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Essentials of School Culture and Climate Survey

What is School Culture?

School culture is defined as the practices and norms a school employs that are based on beliefs about what is and is not acceptable or expected.  For instance, if a school leader believes that all visitors entering his or her school should feel welcomed, the leader may train school safety and secretaries to greet all visitors with a smile and "hello."  Culture is then what schools "do" in their everyday interactions with students, staff, and families. 

What is School Climate?

School climate is then the feeling of a school environment that results from the school cultural practices.  In the above example, when visitors are greeted with a smile and "hello" when they walk through school doors, they will most likely as a result feel welcomed in to the school.  This contributes to a welcoming climate, or the feeling of being welcomed in the school environment.  As such, a school's climate is dependent on what schools "do" and the norms they set for interactions between people in the school environment.         

How are School Culture and Climate measured?

In an effort to provide data to schools that inform their plans in creating school climates that feel safe and welcoming to students, families, and staff, the distict adopted the Essentials of School Culture and Climate (ESCC) Survey, which is modeled after the 5Essentials Survey created by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR).   The 5Essentials is used in urban school districts across the country, including Chicago and Detroit public schools, and was  created based on research that found that schools improve when they develop strengths in the following five areas, or essentials, which include (Sebring, Allensworth, Bryk, Easton, & Luppescu, 2006; Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010):

  • Effective Leadership
  • Involved Families
  • Supportive Environment
  • Collaborative Teachers
  • Ambitious Instruction

The research that led to the development of the 5Essentials indicates that these five components work together to drive school improvement, and that schools looking to close the achievement gap will see success when they make data-based plans to improve in these areas (Klugman, Gordon, Sebring, & Sporte, 2015).  The model demonstrates how these components interact to effect school improvement.

Each of the five essentials contain additional sub-components that appear on either the student or staff version of the survey.  Relatedly, multiple sub-components include "relational trust," as research has also shown that a culture of trust is a critical component of school success (Bryk & Schneider, 2002).  Relational trust is defined as the distinctive qualities of interpersonal social exchanges in school communities and how these accumulate in an organization properly.   According to Bryk and Schneider (2002), high trust schools have a 1 in 2 chance of improving (50%), while low trust schools have a 1 in 7 chance of improving (14%).  The 5Essentials Survey measures relational trust in four of the five essentials.  It includes questions about four relationships found in schools: staff-staff, staff-principal, staff-parent, and student-teacher.

Where is more information available?

Specific questions regarding survey questions and administration can be directed to the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee's center for Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education (SREed) via email at



Manager II:
Marc Sanders

Phone: 414-475-8570

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