Key takeaways

  • Understanding the distinction between school culture and climate is essential, with culture shaping the persona of the school and climate influencing the overall experience and relationships within it.
  • Amidst increased unrest and instability, particularly due to COVID-19 challenges, now is a crucial time for school district leaders to prioritize measuring culture and climate to address tensions and foster community resilience.
  • By gathering feedback from all stakeholders through culture and climate surveys, school leaders can create a baseline for improvement, drive continuous enhancement, and better understand the needs of staff, parents, and students, especially vital during challenging times.

Working as a school district leader you will have your hands full and a list of tasks to get through. One of these tasks will be to start measuring school culture and climate and this needs to be a top priority.

What is culture & climate

"School culture is the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the 'persona' of the school," -Dr. Kent D. Peterson

A professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. School culture controls the atmosphere in your school and affects everything that goes on inside its walls. This goes further than the student body and includes staff interaction with colleagues, students, and parents.

Climate is more than a school experience for one individual; it is the overall experience or sense of the school. School climate is your school’s impact and effects on your students and their relationships with their teachers, other students, and parents. It also includes student, parent, and school staff beliefs, relationships, teaching, and learning, as well as the structural features of the school. Two creative millenial small business owners working on social media strategy brainstorming using adhesive notes in windowsSchool culture and climate have been described as overlapping notions, however, Hoy et al.(2) described that climate is viewed as behavior, while culture is seen as comprising the values and norms of the school. Measuring school culture and climate is critical in increasing student achievements, school safety, staff retention, student and staff wellbeing as well as healthy social relationships.

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Why now is the right time to measure culture and climate?

At the moment, school district leaders are dealing with much more unrest and instability than ever before in their working lives. This uncertainty can create tensions between staff and the rest of the school community because of COVID-19-related issues and the school's plan for reopening and recovery. This divide can cause disagreements and arguments between the staff and parents with some extreme cases such as organizing protests at board meetings.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

(Peter Drucker, Management Expert)

Some school district leaders might be thinking that this is the worst time to gather culture and climate feedback from staff, students, and parents. The main concern is that the feedback will be very negative and make the district look bad. When the culture and climate are most at risk this is the best time to gather feedback.

The importance of measuring now

By measuring the culture and climate now you will hear every student, staff, and parent voice and will not miss out on what they have to say. Using culture and climate surveys each individual in the school is heard and not just the most vocal members of the school community. The surveying process itself is important because it allows students, staff, and parents “to be citizens, rather than tourists in the school, as they realize they have an opportunity to participate in shaping the education process.”(3) Elevating the community voice and having concrete feedback from all stakeholders allows you to factually report the communities’ sentiments, rather than relying on how you might think the community is doing.

Using culture and climate surveys, will provide your school and district with a baseline of data and allow them to see what is and isn’t working as well as fully understand the needs of their staff, parents, and students. You can then build upon the baseline data by setting targets and watching this data improve over time. Gathering regular data for an identified issue and tracking the results over time, will drive continuous improvement. Monitoring your district, especially during these challenging times, will enable your district to come out of this difficult period and get back on track. 

In measuring culture and climate now you can see the significant benefits you stand to reap through continuous improvement, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make the time now to measure, monitor, and engage with your school culture and climate when it’s most needed.

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As a school district leader, the task of measuring school culture and climate stands as a pivotal responsibility, especially amidst the unprecedented challenges faced in today's educational landscape. Understanding the nuances between culture and climate, and recognizing the significance of gathering feedback during times of unrest, provides a unique opportunity for growth and improvement. By actively engaging all stakeholders and utilizing culture and climate surveys, leaders can establish a baseline for progress, drive continuous enhancement, and ultimately steer their districts towards a brighter future, even amidst the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Embracing this moment to measure, monitor, and engage with school culture and climate will undoubtedly yield substantial benefits, paving the way for sustained success and resilience within our educational communities.




(1) Deal, T. E. and Peterson, K. D. (1999). Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership, San Francisco, CA: Jossey        Bass.

(2) Hoy, W.K., Tarter, C.J., & Bliss, J.R. (1990). Organizational climate, school health, and effectiveness: A comparative analysis. Educational Administration Quarterly, 26, 260–279

(3) Freiberg, H. J. (1998). Measuring school climate: Let me count the ways. Educational Leadership, 56(1), 22-26.

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Author: Navina Cheema

Posted: 28 Sep 2020

Estimated time to read: 7 mins

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