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Toxic School Climate Threatens Educational Equity

School climate is the overall quality and character of school life, including teaching and learning practices, organizational structures, norms and values, and relationships. Because bullying and harassment are so prevalent in the day-to-day life of some schools, staff members and students view these behaviors as healthy and fail to recognize the severe problem they create (National School Climate Council, 2012).

There are many challenges in eliminating bullying and harassment because we all have biased attitudes and behaviors. Some of us acknowledge this and work to increase our self-awareness and build respectful relationships with students. Others are unaware of their own biases and unknowingly say or do things that discriminate against others. Moreover, some individuals intentionally discriminate against others and refuse to change. For many schools, bullying and harassment are entrenched in their culture and affect school climate. The culture dictates the social norms that determine how adults relate to students and how students treat each other (National School Climate Council, 2012).

Toxic school environments that ignore Bias can deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the education program because of their race, sex, national origin, or disability. Harassment can involve girls and boys and can occur at any age. It can target one student or a group of students. Harassment can include an adult harassing a student or vice versa. It can be a serious incident that occurs only once or a pattern of discrimination. Some acts of Bias are subtle and not easily recognizable to persons who lack training in educational equity. Many think harassment occurs only if the harasser intentionally means to harm the victim; but, harassment can also be committed unintentionally by individuals who have not acknowledged their own biases (Moule, 2009). Subtle or unintentional discrimination or microaggressions can harm students as much as the most blatant verbal or physical aggression.

Studies have consistently identified eight common biases found in toxic learning environments including: Hostile, insensitive acts, harsher sanctions against particular ethnic or racial groups (e.g., higher rates of exclusionary discipline or longer school suspensions; Bias in attention and treatment such as differences in the amount and type of public praise, help, or encouragement; Unequal instruction such as lower academic expectations, assignment of unchallenging work, or variations in behavior expectations; Bias in attitudes and stereotypes; Failure to hire staff of different cultural backgrounds; Denial of racist actions; and, Bias in the selection of curriculum materials

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self. Having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown it is linked to better well-being, less stress and delinquency, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally responsive practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic learning environment that honors your school community, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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