School Climate, Classroom Weather

Every school has its own atmosphere and those at the top set the climate. The administration set the tone for the school and when they create an unstable atmosphere, staff do not know what to expect from one day to the next. This causes a lot of unnecessary stress and the school climate deteriorates.

When there are good headteachers or department heads, they will work to shield their teachers from unnecessary chaos and stress. Often this will involve making unclear or contradictory directives (from admin) clear and consistent. Doing this is difficult.

When busy work and other frustrating (educationally empty) tasks are sent down from above that must be done, good department leaders can clearly communicate where the directives are coming from, “The office says..Administration wants….I am just relaying this message as accurately as I can…” Then, after communicating the message the leader works with teachers to accomplish the task in the most time effective manner possible (because they understand that teaching is important and the whims of administrators are something that must be dealt with). Doing this helps create an environment of trust and respect between the teachers and their immediate superiors.

The chain continues with good teachers. Good teachers will work to shield their students from the chaos sowed by administration. This is done by maintaining a positive approach in the classroom and by focusing on academics, not bringing school politics into the classroom. Students should focus on learning and applying the course content. They don’t need to know how upset the teacher is with certain school policies.

The issue and this is what makes good administration so valuable, is that even with good department heads and good teachers, there is only so much they can do to combat the climate set by administration. Frustrations and stress will show themselves, it is inevitable. And the more perceptive students will pick this up. And then the climate’s atmosphere seeps into the students and their interactions.

However, just like our Earth’s climate, our school’s climate can change! Changing climate is difficult and it takes time. The quickest way would be for administration to have a change of heart, gain competence, or be replaced. But all of this is out of a teacher’s control. We need to focus on what we can control while keeping perspective. We need to keep perspective because we need to be grounded in reality as opposed to idealism or pessimism.

Teachers do not have control over the school climate, but we do have control over our classroom’s weather. We first need to choose to and put in the work to be consistent, positive, and academically focused. Then we can work with other teachers to help them develop the same traits. If enough teachers buy in, the weather will consistently be better, and, with time, the climate may change.

However, fighting the climate is an uphill battle, and there are people who do not like climate change (those who have found success in the system and administration). Be prepared for pushback (“Why would we change this? We have always done it this way.”) and blowback (You could lose your bonus or job if you push too hard. It is very important to be calm and tactful.), two steps forward then three back. Change is messy, but it can often be better than more of the same.

My department head has been invaluable. Hopefully yours is too.

School Policy: Pass/Fail

Administrators should be fine with failing students. What I mean by this is, if the student has earned an ‘F’ then they get an ‘F’. Teachers should give students every chance to succeed. Including providing extra copies of missing assignments and allowing work to be turned in late (with a deduction). Teachers should not be expected to do more than this, their focus should be on teaching, not making students do homework. So, from an administrator’s perspective, if the teachers are giving students every chance to pass and they still don’t (and there is documentation), administration should not have a problem with giving the students a failing grade.

Administrators who think that every student should get a high grade or are against failing students are causing problems because teachers are forced to essentially make up grades. This muddies the waters of feedback as the student and the parents are essentially being lied to about their ability and progress level. The clear truth (grades reflecting achievement) is better than muddy truth (grades reflecting achievement plus fluff).

While I believe schools should fail students who earn it, I also believe that schools should have an explicit policy in place for this. Not merely a verbal, or inferred one. By being explicit, teachers will know what to do. I think that a good policy in regard to this would include giving the student and parents multiple notices of their grades before the grades are due. Students should be able to make up missing work within a reasonable timeframe with a reasonable deduction for being late. And that’s it.

As a policy, this might look something like,

  1. Teachers will send progress reports home during the middle of the term and at the end of the term that will be returned with a guardian’s signature.
    1. Progress reports will include the student’s overall grade and individual assignment grades.
  2. Students will have one week from the date the progress reports are sent home to turn in any missing/late work for partial credit.
    1. Work that is done/turned in after this point will not be accepted for any credit.

I believe that it is important for the progress reports to include the individual assignment grades because some students and most parents will want to know what specifically was not turned in. Making this clear helps parents to see exactly what their child needs to do in order to improve, which should reduce unnecessary meetings with frustrated parents.

Giving a “short” deadline is important because students need a final deadline. Otherwise, they will keep on not turning in assignments (As they have had the entire term before the notice was home to make up the work and have not). Another reason for the “short” deadline is to not overload the teacher with student work to grade.

Putting these policies in place, and following them can reduce headaches teachers face from upset parents because parents will be informed ahead of time. This type of policy also encourages accountability. Students are responsible for their learning. Teachers are responsible to help students learn and to remove barriers (that are within the teacher’s control) to learning.

By not having some sort of clear policy in place for failing students, your school is setting itself up to fail.

Does your school pass or fail?