In the 2015 Schools of Character magazine, we featured advice from six principals at National Schools of Character, but we received great insight from a number of other educators from these schools, as well. Here’s what they had to say:

How does creating a caring school climate help students improve academically?

“When a school has a caring climate, the ability to reach more students in a positive, impactful way increasing exponentially.  Students become more engaged in an environment where they feel connected and cared for.  This goes for all of us.  When parents are part of a caring school climate they are more inclined to open up and build trusting relationships with those in the school community.  Teachers are integral piece to this puzzle as they are on the front lines with students and parents.  They are the ones who are building positive, lasting relationships with the families they serve.  Education is all about relationships and making connections to learning.  Having a warm, caring school climate allows students, parents and staff to feel more comfortable to take risks and engage in courageous conversations built on trust.” – Michael Anselmo, Principal, Selvidge Middle School

“When our freshmen receive those first quarter grades, many encounter earning their first non A/B grades. That fear of failure disappears when they quickly realize that our school provides a safe environment to face the frustrations of new expectations and challenging classes. They grow confident in their own skills because they know the school provides peer tutors, one-on-one time with teachers, and open doors with administrators. These lines of communication encourage students to find ways to succeed, which only makes that accomplishment more rewarding by creating relationships which will help them as they continue through their high school careers. While we celebrate our students achievements, it is the opportunity for intrinsic reward in a caring school climate sets it apart from others. “ –  Rachel Montgomery, Assistant Principal, Windsor High School

“The benefits of a caring school climate go beyond a social and emotional level. The academic successes take hold, BECAUSE of the social and emotional skills that are nurtured in a caring school climate. This year our kindergarten students were able to work cooperatively and creatively to complete a PBL (Project Based Learning) project about their community and display it at our annual School Fair.  All students felt the pride and success of their month long endeavor.  This was all possible as a result of cultivating our caring school community.” – Kim Ramer, Kindergarten Teacher, Bridgeport Elementary School

“Students who go to a school where there is a caring climate are more inclined to explore their true potential rather than shrinking behind the fear of counterproductive criticism.  The support and encouragement of teachers and classmates becomes a cultural norm in a caring climate.  This cultural norm eliminates the simple fear of failure to which we are all susceptible in the perceived absence of support and encouragement.  In a caring school community, each student feels empowered and successful as they pursue their own academic excellence while actively helping others to do the same.”  – Carlos Diaz-Granados, Principal, Pond Elementary School

“In the past two years, we have had a number of students in special education transition partially or fully into the mainstream. With an increase in student and staff morale, coupled with a renewed home/ school partnership, students feel the support of our entire school community. This has given them the confidence to make improvements academically and behaviorally. They want to succeed with their peers.” Karen Foley, Principal, Southwood School

“Students who have to worry about their safety or embarrassment by students or staff, are always on guard and are fearful. They cannot relax and learn. Students who know people care in the school, relax and are more able and willing to concentrate in classes.” – Bonnie Durante, Principal, Camden County Technical Schools – Gloucester Campus

“I believe that students are more inclined to become emotionally invested when they feel cared about by their principal, teachers, and peers. They come to realize that the choices they make matter and it begins to directly impact their behavior towards their school work. These students also come to realize it is alright to have struggles, no matter what the reason, because they have people at school who try hard each day to lift them up and encourage them to achieve to their fullest potential.” – Gina McCaulley, 2nd Grade Teacher, Christian Ott Elementary School

“By creating a caring school climate, students are able to take the lessons that they have learned using full value which translate into real life lessons. Using full value via physical education class, the students worked with an integrated school population, so there were times a student would be working with someone who may have needed some extra guidance during the game we were playing.  Seeing a student take the time out to either explain or physically guide another student through the activity without being prompted to do so, demonstrated that student’s true character. Positive self-esteem develops via these acts of good character which in turn improves confidence in a student’s ability to do well in school.” – Andrea Jones, Macopin Middle School, Physical Education and Health, Grade 7 & 8 

“Creating a caring school climate helps students improve academically by providing a positive, welcoming, and nurturing environment. With students feeling comfortable and confident, true learning can take place and engagement will carry on throughout a lesson.” – Leslie Finke, Macopin Middle School, English, Grade 8 

