The Waterloo Region District School Board recognizes that providing students with an opportunity to learn and develop in a safe, caring and respectful society is a shared responsibility in which the Board and schools play an important role. Schools that have a variety of prevention and intervention strategies foster a positive learning and teaching environment that supports academic achievement for all students and helps students reach their full potential. A positive school climate is a crucial component of prevention. Not having appropriate prevention and intervention strategies adversely affects a school’s ability to educate its students, students’ ability to learn, as well as healthy relationships and the school climate.
“Building a safe, caring and inclusive school culture means teaching it minute by minute, day by day, integrating it into discipline practices and curriculum, using instructional models that provide practice in social and relationship skills and, most importantly, modelling it.” – Vicki Mather
Some educators assert that schools with a healthy culture are already successfully “doing” character and citizenship education, even though they may not explicitly identify it as such. Others argue simply that school culture is a necessary component of any kind of school improvement initiative: “In study after study, where culture did not support and encourage reform, it did not happen…if you don’t have a strong and healthy school culture, none of the rest will matter” (Peterson 1998, p. 1). Both positions agree that a successful effort to change what happens in the school environment is directly linked to school culture.
- Learning is optimized in a safe, caring and inclusive environment
- All students can achieve to a high standard
- All staff can teach and support students to a high standard
- High expectations and early intervention are essential
- Staff can articulate why they teach or support students the way they do
- Collective responsibility and collaboration are critical in optimizing learning for all
The Waterloo Region District School Board defines a safe, caring and inclusive school culture as “one that is physically, emotionally and psychologically safe and is characterized by:
- common values and beliefs
- respect for democratic values, rights and responsibilities
- respect for cultural diversity
- respect for law and order
- common social expectations
- clear and consistent behavioural expectations
- appropriate and positive role modelling by staff and students
- respect for individual differences
- effective anger-management strategies
- community, family, student and staff engagement
Before schools begin to make changes to strengthen culture, they need a complete and realistic picture of existing school culture. Assessment can help schools understand and describe current culture while identifying desired changes and results. Assessment needs to be a collaborative process centred in the school environment. It may begin with students, parents, staff and community members identifying values that they believe are inherent to a positive school culture.