As an Educational Consultant and a mom with two small children, I have run into countless parents asking for advice on how to choose the right school for their child. Parents have an unprecedented array of choices when it comes to schooling today, and it is this array of choices that is stressing them out. They worry what type of school will best meet their child’s needs. They wonder if they should go public or private. And they fear that they might make the wrong decision. Here’s some advice if you are one of these parents:
Just like other aspects of our consumer-driven society, all schools are in the position to recruit students. It is never too much to ask to set up a meeting with the principal, visit classrooms, or meet with teachers. If a school seems to be less-than-responsive to these types of requests, it is an indication of potential climate issues that should be explored further.
Find out when the best time of day is to visit so you can observe during instructional time, and be sure to observe across the grades so you get a complete picture of the whole school. While observing, pay attention to how the teacher interacts with students. Does the teacher seem to like the kids? Does the teacher provide enough structure so that the class runs smoothly? Does the teacher also give the students freedom so they have the time and opportunity to discover new learning? My guiding question is always, “Would I want to be a student here”.
Odds are, if you have school age kids, you were in school about 30 years ago. Just like all professions, education has changed a lot in the past 30 years and schools look remarkably different today than they did in the 1970’s. When choosing a school, parents are sometimes comforted by the familiar, but the familiar isn’t always how children learn best.
Elementary school classrooms can tell you a lot about instruction. When you visit schools, look for classrooms that have meeting areas where the class comes together to discuss ideas and share. Look for desks or tables that are clustered into conversational settings. Desks in rows, albeit familiar, indicate that students are isolated in their daily work…something that is no longer considered good instructional practice.
Classrooms should be bursting with books that are accessible and are at the students’ reading level. Most elementary classrooms today have a classroom library that is organized by reading level. Look for a school that spends money to provide teachers with the tools they need.
“Math what?” you might ask. Math manipulatives are the hands-on tools we use to teach math so the students not only understand how to solve math problems but also have a conceptual understanding of the math behind the problem. Ask the teacher if and how these are used with students.
This is the hard part…no school is going to be perfect. Whether it is an upscale private school or the neighborhood school down the street, there will inevitably be challenges for your child. There will be years when your child has a teacher that is terrific and years when the teacher might not be top notch. There will also be times when you wonder if you made the right decision. If you’ve read this far, it’s fair to assume that you are a parent who cares deeply about the success of your child, and for that reason alone your child will be just fine. Well, maybe even better than fine.
This is a guest post written by Diane Sweeney of Spark Innovation. Remember, it’s not all about test scores.
Diane Sweeney is Lead Consultant for Spark Innovation, an organization that provides consulting support to school districts across the US. In the past, she has been a classroom teacher, a literacy coach, a trainer for literacy coaches, and an instructor at the university level.