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COMMUNITY COLUMNIST: Positive climate necessary ingredient for learning

By John Malloy, special to the News

We are asking important questions at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board regarding how our students feel when they walk into our schools. It is a question that is driving changes in our organization.
It goes without saying that our primary goal as a board is to improve student achievement and well-being.
Educators know a lot about assessment and instruction. At the same time, we also want our students to feel safe, cared for and included at school. We call this “positive school climate.” We are asking, “How do we improve positive climate in our schools as we improve student achievement and well-being?”
Creating a positive school climate is a broad task. It may include everything from mental health training for staff to welcome activities for newcomers to Canada. It could be student projects that focus on ending bullying or learning opportunities that strengthen resilience in our students.
It might include implementation of peer mediation and restorative justice processes in every school. The bottom line is that every student is supported and respected in our schools. We must reach out to our students so that they can take the lead to create positive school climate.
To emphasize the importance of positive school climate, I want to draw upon what we learned from our student voice forums last fall. More than 500 students, from every secondary school, gathered to discuss what makes a school great.
Students told us that, in great schools, students feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and support. They feel like they have friends and adults upon whom they can rely.
Students emphasized these points continuously at the forums. HWDSB will create positive school climates in every school, because we must respond to the challenge our students put to us, while also responding because we know that this type of learning environment improves student achievement and well-being.
Moving forward, positive school climate is the umbrella under which we will place our work in safe schools, mental health and equity. We are asking each school to talk with their students, and to create a tangible focus in every school to improve school climate.
We will be supporting our staff to continue seeing positive school climate as a necessary ingredient for student learning.
In addition, we will continue to provide specific training in the areas of mental health, safe schools and equity so that our staff has the necessary tools to support our students.
As educators, we care deeply about our students. Very much like our students’ parents, we want our children to succeed. In order for our students to succeed, they need to feel safe, cared for and respected. We need our students to take the lead to create this environment in every school, supported by our staff.
We believe in our students and we support them so they will achieve their goals.
A positive climate plays a key part in this: it will improve student achievement and well-being and help our students achieve their full potential, our top priority as a board.
John Malloy is director of education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
The Mountain News is all about the people who live on the Mountain. If you would like to write in this space, call editor Gord Bowes at 905-664-8800 ext. 335 to discuss your idea.

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