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Promising Practice:

Positive School Climate

All students deserve to attend a school where they feel safe, are supported to learn, and are treated with respect.

Yet, far too often, low-income students and students of color are unfairly disciplined or pushed out of school. Further, students of color and low-income students report feeling disconnected from school. Schools and districts must ensure that students — the most important stakeholders in our education system, who know better than anyone what their educational experiences have been — are engaged in school and district decision making.Teachers, administrators, and support staff must help develop supportive relationships between adults and students, build a sense of community among students, and provide positive alternatives to harmful disciplinary practices. Further, they must meet students’ social-emotional needs and support the development of students’ social-emotional skills — including understanding and managing one’s emotions, regulating one’s behavior, developing empathy for others, and establishing and maintaining positive relationships.


  • Districts and schools create authentic opportunities to gather feedback from students that influences policies and practices
  • Districts and schools use programs and practices to support positive behavioral practices like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Justice, and they provide staff with training and ongoing resources to support these programs.
  • Districts and schools do not allow for “willful defiance” suspensions at any grade level and eliminate other punitive or harmful discipline policies.  
  • Districts reduce and ultimately eliminate law enforcement presence on school campuses, instead using those resources for counselors and other positions that support student safety and positive school climate.
  • Districts and schools use programs and curricula designed to build students’ social-emotional skills and train staff — through ongoing coaching and collaboration — on these programs.
  • Districts and schools create connections between students and the broader community through mentoring, leadership opportunities, and volunteer opportunities.
  • Districts and schools help students build meaningful school relationships, a stronger sense of belonging, and skills and confidence through school-based leadership opportunities, advisory periods, mentorship, campus clubs, and bridge programs that support student transitions such as those from middle to high school.
  • Schools provide students with access to psychological, counseling, and social work services.
  • Districts provide anti-bias training for staff to uncover and help address factors that may be leading to unfair discipline practices and outcomes.
  • School staff and students create norms and expectations around behavior together, rather than staff creating them without student input.  


The following can serve as indicators of the school or district’s climate. Ask that these indicators be included in your school and district plans and/or reported publicly:

  • Surveys of students, parents and teachers on feelings of safety and school connectedness (for example, the California Healthy Kids Survey), as well as surveys of students on the extent to which they feel their experiences and feedback inform policies and practices
  • Suspensions disaggregated by in-school and out-of-school, and by “willful defiance” versus other reasons
  • Expulsions disaggregated by “willful defiance” versus other reasons
  • Chronic absenteeism (missing 10 percent or more of school in a year) and truancy rates (unexcused absence from school)


“Relationship Centered Schools,” Californians for Justice,

“Student Engagement,” Californians for Justice,

Adam Voight, Gregory Austin, and Thomas Hanson, “A Climate for Academic Success: How School Climate Distinguishes Schools That Are Beating the Odds” (San Francisco, Calif.: WestEd, 2013),

Michael A. Gottfried et al., Absent from School: Understanding and Addressing Student Absenteeism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2019).

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