My colleague and friend recently posted 3 questions that she needed answered for a graduate level class. Those questions were: What makes a good school? What makes a good student? What makes a good teacher? In my mind these questions are foundational and spark an interesting conversation that is worthy of further analysis. I also think that there is one question that was not asked, and often is avoided in talking about improving schools, it is included too.
What Makes a Good School?
Like so many things in education, it depends. In my mind a good school is one that is responsive and receptive to the needs of the community. A good school focuses on raising responsible citizens rather than on raising test scores. Good schools provide relevant, real world experiences that light a fire in the students. In a good school decisions are never made to provide window dressing to district higher ups. When good schools improve it is because their students are actually learning and growing in all areas not just appearing to grow via specialized test instruction. Teachers in a good school have cultural capital and can relate to students. Good schools are safe and students feel welcome, this is a whole school effort, everyone must be on the same page. Administrators back up teachers and teachers feel publicly supported in all situations. The school should be a meeting place and community center piece not only meant for students, but also their parents and family members. Good schools have a strong foundational mission, their “why” is apparent and bought into by all staff members.
What Makes a Good Student?
A good student is able to consistently push him or herself to and through failure. Successful students are able to be coached, guided, and lead through content to reach a higher level of understanding. Good students make their peers better. This can be done through example or through directly helping peers with difficult concepts. Good students add to the school community, lifting up their peers to create a positive atmosphere. For a good student the grade is not as important as the learning. They are able to transfer learning from content to content but also from content to real life. Growth mindset is essential for good students, they understand that they can improve and get better, however, they also understand that it takes work to grow.
What Makes a Good Teacher?
Good teachers can create a connection with students that lights a spark. Good teachers understand that it is more important to give students a foundation for life than it is to move the needle on standardized tests. They also possess cultural capital in the community in which they teach and they are able to relate to and understand where their students are coming from. Good teachers are not friends with their students; rather, they are role models who can lead positively while also holding students accountable. The best teachers are flexible; they know that it is more about the student and their needs, not simply teaching what has always worked. Good teachers see learning opportunities in the mundane, they know that every moment in a day is a chance for students to grow. This is not only growth in an academic sense but also growth as a human being, learning to be caring is more important that learning the which is the x and y axis, how to spell impenetrable, or how to decode DNA. Like students, good teachers possess and project a growth mindset for their students. Good teachers know that it isn’t about where their students start, it is about where they finish.
The Missing Piece!
We cannot improve our schools or have “good schools” without good parents. Good parents push their child to be their best, good parents also hold a growth mindset for their children. When the child experiences success good parents celebrate by saying, “Nice job! Your hard work paid off!” Rather than, “You are so smart!” In doing so they support the idea of a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Good parents talk with their children, not only about school, but also about who they want to become in life and what type of person they want to be. They teach them about right and wrong and how to navigate sticky situations with friends, teachers, and even other family members. Parents lay the foundation for student success, when we see students without this foundation the teachers and other adults in the student’s life must step up and lay the foundation before anything else.
School Growth Perfection!
When administrators, teachers, parents, and the student are pulling in the same direction, great growth can happen. When any one of these stakeholders is lacking, growth will not be as high as it could be. If any 2 of the 4 are lacking in a student’s life, then learning, for that particular student, is likely going to be very stunted and difficult. The push, therefore, should be on how to improve parent engagement and teacher accountability, rather than focusing on the minutiae, look at the big picture, we need to be raising students, not just their test scores.
What do you think? Add comments below to keep the discussion going!
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English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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