Wednesday, February 20, 2013

choosing a school (2) how we did it

Choosing a school  is a huge decision - and a scary one! I'm often asked how we did it.

Here are the steps I go through when choosing a school.

1. I visit the local schools
  • I call in advance and ask for a tour.
  • I ask to visit on a normal school day (not an open day, when everything and everyone has been prepared!).
  • The principal is incredibly important in shaping a school's culture. Make a time to get to know them. Bonus points if they take you on the tour.
(Do this well ahead of time - a year, two years. You want time to think.)

2. My goal is to observe and get a "feel" for the school. 
As I look around, I ask myself questions like these:
  • do the kids look happy? Are they engaged and interested? Are they polite and well-behaved? Are they friendly? Do they smile and make eye contact?
  • how do the kids talk to the teachers? How do the teachers talk to the kids? What about the principal? I was very impressed when our principal greeted the kids we ran into by name, and they responded enthusiastically.
  • how does the school see itself? e.g. as a professional environment with lots of programs (nice but not necessary) or as a community school with lots of local involvement (this ticks the boxes for me)
It's amazing how much you can pick up about the "feel" of a school from a single visit, and how accurate this generally proves to be. (If you're not good at "feel", maybe take someone with you who is.)

3. I ask lots of questions. 
I write them down on a sheet and ask them all, even if it's tiring! Questions like:
  • what would you say if someone asked you, "Why should I send my kids to this school?" 
  • how do you handle discipline issues? Bullying?
  • how do you cater for kids at both ends of the learning spectrum?
  • how would you feel about a Christian group running at lunchtime?
  • etc etc etc... 
You can find lists of questions like this online. Print them out, add your own, and take them along. Never be embarrassed to ask!

Oh, and don't set too much store by local rumours.
You'll hear all kinds. Listen, but make up your own mind. You know your kids and what you're looking for!

Now it's over to you. How did you choose your kids' school? Any other suggestions?

Tell us here.

Next time I'll give you some examples.


simone r said...

I agree that there's nothing like visiting a school on a normal school day to get the feel for it.

In my experience, it isn't necessary for the principal to know all the kids' names. In our current primary school - 1100 kids - it isn't going to happen. But the principal has his finger on the pulse as far as the teachers are concerned. He regularly (every week!) comes into classrooms and watches teachers teach. He sees it as his job to employ the best teachers he can, and the school's tone and outcomes reflect this.

As a teacher myself, I know how much time can be wasted at school. I know how poor school management and poor teaching can cause kids to lose the love of learning and disengage. I also know how good it can be. When we moved to Cairns I was looking for schools where I thought our kids would be engaged. I was after good music programs (music brings joy into the school day!) and thorough academic work for students at all levels.

I guess I wasn't looking for a cosy environment, but a stretching one.

Jean said...

Thanks, Simone, that's very helpful! Yep, our kids go to a smaller school (although still over 500) so knowing names is easier.

Meredith said...

When we were doing a bit of school hunting another thing I did was park my car outside the school at home time and watch the state of the kids as they tumbled out of the school. I was less inclined towards schools where the kids schlumped out of the school, preferring the schools where the kids come out looking like they have had a good day.

Jean said...