Assessing Climate in Individual Classrooms and Schools

This survey lists a number of practices that characterize a school with an emotionally safe climate. It has been included on this site to help you evaluate your school’s goals, policies, and intentions, as well as the degree to which each exists in actual practice.

The list is deliberately idealistic and comprehensive. Studies suggest that each item is an important component of an emotionally safe school environment, and that emotional safety is built on a combination of all of the characteristics listed in this survey.

As schools strive to achieve the specific behaviors each item suggests, they will no doubt see improvements in the culture of the school, as well as in the performance, commitment, behavior, and interactions that occur within its walls. Likewise, as schools increase the agreement with each of the items in this survey, they can expect a reduction of stress commonly associated with failure, rebelliousness, disruptiveness, and passive student behavior.


You may wish to use this survey to evaluate the degree to which your school is committed to each item in terms of its philosophy or vision, as well as the degree to which the behaviors described in each item regularly occur in actual practice. (I also recommend that parents share their perceptions of these practices at the schools their children attend.) You can rate each item for an individual classroom, or according to your perception of the school environment as a whole. Note: This activity is good for professional development discussions and book study groups, perhaps addressing one section below at a time.

Use the following scale to rate each item:

1- Strongly agree
2- Somewhat agree
3- Somewhat disagree
4- Strongly disagree

For an interesting (and important) perspective, give this survey to students and compare their perceptions with those of the adults in the same environment. Explain that the word “We” in each statement refers to “The adults in this school.” Consider asking for feedback on one section at a time. 

Need for Meaningful Outcomes (Positive Consequences), Structure, Boundaries (Limits) and Follow-Through

___ We make a deliberate effort to anticipate what students and teachers (and parents) will need in various situations in order to prevent problems from occurring.
___ We have and communicate boundaries and policies that clearly describe desirable and acceptable student behaviors.
___ We have and communicate boundaries and policies that clearly describe desirable and acceptable staff behaviors.
___ The school environment is reward oriented (as opposed to being punishment oriented): Rules and boundaries emphasize the positive consequences of cooperation and compliance.
___ Our goal is to motivate through access to positive outcomes, rather than through avoidance or fear of negative outcomes.
___ We attempt to motivate students with the promise of a positive outcome, rather than using statements that offer conditional approval or safety (avoidance of disapproval, punishment) for cooperation (threats).
___ We attempt to follow through consistently, withholding (or withdrawing) positive outcomes until students follow through on what is required on their end.
___ We are committed to avoiding warnings, threats, and meaningless or delayed (negative) consequences.
___ We make students and their parents aware, as soon as possible, of changes in behavior or performance that could affect grades, promotion, or graduation.
___ We communicate with parents on a regular basis about what their kids are doing well.

Need for Respect, Belonging and Dignity

___ We attempt to avoid equating students’ worth with their behavior or achievement.
___ We attempt to avoid humiliation, shaming, sarcasm, ridicule, or other forms of attack with regard to students’ personality, achievement, or behavior.
___ We attempt to avoid depending on negative adult reactions (anger, punishment, disappointment) in order to motivate students (or control their behavior).
___ We recognize that students have a need to experience meaningful positive outcomes, just as adults do.
___ We treat our students with the same respect we want them to show us and one another.
___ We recognize that our students have a need for dignity, purpose, success, impact (seeing outcomes of choices and behaviors), acceptance, belonging, attention, structure, power, and fun, among other things.
___ We encourage students to have and voice their own thoughts and opinions.
___ We encourage students to speak up for their own instructional needs (for example, more help, additional information or resources, clarification, other learning needs).
___ We encourage inquiry and debate, and attempt to avoid negatively reacting to students who challenge or disagree with adults (although we do ask students to present their positions respectfully).
___ We attempt to adhere to the same standards of behavior (including language and tone of voice) that we expect or require from our students.
___ We regard—and use—a students’ mistakes simply as opportunities for new learning.
___ We avoid responding with impatience, anger, or disappointment to a student who is having difficulty understanding or mastering a new concept or performing a new skill.
___ We respect students’ affective needs and are committed to listening and supporting their feelings in positive ways.
___ We work to eliminate prejudices toward students based on their racial or cultural background, physical appearance; academic, artistic, or athletic competence; sexual orientation; family history; prior achievement or performance.
___ We avoid gossiping about students or their families.
___ We strive to stay aware of put-downs expressed by students or staff, especially those that involve the use of slurs or derogatory names or remarks.
___ We respond immediately to put-downs, slurs, and derogatory names or remarks (rather than ignoring or excusing them).

Need for Autonomy (Power and Control)

___ We accept the importance of students learning decision-making and self-management skills.
___ We encourage kids to set goals and evaluate options in order to take responsibility for solving their own problems, rather than “rescuing” them or telling them what they should do.
___ We allow students to self-manage with regard to materials and resources.
___ We encourage students to self-manage their personal needs within clearly stated boundaries (ex: drinking water or using the rest rooms as needed)
___ We allow and encourage students to have input in and make decisions about their learning (topics, presentation, media, sequence, assignments, need for additional practice, readiness for the next skill or topic, etc.)
___ We allow and encourage students to have input in and make decisions about how, where and with whom they work.
___ We hold students accountable for their behavioral choices without blaming, shaming, attacking, or punishing (ex: withholding positive outcome, privileges, credit for work due)
___ Students are encouraged to initiate and take risks regarding their own learning.
___ We allow and encourage students to create, design, request, or renegotiate projects and assignments to make them personally meaningful and relevant.

