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School Climate

Many school-based prevention programs seek to understand the school climate, identify areas in which the climate could improve, and change those areas. Aspects of school climate have been shown to be associated with teen dating violence directly, and it also is related to several risk factors for sexual and dating violence. For instance, lack of social support, poor parent-child relationships, and low educational achievement are risk factors for dating and/or sexual violence among youths. Beyond grade school, the White House’s Not Alone campaign recommends using climate surveys on college and university campuses to help identify the nature and extent of the problem of sexual assault on a certain campus.

College and University Campus Climate Surveys

According to the White House’s Not Alone campaign,

“The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it – and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that.”

“Schools have to get credit for being honest – and for finding out what’s really happening on campus. Reports to authorities, as we know, don’t provide a fair measure of the problem. But a campus climate survey can. When done right, these surveys can gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and provide schools with an invaluable tool for crafting solutions.”

College and university campus climate toolkits:

  • Not Alone toolkit
  • Carnegie Mellon: How to assess departments resource page
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison: Assessment resources
  • Rutgers: Understanding and Responding to Campus Sexual Assault: A Guide to Climate Assessment for Colleges and Universities Campus Climate Survey, Teacher School Climate Survey, Parent Survey, and Optional Question Bank
  • Administrator Researcher Campus Climate Consortium (ARC3): The Administrator‐Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative (ARC3) survey is the result of ongoing efforts by student and legal affairs professionals, campus advocates, students, campus law enforcement, and sexual assault and harassment researchers, groups of whom met in Atlanta, Georgia in October 2014 for the Georgia State University Forum on Campus Sexual Assault and in February 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin for the Madison Summit on Campus Climate and Sexual Misconduct. Survey can be requested here.
  • The Ohio Domestic Violence Network, in partnership with state and campus stakeholders including the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, created a campus climate survey. It is available for free and can be accessed here.

Examples of college and university climate surveys:

Examples of results from college and university climate surveys:

  • UC System wide climate survey results
  • San Jose State climate survey results
  • Case Western Reserve climate survey results
  • University of Oregon climate survey results

Based on a PreventConnect blog on Resources for School Policy Change there are 12 resources with school policy change efforts including Model Policies, Resource Websites, and Policy Briefs.

Website: Stop Sexual Assault in Schools

Video: Ignite Talks- Creating Change Beyond the Classroom

Web Conference: Keeping the Climate Study Data and Other Reports Off-the-Shelf

Report: Student Safety, Justice, and Support Policy Guidelines for Campuses Addressing Sexual Assault, Domestic Dating Violence, and Stalking

Model Policy: School and District Policies to Increase Student Safety and Improve School Climate

Model Policy: Idaho Model Secondary School Policy Adolescent Relationship Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

Governance Brief: Promoting Healthy Relationships for Adolescents: Board Policy Considerations

Talking Points: “Considerations for School District Sexual Misconduct”

Policy Draft: “Los Angeles Unified School District Teen Dating Violence Policy Draft”

Report: Ending Harassment Now, Keeping our Kids Safe at School

Framework: Developing School Policies to Address Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking

Policy Brief: Addressing Bullying and Adolescent Dating Abuse

Grade School Climate Surveys

According to the National School Climate Center:
“School climate refers to the quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of students’, parents’ and school personnel’s experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures.
A sustainable, positive school climate fosters youth development and learning necessary for a productive, contributing and satisfying life in a democratic society. This climate includes:

  • Norms, values and expectations that support people feeling socially, emotionally and physically safe.
  • People are engaged and respected.
  • Students, families and educators work together to develop, live and contribute to a shared school vision.”

The National School Climate Center also states that “[s]chool climate is at its core about healthy, positive and connected relationships.”

As noted above, a positive climate includes having peers and teachers and administrators whose actions create and maintain an environment in which students feel safe. This aspect of school climate relates closely to bystander intervention. Many school climate-related bullying prevention efforts emphasize bystander intervention as a way to curb bullying and to improve school climate through a more supportive, safe environment. Conversely, school climate surveys can reveal barriers to bystander intervention, such as lack of support or even punishment by teachers and administrators for intervening or a perception that there will be insufficient consequences for bullies. In addition to bullying prevention, these relationships can be valuable for promoting bystander intervention against sexual harassment, sexism, rape-supportive comments, and sexual assault.

School climate work often involves administering a survey, focus groups, or key informant interviews at a baseline time, conducting a program based on identified issues in the school climate, and repeating the survey, focus groups, or key informant interviews. Many states, school districts, and individual schools already administer school climate surveys. If you are working in a school that has already assessed its school climate, that information can be useful for informing your prevention program.

If the school has not assessed its climate, there are several publicly available resources for assessing school climate:

When designing a school climate assessment, as when you’re designing any assessment, always consider what information is most important for you to collect. If, for instance, you think you want to improve gender equity and/or bystander intervention, it would be advantageous to collect data on students’, teachers’, and administrators’ perceptions of gender equity, common gender inequitable attitudes, school policy related to gender, the rate of students intervening, the rate of teachers intervening, possible barriers to intervening, etc. It may also be helpful to use a prevention theory to guide the questions you ask.