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The Voice of Elementary School Principals on School Climate

School climate has been described as "the set of internal characteristics that distinguish one school from another and influence the behaviors of each school's members" (Hoy, Smith & Sweetland, 2005). In the landmark study by Brookover, Schneider, Beady, Flood and Wisebaker (1978), school climate was found to be a more significant factor in student achievement than the variables of race and socioeconomic status. Principals need training in the phenomena of school climate and to develop the skills needed to alter it as needed for the benefit of students. This phenomenological study explored the conceptual understanding of school climate by experienced elementary school principals. Further, the study sought to identify strategies used by experienced leaders to manipulate the school climate under the conditions imposed by standards-based curricula and high-stakes testing. Specific efforts were made to distinguish between the terms school climate and school culture that are often used interchangeably in the research and by practitioners. The findings indicate that many of the principals had an understanding of school climate consistent with the research. In most cases, these principals were still involved in coursework, extensive professional development or were avid readers of professional literature. It was also determined that principals who possess an understanding of the phenomena of school climate also acted with intention in efforts to alter it. For the roughly twenty five percent of the principals who did not have a conceptual understanding of school climate, their leadership had an accidental influence on it. For the benefit of all learners in all schools, all principals need pre-service training and support in school climate and its cultivation.
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