Who else confuses culture vs. climate?

By September 29, 2014 November 1st, 2019 No Comments

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Culture and climate are often misunderstood and used interchangeably, when in fact, they are actually quite different.  Climate is more immediate, and easier to feel by outsiders.  The school culture is developed over time and reflects the stakeholders’ values and beliefs. One author equates the culture to the personality, and the climate to the attitude of an organization (Gruenert, 2008).  By achieving a positive school climate, one can build a healthy school culture.


Five ways to build a healthy school culture:

  1. Give a School Culture Audit Survey.  Giving the teachers and administrators a survey, the building leader can find strengths and potential weaknesses.  This will aid in prioritizing needs and finding the right place to begin.
  2. Involve teachers in decision-making processes at the school.  If teachers feel like they have a voice in the school’s happenings they will trust their administrators more, work harder for the benefit of the organization, take more ownership in curriculum and instruction.
  3. Create community support by bringing all stakeholders together.  There needs to be efforts taken to actively build relationships between parents, students, teachers, administrators, and other community members.  This can happen through a variety of ways like Fine Arts nights at the school, technology training sessions open to the public, common goals (i.e. reading initiative that is community-wide, or canned food drives).
  4. Build community within the school among staff members.  This can be accomplished by holding social gatherings outside of the school day.  These could be for mini-celebrations, for holidays, or strictly for the sake of socializing.  Staff will be more willing to take risks, and more willing to work together if they care about one another as people first.
  5. Choose teams wisely.  It is the principal’s responsibility to seek teacher-input, to form teams, and get people in the right place to utilize talents and passions to better the organization.  Culture is healthier when teachers and staff are involved in scheduling, curriculum adoption, and behavior management systems,

Five ways to build a healthy school climate:


  1. Give a School Climate Inventory.  As mentioned above, starting with this assessment will allow the leader to set appropriate goals on how to create a healthier school climate.  The inventory (like the audit survey) should be anonymous, and the results should be shared with the staff as soon as possible.
  2. Model, model, model.  The building-leader should be modeling the expectations she has for her staff.  If they should be learning through professional reading, then so should she.  If they are expected to be visible in the hallways before and after school, then so should the principal.  By modeling positive attitudes and behaviors, others will change to reflect those expectations.
  3. Establish a school-wide safety plan.  There need to be well-known, and practiced procedures in place for all kinds of crises, and tragedy-prevention.  If students, teachers, and staff feel safe, then the climate will reflect that feeling of personal security.
  4. Instruction and materials are differentiated to meet each learner’s needs.  This goes for differentiating with the classroom so all students are learning at their best.  It also applies to the teachers’ professional development.  PD needs to be modified to best meet the needs of each teacher.  If people are engaged and experiencing success, they will be happier and a more positive climate will result.
  5. Students have leadership opportunities.  Adults should give students the chance to be social justice leaders, taking part in service projects within, and outside of the school community.



FAQs about school climate.  National School Climate Center. Retrieved from


Gruenert, S. (March/April 2008).  School culture, school climate: they are not the same thing. Principal. Retrieved from


Measuring school climate.  National School Climate Center.   Retrieved from


Promoting a positive school climate: A resource for schools. (2008).  Retrieved from


Spencer, J. Classroom Leadership: Culture vs. Climate.  Retrieved from


Wagoner, C.R. (December 2006). The school leader’s tool for assessing and improving school culture.  PL. Retrieved from