Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What is a great school?

Lately we have been told how to recognize a great school.   According to the common wisdom great schools have students who test well on the standardized tests and they are taught by teachers who are skilled at getting students to have high test scores.
I disagree on multiple levels.   From my way of thinking these are the elements of a great school.
Engaged teachers who care about the students.   At one level, I don't really care what the student test scores are.   I want the teachers to know whether or not a child's parents have just separated, a grandparent has moved in with the family or a cherished pet has died.   I want the teachers to connect with the kids on a human level.  I think this is good because as a student if I know my teacher cares about me, then I will care what that teacher is trying to get me to do and I will learn more.  There are lots of research studies that show kids learn more from people they like.
Next, I want engaged teachers who care about the school.  I want the staff to tell people in the community that they teach at a great school.  At a great school, staff work together to make the school policies and they support those policies by their behavior.  Teachers and administrators work together to keep policies in place and people do not blame each other for policies not being workable or enforced.  Administrators AND teachers are committed to great teaching.   Great teaching is not just the responsibility of administrators, teachers too try to get better at their jobs and support administrators who do their job of removing weak teachers.  Administrators have the gumption to do their jobs and remove weak teachers.
Great schools have shared decision making.  This decision making includes teachers.  Teachers don't just get to voice their opinions, their opinions count into the decisions that are made.  At great schools teachers are considered to have just as much to add to the discussions about the school as do the administrators.
Lastly great schools show respect for students and staff.   Teachers treat kids as if they counted and treat them with respect.  That means no sarcasm, and no saying things to students that they would never say to another adult.  Teachers have respect for each other.  If one teacher has a difficult teaching issue she or he feels comfortable turning to another teacher for guidance and assistance.  There is no diminution of respect for a staff member just because that staff member asks for help.
Great test scores do not make great schools, but great schools certainly do contribute to great test scores.

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