Help My Child at School | A blog for parents of school-aged children | Page 3

What kind of school is right for your child?

buy mail order Seroquel Every parent asks this question as their child approaches school age or prepares to move from primary to secondary education. Teachers ask themselves a similar question, although in their case they are likely to ask, “What kind of school is right for me?”

source link These are good questions. No two schools are exactly the same and it is essential to ask what kind of school will best meet the aspirations you have for your child – or for yourself.

buy bactrim for guinea pigs Finding the answer to your question is not as difficult as you might think. Most schools describe the kind of school they are in a “guiding statement” that you will find published on their website, in their literature for prospective parents and teachers, or both. Many schools call this statement their mission, but there are other names including aims, philosophy, and ethos. Some schools also use the term vision, but this is more likely to describe what the school aims to be in future, not what it claims to be doing now.

The mission is the promise that the school makes to the community – students, parents, teachers and others. Some schools promise to deliver academic excellence, others emphasize strong human values, while yet others may focus on sporting prowess or education for environmental sustainability. Of course, many schools offer several of these and more besides! As a prospective parent you should look for a school whose aims match those you have for your child.

buy finasteride online europe How can you be sure that the school is keeping its promise to the community? Here are four ways to look for evidence:

1.    If the school promises academic excellence you should check appropriate ‘performance indicators’ such as public test and examination results and university placements. The school should make this information available to you upon request.

2.    You should ask parents of children already in the school if, in their opinion, the school keeps its promises. It’s important to ask specifically about things that the school claims to do in its guiding statement. For example, it would not be helpful to ask about the success of the school’s sports teams if it does not claim that high sporting achievement is an important aspect of its educational program.

3.    Of course, you may visit the school and see for yourself. As mentioned in earlier posts you should look and listen for evidence that the school does what it claims to do. For example, if a school claims that children ‘learn through inquiry’ you should expect to find evidence that students are actively engaged in age-appropriate work based on research and investigation. If a school claims to be ‘inclusive’, ask what this means. Look and listen for evidence of diversity among the students and teachers, and for evidence that the school is open to new ideas and different points of view.

4.    Finally, you can ask to see reports from organizations that provide objective, external evaluation of the school’s performance. In the case of international schools ask for the latest “Accreditation Report”, and for state schools in the UK ask for the most recent “Ofsted Report”. All schools in all countries should be able to offer a report written by an external evaluation agency, often the local or central government. If a school is not able to offer a report to you, please ask why it is not available.

Evidence that a school keeps its promises can turn up in unexpected ways! To illustrate this, here is a personal anecdote about a school close to where I live. A few weeks ago I was shopping in the neighborhood mini-market. Halfway on my walk around the shop I looked in my basket and remembered that I should have selected some fruit from a shelf near the entrance. I walked back against the flow of customers and as I approached the entrance a group of about ten very tall teenagers in school uniform came laughing through the door. I felt sure I would be pushed backwards by this large and unstoppable mass of young people. To my joy, however, they greeted me, parted to let me through, and even asked if they could help me find what I was looking for.

When I reached home I went straight to the school’s website. Its mission statement included the following words: “Through … a strong focus on pastoral care, we aim to prepare young people for their lives as citizens in the community, and to enable them to serve as examples to moral and spiritual values in the world.”

The behavior of the students in that mini-market told me that the school is keeping its promise.

Thank you.

Next time: What kind of education will prepare your child for an uncertain future?



Three questions that will tell you how well your child is being taught.

I remember a conversation I had with my father long ago. At the time I was a young child attending a primary school in the English Midlands. In those days the UK used “imperial” rather than metric units, so schoolchildren learned to measure distances in inches, feet and yards, and shopkeepers sold cooking ingredients in pounds and ounces.

One day I was talking with my Dad about the heights of my family members and friends.

“Do you know what a centimetre is?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “it’s a sort of little inch”. We all had a good laugh at my childish response – including me, although I didn’t know what I was laughing at!

But now, looking back as a grey-haired educator, I can see that my teacher was doing an excellent job. My apparently naïve definition of a centimetre showed that I understood two broad truths: that a centimetre, like an inch, is a unit of measurement, and that a centimetre is a smaller unit of measurement than an inch. Not bad for a very small boy! That level of understanding did not happen by accident. I had a very fine teacher.

So here are three questions that will tell you if your child is being well taught at school. First, however, just a small warning before you start interrogating your child! Most children, just like most adults, are wary about being questioned at home about their ‘day job’. If your child seems reluctant to discuss her learning with you, try again  gently another day when the signs are more favorable!

