Finding an Education That Makes Sense for Your Child: The Top Five Questions to Ask
Over these months of distance learning, parents have had a unique window into their children’s schooling and had a chance to see two things: 1) what kind of learner your child is, and 2) what education they are actually receiving. Once witnessed, these cannot be unseen, and they will have a direct impact on the decisions you make for your child’s education. Compromise is not an option.
The search for an education that makes sense for your child can be daunting. Parents are now reconsidering the entire educational landscape, opening to new directions and approaches. Many who previously would not have done so are now exploring private school options.
You begin with a web search of schools in your area along with Facebook, mom’s groups, or NextDoor to hear from other parents, and see what the buzz is about various schools. Next, you browse the school websites and narrow your search to about three schools because too many can be overwhelming. Then, you reach out and arrange a tour. Visiting the campuses and examining the feel and flow of the school itself is critical to your decision.
Before you tour, generate a list of questions to ask at each prospective school. Your preparation before you meet is one of the most valuable steps and often overlooked by parents. Finally, you go on the tours, ask questions, take in the atmosphere, interview them in depth. While the responses will vary between schools, it will be obvious when you hear your own priorities and values reflected in those responses.
The first question though, is one to ask yourself – What kind of education experience do I want for my child?
Is it important that your child have strong academics and be prepared for Harvard? How important is having good friends? Developing strong social emotional skills? Becoming a well-rounded and capable human being? All of the above? When visiting schools, it’s essential to ask which of your priorities and expectations will be met and how. Or, if you will need to choose only certain priorities and look outside of the school for the additional support.
Beyond the pressing concern of providing in-person learning, here are the top questions we hear from parents touring our school:
1. Who are your teachers, how are they selected, and what is your hiring criteria? Are there distinct characteristics and qualifications you look for in your faculty? What do you view as the teacher’s role in your school?
Most children’s experience of school is rooted in the relationship they have with their teachers. Like all professions, teachers run a wide gamut of ability and style. Gaining insight into who is being entrusted with your child’s learning and why is a pivotal step in this process. For example, you should know that a teaching credential is not required in a private school. Every school’s priorities are reflected in their faculty.
Some schools have a curriculum that teachers implement while other schools expect teachers to develop curriculum based on their experience and preference. There is a range of expectations and responsibilities for a teacher and these vary quite a lot by institution. For example, whether teachers are responsible only for their class or for all students, whether they have duties outside of the classroom in support of the parent or school community, and how they interface with you as the parent, especially when your child is facing educational challenges.
2. What is the educational philosophy of the school and how does it compare to other models? How does the school describe an ideal student and the expectations they have for them by time they graduate? What is measured and prioritized on a day-to-day basis? How is the education your child would receive an expression of the school’s philosophy and model?
The curriculum, class structure and pedagogical method are all reflections of the school’s underlying philosophical framework. That framework will land somewhere along a continuum that ranges from being focused on specific content to being organized around student experiences. Learning can be oriented around the students as individuals or on the class as a group. There are risks and benefits to every approach to teaching and learning. What you want for your child is the right fit – a system that resonates with who they are and their unique abilities.
3. What is the school’s stance on technology and its place in your child’s day? How does the school incorporate technology in the classroom? How much screen time is anticipated for students?
Given the pervasiveness of technology and the internet in all of our lives, how a school handles technology is critical. An increasing body of literature shows that today’s fast‐paced technology and media‐infused society have a detrimental effect on the development of our children on many levels. It is reducing their capacity to create meaningful connections with others and the world around them. Increased technology and social media use directly correlates with the rise in sensory-processing and learning disorders, anxieties, mood disorders and depression among children. The school that supports the formative development of your child’s mind needs to have a set of values around technology that are compatible with your family.
4. How are school policies and decisions made? Who is running the school? How is the school governed? What role do parents play in the school?
As goes the leadership, so goes the school. Strong school leadership will be evident in the consistent teaching, professionalism of staff, and clear communications. When touring a school, you want to ask your questions of the person who is ultimately responsible for your child, whether that is the teacher, parent committee, Admissions Director, or Head of School. Clarity and accountability of the school leaders will tell you if this is a place where your child’s healthy development will be supported – no matter what it takes.
5. What about learning differences? How does the school address different learning abilities and learning styles? What about students experiencing anxiety, sensory-processing, or attention challenges? How are students assessed academically, socially, and developmentally? How will the school communicate with you in a way that supports your child’s progress?
In any given classroom, you can expect to find a range of abilities that spans three grade levels (for example, in a Third grade classroom, there will be students who demonstrate low Second grade to high Fourth grade abilities). All children develop unevenly, so you need a school that understands and addresses these variances in your child. The educational approach needs to embrace their learning difficulties while empowering their advantages.
Students might be offered remediation or extra support services. Whether this takes place within the classroom, in the spirit of inclusion, or if they have to be pulled out of class can have significant consequences on their self-confidence. A quality educational system today must be inclusive, teach to skill levels, and do so without creating apparent biases.
Finding the right educational approach, experience, and structure for your child is one of the most important decisions parents make. When your child is happy at school, you’ll be happy, too. As you explore your options, be fearless. Expect your questions and concerns to be taken seriously. Find the school and faculty that will be your partners in this educational journey. We see it every day. When the fit is right, your child flourishes. There is no reason to settle for less.