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Shaping Cooperative Climates:

Working Together in Lutheran Early Childhood Education

When God created the world in those first seven days of this earth, He designed it with perfection in its formation and atmosphere. From the sun and the moon to the many animals and man, He created everything with detail and blessed it greatly. Everything about these many creations was very good and acceptable in His sight. Unfortunately, sin crept into this world, which created major problems within this creation. Sin turned out to spoil the “climate” that was originally designed by God. Thankfully God continued to love His creation and promised to send a Savior who would change this “climate” within the world.

School Climates…What are they?

What kind of climate do we live in today? This question may cause some to think in terms of weather and meteorology with discussions about such politically hot topics as global warming. Within organizations such as our churches and schools, climate involves “the prevailing influence or environmental conditions characterizing a group or period.” Webster Dictionary

Just as wind blows through one’s hair, the sun creates warmth on the skin, and rain makes one wet, the climate of an early childhood center is easily felt and perceived by students, families, staff, congregation, and local community. Within the first few minutes of walking into an early childhood center, it can be apparent that there exists a positive or negative atmosphere. Does one experience enthusiasm or apathy? Grumbling or laughter? Joy or despair? Challenging or healthy developing relationships? Certainly one’s perceptions of these church and school climates can vary from person to person, but it is often easy to detect overall climates as being either positive or negative in relationship to the well-being and health of an organization and its members.

Climate Affects Students

It is essential and best practice for students to feel comfortable and secure in their school environments. Even in the infant and toddlers years, young children can easily sense and react to the climate of their center.

Promote a positive feeling within young children:

Climate Affects and is Affected by Staff

Staff members have a great effect on children, and they in turn are affected by issues relating to school climate. Since these individuals are often key to shaping and promoting a healthy school climate, invest time and activities to help them feel comfortable and secure in their school climate. Staff members tend to speak highly of school climate if:

Climate Affects Many Participants

Important stakeholders such as parents, congregation members, and even the community are also affected by the overall climates within an early childhood center. When problems such as staffing issues, financial challenges, and safety concerns begin to surface within a center, it is often easy to perceive some downward spirals of quality. These perceptions along with true problems within the school can easily and quickly create negative school climates unless there are some quick and appropriate interventions by the center’s leadership.

Promote a positive climate to individuals around the center:
  1. Use best practices in education and business within the center.
  2. Use innovation and apply research to create quality early childhood programs.
  3. Work with staff, governing boards, and the congregation to create, implement and continually expand upon the school’s standards and program.
  4. Develop and use quality, time sensitive school communications.
  5. Respond to parent inquiries and questions within appropriate time frames (24 to 48 hours, if possible)
  6. Celebrate positive activities, individuals, and accomplishments within the school, congregation, and community.
  7. Integrate the early childhood center in the community through events like fairs, parades, community events, and joint activities with other schools and organizations.
  8. Welcome the community into the school by maintaining an easy-to-use and up-to-date school website, opening the school playground after school hours, scheduling specialized, interactive open houses, providing regular public relations contacts and coverage, and holding community events at the school.
  9. Implement and use regular, intentional communications with the community.

School Climate Issues and Enhancements

The investment of time, interest, and finances can be essential to updating and reshaping a center’s climate to be more positive and encouraging.

Additional tools for creating a positive early childhood school climate:
  1. Use “Needs Assessments” tools to assess school climate. Implement on-going needs assessments initially to keep current on the perceived and actual status of the center’s overall climate. Assessments can take the form of student/parent/congregational surveys, which should ideally be completed electronically with provisions for paper copies for those individuals without technology access. Even young children can help with this process through verbal, one-on-one interviews or through the use of picture-cues surveys.
  2. Develop concise, informative, and attractive communication tools for the center’s printed and electronic media
  3. Foster strong, positive leadership
  4. Deal with conflict appropriately and promptly
  5. Speak highly of and be encouraging to students, staff, and congregation members
  6. Promote innovation within the center
  7. Promote collegiality by celebrating staff birthdays, awards, and honors, and scheduling staff social events
  8. Use encouraging words/notes to staff
  9. Incorporate special activities and projects into the early childhood program
  10. Dedicate space and materials for staff
  11. Develop and implement staff mentoring
  12. Provide professional development opportunities based on staff needs and interests (professional learning communities)

Through keeping a “barometer” on school climate issues and being intentional in positive actions, early childhood centers and their leadership teams can better shape their schools to be educational sanctuaries which promote healthy, grace-filled school climates. These actions will assist in the overall positive development of the child, family, congregation, and community as God is glorified and praised.

Julie Klopke is Assistant Principal and Early Childhood Director at St. Peter’s Lutheran School, Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Paper sculptures and photo art © iStock/Les Cunliffe.