Creating and Supporting Safe and Respectful School Climates: The Principal’s Role

By Heather Dwyer Sadlier.

Published by The Diversity Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Although progress was made in outlawing discrimination and increasing support for integrated schools and neighborhoods in the previous century, egregious expressions of bias and hate are still daily constants for many students in schools. Too frequently, schools serve as sites for racial, ethnic, gender, and religious stereotyping and slurs. Bias, hate, and related violence are the genesis of most serious problems in schools. In this way, school climates serve as “part of the problem”; but they can also serve as “part of the solution.” It is clear that transforming schools into emotionally, psychologically, and physically safe spaces for all must be the paramount priority for educators. Schools cannot disregard the critical responsibility and unique opportunity they have to introduce and reinforce an alternative attitudinal and behavioral paradigm that teaches tolerance of and mutual respect for differences.
As schools’ educational leaders, principals make the call on whether to ignore or confront bias and prejudice in their schools. Ignoring bias and prejudice imperils schools, their communities, and, ultimately, the nations of which they are a part; confronting these critical issues provides opportunities to create climates where there is safety and respect for all members of the school community. The study looked at the climate at an urban high school whose principal took steps to confront bias and harassment and support a culture that creates and maintains a respectful school climate. Interviews, surveys, and focus groups were conducted with students, staff members, and administrators to gather perceptions regarding the principal's actions related to school culture and climate issues.

Keywords: School Climate, School Culture, Educational Leadership, School Leader, Leader, Leadership, Respect, Caring, Bias, Stereotyping, Bullying, Harrassment, Teaching Tolerance, Bias Prevention

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp.183-198. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 639.373KB).

Dr. Heather Dwyer Sadlier

Professor, Education Department, University of New England, Biddeford, ME, USA

Dr. Sadlier is an Associate Professor in the education department at the University of New England, in Biddeford, Maine (USA), and degrees in psychology and literacy from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire (USA). She has over twenty-five years of experience in education, including K-12 and university teaching. Dr. Sadlier is a member of the education faculty at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine (USA). She conducts courses for pre-service teachers and workshops addressing bias, harassment, and hate prevention for educators and students. Her courses, workshops, and research focus on leadership and teaching practices that convey respect and support for individuals’ myriad differences and increase understanding between and among the members of various groups. Her publications include: College classroom climate: The professor’s pivotal role (2008); Breaking down barriers, constructing connections: Strategies for connecting “us” to “them,” in Social Studies and Diversity Education: What We Do and Why We Do It (2009); A School Leader’s Conversations: Perceived Impacts on Relationships and School Climate (2009). She finds inspiration and guidance in the following words from Parker Palmer: “We teach who we are.”


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