High Quality Learning Environments


Research demonstrates that a high quality learning environment – which includes the school culture and climate – significantly and positively impacts students’ educational and life outcomes.

Positive Learning Environment

While often overlooked by policymakers, the research is clear that the school learning environment significantly and positively impacts students’ educational and life outcomes (Allen and others, 2011).

Whether referred to as a quality school climate (Shindler, 2010), building relational trust (Blankstein, 2004), fostering healthy, safe and supportive learning environments (Parrett and Budge, 2012), establishing resiliency-promoting school environments (Henderson, 2013), or creating a collaborative culture (DuFour and Marzano, 2011); higher functioning schools are defined by a culture of belonging and community, resulting in school transformations that not only improve student success, but also create a school environment of collaboration among administrators, teachers and staff.

Research consistently identifies improving school culture and climate, and interactions among stakeholders at the school level as the most powerful mediating factor for turning around underperforming schools.

No instances of successful school turnaround were found that did not address school culture and there is an almost perfect correlation between school climate measures and student achievement scores (Macneil, 2009).

While it is not the solution alone, improving school climate and culture is the basic building block that generates the good will, and helps build the cultural norms and cooperation needed for all other systematic improvement efforts. And, in chronically underperforming schools, AES believes it must come first!

A Look Inside a High Quality Learning Environment

AES works closely with teachers who intentionally create a culture of trust, cooperation and mutual respect by supporting youth voice and creating opportunities for meaningful engagement in the classroom.

This creates a school climate that encourages dialogue, honesty and discussion, and helps students to feel connected, supported and engaged with the material in a way that initiates deeper learning and creates connection to the content. This clip is an example of one such classroom at a high school in Berkeley, California.

What is a positive learning environment?

The term “high quality learning environment” encompasses both the school culture and school climate. It generally means the same as “positive or quality learning environment.”

Educational research has consistently demonstrated that high quality learning environments, characterized by a positive school culture and climate are associated with academic achievement, effective risk prevention efforts and positive youth development (National School Climate Center, 2013).

In order for students to effectively learn, schools must create and provide a culture and climate that is hospitable to learning and engagement (Barth 2001).

What does a high quality learning environment look like?

High quality learning environments are characterized by:

  • Physical and psychological safety;
  • High levels of trust and collaboration;
  • Solid understanding of the effects of poverty;
  • Positive school, family, home and community relationships;
  • Needs-based approaches for all students;
  • Engaging and relevant curriculum;
  • Student voice and engagement;
  • Effective transitions;
  • Attention to student attendance and mobility; and
  • Appropriate behavioral interventions.

(Adapted from Parrett and Budge, 2012)