Research Helps Make the Case for School Climate Initiatives
This post is by Matthew Linick (@mlinic1), Executive Director of Research and Evaluation at Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD, @CLEMetroSchools), who spoke with Denine Goolsby, Executive Director of the CMSD Humanware department.
Today's post is the practitioner perspective on Monday's post: Why School Climate Matters.
In 2017, the Humanware and Research and Evaluation departments at Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), the Center for Urban Education at Cleveland State University, and the American Institutes for Research partnered to form the Cleveland Alliance for Education Research (CAER). In the following interview, Matthew Linick of the CMSD Department of Research and Evaluation sat down with Denine Goolsby of the CMSD Humanware department to discuss CAER and the work so far. Monday's blog post outlines preliminary research findings on the association between students' perception of school climate and their educational outcomes in greater detail.
Matt Linick: So, what do you think about the research that the Cleveland Alliance for Education Research has done so far?
Denine Goolsby: I think it's promising. We always need data to go along with and guide our approaches. Student social-emotional learning is an important aspect of school culture, but in the past has been viewed as a "fluff" area, but it really isn't. It's what you have to do in order to help children succeed. We as adults don't succeed if we are not socially and emotionally competent. I believe it is helpful to have numbers to go with what we're doing. We have invested in school climate improvement and assessment at our district for a decade or so—now we are able to prove that what we're saying truly is valuable to those people who doubt because they feel there's no data behind it. As a practitioner, I have to know that it's going to be effective. I know in my heart that it will, but often you have to have the data to show that it works.
ML: Do you view research conducted in Cleveland differently than you view research conducted nationally or in other cities? Do you think it's worthwhile for us to be studying this here versus looking at studies happening in other places?
DG: In Cleveland, and in any district, when you present a program or an approach, it's important that the people understand that it has worked in their place. That helps to make it real for people. This happened right here with our children, so you can see that it is effective. So, yes, I think that it is critical. It's particularly important to those people who are right in front of our children. They're the ones making the most impact. When you say that it's ours, we own it. We can identify a particular school and staff can visit a school right in the district. Colleagues can have a conversation with colleagues from that school about this work—that solidifies it for them.
ML: Have you been involved in any part of the research process?
DG: Yes, we suggested questions to Dr. Voight [the research lead from the Center for Urban Education at Cleveland State University] that focused on what we would want to learn, and he has orchestrated that through his research. My team sat down with him and we contributed questions or thoughts that we might find interesting to build the research agenda together.
ML: Have you had any role in terms of how the information gets reported or anything like that?
DG: Absolutely. The researchers shared sample documents with us for how to report and share the research findings and then accepted feedback from the team members for what would work best.
ML: Have any changes been made based off of your recommendations?
DG: Yes. I haven't seen them produced yet because the reports are still being worked on, but I know what recommendations were made. We suggested to make the reports more user-friendly to lay people, so that people will engage more. It's important that it's in language that everyone can understand and interpret. Dr. Voight is taking that in, and has been very responsive to that suggestion.
ML: How do you plan to use the research generated by CAER?
DG: We would definitely want to get it in front of the academic team, which includes the Chief Academic Officer, the network support leaders, myself, and all the other people that lead the academic departments of the operation. Then, it would be shared with our principals and our teachers. This will enable them to have focused conversations about the research and how it can assist in raising academic scores.
ML: Have any of the findings that you've been exposed to so far been particularly helpful or surprising?
DG: Mostly, they have been confirming. In my opinion, it's just common sense that when people feel safe in a place, they do better. You don't do well in a place that you walk into and you're treated poorly by a supervisor. You don't do well if you think your life is in danger... or if you're being picked on during the day. It's just common sense. When a person feels safe or more secure, they're able to do more in a positive manner. The preliminary research findings are now supporting these assumptions.
ML: Was there anything that you found interesting in terms of some subgroups responding differently than others to the culture? Or, did you know that through practice already?
DG: I learned this through practice. People are sometimes treated differently based on a person's beliefs, or their expectations of that individual. Our work is about changing the mindset around expectations that people may have about particular children and what they can achieve.
ML: Following up on that... are there suggestions for larger academic practice in the district, or even nationally, that the research being done here can inform?
DG: Well, Cleveland is a game-changer, if you will. When people see successful practices coming from a large urban city like Cleveland, they pay attention. People ask us for resources all of the time. I believe that when this data is released it can be used to help us improve and/or enhance our environment.