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Principals Appear to Lack Training in Addressing School Climate

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Even though a healthy school climate can lead to strong academic outcomes, principals lack training in how to build relationships for support and learning among staff and students.

Despite the proven effect school environment can have on student performance, it appears that most states aren't sure of what kind of training in school culture leaders get before taking charge of a school, my colleague Sarah D. Sparks wrote recently.

An analysis by the George W. Bush Institute, released in February, found 43 states include developing a positive school culture in their standards for principals, but most aren't ensuring that principals have that training.

"We have found the training on culture and climate inadequate in most places," Bob Hughes, the executive director of the Washington-based National Institute of School Leadership, told Sarah. "Universities are trying to respond and change now. That is beginning to happen, but not fast enough."

But Hughes said it's not always easy to measure school climate (stay tuned to this blog for more on that later this week), or how to improve it. So most principal training zeros in on more concrete problems, such as low graduation rates or teacher absenteeism, which are merely symptoms of poor school climate, Hughes said.

"The emphasis on a positive, developmentally appropriate learning culture for students has gotten a lot less attention in recent years with the focus on accountability," Margaret Terry Orr, the director of the Future School Leader Academy at Bank Street College of Education in New York City, told Sarah.

But some research shows that principals who learn to attend to culture seem better at academic leadership, too.

More from Sarah's piece:

In a 2007 study of principal education programs, Ms. Orr found that principals who had attended "exemplary" training programs—those with comprehensive curricula accompanied by intensive in-school internships and support—reported more improvement in the year of the study as well as a stronger "continuous-improvement climate" and academic focus, as compared with principals in other training programs.


Suzanne E. Scallion, the superintendent of the 6,000-student Westfield school district in Massachusetts, has found similar results in her own studies of how principals address school climate.

She found that leaders who have been trained to understand how relationships and values interact in a school can improve their campus cultures, and that those without such a conceptual understanding still have an "accidental influence" on their campuses—not always a healthy one.

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