Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Climate for Civic Learning

by Shawn Healy, Resident Scholar

Two weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit the Greendale, Wisconsin, School District, outside of Milwaukee. Known for their exemplary commitment to "school climate," the Greendale Schools are outstanding examples of individual school culture effectively expressing their civic mission through positive school climate.

According to the No Excuses report produced by the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, positive school climate is characterized by a clean, welcoming environment with visual reminders of the school’s civic mission—teachers and administrators who serve as civic role models—students who have the skills, confidence and opportunities to make a difference in their schools and communities—and policies, practices and infrastructure to support civic norms and values.

Why is this important? Because a primary role of schools should be preparing young people for their role as citizens in a democracy. And school climate is every bit as critical to this mission as academic content and teaching excellence. That applies to all students: Greendale students test better than their demographics would predict, and the racial achievement gap is among the lowest in Wisconsin.

What’s the secret of Greendale’s success? Superintendent William Hughes hires student-centered school leaders and staff with a commitment to civic learning. They engage in ongoing professional development, attending and presenting at conferences and sharing their learning with peers back in the district. Building principals know each student by name, and students have an authentic voice in school governance. Faculty focuses on the development of the whole child via district-wide character education initiatives. Service learning is embedded in the curriculum, and student autonomy and ownership are central to the design and execution of all service projects. We were so impressed that we intend to bring the Greendale recipe back to Illinois and work to embed it in the Democracy Schools certification process.

Related Links:
National School Climate Center
School Climate Research Summary, Center for Social and Emotional Education (Jan. 2010)

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