Tuesday, May 03, 2011

What Makes a Good School?

For what it is worth this is my list:

Safe environment – you can’t learn if the roof leaks or if people are going to jump you from behind. The actual physical setting doesn’t need to be decorated or cutting edge but it should be in good condition, functional bathrooms and water fountains, classrooms, chairs and desks. Equipment doesn’t have to be state of the art but reasonably current. Each school should have a library and a librarian with at least one computer classroom, two in a large school. All schools will have some amount of tussling or fighting but there should be consequences for it. A strong code of conduct enforced with some consistency

School administration – sets tone and decides curriculum. School administrators (principals and superintendents ) decide who is in what class, both teachers and students, how monies are distributed, what sort of parental involvement is allowed and encouraged, and how much leeway teachers have. School board members also have a say in these decisions. Administrators who play favorites among the teachers for reasons other than ability and compassion (a lighter workload for someone taking chemo that year, for example), sour the sense of camaraderie among the staff. A good administrator will encourage innovation and cooperation.

Teachers – knowledgeable in their subject, interested in their students, and able to teach. Before becoming a teacher, students wanting to earn a teaching certificate must student teach for part of a year. This lets them work under a seasoned teacher and learn the ropes. Many students manage the curriculum with group instruction but there will always be some who march to a different drummer, and might need a little extra attention with one thing or another. A teacher who is willing to put in the time, work with support staff, and engage parents, to help that student develop coping mechanisms or learning paths. First and foremost a teacher knows the material and can express it to the students. While some good teachers are born most learn set skills either in college or on the job.
Students – fed, able to pay attention. Students with high expectations for themselves, in a group, raise the bar for everyone.

Parents – interested and involved. Students whose parents quiz them over their spelling words the night before the test are likely to do better than students whose parents don’t. Students whose parents place an emphasis on studying and getting good grades are likely to do better than students whose parents do. That isn’t a function of money or social status. That is a function of parenting. Parents who are involved in their children’s school and volunteer provide much needed labor and creativity.

Those aren’t the only factors in a great school but they’re the basics.

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