Saturday, March 3, 2012

Five Things That Make A School Great

I'm getting pretty tired of the attack-the-public-schools mentality that is circulating in the media. It's nothing new.  Public schools are ready targets for anyone who wants to talk about what's wrong with society in general and children in particular.  The current take on public schools is that they were created to make students into compliant workers in factories and that they haven't changed that focus in a zillion years.   I recently saw a new post by Seth Godin, someone I usually enjoy reading because of his creative and innovative thinking,  that restated that premise.  I don't doubt that there are some schools that have the wrong focus, much like there are some businesses that continue to operate as though they were dealing with widgets and not people as employees.  However, I think it's about time that schools get some credit for what they do not only right... but exceedingly, exceptionally well.  It's interesting to me to note that most of the people complaining about schools and even worse, creating legislation affecting schools, haven't even stepped foot in a school, never mind spent some extensive time in a school, since they went to school themselves.

Great schools, and there are plenty of them, focus on several things:

  • Great schools have leadership with a vision and they share that with their faculty.  Administrators that are actively involved in the daily fabric and decision-making of a school create a team spirit that is contagious. They not only lead but they serve their employees. 
  • Great schools hire and support teachers who are passionate about the joy of learning which permeates everything they do.  Teachers teach and work in their strengths.  In the words of Jim Collins, they have the right people on the bus AND they get them in the right seats.  
  • Great schools care about every student, no matter their ability, and are devoted to finding the best teaching method to reach them.  They see the student as a whole person and support them not only academically but socially and emotionally as well.
  • Great schools create an environment of self-discipline AND creativity.  Students and teachers alike are expected to meet standards but it is recognized that there are many paths to follow and teachers have leeway in how to accomplish goals. 
  • Great schools involve parents and the community in their day to day operations.  They recognize the system that the child is a part of and work to support and strengthen it.  
What makes a great school?  Servant Leadership.  Administrators leading and serving teachers and teachers leading and serving students.  Let's stop focusing on what is wrong with schools.  Let's focus instead on what schools are doing that is not only right but Great.  There are plenty of schools out there that aren't stuck in a "factory model".  I work in one of them. 


  1. I agree, Lynne, that there ARE great schools out there. Servant leadership is key and, truly, the only was for any school or business to be successful in the long term.
    Wonderful post!

  2. Thanks Martha for your comment. I recently listened to a podcast on Dave Ramsey's entreleadership site where they interviewed someone who said as the leader of a business, he decided to spend his leadership retreats with his administrators talking about what was going well in the business and make those things even better rather than talking about what was wrong and trying to just fix problems. I think we need to take the same approach with schools. Let's celebrate what they do well... there's a LOT to celebrate.

  3. HI, Lynne! ~

    As a teacher and a parent I have spent plenty of time in public schools since my own terrible experiences as a student.

    I have only once in my entire life seen a 'great' public school, according to your definition or mine. That was the 'experimental school' I attended in 5th grade (1971).

    I gave up on finding even an adequate school for my older son and home-schooled him. I finally settled on a 'good enough' school for my younger son.

    I am constantly amazed at how terrible every public school experience I have continues to be. The day my last kid graduated was a huge weight off my shoulders.

    As you alluded to, many of my biggest concerns about public schools are the same as my concerns about my experiences in corporate America.

    I couldn't possibly begin to address the needs of our public school system in a single blog post, let alone a comment on a blog post. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you over time...

  4. @Linda-Wow, I know there are problems in schools as in every other aspect of life. I do work in a great school and it is great from the top to the bottom. That is not to say that there are never problems, that every teacher, student and parent is happy. However, I work with some of the most dedicated and caring people on the planet. Here's the really great part about it... when the overall atmosphere and culture is positive and supportive, even people who come there who don't fit into that model, eventually either change, develop and grow ... or leave. Mostly it's the former. I've seen it happen again and again. When expectations are clear and there is support and encouragement, people blossom. Am I talking about teachers or students? Both actually.

  5. Yes, there are great schools out there. They should be used as role models for other schools, so they can follow and implement their policies.