Section Three: After the Worst is Over

What Comes Next?

The crisis has faded. Media has moved on to other news stories. School days have returned to a relatively normal routine. You’ve had time to catch your breath.

And now the real work begins.

Change is not easy, particularly long-term change involving a school’s climate or culture.

Roland S. Barth, educator and founder of the Principals’ Center at Harvard University, puts it this way: “All school cultures are incredibly resistant to change, which makes school improvement—from within or without—usually so futile. Unless teachers and administrators act to change the culture of a school, all innovations… will be destined to remain superficial window dressing, incapable of making much of a difference.”

This is where you, as an administrator, can make a real difference, by putting time, energy and resources toward improvement plans.

Educator Sonia Galaviz, an Idaho elementary schoolteacher, urges administrators to hold themselves and others to high standards. “The message is, ‘I’m willing to push myself, and you guys are coming with me,’” she said.

The push is worth it.

Increasingly, educational leaders at all levels acknowledge the role of climate in the successes and failings of schools. A steady stream of research—including studies by the National School Climate Center and the High School Survey of Student Engagement—indicates that a positive school climate reduces conflicts, harassment, bullying and violence, making schools safer and more inclusive. It also fosters social and civic development while gradually bolstering student academic performance as changes gain traction. A more positive school climate also can improve staff morale, boosting employee satisfaction and retention rates.

Enter this postcrisis phase with an open mind. The work to change the climate and culture of a school can turn long-held beliefs upside down.

When you closely examine patterns—in class assignments, in discipline referrals, in access to privileges and opportunities—you may discover that the school has been sending unintentional messages that result in stratification of the school community, with deep divisions between the “haves” and the “havenots.” A good start for professional development is through an equity audit. Learning for Justice recommends the resources available through the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium.

Take a deep breath and keep the objective in mind—the desire to create a school where all are welcome and all can thrive.