While school culture and school climate have been defined in a number of ways, and at times are used interchangeably, they are two distinct terms which overlap and influence once another. Think of school culture as the personality and school climate as the attitude. One drives and determines the other.
- School Culture
School culture is the way things are done in the school (the personality of a school), the underlying norms and values that shape patterns of behavior, attitudes and expectations between stakeholders in the school. Deal and Peterson (1998) define school culture as “norms, values, beliefs, traditions, and rituals built up over time.” A school’s culture is always at work, either helping or hindering learning. It influences every decision and action in a school, from the leadership style of the principal to the way teachers choose curriculum materials and interact with students.
- School Climate
School climate is the feel of the school (the schools’ attitude), the behaviors and points of view exhibited and experienced by students, teachers and other stakeholders. Freiberg and Stein (1999) describe school climate as “the heart and soul of the school,” the feeling that either encourages teachers and students to engage, love the school, and to want to be a part of it, or reject the school and disengage from it.
School climate is the outcome of the school’s norms and values, the way in which people at the school relate to and interact with one another, and the way systems and policies manifest. According to the National School Climate Center, “school climate includes major spheres of school life such as safety, relationships, teaching and learning, and the environment as well as larger organizational patterns (e.g. from fragmented to shared; healthy or unhealthy).” These dimensions not only shape how students feel about being in school, but “these larger group trends shape learning and student development.”