Ruth Berkowitz, Aidyn Iachini, Hadass Moore, Gordon Capp, Ron Avi Astor, Ronald Pitner, and Rami Benbenishty
Educational practitioners and researchers have increasingly recognized the importance of the context in which learning occurs, particularly the influence of school climate on students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes. School climate is based on the subjective experiences of school life for students, staff members, school leaders, parents, and the entire school community. A school’s climate reflects its norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures. A large body of evidence connects a positive school climate to improvements in children’s learning and healthy development in school. A positive school climate is also an essential component within comprehensive school improvement processes. Nonetheless, the divergence and disagreement in defining and measuring school climate in the literature are evident. There is a major interest in school climate improvement and school climate policy. However, the policy context that supports school climate varies considerably across the United States and internationally. Clarification regarding the dimensions of school climate and continued research on how a positive school climate contributes to both school and student outcomes remain important.
The challenge of providing education that is inclusive and seen as equitable for all children is one that has exercised policy makers and education professionals in most countries throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries. International agreements such as UNESCO’s 1990 Jomtien Declaration and 1994 Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education were instrumental in promoting debate about the rights of children who were denied access to an appropriate schooling and who, in some instances, had no opportunity to obtain any formal education. The Education for All Goals, which were used to prioritize the development of universal primary education, and more recently the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Education Goals, which reiterated a commitment to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Goal 4), have increased the focus upon developing inclusive education. This has encouraged governments around the world to re-examine the ways in which they provide schooling for their children and young people. With such a plethora of initiatives, agreements, and advice, it is only to be expected that most national administrations have felt it necessary to respond and to demonstrate that they are taking action towards improving educational opportunities for all. However, the relationship between policy and practice is complex; and in some instances, the development of legislation has failed to provide increased equity in the manner that was intended. This article considers two distinctly different routes towards achieving inclusive education and discusses those factors that have either supported or inhibited success. In drawing upon examples from current developments in India, it additionally proposes that researchers who conduct investigations in international contexts should invest time in understanding underlying policy and cultural and historical factors that may impact upon the ways in which we interpret meaning from data.
Doris A. Santoro
Teaching is a moral profession. The moral dimensions of the profession extend beyond the moral behavior that teachers are expected to model for students and the explicit moral lessons they may offer. Many teachers enter the profession hoping to do good in the world and to contribute to the well-being of their students and society. However, some educational reform policies and strategies have led teachers to ask if what they are asked to do in the name of their profession might cause more harm than good. Teachers who refuse to enact policies and practices may be represented by the popular media and in educational research as merely recalcitrant or insubordinate. This perspective misses the moral dimensions of the work—teachers may refuse from a standpoint of professional conscience, and teachers acting as conscientious objectors may resign if they believe that they will harm students, society, their disciplines, or their profession through their work.
There is a growing awareness of the crucial role that trust plays in every aspect of a school’s functioning, especially in student outcomes. Trust is a willingness to make oneself vulnerable to another based on a belief in that person’s benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence. As citizens across the globe have become increasingly distrustful of their institutions and leaders, the trend away from trust creates a special challenge for schools because trust is so fundamental to their core mission of educating students. The philosopher Annette Baier observed, in Moral Prejudices, that we tend to notice trust as we notice air: only when it becomes scarce or polluted. These days, it seems evident that trust in our society as a whole has indeed been disrupted and is in scarce supply. As contemporary society has grown more complex, as changing economic realities, changing demographics, and changing expectations in society have made life less predictable, as acts of terrorism and large scale shootings even within the sanctuary of schools have entered our collective consciousness, we are beginning to notice trust much more. There are a number of things that make cultivating and maintaining trust in schools challenging. These include the effects of the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and other new forms of information, and the propensity for negative gossip to spread more rapidly and further than positive news.
Trust matters in schools and in our world because we cannot single-handedly either create or sustain many of the things we most cherish. Parents send their children to schools, trusting that they will be safe from harm, as well as guided and taught in keeping with our highest hopes for them. Schools are also invested with a significant share of a community’s collective resources in the form of tax dollars, school buildings, and local employment opportunities. In addition, schools are charged with keeping and promoting a society’s shared values and ideals. They foster and protect the collective ideals of respect, tolerance, and democracy, as well as the vision of equity of opportunity. Indeed the future of a society rests with the quality of its schools. It is evident, then, why trust has become such a pressing issue for schools in these challenging and turbulent times.