Expecting Results Without Additional Resources: This is Education Today

Every year, educators around the nation are asked to improve. And that’s regardless of how well   or poorly –  their school(s) most recently performed. It’s practically a given that gains in student outcomes are continually expected. Whether it’s better test scores or higher engagement or gains in specific subject matters, community stakeholders will always ask for more. Usually, the intentions behind this are good and well; “good enough” won’t cut it when it comes to our nation’s children and our collective future.

What’s also equally true, but only compounds the pressure, is the evergrowing squeeze on education funding. Per 2018 figures from the American Federation of teachers, K-12 education is drastically underfunded in every single state in the U.S., with 25 state governments shortchanging K-12 education by $19 billion over the last decade. By and large, we have yet to make up the ground that was lost during the financial crisis: 25 states spent less on K-12 education in 2016 than they did prior to the recession.

25 states spent less on K-12 education in 2016 than they did prior to the recession.

Essentially, every year, educators are asked to do more with less: to improve student outcomes with fewer staff, fewer resources, and fewer dollars. It’s a grim reality…but it’s not hopeless. Because improving outcomes with less is happening, all over the country, every year. Educators are finding a way, and school climate improvements are playing a huge part.

What’s So Special About School Climate?

How safe, supported, challenged, and accepted students feel can define school’s climate. And it’s well-documented that students learn best when school climates are positive. What’s especially promising, the federal Department of Education’s National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) highlights, is that student outcomes and teacher well-being improve when school climate improves. Research findings on this includes:

  1. Students who attend schools with a positive school climate have increased school completion rates.
  2. Students who experience positive school climates are less likely to participate in disruptive behavior.
  3. A more positive school climate is associated with lower suspension rates.
  4. Students who learn more in positive environments that are safe, supportive, and engaging are more likely to improve academically, participate more fully in the classroom, and develop skills that will help them be successful in school and in life.
  5. Schools that commit in adopting school culture measures are associated with less bullying, fighting, and peer victimization.
  6. Their ways in which teachers experience the climate of the school impact their levels of stress and burnout.

The research indicates that improving school climate can be a clear way to improve student outcomes – suggesting school climate investments are well worth making. But how can educators spend on climate when they’re already strapped for time, resources, and cash.

It’s All About Doing More With Less

There are multiple factors that contribute to a school’s climate; the government’s National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments identifies 13 different major indicators. And targeting each factor with a comprehensive plan could easily send district and school leaders in 13 different directions – which is neither cost-effective nor always possible. But what is cost-effective is targeting the one thing that impacts nearly every area of climate: student behavior.

Major Indicators of School Climate

Influenced by Student Behavior

  1. Area 1: Rules & Norms, Physical Security, Social-Emotional Security, Social Media Safety
  2. Area 2: Social & Civic Learning
  3. Area 3: Supportive Teaching Practices
  4. Area 4: Respect for Diversity, Social Support from Adults, Social Support from Peers
  5. Area 5: Physical Surroundings, School Connected & Engagement
  6. Area 6: Staff Leadership, Staff Relationships

Since how students behave or act across the campus intersects nearly every climate indicator, reframing the approach of student behavior is a high-leverage way to share school climate. And to influence behavior in the most cost-effective way, many educators recommend focusing staff time, training, implementation and on-going energy into a singular behavior plan. That helps target more climate influence by spending or exerting fewer resources.

Influencing Climate, One Area at a Time

Improving student behavior to influence school climate is it just a theory; it’s a daily practice at schools across the nation. As makers of the student behavior improvement tool Hero, we at SchoolMint see this all the time. And so we asked our customers to share.

Happy to help their fellow educators do more with less, Hero schools have lent their strategies and success stories to this guide. What follows are the different areas of climate NCSSLE outlines, plus the tactics schools are successfully using to 1) influence each climate area and 2) produce positive outcomes.

Climate Area 1: Safety

safety first graphic

What It Means

Four of the major climate indicators highlighted by the NCSSLE focus on safety. At a basic level, all students – to effectively learn – need to feel safe from exclusion, physical harm, verbal abuse, teasing, and gossip. For that to happen, it’s recommended that:

  • Rules are clearly communicated
  • Enforcement is clear and consistent
  • Adult intervention is normalized

Climate Influence Tactic: Redirective Discipline

This first group of climate indicators naturally intersects with a school’s discipline policy – and especially how it’s enforced. When discipline is enforced disproportionately, when minority students are suspended more often than their white counterparts for example, entire subgroups won’t feel safe on campus. Adding Behavior Redirection to a student behavior plan is an effective way to both reduce the disciplinary incidents that negatively impact safety indicators and to equalize the enforcement of discipline. With a digital tool like HeroReadv, redirections are standardized either school- or district-wide, so incidents, whenever or wherever they occur, are met with consistent, established actions.

