It’s about that time of year. Parents are looking for schools for their children. Either they’ll end up at the nearest local public school within their zone, or they’ll go searching for a private school that suits their desires. They want the best for their kids. They want convenience. In short, they’re looking for great schools. Let’s take a look at what is making schools great.

Making Schools Great Takes 5

National Association of Independent School’s Patrick Basset weighed in on 25 of his ideas on making schools great. Here are 5 of the best.

1. Culture

All adults in your school must be on board to intentionally and actively shape and nurture a culture of honesty and caring, coupled with achievement. This requirement applies down to its weakest members.


Those students at risk and falling through the cracks must be held as high in importance as others. Great schools are those that dare to think differently about dropouts and suspensions, and can find alternative ways of reaching those challenging students.

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
Mahatma Ghandi

2. Coherent Philosophy

Adopting a particular pedagogy school-wide creates a unified template for carrying out the learning process (Waldorf, Montessori, progressive, etc.). It must be open to continued “discussion, testing, and constant refinement.”


At one particular Waldorf School I used to teach at, specific time is set aside for teachers to assess the week and realign with pedagogical standards, gaining feedback and support from their peers. This ongoing process of refinement or “sharpening of the saw” is deemed sacred time. Teachers are not to teach classes during this time. Students have that time off as well, to use as independent practice or simply play.

The administrators know the importance of engaging in discussions about teachers being more than just employees. By taking good care of teachers, the students in turn will benefit. This eventually spreads throughout the entire school. Everybody wins.

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
W. Edwards Deming

3. Professional Development

This is paramount. Teachers must continue to perfect their craft through the acquisition of tools and skills. This includes collaboration with peers and exceptional professionals. With time and resource as a factor for most teachers, professional development must be approached as a) a requirement and b) accessible.


Teachers need to be supported in their attempts to make their planning process more efficient so they do not get overwhelmed. Ways to help teachers become efficient at managing data, ideas and skills to bring up performance scores are all worthy of professional development. Teachers should also be encouraged to develop professional learning networks (PLN) for their own growth which they can customize for their needs.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
—Abraham Lincoln

4. “Intimate” Environment

As opposed to small class size, larger class sizes becomes a non-issue when the idea of collaboration and teamwork is employed to spur solutions to problems that students care deeply about. We now know that collaboration and practical real-world problem solving foster ownership of learning and engagement at the highest level.


Application of previous knowledge and skills are assessed through PBLs. It doesn’t always have to be so in depth, but collaborative assessment is successful as well / pairing/sharing activities, group discussions allows for opportunities of respect, tolerance, and listening. These skills build relationships within the classroom and allows for intimacy even within large class settings.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
—Helen Keller

5. Assessment (Post-Graduation)

Not testing, per se, but following up with graduates throughout college and beyond to track how the school successfully prepares its students for the real world. Teachers love to see how their former students are fairing.


College alumni newsletters do this in their “Where are they now?” pages. A fond memory of mine was going back to my old high school after 20 years and thanking my English teacher (still there!) for having read my paper out in class one day, an experience which I hold dear today as a writer. Those class reunions are there for a purpose.

“In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.”
—Jacques Barzun

A Quick Look Back

In our last post in the Arts of Administration series, we began counting down Mike McCarthy’s list of 10 Big Ideas for School AdministratorsHere’s number 9.

Consensus is Overrated

20 percent of people will be against anything. When you realize this, you avoid compromising what really should be done because you stop watering things down. If you always try to reach consensus, you are being led by the 20 percent. Timely advice from an experienced and award winning principal.

We all want to make sure all our staff are happy, but reality bears out that change happens quicker when legislation comes from the top. Others will follow, albeit some begrudgingly. Normalcy will come later when positive results are heralded. Respect is also earned by administrators that take decisive action.

Action Step: JournalWhat kind of culture do you want in your school? How will you create it? Plan concrete steps to make it happen.

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