I have recently come across some readings that have prompted me to think more about what it means to create an ideal school environment. One reading is from an article that appeared in ‘Education Matters – Primary’, entitled ‘What makes a good school? What makes a good teacher?’ The other is from a paper, titled: ‘Qualities that parents value in choosing a school’, published by the AIS NSW Institute to review national and international research and explore whether the features parents value most in a school actually lead to better education outcomes. The latter examined the following features:
Good teachers | A supportive and caring environment | Good facilities – Educational excellence | Orderly and safe environment | Class size | Reinforcement of moral values
From the findings we can confirm that establishing a healthy school climate and culture are probably the most important areas for school leaders to focus on. I also believe that almost every other element of a successful school, such as good teachers, a supportive and caring environment, and high academic and behavioural standards is highly dependent upon the climate and culture that are in place. In addition, staff and students who feel valued, empowered, and supported will respond positively to such an environment and this is usually reflected in student outcomes and achievement.
As school leaders, we need to have good radars to detect and receive what parents expect from their child’s school and know how to deliver on those expectations. Without this sense, it will be a struggle to make a difference, and this impacts achievements and reputation.
According to David Zyngier, the author of the article in Education Matters, “A good school is an aggregation of good classrooms in which effective teaching and learning are taking place.” In these schools, learning is seen as the central purpose and takes precedence over everything else. High expectations are set for student learning with a deep belief in the ability of every student to learn and to achieve high standards. In these ideal schools, teachers encourage students to accept responsibility for their own learning and teach them how to continue learning throughout life. The teaching and interactions with students reflect the needs of each, with the understanding of each as individual.
Once again, Dr Zyngier identifies good schools by outstanding school cultures. Most importantly by the fact that students want to be there! Effective schools have a warm climate, where students feel welcome and know that the staff cares about them. Although there is pressure to perform, it comes in a way that promotes learning, with an expectation that students will excel and the support is provided to make it happen. In these schools, students have a sense of belonging and pride. They enjoy learning and are engaged and challenged. The school provides a physical and social setting that is safe, well organised and caring.
Finally, good schools are seen to have high levels of parent and community involvement. Parents are encouraged to take an active role in discussing, monitoring and supporting their children’s learning. The school itself is seen as an important part of the local community and it often finds ways to involve the community in the work of the school, as well as to establish partnerships with other agencies and businesses to advance school goals. Not all parents have the same expectations of schools and parents often have different priorities for their children. But research suggests that parents have a shared interest in seeing schools promote values such as respect for others, honesty, tolerance, fairness, and the pursuit of excellence.