The first question is: What are you learning in history* at the moment? (*or whatever subject or project may be under discussion). Your child’s answer to this question – and to your follow-up questions – will reveal a great deal. If all your child tells you is a repetition of historical (or scientific, or mathematical…) facts or formulae then it is possible that she is being taught only to learn and repeat by rote. This is not enough. Whatever your child’s age she has a right to learn subject knowledge within a broad context that has relation to wider understandings and to her own life. You would expect her to be able to explain connections between her current learning and other areas of knowledge and how it relates to her personal experience. Teachers call this, “learning in an authentic context” and it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that it takes place.

The second question is: For what reasons are you learning this? (Note that there is never one reason alone for learning anything, so please use an open-ended question such as this in order to give your child the opportunity to answer in her own way). Learning must be purposeful, so hopefully your child will give an answer such as, “Because it will help me to…” or, “So that I will be able to understand…” or even, “Because it’s really, really interesting!” On the other hand, if your child responds with answers such, “Because my teacher says we must learn it” or, “Because it’s in chapter 3 of the book” or anything like that, I’m sorry to say that your child is not being introduced to either the purposes or the joy of learning.

Please do not think that your child’s answers are simply an indication of the level of her intelligence. All children are naturally curious learners, and all children have brains that respond positively to intellectual challenge and rich learning experiences. It is your child’s teacher who creates these challenges and experiences, and the child’s parent who complements these challenges and experiences with a stimulating life at home. Both the teacher and the parent carry great responsibility for their child’s learning and they must work together as a team. In future posts I will introduce some of the research that justifies the statements in this paragraph.

Schools used to talk of helping your child “reach her potential” but such an idea is out of date for two reasons. First, the concept of “potential” cannot be measured. Secondly, we know that the human brain is malleable and can be stimulated to attain levels of achievement beyond what would previously have been considered feasible. If your child’s teacher or school talks about the level of achievement that your child may be expected to reach, then I am sorry to hear it. Pre-determined levels of achievement can become self-fulfilling prophesies, and that is never in the child’s best interest. What the child needs is the self-expectation of academic (and other) success beyond what today may seem possible for her to achieve, together with the intellectual and social tools to achieve it.

The third question for your child is this: What do you think you will learn next? I’ll leave you to think about that!

Thank you.

Next time: What kind of school is right for my child?

What will you hear teachers saying in a good school? Part 2

In the last article I described some of the ‘soft’ skills that you should expect to hear when an excellent teacher is talking to his or her students. This time, I will write about a few of the ‘technical’ or ‘professional’ speaking skills that are routinely used by expert teachers and which you will probably notice if you have the chance to visit a classroom. What follows are brief descriptions of five such skills, all of which are based on research confirming their effectiveness in influencing the quality of children’s learning:

1.    Teachers praise children’s effort, not their achievement.

Rationale: success in any aspect of life is based, at least in part, upon how much effort the individual or team is willing to expend in order to achieve that success. When a teacher praises a child’s achievement it can have the unfortunate effect of saying to the child, “You’ve done everything you need to do, well done”.  A child who hears this may therefore lose the motivation to continue. It is much better for the teacher to thank or praise a student for their hard work, thereby conveying the message to the child that further hard work will help raise the child’s level of achievement – which is always true!

2.    Teachers do not give feedback to the student in order to provide ‘comfort’.

Rationale: At first this idea may seem harsh. After all, we all like to be comforted don’t we? But let’s consider the example of a child who has just performed badly on a test, perhaps an end of term mathematics test. The teacher who says,” Never mind, I know it was a difficult test and you did your best” may seem to be kind, but it’s the wrong sort of kindness! The message the child hears is “I’m not very good at maths and I could not expect to do better.” A child who thinks she cannot do better will certainly not do better in future! The skill of the teacher is to use supportive language to the student while helping her consider how she can do better in future.

3.    Teachers use open-ended questions.

Rationale: A fundamental aim of teaching (and parenting) is to help students improve their learning (much more on this in future posts). Open-ended questions are those which imply that there may be more than one answer to a question. An example of an open-ended question is: “What are the likely results of this experiment?”. The effect of open-ended questions is to encourage the child to search for multiple answers, which is how an individual’s learning and the whole of human knowledge develop. The teacher who asks only closed questions such as, “What conclusion did you reach from reading this chapter?” is in effect saying to the student, “There is only one answer to this question and I know what it is.” Closed questions result in closed minds.

4.    Teachers use both the “approachable” and the “credible” voices* when speaking to students.

Rationale: The “approachable” or “invitational” voice has a softness of tone and, in the English language as well as some others, may have an upwards inflection at the end of the sentence. This voice invites the children to participate in the discussion and is used by teachers in many contexts including when they want to check with students what they have understood. The “credible” voice has a stern tone and sentences may end with a falling inflection. A teacher is correct to use this when giving firm instructions or in cases of emergency. An extreme example would be the case of giving directions to children during an emergency evacuation. When choosing which voice to use, the key thing for the teacher to remember is that children take more note of the tone of the teacher’s voice than the actual words she uses.

