared in the October 14, 2020 edition of Education Week as Editor’s Note