‘Small’ connections make the biggest difference

Many of the elements of school climate are often discounted as being “small stuff,” implying that they are a waste of time and that they are not connected to efforts that promote learning and student success. Perhaps that is a testament to the power of a positive school climate—because school climate efforts are based on the foundation that the small stuff often times matters the most. The connectivity of the small stuff is what changes systems and individual attitudes. As Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

Meisha Ross-Porter, principal at the Urban Assembly Bronx School of Law captured this idea well when she wrote:

As districts and schools across the country are rethinking school discipline, it’s important to note that creating a positive school culture—one that is safe and supportive of all students and lays the foundation for high student achievement—is not about creating enough rules to cover every infraction a student could possibly violate. It is about creating systematic routines and rituals that students, faculty, staff, and families are invested in, and that encourage young people and adults alike to always do the right thing, whether the right thing to is follow certain school rules or give a tearful 6th grader a reassuring hug. Each morning, my three [assistant principals] and I greet our students and sweat what some might call the ‘small stuff.’ We smile and welcome students to school; check and remind them about dress code; look directly at them for any hint of a problem, worry, or concern; and, if we see or sense that one of our students is in need, we ask and address it immediately.

All students and teachers deserve to attend schools that provide a safe, secure, and positive school climate—schools that realize that the small stuff adds up to something really big and powerful. Schools, school districts, and communities can improve school climate and sustain positive school climates through collaboration and by understanding the dynamics of school climate that research has identified and verified. When a positive school climate becomes an expectation instead of a goal, then education will be well on the way to significant improvement of outcomes for all students.

Dr. Garry McGiboney deputy superintendent, Georgia Department of Education and cabinet member of Get Georgia Reading. gmcgiboney@doe.k12.ga.us

Note: This is part four of a four-part series on school climate. Go back to read parts one, two, and three.