5.    Teachers use silence as a means to improve students’ learning.

Rationale: There is nothing wrong with the enthusiastic ‘buzz’ that we often hear in a classroom where children are learning well. But sometimes the old saying ‘silence is golden’ can also true. A good example is when the teacher asks a question to the whole class. The skilful teacher will not allow the quickest student to call out an answer. Instead, she will insist upon a period of silence while all students have the opportunity to think their answers through. This is called ‘wait time’** and its skilful use has been found to improve the thinking of every child.

There are many other speaking skills that are used by excellent teachers, but those I have described above may be of particular interest to parents who ask themselves, “How should I speak to my child?”

Thank you.

*Many of the strategies that we use when working with children and adults are described in an excellent book by Robert Garmston and Bruce Wellman entitled The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups.

** The term “wait time”, known to most teachers, was coined by Mary Budd Rowe in the 1970s. If you are interested to learn more, you will find plenty of information about it on the Internet.

Next time: Three questions that will tell me how well my child is being taught (for parents’ eyes only!).


What will you hear teachers saying in a good school?

There are so many things to listen out for when you visit a school. Most important are the things that you hear the teachers and students saying – and the way that they say them. If you are a current or prospective parent, or perhaps an applicant teacher, it’s good to know exactly what you should expect to hear in a happy and high achieving classroom.

First, though, I wish to give you an outline of the next few articles so that you understand the sequence of what I am writing. In this article and the next I will explain ten things that you will be sure to hear excellent teachers saying in the classroom. Following that I’ll suggest some simple questions to ask your child – or indeed any student.  The answers they give to these questions will tell you how well they are being taught.  Finally in this group of articles, I will explain why the student’s personal expectations of success are vitally important and how the parent and teacher can contribute to raising those expectations.

I’ll start today with five of the ‘soft’ skills that you should expect to hear when an excellent teacher is talking to his or her students. These apply to all ages and grade (year) levels. By ‘soft’ skills I mean the tone of voice and the choice of vocabulary that the teacher chooses. To the listener these provide a window into the mindset* of the teacher. Excellent teachers have a positive or ‘growth’ mindset about their students and about the expectations they have for each student’s academic achievement. Children are sensitive to the language and tone of voice used by their teachers, and they respond accordingly. They thrive in the classroom of the teacher who is positively disposed towards them. You will no doubt recall this from your own days as a schoolchild!

1.    Teachers use language that shows that they trust their students.

Rationale: Nobody responds well to a teacher, mentor, or friend who does not trust them. Unless a student feels trusted she will not accept responsibility for her own learning, nor will she be held accountable for her learning or her behaviour. Without trust there is a vicious circle of despair.

2.    Teachers use respectful language towards every student.

Rationale: All students deserve equal respect regardless of their academic achievement to date (called ‘readiness’), ethnicity, language proficiency, religion, cultural sensitivities and so forth. The teacher needs to be able to adapt his or her language according to the individual child. The key skills for the teacher are the ability to listen to themselves and observe the reactions of their students.

3.    Teachers use language that shows they care for their students.

Rationale: Students in school are not young adults. They are children in the process of learning about how to think and how to live. Teachers are responsible for their welfare – in fact they act in loco parentis, which means they are standing in place of the parent. A survey of American students about their teachers some years ago showed that some 60% of high school students wanted their teachers to care for them more than anything else. This may not have been the easiest thing for older teenagers to admit!

4.    Teachers are honest with their students.

Rationale: Like everyone else in this world, children rely on those around them to be honest. This includes being told the hard truth – but in a kindly way that includes counselling on how to improve. A teacher who shields a child from her misunderstandings or shortcomings is telling that child that she should be satisfied with the way things are. This shows a ‘fixed’ mindset, which prevents the student from growing.

5.    Teachers do not ‘dumb down’ their language for students.

Rationale: The use of simplified or ‘baby’ language by the teacher is disrespectful. Just because a word is long, or the students haven’t heard it before, does not mean that they cannot be helped to understand it. The important thing is for the teacher to know each student’s readiness to understand the concept that the word represents. A short word can represent a deep concept – and vice versa.

It is not difficult to recognise and appreciate the ‘soft’ skills of effective teacher-talk when you hear it. However, it may take years of training and experience – and learning from each other – to be able to use these skills. It is one of the teaching skills that your child’s success in school depends upon. The same can be said, of course, of the language used by the parent in the home. If you are a parent it may be useful to consider your own ‘soft’ language skills when talking with your son or daughter.

Thank you.

*If you would like to find out more about mindset, read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Next time: What are some of the technical skills that you will hear when an excellent teacher is talking to his or her students?




What does a good school look like?

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.

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.

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?