A school environment is broadly characterized by its facilities, classrooms, school-based health supports, and disciplinary policies and practices. It sets the stage for the external factors that affect students.
A positive school environment is defined as a school having appropriate facilities, well-managed classrooms, available school-based health supports, and a clear, fair disciplinary policy. There are many hallmarks of the academic, disciplinary, and physical environments of schools with a positive climate.
An extensive amount of research has linked a positive school environment to higher test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates. For example, effective and highly qualified teachers with high expectations for students and good teaching conditions have been linked to strong academic performance in multiple studies. Peer support for achievement-oriented behaviors, such as studying or participating in class, is also strongly tied to positive school climate and academic achievement.
In general, for students to achieve academic success they must attend and be engaged in school, and school environment can influence both attendance and engagement. School discipline policies that emphasize relational or restorative, as opposed to punitive, justice and are considered clear, fair, and consistently enforced by students are related to higher student attendance rates and levels of engagement. Relational responses to negative behavior are sensitive, individualized, and emphasize character strengths as a means of preventing future misbehavior, a common practice within schools with positive climate. Such responses rely upon staff member’s positive relationships with students to understand the current situation and be positioned as a trusted mentor in the student’s eyes.
Indicators of poor school environment include low levels of teacher satisfaction, high rates of teacher turnover, low academic expectations, and a messy or unsafe physical plant.
Furthermore, a strong link exists between exclusionary policies—suspension, expulsion, and forced transfers—and high school dropout. In the 2007-08 school year, the latest date for which nationally representative information is available, students were suspended from school for 5 days or more 584,000 times. This translates to at least 19 million hours of missed school and instructional time.
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