How Digital Behavior Redirection Helps Educators Treat

digital behavior graphic

Real-world Outcomes:

rutherford high story

Climate Area #2: Supportive Teaching Practices

supportive teaching practices

What It Means

Supportive teaching practices are instrumental to growing high-quality learning environments. NCSSLE identifies them as:

  • Providing encouragement and constructive feedback
  • Creating varied opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and skills
  • Offering support for risk-taking and independent thinking
  • Creating atmospheres conducive to dialogue, questioning, and academic challenge
  • Providing individual attention

Climate Influence Tactic: Positive Reinforcement

Today, more and more student behavior programs are including some form of Positive Behavior Reinforcement. Whether it’s structured around PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) or another framework, Positive Reinforcement is about recognizing students for exhibiting the productive behaviors a school is trying to cultivate. Its educators providing encouragement and constructive feedback to students through individual attention – the heart of NCSSLE’s Supportive Teaching Practices.

Student behavior tools like HeroRise make Positive Behavior Reinforcement easier to give. With Hero, for instance, staff, teachers, and administrators use the digital platform to recognize productive or positive behaviors as individual students exhibit them throughout the day, usually by giving Hero points (which students can redeem for perks). Effective because it’s a schoolwide solution, Hero can help create a culture of support that starts in class and ripples through campus.

supportive teaching graphic

Real-world Outcomes:

boynton beach story

Climate Area #3: Social & Civic Learning

Accountability Matters

What It Means

Much of NCSSLE’s definition of the Social & Civic Learning dimension is centered on feelings of accountability. School climate, they’ve found, can become more positive when students exhibit:

  • Effective Listening
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Self-reflection
  • Emotional Regulation
  • Empathy
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Ethical Decision Making

Climate Influence Tactic: Positive Reinforcement

As a strategy, many schools find Positive Behavior Reinforcement is well-suited for influencing this climate dimension. Inside the classroom, teachers can recognize students for listening and demonstrating personal responsibility. During administrative meetings, administrators can reward students for resolving conflicts and regulating emotions.

Hero Schools Recommend: Reinforcing These Behaviors for Social and Civic Learning

improving school climate

Real-world Outcomes:


Climate Area #4: Interpersonal Relationships

how we treat each other graphic

What It Means

The Interpersonal Relationships dimension, as outlined by NCSSLE, is centered around how individuals on a school campus treat each other.

This can include showing respect for diversity:

  • Gender, race, culture, etc., at all levels of the school, are respected
  • Overall norms are established for tolerance

It also involves the social support that students receive from adults, often
indicated by:

  • Patterns of supportive and caring adult relationships for students
  • High expectations for students’ success
  • Willingness to listen to students and to get to know them as individuals
  • Personal concern for students’ problems

Interpersonal Relationships also includes how students treat each other and demonstrate patterns of support peer-to-peer.

Climate Influence Tactic: The Right Ratio of Positive Behaviors

This is another dimension where Positive Behavior Reinforcement can help shape climate. Because Reinforcement fosters more supportive interactions between adults and students, it’s a natural relationship-builder.

Hero schools who have seen success point to a formula that any school can repeat. Per academic research, to be most effective at this, schools should aim
for achieving a 4:1 (or even a 5:1) ratio of positive vs. disciplinary interactions between a teacher and student. Essentially, when students experience significantly
more positive interactions, they’ll forge those key interpersonal relationships.

4:1 Ratio – What Building Interpersonal Relationships Looks Like


Real-world Outcomes:

kalakaua middle story

Climate Area #5: Institutional Environment

school spirit

What It Means

Another key component of school climate is the Institutional Environment and the relationship that students and staff have with it. NCSSLE breaks this down into two parts:

This can include showing respect for diversity:

  •  School Connectedness & Engagement, defined as positive identification with the school; norms for broad participation in school life for students, staff, and families
  • Physical Surroundings, defined as cleanliness, order, appeal of facilities; adequate resources and materials

Climate Influence Tactic: Engage the Unengaged

Building positive connectivity with a school’s identity and physical structure can be encouraged through Positive Behavior Reinforcement. Many schools already ask schools to wear IDs or dress up for school pride day, but by recognizing and rewarding students for those actions, educators using Positive Reinforcement have found participation is much easier to increase.

