school

'I'm a school teacher. Here are 4 things to consider when choosing a school for your child.'

Gather round, team. It’s nearly the end of 2021 - thankfully - and with that time of November comes another classic period of time. No, not Christmas (but, geez I can’t wait for that), or New Year celebrations. 

In many kitchens around Australia, many an elbow or hand is precariously resting on a bench top, or finger swiping a phone screen, as parents discuss and look at schools for the future.

Well, we’re here to help. So, take a moment and hold that pointer finger to the side. Relax that elbow, throw on the kettle, and make yourself a cuppa.

Watch: Here are some of the things that teachers never say. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia.

Let’s jump into some tips to consider as you look ahead and consider schools for your child.

The school leaders really matter.

The teachers are the glue and most important resource within a school. They are the front line to helping your child, a class, and the school make that positive impact on those little humans of ours. Whilst the teachers are the front line, the leaders within a school shape and guide the tone, feel, and direction of a school - for good or bad.

If you can, chat with the principal, assistant principal, or members of the leadership team. If the leader genuinely sounds like they care about students, their staff, and the community, that can go a long way.

Do they know people’s names? (While 'mate', 'guys', 'girls' can be informal greetings or terms of endearment, we all know you don’t know someone’s name once these are overused).

If they know what is happening in classrooms, can talk to you about the programs or areas of focus within the school - confidently and with details - they are showing what they value: learning, teaching, and most importantly, the students' and teachers' experiences.

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It’s okay to ask how they support students requiring more support or enrichment. 

For some reason, in the years I’ve been in schools, parents get worried about being "that parent" who thinks their child is a genius. Just simply ask how they support or enrich students and listen for the details. 

There’s a fair chance they’ll use the word 'differentiation'. This is a good first step. 

In classrooms that really know students, teachers are great at making tweaks to learning experiences, or instructions, so that every child can get into and progress their learning (This is at the heart of teaching and is also what can make it so incredibly amazing and complex).

If you see whole classes of students getting the same worksheet, and this happens in multiple classrooms, consider it a red flag. (Though keep in mind on that day they may be completing some sort of assessment, too! When in doubt, just ask).

Talk to the students and ask about their experiences.

Remember, school is definitely not just about reading, writing, and arithmetic. They are communities unto themselves, full of unique rich events, traditions, beliefs, and values. 

Like I always used to say to my classes - when we’re doing it well, they can feel like a family away from our families. 

Schools - like all organisations - can be great at professing values or buzzwords. 

'Collaboration', 'global learner', 'critical thinker', 'personalised learning'. They’re all easy to say, but harder to do well. 

Use the times on tours to see and listen for really specific examples of values or buzzwords. If they profess Respect or Dignity - do people do the simple and small things, like holding a door for someone, using people’s names, or not talking over people? Do they have signs, posters, or examples within the school of what this looks like? (Such as kid friendly posters, awards celebrating these, or teachers in the halls smiling or greeting you). 

If you’re lucky enough to have students take you on a tour, use it as a great opportunity to hear straight from the horse's mouth about school life. Ask them about their times as a student, what the school values mean to them, or even:

What’s a good day look like in class for you?

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What are you proud of with this school?

If you could tell me anything about this school, what would it be?

What’s something my daughter/son in Year XXXX should know?

What are some things that could make it even better?

You know your child best, as well as what your family values really are, so listen and see if the answers you hear connect with these. But just remember that these are just kids you are speaking with, so keep the tone friendly and remember they might just tell you about the playground or the canteen food - they're kids after all.

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Open Days are great, but see if you can check out the school on a normal day.

This is a final tip that can’t always work, but I always recommend it. Some schools will always have set days or times for tours. School leaders are incredibly busy, so keeping set times for tours is something that has to happen so they can focus on the key aspects of the school: creating the conditions for any child to succeed (in all its various forms!).

If you can, see if you can explore the school in action on a typical day. 

Keep in mind that no place is perfect, but watch and enjoy (and if you see some great things, make sure to let the school know so they pass it onto the teachers and students).

Okay, you’re armed and ready with some tips, questions, and tricks to explore the big bad world that is a school. The only thing that’s left now is to get out there and make that decision. 

Trust yourself and your knowledge of your child. Lean in, breathe, and enjoy the fun of it all.

Dan Steele is an assistant principal, teaching coach and dad of two with a masters in educational leadership. If you're interested in more posts by Daniel, head to his blog Upgrade Think Learn or his Instagram page @upgradethinklearn.

Feature Image: Getty.

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