You are using an older browser. Content on the page may not render properly. Please upgrade: Firefox | Internet Explorer
Is your school climate right for learning?Posted on April 6, 2016 at 10:23pm

Jennifer Lutzenberger PhillipsJennifer Lutzenberger Phillips, Director of Learning, Teaching, and Pathway Development at ConnectEd, and a former classroom teacher, is always searching for resources to make change easier for teachers and site leaders. In a recent interview, when we explored the question, “Is your climate right for learning?” we learned about a tool that can help administrators and teachers figure that out.


What do administrators and teachers need to know about their climate for learning?

They need to know if the culture, leadership and team dynamic are conducive to learning. Teacher teams and site leaders must grapple with these questions, “Is this place the kind of place that is set up well to get all teachers learning together and to move outcomes for kids? Or is this a place that is not set up well and if it is not set up well, why? What’s the missing piece?” It boils down to figuring out whether or not people are ready – as a team – to learn what they need to learn in order to successfully implement a new approach, curriculum, student outcome, district policy, accountability system or site program. Often when leaders realize there’s something wrong with climate, they try to identify promising programs, strategies or practices that teachers could put in place to improve the situation.  New programs and strategies require time and structures, as well as certain conditions—like psychological safety and trust—for the learning to result in new practices.


Why should we measure our culture?

Many of us think about “school culture” in student-centered terms. We wonder what the climate looks like from the student perspective with respect to things like safety, expectations, college preparation. Typical school climate surveys support that view.

While this is not the wrong way to look at climate, it may not be the most helpful or complete starting point if the goal is to change how the adults work and learn together in order to build a climate that fosters better learning for everyone in the community.

“If leaders don’t assess [climate] before they decide to take on something that they expect everyone will do together as whole then predictably, if the culture hasn’t been set up right, people are going to fracture and silo,” warns Jenn. She describes a pattern that has repeated itself and many of us have seen happen; just like we see in classrooms where students don’t feel safe to take a risk or make a mistake, teachers and leaders who don’t feel their climate is safe for learning will do the grown-up equivalent of putting their heads down on their desks. Effective leaders understand their current organizational culture and shape it in a positive direction by providing what their team needs to succeed.


How do site leaders and teacher teams measure culture?

School leaders and teacher teams need guidance and resources to check the temperature of their culture and to find out how to help themselves and their teachers learn. To support this need, we’ve adopted a method developed by the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) Institute called the Internal Coherence Assessment Protocol (ICAP) as a diagnostic tool to determine school site culture and capacity to change. The ICAP is specifically designed for educators by educators. It’s essentially a survey that sheds light on a school’s ability to engage in deliberate improvements in instructional practice and student learning across classrooms and over time. With the information provided by the ICAP, educators are able to assess their current climate, see where they can improve, set goals for improvement, and track their progress by periodically retaking the survey.


What information does the ICAP collect?

The ICAP gathers information in three domains; these domains are sub-divided into different factors:

  • Leadership Practices for instructional improvement – Leadership for learning, psychological safety, and providing meaningful professional development
  • Organizational processes (both whole school and specific teams) – Collaboration around improvement strategy, teachers’ involvement in instructional decisions
    Shared understanding of effective practice, support for team, team processes 
  • Efficacy beliefs – Individual teacher efficacy, collective efficacy

Read our 2-page resource that describes the above domains and provides example questions


Does the ICAP work?

We’ve completed the ICAP in two school sites and have requests from several more. So far, we’ve been very pleased with the results. The data has helped administrators and teachers map their culture and identify areas to target for improvement. In a future blog post, we’ll share feedback from survey takers about the survey.


How do we access the ICAP?

We encourage you to visit the SERP Institute website to learn more about the Institute and access the ICAP and framework here. We’ve created a digital version of the survey, which allows versatile data gathering, aggregation, and reporting. If you’d like to learn more about this resource, contact us at


This post doesn't have any comments. Be the first and start the conversation below!

Add a comment:

Note: Comments on this blog are moderated. Email address is collected for an opportunity to follow up, and will not be displayed to the public.

Search Blog


Want to be notified when we make a post? Enter your email address below.