Recognizing ‘Best’ When Choosing The Best School For Your Child
What makes one school stand out over another?
What should parents look for when choosing a school? It’s a tough question, especially when the temptation is to answer, “Everything!” It’s hard to be satisfied with anything less than perfection when your child is the one in question.
As a teacher-leader and assessor, I’ve interacted with more than 4,000 Indian parents, and I get asked this question a lot. While it’s natural to pursue choosing the best school for your child, it’s hard to determine what makes one school stand out over another. School visits can be rushed and confusing. There are, however, some key checkpoints to look out for while making a decision.
Check 1. The journey to and from
Parents know schools must ensure their child’s safety on the premises, but a child’s journey between home and school can feel like a no man’s land. Find out whether the school shares responsibility for safe passage with the parents. Learn what travel arrangements the school offers, and check to see if they have safety measures in place to manage students’ arrival and departure. When choosing a school, it might be helpful to visit at the start or end of the school day to observe if the school supervises daily arrival and departure and the management of traffic around the school.
Check 2. Involved leadership
The best school leaders know how to interact with parents and students both calmly and warmly. I know school leaders, not just principals, who are visible and present throughout the school day, talking with and listening to students and parents. They are accessible. Parents should feel assured, not intimidated, when speaking with school leaders. Children should feel understood and cared for. When choosing a school, take a tour; look out for principals and other school leaders, and observe if they’re talking to students and interested in what they are learning.
Check 3. Helping students cope
Parents should feel that their child is safe and valued. School faculty should care about ensuring their child is happy and successful. Parents are concerned when their child is distressed about school, whether it is because of their studies, their interactions with teachers, or their relationship to peers. Situations at home can also be a source of stress, which is why it’s important for schools to provide support to students who are having difficulty coping. When choosing a school, ask if students know who to turn to if they need to talk about their issues, whether learning problems or social problems.
Check 4: Quality learning
Recently, the UK’s school inspection service undertook a survey of parental attitudes towards school. It revealed that parents saw the quality of teaching as their number one priority. But in India, because of the extreme importance many families place on the academic success of their children, after-school tuitions have reduced an emphasis on quality teaching. Because they assume students are doing most of their learning after school, many schools reduce the breadth of what they teach. Parents shouldn’t assume their child will do most of their learning in tuitions. Look for schools that place importance on comprehensive learning in the classroom. A school should value teaching and learning as much as they do results. Watch out for schools that only promote their test scores, placements, and other statistics; look for schools that also talk about fostering a fruitful, healthy academic environment.
Check 5: Holistic education
After-school tuitions also cut down on time for co-curriculars, and schools often forgo offering after-school activities. Parents should look for schools that are more aware of the impact of a holistic education on the lives of their children, and schools that value well-being and happiness in addition to academic achievement. On a tour, find out whether co-curricular activities are offered. Speak with students and their families to learn if there is an emphasis on a balanced lifestyle, and if the activities available are well organized and stimulating for students.
Check 6. Parental involvement
Traditionally, parents have not had free access to their child’s school and so know and understand little about their child’s school life. But now, schools are beginning to adapt a more open channel of communication with parents. When choosing a school, parents should look for teachers and school leaders who are willing to communicate and work together to help their children. For many parents, school involvement is restricted to parent-teacher meetings and those occasions when they are called to the principal’s office about their child’s behavior. But a good school endeavors to make parents welcome for a variety of events, showcases students’ abilities and talents to families, and lets parents get involved in their child’s education. Look for a school that encourages parent and school forums, and find out if there are opportunities for parents to get involved with events.
Spokey Wheeler is the co-founder of Adhyayan, a movement and network of Indian and international educators dedicated to improving the quality of leadership and learning in schools. They have worked with nearly 400 schools across 26 states, impacting close to half a million students.