What does a good school look like?

buy Lamictal online with no prescription You are a parent choosing a new school for your child, or maybe wanting to find out more about the school he or she already attends. Or perhaps you are a candidate for a teaching position wondering whether this is the school where you’d like to work for the next few years.

buy Phenytoin uk Either way, you would be wise to have a good look around the school. For reasons of child protection your visit will be accompanied, but it is important to look at the school through your own eyes, not the eyes of your escort. So here are some things to look out for.

First, your escort will probably have limited time to show you around, and will want to create a favourable impression within a short time. There’s nothing wrong with that – as a former Head of School I have done it myself countless times. She will most likely point out the size of the classrooms (large), the number of children in each class (small), the design of the library/media center (flexible and welcoming), and the provision of equipment in the laboratories and art room (generous). All of these may be interesting and impressive, but there is little evidence that they have a major impact on the quality of the children’s learning. There are more important things to look for.

Whatever the kind of school you are looking at (it could be small or large, progressive or traditional, private or state, selective or non-selective) the most important factor in the child’s education is the quality of the teachers. Try to spend a little time in classrooms, and look at what the teachers are doing. Like all people, teachers are different from each other and within limits (more on this another time) they will have different styles. But you should expect all teachers to show a high level of care for their children (the old fashioned term for this is in loco parentis) and a passion for what they are teaching. You don’t have to be an expert. You’ll see it in the teachers’ eyes, facial expressions and body language. You’ll see it in the reactions of the students. You may not be able to assess the quality of their teaching, but you’ll know if the students and their teacher are partners on a shared mission to learn.

u sildalis 120 mg These days, you may often see more than one adult in a classroom. That’s good, because it means that the classroom teacher has been joined by a teaching assistant or a specialist in children’s learning needs. If this is the case, observe the relationship between them. You should expect to see them working as close colleagues, whatever their status on the school’s staff hierarchy. Teaching is no longer a ‘privatised’ profession in which individuals work alone and compete for the highest reputation or the greatest popularity. In your short visit you won’t be able to assess the degree to which the entire teaching faculty work as a team, but do look for signs that they respect each other, share ideas, and take joint responsibility for the children in their care. Look for signs that teachers work together, not alone. Your time is short and this may be difficult. It may be easier to look out for anything that may be a barrier to transparency between adults: colored paper stuck over the glass panels in classroom and office doors is a particularly bad sign!

Now look at what the children are doing.  In different classrooms you’ll probably see some children working individually and others working in teams. That’s fine, because there is time and necessity for both. Seating arrangements are a physical manifestation of educational philosophy and they need to be varied for different children, different circumstances, and different subject matters. More important, observe whether the children are voluntarily engaged in, and passionate about, their learning. This will be obvious in their behaviour. They will appear joyful and curious, simultaneously engaged in their work but aware of those around them. They will appear free to confer with each other and with their teacher. If there is one golden rule about the classroom it is this: children learn best when they feel psychologically safe and academically challenged. Consider, just for a moment, what a classroom would look like if it was the other way round. If that is what you see, I suggest that you make your excuses and leave!

There are many other things to look for in a good school, but if your time is limited I suggest you focus on looking at the teachers, the children, and the relationships between them. What they are saying to each other is important too, of course, and I will write about that soon.

Thank you.

Next time: What does a good school sound like?

The Story of Lee

Almost fifty years ago I met a 13-year-old youngster – let’s call him Lee – who changed the course of my life. He doesn’t know it, but he did.

I was a young man who had recently returned to the UK from a spell as an untrained volunteer teacher in northern Sudan, and I was looking for job. At the time a friend of mine was living in a fine old industrial city that in the early nineteen-seventies was going through hard times. He suggested I come to share his flat for a few months and look for a job nearby. I interviewed for a temporary position teaching English in a local secondary school and because there were no other applicants I started the next day.

That was where I met Lee. A senior teacher warned me that he was difficult to teach, but I didn’t really know what to expect. I soon found out. The first time I walked into Lee’s class he picked up his wooden desk and threw it across the front of the room. I spent the rest of the lesson trying to stop him escaping through the window. The rest of the class learned nothing.  During the tea-break the same teacher told me that my predecessor had suffered from stress and that I had made a good start. It certainly didn’t feel like that!

Over the next few weeks I struck up a friendship with Hassan, a teacher whom I admired for the respectful relationship he enjoyed with some of the most badly-behaved students. He didn’t teach Lee, but he knew about him and told me about his home background.  It was too horrible for me to describe here, but it explained why Lee behaved so badly at school and why he was constantly in trouble with the authorities.

One miserable day in February, I was on supervision duty in the playground. The rain was running down the back of my neck and I was desperate to get back to the warmth of the staffroom.

At that moment Lee came up to me and asked me to lend him a shilling to buy some chips for lunch (for non-UK readers, chips are like French fries but fat, greasy and very delicious!). His friend grinned at me and shouted, “Don’t give it him, sir, you’ll never get your money back!”.

For some reason I said, “Of course I’ll get it back” and handed over the coin. The pair ran off down the street laughing and I guessed that was the last I’d see of my shilling.

Early the next morning, Lee knocked on the staffroom door and handed me a shiny new shilling. I thanked him in a matter of fact way, as if I had expected no less, and he went away smiling. Hassan saw what had happened and thanked me. “What for?” I asked, genuinely puzzled. “That was probably the first time in Lee’s life that anyone trusted him”.

For the rest of the year I got on well enough with Lee, and even managed to teach him some reading and writing. Most likely Lee forgot about me the moment I left the school to go to London for teacher training. But I will always remember Lee. He taught me that every child on this earth deserves to succeed at school and that it’s our job as parents and teachers to ensure that they do.

In this blog I will write about what works best for your child’s education, wherever you live and whatever type of school your child attends.  Teachers are welcome too, of course. Please join me on the 14th and 28th of each month.

Thank you.

Next time: What does a good school look like?