This article is the second of the ‘School Climate’ series.

Here’s the Math. On average, a student spends almost twice as much time in school than at home. Assuming a child spends 7 hours a day going to school and back, she would have spent approximately 1540 hours on campus by the end of the (minimum!) 220 days. Compare this with the amount of time she spends at home- average 4 hours a day after school and before bed= 880 hours.

Note: Especially after the Right to Education Act 2009 came into force which (Section 19 of the Right to Education Act 2009) mandates every school to remain open for a minimum of 220 days in an academic year.

Parents roll their eyes everytime I pull up the numbers. I hear everything from “All ___ board schools are the same” to “I hope my kids had full working school days on Saturday too”.

If all schools are more or less equal, why should parents care about the inner life of their children as students? The rationale most follow is “I survived my schooling years, why can’t my kids”?

“When you know better, do better”- Maya Angelou.

What do you remember most about your school?

I remember an inaccessible Principal, corporal punishment and a few dedicated teachers. But most of all, I remember cramped classrooms, heavy school bags, and burning out on academics by class 10.

My schooling years are a picnic as compared to the stories I’ve heard about other schools.

School climate has a profound impact on your child. It is a result of a complex dynamic between all the stakeholders, namely the teaching staff, the non-teaching staff, management/trustees, parents, other schools, BoE rules and regulations, government norms, etc. This interaction determines everything, from the appearance of the school building, the daily schedule, weight of the school bags to how teachers behave with students and how students behave with each other. It also dictates how the School Head addresses matters uncovered by parents. For example, a child I tutored hated to go to school. Her mother shared that the child would complain of stomach pain every morning before leaving for school. The parents attributed it to physiological issues initially. But as the complaints did not cease even after 2-3 months, they probed the school and found out that the class teacher’s approach to discipline was the issue. The school was unwilling to address the matter and the parents had to move their child to another school.

A positive school climate should foster a sense of well being, safety and belongingness in a student. Whereas a negative and toxic environment would do the opposite- stressed teachers, tense students, eerily quiet hallways, frowning countenances on everyone.

School climate matter enormously because… student well-being matters!. What do you suppose a student learns when a teacher is yelling or shouting at the slightest mistake? Or a Principal who scolds the teaching staff in the school lobby? (Yes, this happens). Stress and pressure trickle down the organisational hierarchy and ultimately the student-teacher relationship bears the brunt.

As Freiberg notes “School climate can be a positive influence on the health of the learning environment or a significant barrier to learning”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead

Knowing what you know about school culture and climate and their effects on learning, it would be remiss to not talk about the parental role in education, specifically school spaces.

Parents collectively have enormous power to influence a school because you hold monetary power. It is in the best interest of every parent to ensure the school focuses on the academic performance of all students without compromising on student well being.

In my last article, I had shared some of the features of an ideal learning space that I had collected through my role as a parent or as a researcher cum teacher. Each parent and/or teacher will have different and differing points of view and experiences regarding what an ‘ideal’ learning space is and what the ‘goals’ of education are. But almost all parents and/or teachers will agree on certain issues because they are general and common across all schools.

Many schools struggle with teacher absenteeism. Heavy school bags, 3 hours+ homework, frequent high stakes tests- these are problem areas irrespective of the board affiliation or whether it’s a private or government school. This is why when parents tell me “The school that my kid(s) go to isn’t like this”, I say “The school isn’t like this…yet!” because any teaching-learning space is a dynamic with a lot of moving parts.

Also Read: The conundrum called Education

A subject head leaving or joining, change of Principals, change of curriculum, a new cohort…school climate is in a constant flux. It is a very rare school that has the exact same teaching staff years on end and the same teaching-learning materials. In fact, schools that don’t change at all should be looked at with suspicion just as schools that go through frequent changes. So, a parent must have their ear to the ground and observe the processes and climate when you visit the school.

Although there is no one definition, the general consensus is that school climate has 4 main categories or dimensions, namely- Safety (Physical, social and emotional), Teaching/Learning, Interpersonal relationships and Institutional Environment.

The 4 dimensions of measuring School Climate

A brief overview below might serve as a handy list or a marking sheet, so to speak, the next time you are in the school space.

Safety: Physical, Social and Emotional

Quite self-explanatory.  What are the rules and regulations and how are they enforced. Are there enough deterrents to prevent students from venturing outside the campus like security staff and gate checks. What about to prevent outsiders from coming in? Does the school have a trained student counsellor on campus? How is bullying tackled? Cyberbullying?

Interpersonal relationships

I know it’s a happy school when I see children mingling and chattering during lunch break or recess. Or teachers discussing and catching up with each other during breaks. Pin drop silence is appropriate during examinations and tests but expectations of utter silence during classes is not a good sign. Schools that care about learning have teaching-learning processes with high student-teacher and student-student interaction during class hours. 

Observe the behaviour of the teaching and non-teaching staff. Do they seem warm, friendly and approachable? Or tense, hostile and unsmiling? Are they respectful to each other and to the students?

Institutional Environment

Observe the school building and atmosphere- How do you feel when you walk in through the school gates? Do your children feel a sense of belonging at the school?  Is the school surrounded by factories? Is the school located across a very busy street? Does it have a playground? Do you see children playing during recess? Is the school building well maintained? Are fire safety measures in place? How clean are the restrooms? Is there a separate restroom for boys and girls?

Teaching and Learning

How often is your child’s teacher absent? How many free periods do students get in a day? How often do teachers go in for professional training? Can students approach their teachers off school hours for help? How does the school accommodate different learning needs? What is the homework policy? Is the syllabus on track to be completed before exams? Who do you get in touch with for any questions related to curriculum/syllabus?

One of the roles that a parent should play in schools is to observe, listen and reflect on whether school practices are aligned with its mission and goals. Choose a learning space which is aligned with the values and beliefs of your family. Support your children through their schooling because family (not school infrastructure) is the biggest influence on student achievement

This is the second article of the “School Climate” series. Read the first one here.

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