School-Wide Practices and Climate

I want students in my school to feel comfortable, joyful, loved, and positive vibes.

Alaska High School Student

What is this section about?

The National School Climate Center describes school climate as “the quality and character of school life, the foundation for learning and positive youth development.” Every school has a climate, and everyone in the school community contributes to it. Research consistently shows that positive student and staff perceptions of their school climate are linked to increased student academic achievement and graduation rates, increased staff job satisfaction, and decreased student risk behaviors.

Trauma violates physical, social, and emotional safety, and can result in feeling threatened and alert to risk. For students who have experienced trauma, having core safety needs met in a stable and predictable environment can minimize stress reactions. This frees students to focus on learning. Schoolwide practices make it clear that everyone in the school community has a role and responsibility in creating a safe and respectful learning environment. Schoolwide practices refer to routines, structures, and strategies that are agreed upon and used across the school throughout the school day.

In schools that are truly trauma-engaged, everyone in the school community – administrators, certified and classified staff, families, and students themselves – understand that they have a role in creating a positive school climate. Efforts are coordinated across classrooms and throughout all aspects of the school community (front office, cafeteria, classroom, gym, hallways, outdoor spaces) to create an environment where students feel safe and supported.

Community Adaptations

The content of this chapter is offered to district and school leaders, school staff, counselors, and community members with the understanding that that all have different roles and networks to help transform schools. These resources and tools may need to be adapted to make the practices culturally relevant and to align with each community’s strengths, norms, and expectations.

What can leadership do?

Click each section below for more info.

A. Measure school climate and environment on a regular basis. Use the data to co-create a school climate and environment that is welcoming and feels emotionally, physically, academically, and culturally safe for students, staff, and families.
  • Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)
    The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is a school-based survey of Alaska high school students. The YRBS collects important information about the health of Alaska teens.
    Source: Alaska Department of Health and Social Services
  • Audit Your School’s White Spaces
    A guide from New Zealand to consider every aspect of your learning environment, and your school’s operations and practice from the perspective of a Māori learner, to identify those spaces that are not culturally sustaining. Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
    Source: Ann Milne Education
B. Create shared behavior expectations that reflect the community values/culture and that develop positive relationships.
  • Forming Ground Rules
    Method for developing working agreements to support effective interactions between group members.
    Source: School Reform Initiative
  • Creating Staff Shared Agreements
    This tool provides guidance for creating staff shared agreements about how they will work together to achieve a shared vision for schoolwide SEL.
    Source: CASEL
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • Setting Agreements Activity
    Method for developing working agreements to support effective interactions between group members.
    Source: National School Reform Faculty
  • How to Develop Working Agreements for Any Group
    Oakland’s step-by-step instructions for establishing working agreements for a group, and returning to them regularly to check in.
    Source: CASEL, Oakland Unified School District
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
C. Implement school-wide practices and routines that build relationships and foster skill development to support the behavior expectations.
  • Celebration Activities Guide
    These celebration ideas serve as practical suggestions for facilitating the inclusion of all students in a general education setting.
    Source: Inclusive Schools Network
  • Mix It Up at Lunch
    Students consistently identify the cafeteria as a place in their school where divisions are clearly—and harshly—drawn. So we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications that we encourage educators to include in year-round efforts to promote healthy, welcoming school environments.
    Source: Teaching Tolerance
  • The Two-Minute Relationship Builder
    What if instead of going head-to-head with your most challenging students, you created an ally in them? During the 2013 ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership, presenter Grace Dearborn shared a strategy for making that happen: the “Two-by-Ten.”
    Source: ASCD Education Update
D. Embed resiliency, skill building, and restorative approaches in all systems and procedures, including positive behavior supports and multi tiered systems of support.
  • Alaska Schoolwide Positive Behavior Supports
    The Alaska Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support (SW-PBS) website provides schools and districts with resources to implement SW-PBS.
    Source: Alaska Department of Education and Early Development
  • Guidelines for Adopting a Multitiered Approach to Addressing Trauma
    Student services staff members play a critical role in supporting universal trauma-sensitive practices and ensuring that students have access to more intensive, trauma-specific supports. You can use this guide to learn strategies for supporting a multitiered, trauma-sensitive approach.
    Source: National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments
E. Facilitate ongoing professional learning about school climate and provide collaboration opportunities so that all members of the school community feel a sense of belonging and are utilizing the school-wide practices.
  • Establish, Maintain, Restore Relationship Activities
    Relationships are at the heart of what youth need to learn, grow, and thrive. This collection of resources includes research, a Powerpoint presentation, and activities for staff to explore ways of establishing, maintaining and restoring relationships with students.
    Source: Sitka School District with permission from Diana Browning Wright
  • School Climate Improvement Online Modules
    The School Climate Improvement Online Modules provide an opportunity for individuals engaged in school climate improvement to practice skills, including engaging leadership and other stakeholders, analyzing school climate data, and identifying evidence-based programs.  Each module starts with some basics on school climate and then goes into an interactive activity.
    Source: National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments
  • Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment in Our Nation’s Classrooms
    Training modules designed to support classroom teachers, other educators, and support personnel to reduce instances of bullying behavior and to build a supportive classroom climate in which bullying is less likely to occur.
    Source: National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments

