Selecting a private school: It’s all about choosing the best fit for your child
How do I ensure the school I choose is a great fit for my child?
Really good private schools focus their effort to provide outstanding educational and life experiences for each student. Be thorough discovering what this means at each school you are interested in. Be honest with yourself when you are evaluating what best meets the needs of your child. Putting a round peg in a square hole will not make the peg square. It will just really hurt your child. Your goal is to give your child the ability to reach their full potential and be happy.
There seems to be almost too much information available. Do I really need to look at all of it?
You are spending a significant amount of money that will have an enormous impact on your child’s learning and how they address opportunities in life. This is the time to be very thorough and reflective.
- Read each school’s printed information and website.
- Read online reviews by parents and students.
- Visit open houses or information sessions.
- Understand what each school celebrates and promotes. Ask yourself what each school doesn’t celebrate that you value. Remember, they are showing you what they believe is important and worthwhile. Which schools match your expectations?
- Make a list of what stands out and select the top choices for your child.
- Re-visit your top choices during a regular school day to get a more accurate sense of the atmosphere. Are students and teachers happy, engaged and inspired?
- Talk to current parents. What do they like best? What do they wish was different?
- Ask if your child can attend for part of a day. Before the visit help your child to understand that they are the consumer. Then have critical discussions about the pros and cons of each school so that you both are better informed.
Can’t I just choose the best school based on standardized scores and university acceptances?
One ‘best’ school that fits every child perfectly is a myth. Choose the best fit for your child and your family. Schools find different ways to the same end which may or may not work for your child. For example, some are highly competitive while others are very collaborative. Both can enable a graduate to do very well depending on the student. In addition, schools offer unique approaches to teaching and learning. Research and really think about what will suit your child best.
I want a well-rounded educational experience for my child that includes academics, arts, athletics and character but my child tends to be very keen in one area. Should I choose a school that tends to really focus in the one area?
Being well-rounded and capable of exploring new opportunities is a key component of being happy and successful for many adults. Ask how the school will engage your child in their passion and how the school will ensure they are inspired to engage in all areas. Schools can be very good at engaging students in their passion while assisting them to embrace doing well in all areas. Take time to reflect on how each school will inspire your child to strike this balance.
Getting into a rewarding university program appears to be more and more difficult. How do I assess the school’s ability to get my child into a great university?
Ask for each school’s record of university placements over 3-5 years and a detailed explanation of how each school’s program and university counseling supports individual each student in this process. Ask about their graduates’ record beyond just getting in. Strong schools ensure their graduates are equipped to do well at university, in post-graduate studies and their careers. Ask for the school’s data showing how their graduates successfully navigate life beyond just getting into university.
My child is an individual with unique ideas and aspirations. How can I assess whether the schools I am interested in cater to individuals?
Parents often look for small classes as a means to ensure the teacher knows and assists their child as an individual. Small classes alone do not ensure teachers really know their students. Ask what teachers do to individualize and how the school delivers enrichment and remediation. Does the school offer individuals opportunities to pursue projects and initiatives in areas where they become interested and keen? What about advisor or mentor programs that ensure your child has a well-informed and dedicated teacher as a coach and advocate?
How do I ensure that the teachers and staff working with my child are all expert, inspiring and highly committed?
The most significant expense in really schools is salaries and benefits required to allow the school to attract, develop and retain great people. Compare the financial statements of the schools you are interested in to understand the importance they place on having the best people. Ask how the school ensures they hire the best people and what faculty and staff turnover is. Pick a school that is committed to ensuring their faculty and staff members are expert and committed. Having the best people to deliver care, rigour, inspiration and enjoyment to your child is key.
My neighour’s child is in grade six and does three hours of homework a night. Is this a good thing?
Some parents believe that good schools pile on homework as a way to ensure each child can succeed in a competitive and uncertain environment. This effectiveness of this approach is debatable. Investigate in to learn how each school views homework. Homework should be meaningful and develop higher level thinking skills such as applying knowledge and skills to solve problems. Developing an eager and disciplined approach to learning is important but doing hours of memorizing will help your child become a creative and innovative thought leader and problem solver.
I am really concerned that my child is well prepared to live in a world where technology continues to become more and more prevalent. What should I look for in the school?
The first consideration is that the school keeps students safe. Next, computer labs tend to be passé. Schools don’t make students share pencils. The same should be true regarding access to technology. If you hear that every student has a Chromebook or an iPad find out how students are using these devices. They should be tools for learning that integrate into instruction and open up the world. Technology can be very seductive without being a highly effective learning tool. For example, one student using an interactive board while 19 others look on is not engaging every student.
I want my child to be happy and safe. There is so much about bullying in the news. What should I look for in a school?
Ensuring students are looking after each other and making positive differences in the world are priorities in many schools. This should be one of the first things you hear about when you visit a school. Does the school handbook promote clear guidelines regarding promoting positive interactions? Are there specific programs that bring older and younger students together to promote constructive relationships? When you visit watch to see that children are happy, polite and respectful. As powerful role models do the teachers and administration treat others in a cheerful, encouraging and courteous manner?
Dr. Glenn Zederayko is the Head of School at Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria, B.C. He has inspired students, staff and parents in 5 different private schools in three different provinces for over 28 years. He greatly values hearing from alumni how great an impact a school has made on them.