Need for Recognition, Attention and Emotional Safety

___ We attempt to recognize positive behavior with statements that emphasize a positive outcome or meaningful benefit to the students, rather than using statements that emphasize the students’ worth (“goodness”), our happiness or pleasure, or the students’ ability to please us.
___ We attempt to reinforce positive behavior by allowing positive outcomes to occur, continue, or become available, contingent, for example, on work completion or non-disruptive behavior.
___ We attempt to meet students’ needs for attention in positive, constructive, and proactive ways in order to diminish the tendency for them to act out to get these needs met.
___ We strive to stay aware of changes in patterns in students’ behavior and to maintain a sense of how students are doing (that is, not just focusing on their academic performance).
___ We attempt to create emotional safety by noticing and supporting students in crisis.
___ We provide appropriate outlets for students in crisis.
___ Our students know that if they need to talk, we are willing to listen (or set a time when we can listen, or refer them to someone who can listen).
___ We respect students’ needs for confidentiality to the degree that doing so will not put that student or anyone else in danger.
___ We strive to maintain awareness of how students treat one another.
___ We immediately respond to incidents we witness that involve any form of bullying, harassment, or threat to a student’s safety.

Need for Options as a Learner (Individuality)

___ We attempt to determine what interests and motivates our students and use this information in our planning and instruction.
___ We attempt to identify various aspects of our students’ individual learning needs (such as learning styles, modality preferences, dominance profiles, temperament, or personality profiles), and use this information in our planning and instruction.
___ We attempt to identify various types of intelligences (linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal) and use this information to capitalize and build on students’ strengths.
___ We provide resources and activities to accommodate a variety of intelligences in each class.
___ We attempt to accommodate a variety of modality strengths (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic preferences) in our directions and activities.
___ We attempt to accommodate a variety of learning style and preferences in our instruction and assignments.
___ We recognize and attempt to accommodate the needs of tactile and kinesthetic learners (as well as teaching exclusively to kids who are high visual, verbal, and auditory learners).
___ We acknowledge and appreciate the fact that some students may pay attention without sitting up straight and making continual eye contact.
___ We make sure kids have ample opportunities to move during the day.
___ We teach children ways to self-regulate (maintain appropriate alertness for the particular class or activity) without disrupting others.
___ We attempt to accommodate a variety of learning preferences by offering choices, particularly during independent work time (ex: seating or location in room, affiliation, music or sound, intake, etc.)
___ We offer a variety of assessment tools to allow students to demonstrate mastery in ways besides paper-and-pencil tests.

Need for Success (Academic, Social, Intrapersonal)

___ We assess student ability before beginning instruction or assigning tasks.
___ We attempt to accept students exactly the way they come to us, build on what they know, and encourage growth from wherever they start.
___ We attempt to provide opportunities for success for each child in the school, even if he or she is far behind curricular expectations.
___ We attempt to match instruction and assignments to individual student needs according to their current skill or mastery levels or prior experience.
___ We have adopted the belief that the primary purpose of evaluating a student’s work is to determine what type of instruction or resources that particular student needs next.
___ We invite and consider student input and self-assessment when assigning placement, follow-up work, or grades.
___ If a student fails to master a concept or skill, we see our role as that of improving understanding, rather than simply evaluating their performance before moving on to the next concept.
___ We encourage students to use our feedback to improve their work and resubmit (for a higher grade, for example, or until they get it right).
___ We attempt to build interpersonal skills such as communication skills, respect, tolerance, compassion, resistance to teasing and peer pressure, and other positive social behaviors.
___ We attempt to build intrapersonal (character) skills such as persistence, responsibility, honesty, integrity, and resilience, as well as confidence, the ability to stick up for oneself, problem-solving skills, and resistance to failure, defeatism, or victim thinking.

Note areas of greatest strengths:

Note areas most in need of improvements:

Excerpted and adapted from Creating Emotionally Safe Schools, by Dr. Jane Bluestein © 2001, Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL.

© 2001, 2013, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein

• Order or learn more about this bookCreating Emotionally Safe Schools.
• Read what people are saying about this book.
• The complete bibliography of this book is available on line for more information about the references above.

Excerpts and related links:

Stress and the Brain
Stressful or Painful School Experiences that can affect learning and behavior in negative ways.
The “Ideal” Student: Kids for whom traditional classrooms are ideally suited (and why so many non-traditional learners struggle in these instructional environments).
Ways to Reach More Students
ADHD Look-Alike Conditions
Multiple Intelligences
Working With Different Sensory/Modality Strengths and Limitations
Water and the Body
Supporting Kids in Crisis: Non-supportive patterns to avoid!
Alternatives to Non-Supportive Responses
Industrial Age Classrooms vs. Information Age Classrooms
Myers-Briggs Personality Types (descriptions)
Myers-Briggs Scales and Categories

Links to resources related to Building Culture and Community (for Educators)

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