Principal Helpline: Reading the School Climate

Making yourself more available matters!

Principal Helpline: School Climate Change

Sometimes it’s hard for a principal to get a good read on school climate. You may think everything is going fine, but there may be issues you’re not aware of. You’re no longer part of the faculty grapevine, and now when you walk into the faculty room, conversation stops while people wait to see what you need. So, how can you find out how things are really going?

One way to find out what’s going on is to survey your staff. The National School Climate Center offers numerous survey tools you can use, but that might be too formal of a step. If you’re just wondering how things are going in general, and you’d like a little feedback, here are a few quick indicators about your school climate:


Take a look at faculty and staff attendance figures so far this year and compare them to those of last year. If attendance is up, that’s usually a good sign. If it’s down across the board, it might be an indicator of problems. A friend of mine who teaches in a very challenging high school told me that on the Friday before Thanksgiving, more than one-third of the faculty called in sick. Unless there’s an epidemic, it’s probably the climate that’s unhealthy.

Discipline Referrals

Are there more, fewer, or about the same number of referrals now as there were last year at this time? Are more teachers making referrals? When teachers who don’t usually refer kids are now doing so on a regular basis, it could be a sign of frustration with discipline policies.


On a daily basis, how many faculty or staff pop into your office to ask a question, give you a piece of information, or just say hello? If your door is often closed or your staff protects your time, you may be losing out on this important avenue of communication. Not having ready access to the principal can be frustrating to faculty and staff.

School Initiatives


What’s going on this month? A play, a spelling bee, a special field trip? Are teachers meeting periodically to work on curriculum or other initiatives? Any concerts or special evening activities for parents? If you look at the school calendar and see nothing interesting going on for the next few weeks, it could be cause for concern.

Try these strategies to improve school climate:

1. Get out of your office.

That’s the first and most important thing you can do. Open your door and leave it open. Tell your staff that if anyone wants to see you, they should show them in.

2. Walk the halls.

Take a notebook or your smartphone with you to keep notes on what you encounter. Drop in for a moment or two in classes. Take the initiative to talk to students, teachers, and staff. Do this every day for as long as you can. When teachers get used to seeing you around, you’ll be surprised at how much they have to share.

3. Attend events.

For the next few months, go to several events listed on the school calendar. You don’t have to stay for the entire activity, but showing up for a while shows you’re interested in what’s going on.

Principals often ask, “What activity can I plan with faculty and staff that will raise morale and improve the climate of the school?” The truth is, there are lots and lots of activities that can raise morale and improve school climate for a day. The trick is what happens next. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.