Characteristics Of The Best Schools

Characteristics Of The Best Schools
What are the characteristics of the best schools? We explore what makes some schools the best schools.

Now and then, the question that occurs to me, as it should to you, is precisely why I think a particular school is one of the best. I have to conclude that the best schools have all of the following characteristics. What's more, they have them in abundance. Now, before you start thinking that I am only talking about older established schools, that ain't necessarily so. I am aware of a couple of newer schools that fit neatly into the category of best schools simply because they have all of the characteristics explained below. So let's look at what I think are the traits of the best schools.

Great leadership

The best schools have strong, dynamic, dedicated leaders. They are led by women and men who envision their goals. They also have the experience to execute their plans to achieve that vision. The head of the best school is a superb fund-raiser. She is a capable administrator. She leads by example. She expects the best from everybody in her school community.

This video from Loomis Chafee illustrates the school's global perspective.

The solid support of the trustees

I know of several schools which could have been great. But they never made it because their fractious board of trustees kept getting in the way of progress. Change is never easy. But it seems that boards often have a rather difficult time with change. That always surprises me because most board members come from business backgrounds. You would think they would understand that change is inevitable and that they should guide the changes and ensure their success rather than sitting there stubborn and rebellious. When the head of school tries to bring the school in line with all sorts of variables, such as changing demographics, a reduced applicant pool, an underperforming endowment, and so on, the board needs to work with her and develop a plan to manage change. In the best schools, the board leads the charge. Cheerfully and capably.

Financial solid backing by their graduates

In many ways, a school is only as good as the financial backing its graduates provide. While every head of school dreams of that unexpected $25 million endowment, the reality is that you need to cultivate your graduates. Regular communications, alum events, homecoming, and reunion weekends must be part of the mix to generate a solid financial response from your graduates.

Stellar faculty

At the heart of the best schools' mission is first-rate teaching. That requires well-educated, well-trained professional teachers passionate about what they teach. They are also passionate about teaching young people. That kind of teaching is right up there with a calling, in my opinion. It requires focus and patience, which is not often needed in other branches of the profession, such as adult education. I have taught both groups. I always find that adults are in the classroom because they want to get ahead by earning credits or a diploma. Young people, particularly teenagers, are in such a flux that the professional focus and patience we bring to our work are essential. It is a hallmark of the faculty at the best schools.

Extensive academics

Extensive academics do not mean many AP courses or an IB curriculum, but I strongly feel that course content is essential. But it is equally important for young people to have lots of subjects to explore. They can do that at the best schools. The approach may differ from school to school, but in almost every case I can think of, the best schools offer many subjects for their students to explore.

This video from The Latin School of Chicago describes its fine corps of teachers.

Extensive athletics

As I have mentioned in several other articles about private schools, athletics are just part of the program. They are not optional. They are designed to teach young people the values of competition, teamwork, and respect for others. Wait! Aren't those the same things taught across the academic side anyway? Yes. That's an integrated approach to educating the whole child. The best schools are good at teaching those values.

Extensive extracurricular activities

Tied in with extensive academic and athletic offerings are the extracurricular activities. The best schools offer a host of activities. Some are relatively recent additions to the roster, while others are perennial favorites. Because the extracurricular activities in a private school are guided and supervised by a faculty or staff member, they function at a high level at the best schools.

Superb facilities

The best schools have truly remarkable facilities. I have in mind a smallish Montessori school and a rather grand, old, established boarding school. The little Montessori school is the best, in my opinion, because it elevates the ideals and principles of Montessori education to a level far above anything else I have seen. Everything you would expect is there.

Conversely, the boarding school is housed on hundreds of acres of beautiful property. It has athletic facilities that rival the facilities found at many universities. Its learning centers and classrooms invite you to participate in the discussion and learn.

The little Montessori and the larger boarding school accomplish the same purpose, right? They are creating an atmosphere in which children can explore. An atmosphere in which order and beauty abound allows a child to feel safe and to dream. The best schools encourage dreaming. Creativity is an essential part of the mix in the best schools. Superb facilities create the backdrop against which such things can indeed happen.

Graduates accomplish things

Go back and review what the graduates of the best schools have accomplished. The best schools expect greatness, and the graduates will live up to those expectations. Students at the best schools didn't just get by. They wanted to do their best. By exerting themselves, they accomplished more than they could have ever imagined.

The best schools are the best schools because they offer not one or two of the characteristics on the list above. They offer them all.

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