What can staff do?

Click each section below for more info.

A. Maintain a safe and welcoming environment in your work area (front office, cafeteria, classroom, gym, hallways, outdoor spaces) where students feel safe and supported. Reflect the community values and culture. Each person in the school community is instrumental in building a positive school climate.
  • School Climate Improvement Action Guide for Noninstructional Staff (PDF)
    This document outlines key action steps that non-instructional staff—including office staff, guidance counselors, social workers, school psychologists, bus drivers, maintenance and facility staff, and food service staff—can take to improve school climate.
    Source: National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments
  • Optimal Learning Environment
    Effective teaching and learning can only happen when an Optimal Learning Environment is in place. Yet, what is an Optimal Learning Environment and how can educators foster this type of environment in their classrooms and schools?
    Source: New Teacher Center
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education
    This critical practices guide offers practical strategies for creating a space where academic and social-emotional goals are accomplished side by side. It also provides valuable advice for implementing culturally responsive pedagogy and describes how teachers can bring anti-bias values to life 
    Source: Teaching Tolerance

Building School Climate through Relationships

This series of videos highlights how all school staff members can impact school climate through the relationships they build with students.  

B. Implement routines and procedures in your work area (front office, cafeteria, classroom, gym, hallways, outdoor spaces) that build student self regulation skills and align with and reflect the school-wide expectations and practices.
  • The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassion, Resiliency, and Academic Success
    One of the primary goals is to help us all learn as much as possible about the interconnectedness of issues critical to student academic success in today’s schools. These include a deeper understanding of learning and teaching, as well as the concepts of compassion, compassionate schools, resiliency, and school-community partnerships.
    Source: Washington Office of Superintendent of Public instruction
  • Calming Areas Overview and Ideas
    A Calming Area is a quiet area of the room equipped with soothing materials and furnishings to help a student de-escalate and / or practice self-management when upset. This short document includes guidelines and photos.
    Source: CASEL, Dallas Independent School District
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • Mindfulness for Students
    Researchers define mindfulness as the awareness that arises when we intentionally pay attention in a kind, open, and discerning way. When we are mindful, we focus on the present moment non-judgmentally. Describes what it is, why it is important, and practices for students.
    Source: Greater Good in Education
  • Move Your Body, Grow Your Brain
    Incorporating exercise and movement throughout the school day makes students less fidgety and more focused on learning.
    Source: Edutopia
  • Take a Break! Teacher Toolbox Physical Activity Breaks in the Secondary Classroom
    When you move more, you learn more because healthy students learn better. Research shows that physical activity (PA) affects the brain in ways that allow students to be more engaged and ready to learn. Elementary students should not be the only ones to receive and benefit from PA breaks in the classroom.
    Source: The Colorado Education Initiative
C. Teach and reinforce the social emotional skills that are necessary for students to be successful.
  • Cleveland Classroom Meetings Resource Page
    Classroom Meetings in Cleveland are used daily for community building and classroom level problem-solving and decision-making. This resource page has activities, best practices, handouts, samples that show integration with academic content, and other tools to help plan a larger scale rollout of class meetings.
    Source: Cleveland Metropolitan School District
D. Create the conditions and promote skill development to empower youth as leaders in school climate and systems change.
  • Meaningful Student Involvement Idea Guide
    Meaningful Student Involvement is the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of school change for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community, and democracy.
    Source: Sound Out
  • Meaningful Student Involvement Toolbox
    This is a collection of tools you can use to learn, teach, advocate and share Meaningful Student Involvement in your school or community!
    Source: Sound Out
  • Student Voice Collaborative Rubric
    This graphic organizer/rubric is designed to help schools assess their inclusion of student voices in six key areas such as school governance and classroom culture, school climate, modeling schoolwide practices and norms, and promoting positive relationships with each other.
    Source: Student Voice Collaborative


