A school environment is broadly characterized by its facilities, classrooms practices, 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 investigates how positive school environments can impact academic outcomes, student attendance, and graduation rates. Academic achievement can be influenced by a combination of factors related to the physical space and quality of schools as well as students and staffs’ emotional well-being. Youth development flourishes when education, public health, and school health collaborate on common goals aligned with a whole child approach to education.
Staff well-being and burnout are two priority areas that greatly impact learning environment for children. Research shows that the student perception of teacher happiness can be linked to students’ overall attitude and motivation. Peer support and teacher support are 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 a 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 student behaviors are sensitive, individualized, and emphasize character strengths as a means of shifting the focus from the student’s behavior to root causes of behavior. This is 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.
For example, some evidence shows that teacher burnout is associated with worse academic achievement and lowered student motivation. 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 place.
Furthermore, a strong link exists between exclusionary policies—suspension, expulsion, and forced transfers—and high school dropout. Students missed over 11 million days of school in 2015-16 because of suspensions. Students with disabilities and students of color are disproportionately impacted by exclusionary discipline practices. Studies have shown that more severe exclusionary discipline has a consistent negative effect on many other long-term education outcomes for students.
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