School climate is a comprehensive expression of the quality and character of school life. Based on patterns experienced by parents, students and school personnel, climate reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices and organizational structures. While these are qualities to consider in all schools, Catholic schools in particular should first and foremost strive for an exemplary climate that reflects the welcoming presence of Jesus in each person within the building.

In addition, a sustainable, positive Catholic school climate promotes the practice of virtue both during the school day and within the greater community. Virtue, as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is foundational to a positive school climate:

1803 "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."62

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.

The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.63

While this is essential to becoming perfected in our faith, it also has other benefits that can impact the school experience.

A sustainable, positive school climate fosters the environment necessary for a productive, contributing and satisfying life both within the parish and school community and in society. This climate includes:

Modeling a life of virtue in thought, word and deed, in keeping with norms, values and expectations that support spiritual growth and social, emotional and physical safety.People are engaged and treated with reverence.Students, families and educators work together to develop, live and contribute to a shared school mission.Educators model and nurture attitudes that emphasize the benefits and satisfaction gained from learning.Each person contributes as steward to the good of the school and the care of the physical environment.

Educational research in the public sector has consistently confirmed that a positive school climate is associated with academic achievement, positive attitudes, health and safety, effective risk prevention efforts and positive youth development. It can also affect the adult community in similar ways.

While there has been no formal research on the link between Catholic school climate and parish life, it is evident that school climate is inextricably linked to engagement in extra-curricular activities and in parish life. A vibrant, caring parish environment can spill over into the school environment, and a positive school climate can cultivate a stronger parish community, thus increasing a desire for community engagement. When a family feels welcome and safe in school, this provides a good foundation for ongoing involvement in other areas of parish life. The process of nurturing a healthy school climate is integral to a positive parish climate.

A positive school climate can, by its very nature, contribute to all Mission Advancement Initiative goals for the Archdiocese of St. Louis because it is central to expressing what it means to be Alive in Christ. This begins with the first voice that greets a caller, the appearance and condition of the school building, and the face that welcomes visitors, students and staff as they enter. It is both the foundation and capstone of the school experience and permeates the parish culture within and beyond the school day. 

Maureen DePriest
Associate Superintendent for Elementary School Administration
Catholic Education Office
20 Archbishop May Drive
St. Louis MO 63119


Links for Downloads:
Safe Schools Conference.ppsx (use with permission only)
Erikson's Psychosocial Stages
Handout 1
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