Additional Resources for Leadership

  • Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child
    The education, public health, and school health sectors have each called for greater alignment that includes integration and collaboration between education leaders and health sectors to improve each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. The Whole School Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model focuses on the child to align the common goals of both sectors to put into action a whole child approach to education.
  • An Inside Look at Trauma-Informed Practices
    A Nashville elementary school takes a whole school comprehensive approach to trauma-informed practices, creating a space where students feel known and supported.
    Source: Edutopia
  • Equity & Social and Emotional Learning: A Cultural Analysis
    Social and emotional learning (SEL) has the potential to help mitigate the interrelated legacies of racial and class oppression in the U.S. and globally.
    Source: CASEL
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • SEL is Systemic Equity: Leadership Beliefs Inventory
    This worksheet is intended to promote reflection on beliefs and actions that shape how your district leverages SEL to advance educational equity.
    Source: CASEL
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • Trauma Informed Interview Questions
    When interviewing candidates for employment at your organization, you may want to consider their knowledge of and experience with trauma-informed care. Below are sample interview questions that members of our listserv have used to understand how a potential employee may fit into your organization as you incorporate trauma-informed care.
  • Developing Schoolwide Norms
    This tool provides suggested approaches for developing schoolwide norms.
    Source: CASEL
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • Marcus Garvey Elementary: Exemplary Supportive School
    Marcus Garvey Elementary is one of the schools that has earned the highest certification level in implementing systemic SEL. This video illustrates the ways SEL has been integrated into systems and practices. Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
    Source: CASEL, Chicago Public Schools
  • Strategies for Collaboration
    Trauma-sensitive schools foster collaboration with students and families by using strategies that support their control and empowerment, such as speaking respectfully, ensuring that families and students understand what is happening and can give their opinions, and involving families as partners in decision making related to student needs and plans.
    Source: National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments
  • School Climate Improvement Action Guide for District Leaders (PDF)
    This document outlines key action steps that district leaders—superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors of student support services, or others—can take to contribute to improving the school climate.
    National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments
  • Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
    Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an evidence-based three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all of the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes every day. It is a way to support everyone to create the kinds of schools where all students are successful.
    Source: Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
  • MTSS and PBIS Support Programs
    Some of the most common frameworks for organizing student supports are Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Schoolwide SEL offers an opportunity to enhance or refine existing systems of support.
    Source: CASEL
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • Reflecting on School Discipline and SEL Alignment
    Reflect on your school’s discipline policies, procedures, practices, and mindsets. Create alignment between your discipline approach and your SEL vision.
    Source: CASEL
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.

Additional Resources for Staff

  • Social Justice Standards: The Teaching Tolerance Anti-bias Framework
    The Social Justice Standards are a set of anchor standards and age-appropriate learning outcomes divided into four domains—identity, diversity, justice and action (IDJA). The standards provide a common language and organizational structure: Teachers can use them to guide curriculum development, and administrators can use them to make schools more just, equitable and safe.
    Source: Teaching Tolerance
  • Guiding Questions for Educators: Promote Equity Using SEL
    Educators can use social and emotional learning (SEL) to promote the cultural assets that all students bring to their classrooms—if SEL instruction and assessments are implemented with a culturally responsive lens.
    Source: CASEL
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • 50 Brain Breaks for Kids
    Quick, easy activities to help kids re-energize, refocus and give their brains a boost.
    Source: WeAreTeachers
  • Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles
    San Francisco’s guide focused on the use of Circles as a proactive measure to build trust and community in a classroom. Includes sample activities and lesson plans for introducing students to restorative practices.
    Sources: CASEL, San Francisco Unified School District
    Access to the free resource simply requires registering on the site to download.
  • Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement
    The Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement are different tools designed to help schools take action with students as partners to transform schools. They do not tell you what to do; they do serve as guiding lights for change.
  • Strength in Voices Conference4th annual Washoe County School District Strength in Voices Conference: “Student Voice provides an incredible opportunity for students to be involved in their education and speak about issues they can help problem-solve in their schools. As students, we are honored to lead this conference”. – Kierra Capurro, WCSD Student Advisory Council