Tools For Making “Your Choice”
While all parents have at one time or another longed for a clear instruction guide to help navigate the waters of the hardest job anybody will ever do, the harsh reality is that is doesn’t exist. So, as you wade through the waters of choosing a school for your child, the hope is to bring a little more clarity and understanding to the process. Clarity starts with asking yourself the questions to determine what factors might motivate you to make a choice.
5 Questions a Parent Should Ask a School Before Enrolling Their Child
- Do kids leave school with a smile on their face?
- What are your expectations for student performance?
- How do you challenge students?
- How do you support students?
- How can I help?
While the above are the questions, the items below can help to guide the conversation and other key factors to consider.
Does your child come home with loads of papers and activities each week or do you find yourself wondering what is actually being done at school each day? Engaged and busy students tend to be happy students. On the flip side, is the amount of work seemingly overwhelming to your child? Finding the right balance between feeling challenged but not overwhelmed is a great step to choosing the right school!
Are the expectations of your child at school consistent with your expectations at home? Do you feel as though the school sets expectations for your child that pushes them to grow while building confidence in their learning? Having clear expectations from a school for both yourself and your child is a key to finding the right school. As a parent, you know best how your child is motivated to learn and the structure of rules that is most effective. Additionally, as a parent, you know the level of involvement you want to have in your child’s education. Ensuring that everybody’s expectations are clearly articulated and resources are in place to reach them is a great first step to choosing the right school!
Does the principal appear to be engaged in the students and are there processes in place to support teachers? Principals should exude passion around each child and teacher, building both to be the best they can be. As great leaders walk the halls, students engage and respect them. The school is well organized and students are happy. Great principals build a great culture between students, parents and teachers.
Do the teachers appear to be engaged with students at individual levels or do they show up to teach a class? Do teachers make themselves available to parents and students after school hours in order to promote the growth of each child? Does the classroom instruction appear to be creative, interactive and differentiated among various groups of students? Are the teachers proactive in communicating expectations and progress towards expectations with students and parents? Engaged and committed teachers can create a great school environment even when other considerations might not be to par. Great teachers create great students!
Making a decision for a child that will have lifelong effects is not easy. As a parent, you have likely spent hours after hours evaluating the choices you have made so far. In the world of school choice, your gut reaction has great value. You know your child better than anybody and therefore know the type of environment in which they will be comfortable, hence successful. Whether it is the classroom setup, a gymnasium or even if there are lockers in the hallways, visiting a school will give you a gut reaction. While there are numerous other factors that go into a school that can help you choose between multiple schools, the value of taking a school tour to experience the “gut” reaction is irreplaceable.
As a parent, you have your own definition of “good” parent engagement. Parent engagement encompasses descriptions such as active parent organizations, frequency and ease of communications, opportunities for parent/teacher conferences and depth of parent accountability. The role of parents within a school’s culture should clearly be articulated and aligned with each individual parent’s vision for their involvement within the school.
Each school has chosen a specific curriculum that is aligned across all grade levels. As a parent, you could research the effectiveness of the curriculum across various demographic fields in order to determine if it will work for your child. But, is that really feasible and does that really answer the question of rigor? No! Regardless of curriculum, the question you should ask is regarding classroom management and teaching styles. Any curriculum can be made more or less rigorous to align with each students needs if systems are established to proactively assess each student’s progress towards outcomes. Many schools use data to guide the rigor of instruction. Data can be collected through ongoing online testing or interim assessments throughout the year. Understanding your child’s needs and asking the school leader and teacher how those needs will be addressed is critical. This will ensure that both the teacher is committed to helping your child and that leadership is supportive in that effort.
How many times have you shown up to a parent/teacher conference and been surprised by what you heard? Has there ever been a time in which a teacher would not make him/herself available for a meeting outside of conferences? Vice versa. Have you experienced great responsiveness and communication within a school environment? Just as parent engagement, the level and depth of desired responsiveness from a school is unique to each parent. Each parent has a threshold of being contacted. It is important that you feel supported around that threshold, no matter what the tolerance level. Ask the school how they handle disciplinary and/or academic challenges in order to assess if the responsiveness meets your expectations.
Every school strives for safety for each child both within the walls of the school and within the surrounding community. As a parent, you must feel confident that safety policies are inclusive of the items necessary to be effective. Some schools may have onsite security and some may have metal detectors, but all must have emergency plans for crisis situations. As a parent, do not make assumptions as to the value that a school places on safety. You make the choice!
Throughout this site and everywhere your turn, you will see student achievement results. So, what exactly do they mean? The answer is “it depends”. Academic success is ultimately what any school is striving for. Academic success should not be reserved for any specific demographic. And, academic achievement should be considered in every education decision. However, the impact of achievement results may weigh less than other factors dependent on your situation. A school with what may appear to be low scores may be growing students faster than other schools. A school may have a specific grade that has been affected due to the influx of students in a particular year. Understanding the story behind results is the most critical tool a parent has in making a decision for education. Ensure that the school you choose for your child has a clear picture of their current achievement and an even clearer vision for how they will improve that in the future. All of the items addressed above will be key inputs of how achievement is achieved and all should be considered in your decision.
Understanding the Effects of Environment on Behavior
The Inclusive Community on the PBS Parents web resource forum, presents “Five Facts Every Family Should Know”. These facts include with much more depth the following:
- All behavior is a form of communication.
- There is always a reason for problem behavior.
- There can be many reasons behind one specific behavior.
- Adults can learn to understand and interpret children’s challenging behavior.
- Children’s challenging behavior can be reduced with support, not punishment.
As a parent, if your child struggles with behavior challenges, it is vital to understand the approach that any school you consider will take on behavior. Does behavior automatically link to a suspension due to a safety concern in the school? Are counseling services available within the school? Are teachers empowered to make accommodations for individual students when needed? Does the environment within the school reduce known triggers (i.e. large groups, undefined expectations, safety, etc.) And, are parents involved in the process of identifying the communication that is coming from the student?
Ultimately, you must choose if a school will help or hinder your child’s behavioral tendencies.
For more information and resources on how to choose the right school, click here to explore a four-part series done by “Take Part” that offers advice for parents on what to look for in a school, what questions to ask – and when to be concerned.