“Macopin School’s core values have become bit of light-hearted reprimand in my classroom, helping students to stay focused on their tasks; be safe (very important in a science lab;) work hard themselves and respect the hard work and focus of others; be driven to always do better; and be able to transition from a bad day to a better one when things bring them down.  [Be Here, Be Safe, Be Honest, Be Respectful, Set Goals, and Let Go and Move On.] Students sometimes enter my classroom feeling downtrodden by a tough math quiz or a visit to the assistant principal’s office for discipline. These recent events can be all-consuming to a middle schooler and pull their focus away from their current location, but the promise of a hands-on, engaging lesson can sometimes be enough pull them back into productive learning. And if it is not and they continue to dwell on the issue, they are often reminded by another student or myself: Be here. Let Go and Move On. It’s time for science!” – Mary Bozenmayer, Macopin Middle School, Science, Grade 8

“When students care about their school community, they strive for more academic success. When teachers and administrators care about each other and their students, the learning environment becomes one where the students reach higher goals.” – Abigail Alexander, Macopin Middle School, Science, Grade 8

We have had a character education program here since the early 80’s, but it wasn’t until we targeted the core values that we saw a difference in the culture and climate and the academic success of our students.  They all can speak the language; Be Here, Be Safe, Be Honest, Be Respectful, Let Go and Move On and Set Goals, but now they also live by these core values.  We start each morning with the Pledge of Allegiance and I end that by saying, “Remember, your character counts everyday”.  I have been at Macopin for 38 years and I always have felt that it was a good school, but I can honestly say that since we started concentrating on achieving recognition for our character education program, we have also produced well rounded students who are ready to face the challenges of the world.” – Mary Reinhold, Principal, Macopin Middle School

“A very wise teacher and friend once tried me that they don’t care what you know unless they know that you care.  Caring, teaching and learning cannot exist without each other.  The caring is the stitching that weaves together the entire fabric that is our school community.”  – Cristina Antoniolli, Mathematics Teacher, Wylie E. Groves High School

“An environment that is welcoming and safe encourages exploration and risk taking, which are essential skills to overall success. Students who feel welcomed are more likely to form a connectedness with the school, which in turn decreases absenteeism and promotes a greater work ethic. When students have caring adults who believe in their abilities, they in turn start to believe that they can achieve. This manifests itself academically as students will start to challenge themselves to take more advanced classes and think on a more critical level.” – Monica Fugedi, School Counselor, Wylie E. Groves High School

“This term one of my math teachers had a group of students in a math focused support class. She dedicated herself to showing these students she cared about them by checking with their teachers, advocating for them in classes, calling their parents, hanging their work up in her class, rejoicing with them when they were successful.  This was a group of students not accustomed to being the most important person to any teacher.  They flourished.  The overall term grade point of the class was 3.0. Knowing someone cared about them enabled them to believe in themselves and be successful.  I am lucky to have such a gifted teacher.” – Cathy Hurley, Wylie E. Groves High School


” ‘I know I’ve done the right thing, because my heart tells me.’  This quote is from a preschooler finishing his second year in our school of character.  Ponder it for a moment and see how it reflects language, social, emotional, and intellectual development.  This child qualified for our school based on poverty and developmental delay.  He left us with the academics for success in school and life.” Brenda Proebsting, Preschool Teacher, Southwest Early Childhood Center

“We look at our school as a family!  Building relationships is key to creating a solid foundation to learning.  Once that relationship is built with the child, he/she is more eager to engage in rich academic experiences. A safe, welcoming learning environment that is stimulating and challenging for the learners provides a variety of learning opportunities that can create a spark to want to go to school to learn more.  It really comes down to loving the children and families you serve!” Elizabeth “Ashley” Gresham, Preschool Teacher, Southwest Early Childhood Center

“I believe the following is accurate for all students – They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.  My entire teaching career has been based on this simple philosophy.  When a child knows that he is safe, cared for and supported, his mind is free to absorb the teachings taking place in the classroom.  As long as psychological needs for safety and belonging are met, the student is more likely to be an engaged learner.” Paula Hotz, Preschool Teacher, Southwest Early Childhood Center

“Creating a caring environment enhances the academic development of all students. When students learn in a warm, nurturing and caring environment they feel valued and development confident and self worth. With self-confidence students feel free to take risk, think outside of the box, and ask questions. When students take ownership of and for their learning they learn more.” – Dr. Esther U. Coble, Early/Middle College at Bennett

