When I think about the school I want to send my daughter to, I envision a place where teachers and staff are invested in the school. Our public school is part of our town, our community. Went I sent my daughter off to Kindergarten this year, I made sure, like every parent makes sure, that the school would be the right place for her to learn and grow. I get that feeling from her school, which makes me feel comfortable, that the staff there is invested in the kids, in the community, and in my daughter's education.
Investment in a school is the most important tell-tale sign of a safe and nurturing environment. In thinking about investment in a school, what are the most important aspects? The first would be that there are bonds that are created between each individual member of the community. This starts at the top with the school's leadership. Does the principal make building relationships a priority? How does it feel when you walk into the school, do you get a good feeling, with a warm greeting, and a smile, or no eye contact and handed a sign in form? The leadership of a building sets the tone for the community and relationship building. At the beginning of the day, are staff greeting kids off the bus, and as they come into their classrooms? Next, when I walk around the school, do I see interactions? Are parents volunteering? Are support staff working with kids in the hallways, and interacting with them in a positive manner? Is student work on the wall and shown off in a proud fashion, with everyone included? These are all small signs that build to a bigger picture. A community, and in particular a school community, is only as strong as the bonds it holds between its members. If these bonds are being properly built, they are a protective factor for any negative situations that may come down the pike.
The bonds that are built in a classroom may be the most important of all. Without a good student / teacher relationship, there will be limits on how much learning can take place. Good teachers should get to know their students well, and know their particular strengths and challenges. The teacher should get to know the student and their family, and interact with them as much as possible. When a student feels comfortable in a classroom, they are then comfortable taking academic risks, volunteering, trying something challenging, going a step further. This can happen because the student trusts the teacher, and knows the teacher will be supportive and cares about the student's success.
The very good news is I get this feeling at my child's school, which makes me very comfortable as a parent. I want to get this feeling at every school I visit, for when I do, I know the basic building blocks are in place for student achievement. An invested community, where all the staff cares about all the kids, and there is a small town family culture that is actively cultivated, is a strong learning environment. If we are going to spend our time on creating the best schools we can, let's start there.