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School Climate and Culture

School Climate and Culture

School climate is an overarching term used to describe students’ and educators’ experience in a school. According to the US Department of Education, a positive school culture fosters safety, promotes a positive academic and physical environment and encourages trusting and caring relationships between adults and students. Positive school culture is related to higher rates of attendance, graduation and achievement. At the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), we believe that in order for students to learn, both adults and students must feel safe and cared for.  

OSSE’s 2023-25 strategic plan, prioritizes student and staff wellbeing, supporting the physical, mental and social-emotional health of students and staff by promoting safe, welcoming, healthy and joyful learning environments. The School Culture and Climate team offers trainings, resources and technical assistance in the following focus areas: social and emotional learning, restorative justice and trauma-informed practices. The trainings noted below are for classroom teachers, deans, support providers, administrators and those who are dedicated to improving school climate.

Social and Emotional Learning 

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) reflects the critical role of positive relationships and emotional connections in the learning process and helps students and educators function well in the school community. According to the Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the five component areas of social-emotional learning are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Relationship Building, Responsible Decision-Making and Social Awareness. These skills are essential and should be embedded through instructional and schoolwide practices and policies for every child to be successful in building healthy relationships, productive work habits and community-conscious action. 

Through SEL, students and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes and ability to: 

  • Recognize and manage their emotions; 
  • Demonstrate caring and concern for others; 
  • Establish positive relationships; 
  • Make responsible decisions; and handle challenging situations constructively. 

For more details about SEL standards, resources and support, please visit the social and emotional learning webpage.

Restorative Justice  

Restorative justice is a philosophy and set of supporting practices that center a community on equitable and inclusive relationships of trust, understanding and collaboration. These practices are trauma-informed and provide opportunities for SEL. 

Since 2015, OSSE has partnered with SchoolTalk’s RestorativeDC to provide technical assistance, coaching and training services to individuals and schools. These services respond to schools’ unique contexts, priorities and needs. RestorativeDC’s services focus on enhancing the organizational capacity of schools and supporting organizations and growing the individual capacity of youth-serving professionals. 

For the 2023-24 school year, RestorativeDC is focusing on professional development and planning opportunities to help DC educators with restorative practices. Sessions will be conducted in person and coaching sessions offered virtually. For more details about upcoming trainings this year and to register, please view this informational flyer. You can also visit the RestorativeDC website for additional information and resources. 

Trauma-Informed Practices 

A trauma-informed approach uses an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, respecting and appropriately responding to the effects of trauma at all levels. Trauma-informed practices emphasize physical, psychological and emotional safety for student and educators while promoting environment of healing and recovery rather than practices that may inadvertently re-traumatize. A trauma-informed school realizes the widespread impact of trauma and proactively integrates knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices. The prevalence of trauma and confirmed connection between healthy social emotional development and academic success requires schools to focus on school-wide implementation of trauma-informed approaches (SAMHSA, 2014).  

Register for OSSE’s upcoming trainings