“Using Hero for reinforcement we have seen more students show up on time, wear their IDs, and stay on task Students also can gain extra Hero points for going above and beyond with kindness, and now they will ask about getting points for that too.”
– Cait Walsh, Teacher, Elgin High

Hero Schools Recommend: Reinforcing These Behaviors for School Connectedness

influencing school climate

Beyond school connectedness, Positive Reinforcement is also ideally suited to increase student engagement as a whole. Many educators agree that traditionally, students who over- and under-achieve end up engaging with adults on campus the most, leaving a large portion of students somewhere in between and “flying under the radar.” Positive Reinforcement though gives educators opportunities to connect with all students, every day. And many school administrators using Hero find a schoolwide view of their Positive Reinforcement data often becomes an invaluable tool, allowing educators to regularly check for students who aren’t being recognized enough.

“By reinforcing positive behaviors with Hero, we were able to see the unengaged become an active part in our school.”
– JoJo Davis, School Counselor, Highlands Middle

spot students

A Plan to Keep Costs Down

The tactics presented here can help educators organize a behavior plan around climate improvement. But executing, measuring, and reporting a district or school’s efforts can eat up a significant amount of resources too. That’s where a digital behavior improvement tool – that automates all of that – can really pay off.

Hero, for instance, saves our customers an average 15-30 minutes per week” (per the majority of respondents) by reducing paper slips/forms, automating positive behavior point attribution/redemption, instantly generating dashboards/reports, etc. After it’s set up, running, and student have “bought-in,” behavior generally improves across the board.

Average Amount of Time Users Save Per Week Using Hero

It’s important to note, with student behavior improvement plans, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. They are most effective when they are created with the unique needs and challenges of a particular community in mind. And even when perfectly designed, educators should measure success by movement within the majority, not the whole. There will always be special cases and students who need additional supports. And that’s another promising aspect of student behavior improvement tools – by saving time elsewhere, educators are better able to devote their attention to where it’s needed most.

Final Thoughts: A Principal’s Take

As a former district administrator, K-8 Principal and 8-12 Alternative School Principal, Daniel Haithcox knows all too well how powerful climate investments can be. He also knows that support on both sides (teachers on one end and district leadership on the other) is crucial.

Effective education leaders never rest on last year’s record, and nor do they run from the challenge of leading continuous school improvement. Most school leaders know the foundational piece behind a climate shift, that can make or break a school, is indeed student behavior, and most hove a sense of what they want to do.

The challenge comes in helping stakeholders see how efforts from the classroom to the district office are connected – and most
effective when aligned.

At every school where i was a principal, the number one priority in my first year was to improve student behavior outcomes as well as staff internal practices, despite the challenges ahead. I also learned that what really continued to move the needle the most was being able to clearly communicate, follow through, and reinforce expectations for behavior. This meant refining and tightening processes where needed as well making it a point to recognize and celebrate what was working well and improving. To best do so, the system and approach had to be efficient and user-friendly. If not staff members would ultimately not be able carry things out with fidelity, and students and parents would disenage if there was no substance.

Factors That Make A Student Behavior Improvement Tool Cost-Effective

  1. Support Both Discipline & Positive Behavior
    (i.e. redirection and positive reinforcement) at behavior management
    should be consolidated into one platform
  2. Scalable Roll-out Design
    i.e. train-the-trainer methodology
  3. Configurability
    programs should be tailored for the specific needs (behavior
    goals, desired behavior ratios, etc.) of unique school
  4. User-friendly Interface
    can make or break staff buy-in
  5. School-level Reporting
    allows for equalizing of discipline & engagement
  6. District-level Reporting
    improves program fidelity

With a system like Hero, educators can improve climate in a way that is not just fluff but really substantive. Positive climates create stakeholder interconnectedness, ownership, and leadership – not malicious compliance. And administrator bandwidth is freed up so you can actually be an instructional leader and agent of change.

Daniel Haithcox, Senior Customer Success Manager at SchoolMint
Daniel is a former middle school teacher, K-12 principal, and district-level behavior coach and administrator for MTSS.
He has a passion for helping schools improve outcomes for all students and is inspired by what he learns in return.



https://safesupportivelearning.ed.govisitesidefault/files/NCSSLE SCIRP QuickGuide5089520gdc.pdf

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http://www.sdrg.org/presentations/Practice Guide.pdf

Informal poll of Nero customers, April 2019