The subject of school climate is garnering nationwide attention as it is increasingly recognized as a critical driver of school success. In its most basic description, it refers to the full array of non-academic factors that help children feel supported and accepted as important members of their learning environment. Answers to questions such as “how connected do children feel to their school and staff?”; “how safe do children feel in their school environment?” and “do school sanctioned activities promote the development of the whole child?” help to define the health of the school climate in a particular school or school system. Of course, there are other important adult-related factors that also contribute to the health of the school climate. Responses to questions such as “does your staff feel connected to and emotionally safe with each other?”; and “is your staff supported and encouraged in efforts to create effective learning environments that support a myriad of student learning and emotional needs?” will help to fully assess how schools can focus on and improve the strength of its school climate as it affects the entire school community.
Graduate Certificate in School Climate and Social Emotional Learning
William James College's Freedman Center for Child and Family Development and the Department of School Psychology offers a nine-month Graduate Certificate in School Climate and Social Emotional Learning. This evidence-based, blended program addresses multiple dimensions for transforming, creating, and sustaining a positive school culture and climate with a focus on training teams of school staff (teachers, school mental health providers, and administrators) in the core concepts of social emotional learning, systems change, and coaching.
Following a systemic approach, there is a strong focus on working with district teams to conduct needs assessments, learn skills related to integrating social emotional learning into the school culture, identify skills required to support student mental health needs, and become effective leaders and mentors with their peers and within their school district.
With a focus on child and teacher factors, interactional and school wide processes, and community interactions, the Certificate Program employs an ecological approach that fosters child emotional and academic learning through a systemic lens. Consistent with all William James College offerings, the program features an experiential learning approach, benefiting participants by integrating didactic teaching with practicum experience within a supportive learning community.
A focus on the school climate has been a cornerstone of the nation’s movement to incorporate a social emotional learning framework in schools. However, implementation efforts to date have had a narrow focus rather than a systemic approach. While single program implementation has important merits, we recognize that a shift in mindset that views social emotional learning as a whole systems approach is an important way to bring about true, long-lasting change in schools.
The Alliance for Excellent Education report indicates that teachers are more likely to change their teaching practices and improve student learning in the presence of effective peers. Indeed, many administrators and teacher educators conclude that mentoring, participation in intense professional development, and ongoing communication and support from school leaders all significantly contribute to positive school climate and higher teacher retention (Ingersoll & Strong, 20111).
1 Ingersoll, R. and Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: A critical review of the research. Review of Education Research, 81(2), 201-233. doi: 10.3102/0034654311403323
- Provide didactic training on principles of social emotional learning, research based on its positive effects on students; social interactions and academic progress, and examples of effective implementation.
- Teach a range of highly effective class management strategies to use on a daily basis.
- Discuss and practice how the language teachers use with students can be intentionally crafted to promote positive relationships as well as encourage students to take risks to promote learning and support a growth mindset.
- Describe how emotions impact students’ learning, and teach how to respond to different emotional presentations. This includes discussions about how the system responds to mental health needs, effective communication and referrals.
- Teach strategies to foster emotional wellness among faculty and students as part of a healthy school climate.
- Infuse cultural responsiveness and proficiency into didactics and practice.
- Share and practice straightforward activities and approaches to communicate and collaborate with parents and other community partnerships.
- Provide didactics and coaching around how to collaborate with school leadership to effect school wide change.
- Provide opportunities to understand oneself in the context of a system.
- Train a cohort that will sustain the work of teams started through the certificate program.
- Introduction: Promoting Social Emotional Learning and Positive
- School Climate, 2 credits
- School Climate: Assessment, Intervention, and Evaluation, 3 credits
- Practicum I*
- Prevention and Intervention in the Schools, 4 credits
- Practicum II*
- Promoting Systemic Change & Consultation and Coaching, 3 credits
- Practicum III*
- Participants will describe a theoretical framework of school climate and social emotional learning.
- Participants will determine how their schools are defining and addressing school climate and social emotional learning.
- Participants will conduct school climate assessments and prepare action plans for demonstrating change based on identified markers.
- Participants will recognize symptoms of the most commonly encountered mental health disorders in students and apply this knowledge to enhance their teaching practices in the classroom. They will identify circumstances in which referral to a mental health professional would be indicated.
- Participants will identify coaching models that will enable them to analyze current practices and formulate action steps to effect individual and systems change.
- Participants will produce unique action plans influenced by their deeper knowledge of the principles of social and emotional learning. These plans will address how to create a more positive school climate, how to effect school change, and how to align their action plans with their own districts’ strategic plans.