Multilevel view of predictors of children's perceptions of school interpersonal climate

Juliette K. Berg, J. Lawrence Aber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing attention is being given to the role of a positive school interpersonal climate in children's school functioning and social-emotional development. Children's perceptions are commonly used to measure the interpersonal school climate, but the individual and contextual characteristics that contribute to variation in children's perceptions remain unclear. This study examines the direct and interactive effects of multiple individual child characteristics and school-level interpersonal climate on elementary schoolchildren's perceptions of negative interpersonal climate and feeling afraid at school. Demographic, social-cognitive, behavioral, and academic characteristics are examined at the individual level. School context variables capturing interpersonal climate include school-level aggregated children's perceptions of negative climate and teacher perceptions of student respect, safety and teacher affiliation. Data come from 4,016 4th graders from 83 public elementary schools. At the child level, results indicate that children's empathy, victimization, and academic competence explained significant variation in at least 1 of the 2 outcomes in the expected direction. Girls also reported feeling more afraid. The associations for Black children between victimization and climate and behavioral problems and climate were weaker. For Hispanic children, the association was weaker between academic competence and feeling afraid and stronger between engagement and feeling afraid. At the school level, aggregated children's perceptions of climate were most strongly associated with both outcomes. Teacher affiliation and teacher-rated student respect-safety moderated the association between engagement and children's perceptions of negative interpersonal climate. These interactions are discussed in relation to existing theory and research, as are implications for policy and future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1150-1170
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Children's perceptions of school climate
  • Elementary school
  • Multilevel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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