Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

You Need an Elevator Pitch About School Culture and Climate

March 5, 2015

When I asked a principal recently about the climate of his school, he said that it was often very humid because of poor ventilation. In another school, the principal complained about drafts in the wintertime. Those incidents, and others, have convinced me that many school personnel still need to be informed about school culture and climate.

Or what about this? Imagine you are in the elevator and in walks your superintendent. It's the elevator in the administration building, so you know it's going to be a slow ride (at least 30 to 60 seconds). The superintendent says to you, "I understand you are in a leadership position in your school's culture and climate committee. What exactly is the focus of your committee, what's your understanding of school climate and why it's important, and what are your plans?"

The elevator door closes, and it's your turn to speak. What are you going to say?

Creating Your Elevator Pitch

In both cases, you need an elevator pitch. It's also known as an elevator speech, but colleague Joe Cervantes suggested that the use of "pitch" is brief, focused, and less intimidating. I agree. Everyone in a leadership role (as leader or on the leadership team), when asked, must be able to clearly articulate what he or she and the team are doing.

Often, it takes a little while to get oneself -- and one's team -- to accomplish this. But it is embarrassing to be in that role and not fully understand what is happening. Imagine forward to a time when you will be speaking with your school's culture and climate committee, and your committee members will be speaking with the staff, administrators, and maybe parents or school board members.

Everyone should be articulate and professional about what they are doing. Even if it's not your favorite thing in the world to do, as a professional, you still want to be, and appear, competent.

So that's why you need an elevator pitch! That pitch should include a definition of what the key terms mean, why it's important, and what the research says. And you should be able to deliver the essence in 30 to 60 seconds. Here are some starters for your elevator pitches.

What is School Culture and Climate?

School Culture

This is the sum total of the behaviors and interactions of all adults and children, their attitudes and norms, and the extent to which the school is safe, supportive, healthy, engaging, inspiring, and challenging for all. Culture is what we do in the school or, as my colleague Marvin Berkowitz says, "How we be in the school."

School Climate

This is the collective perception of how well a school provides suitable conditions for learning; for positive social, emotional, and character development; for all staff to grow professionally; and for parents, families, and community resources to become engaged in the school.

Why Is It Important?

A positive school culture and climate is no different than clean air and water. It is the basis for sustainable learning and preparation for the tasks and tests of life. Conversely, in a toxic school culture and climate, learning by all will not take place effectively, and what is learned may be sustainably negative and harmful. When a school is a positive place to be, people are happy to be there, do their best, and make their best better.

After the Elevator Pitches

Once a leadership team has helped the school community understand the importance of culture and climate, they are ready to consider assessing it. This can happen systematically, but it usually is best to begin conversationally. So school committees concerned with morale, discipline, and climate should ask:

  • What is it that we are doing to help students (and staff) feel that this is a positive school, a place they look forward to coming into every day?

And then, with the necessary courage, ask the question:

  • What is it that we are doing that is discouraging for students, that creates a negative climate?

An honest analysis of each of these, and the balance of them, sets the stage for taking specific steps to improving the culture and the climate. Once specific areas of need are uncovered, there are ample resources to guide steps toward improvement. And remember: Students will be an essential resource in making progress.

What are your thoughts and ideas on this post? Please share in the comments section below.

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  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Administration & Leadership
  • Professional Learning
  • School Culture

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