Identifying Good Schools
In August 2014, Washington Post writer, Jay Mathews, shared an article that he wrote 14 years ago offering advice to parents about ways to identify good schools. Given the changes in schools, Mathews made several updates to his list that I’d like to share with you (with a few adjustments of my own). You can also read Jay Mathews’ complete list here. tlb
- Professional teaching faculty: Jay Mathews began his list of good schools with administrators, but my list will start with good teachers. Good schools have really good teachers! And, really good teachers work to meet the individual needs of students (working to ensure students’ academic as well as social emotional success).
- Caring administration: After really good teachers, I think good schools should have good leadership. Good schools should employ administrators who are connected and accessible to all constituency groups within the school. They should also provide space for teachers to do their best work for students.
- School culture: I also believe the feel of a school is a big indicator of how good it is. Parents should consider a school’s culture as an indicator of fit and ask themselves: Do students and adults seem happy in the school? Can you see your child and your family in the school? What kind of activities are offered outside of the academic day? Are the activities inclusive? While it can be difficult to discern the feeling of a school, it is an essential part of determining if it is a fit for you and your child.
- Parental involvement: I, too, believe good schools understand the importance of the home-school connection; therefore, I always suggest to parents that they look at schools that understand the importance of that partnership.
- Library as literacy center: Jay’s suggests parents look at schools with a “well-stocked and well-used library” as an indicator of a good school; however, as library education continues to evolve parents should look at schools where the library is a central hub for learning. While printed books still play an essential role in supporting students, more and more libraries are utilizing digital technology as a pathway to learning. Therefore, parents should look at schools whose libraries function as “learning commons” — promoting and supporting childhood literacy as well as digital citizenship.
- Enrichment activities: Like Jay, I believe it is essential to look for “signs of enrichment outside the classroom” not only in terms of academic enrichment but (also) in the extracurricular activities that foster a child’s natural talents and interests. For instance, are there opportunities outside the classroom to explore writing for students who love to write? If your child loves sports, are there opportunities other than PE to run and play games? Often these other activities can help a student discover talents and interests that they would never have known they possessed without enrichment activities.
- Support services: Good schools also understand that it takes a village to raise a child; therefore, look for schools that understand the need to have lots of adults within the school (teachers/staff) working with students and families. What kinds of services are offered outside of the classroom for students?
- Technology integration: On my list of good schools, I would say a school that understands and (appropriately) utilizes technology is indeed a good school. Good schools look for ways to use technology to help expand the learning process inside the classroom for students while helping them develop digital literacy. Good schools think of technology as a tool to be used every day not just for the teacher’s use, but (more importantly) for students to actively use to enhance their own learning. When good schools use technology, they do it to foster a child’s sense of self-discovery, personalize student learning, as well as nurture student creativity and imagination.
- Safety: It goes without saying that I agree that a safe learning environment is a top priority of any good school. It is essential because I believe children perform better (and take more academic and social risks) when they feel safe. However, safety in a school is not just about the physical setting. More and more, the safety of students is also about a student’s emotional well-being. Thus, establishing close relationships with students should also be a priority of good schools.
- Preparing children for the future: A good school maintains its focus – students– while finding ways to remain viable in a changing 21stcentury landscape. No matter the changes in society, good schools will always have a role to play in helping students develop the skills needed to be future leaders.