A caring school climate creates an environment where students feel comfortable taking risks. Students become more confident and, in turn, more likely to benefit from the lessons that accompany the pursuit of a chance, an unknown, a dream.  By being confident and resistant to fear, new opportunities and possibilities inevitably present themselves.  The result of a caring school climate was evident at our end of the year Talent Show where students embraced their talents, overcame their fears, and confidently performed in front of our learning community.  A caring school climate has a similar impact on academic achievement and performance.  Students become more confident in their skills and, in turn, more likely to benefit and grow from the lessons that accompany the exploration of new content and unfamiliar concepts.  – Brian Schaffer, Principal, Fallsington Elementary

One of my social studies teachers, Mr. DiPasquale believes that students must experience history. As part of his WWII unit he had students collect canned goods to donate to army bases or local veterans in return for “vouchers.” His students kept collecting goods and began to turn down the vouchers as they began to understand the true meaning of sacrifice, the voucher system and the needs and actions of soldiers and citizens during WWII. – Marie Horowitz

“Through a positive and caring school climate, teachers build positive relationships with the students that result in improved teaching (teachers know students’ skills, backgrounds, interests, abilities) and improved learning (students are more motivated and engaged because teaching is relevant).  Students develop a strong connection and sense of belonging to the school which directly impacts their learning and academic performance.” – Rhonda White, Assistant Principal, Pittsburg High School

“Recently, I had a student with special needs struggling to complete a routine academic task. One of my academically inclined students had noticed how challenging it was for him to complete his work and in response to his frustration the little girl asked if he would like some help. She replied with a resounding “yes!” She then continued to ask the student various questions that she had observed his teaching assistant previously model with this particular task. Her kind approach had prompted the student’s successful completion of  his work, without directly giving him the answers. This experience resulted in a big “thank you,”and a proud hug between the two after he finished. This specific example illustrates the empathetic and kind character traits that can lead to student growth and learning. By leading through example and establishing a caring school community, students feel responsibility to take the time and help their peers achieve their best!” – Brendon Wiley, Kindergarten Teacher, Bridgeport Elementary

“The creation of a caring climate allows the student to build meaningful relationships with the people (students and staff) in a high school.  High School cultures can often separate people into segments, teams, or those with similar interests.  The creation of a caring climate builds unity among those groups and builds the “one family” concept that ties us all together.  Plus, it lets students know they are valued for the positive contributions we expect they will each make as members of our extended family. Most importantly, these positive contributions related to individual academics success raises the collective success of our entire school.  This is the rising tide that lifts all boats.  Bayless High School, a NSOC, has improved performance on every state mandated End-Of-Course (EOC) Assessment for 3 straight years.  Our positive climate expects we will improve every chance we get, and for 3 years now we have.  Without fail.” – Patrick McEvoy, Principal, Bayless High School

“Often students come to the counseling office feeling frustrated about struggles to be successful in the classroom. We work together to recall personal experiences to confirm they are a contributing member of our school community as a whole which makes us all better. Maybe they are a classroom greeter, peer mentor, or presenter at Pride assemblies. These lists of positive contributing experiences always work to motivate students to feel purpose and give them the strength to strive for academic success even though it can be hard.  A student who received numerous words of encouragement after sharing her physical challenges in PRIDE assembly found a new sense of confidence and independence and I saw her less for one on one support as she succeeded in core classes while mentoring others by the end of the year. What a gift she is to our school community.” – Anne Enright, Counselor, Mill Creek Upper Elementary

“I think if kids know they are cared for by every adult in the building and the climate fosters that, kids feel more comfortable speaking up and participating in class. They feel more at ease to take risks and make mistakes and to continue trying.” – Jennifer Gooding, 5th Grade Teacher, Mill Creek Upper Elementary

“I have noticed that when I put in the time and effort to create a caring climate in our classroom, that in the long run it pays off academically. Kids WANT to come to school because they feel supported and respected by their peers. Kids WANT to work harder academically because they don’t want to let their classmates down and they feel safe in the classroom.” Ms. Stitt, 5th Grade Teacher, Mill Creek Upper Elementary


Want to learn even more from our 2015 National Schools of Character?