What does a good school look like?

source url 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.

source 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.

follow 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.

propecia finasteride price in india 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?

6 thoughts on “What does a good school look like?”

  1. Hi Nick, I appreciated many ideas discussed in your post, however, I am curious about your claim that “there is little evidence that class size will have a major impact on the quality of children’s learning.”
    In addition, I am curious about your research that supports the claim that the most important factor in a child’s education is the teacher. This statement is too generalized and this claim lacks a thoughful discussion around the impact of socio-economic discrepancies, school funding and resource allocation that affect access to quality education.

  2. Focussing on observing these things sounds like excellent advice. As a parents, choosing a school
    Feels like one of the most significant decisions we will make and those of us fortunate enough to have choices will benefit from making these observations. I note in the schools our children attend that it is usually the students themselves who are invited to usher prospective new families around. And this is undertaken without the supervision or presence of a teacher. It’s the sign of a confident school to our such a tour in the hands of the child, but to my mind sends another indicator of success: the child is trusted and has ownership of what is shared.

  3. Very happy to find your website, Nick……miss your Friday newsletters. It’s a great blog on a useful topic Waiting for the 2nd part of the Y chart 🙂

  4. This is not only helpful for parents; it also provides a nice perspective for both teachers and administrators as they seek to promote the virtues of their school to visiting families.

  5. Couldn’t agree more — to make our students feel psychologically safe and academically challenged when they study! Thank you for sharing!

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