Selecting a private school where your child will thrive
How do I make sure that a school is a great fit for my child?
Really good private schools focus on providing outstanding educational and life experiences. Be honest with yourself when evaluating what school meets the needs of your child. Putting a round peg in a square hole will not make the peg square. Your goal is to determine which school will help your child reach their full potential and be happy and content.
Can’t I choose based on standardized scores and university acceptances?
Consider those, but also much more. One ‘best’ school that fits every child perfectly is a myth. Choose the best fit for your child and your family. Schools offer unique approaches to teaching and learning, and some may not work for your child. For example, some schools are highly competitive, while others are very collaborative. Think about what suits your child best.
I want my child to have a well-rounded education: academics, arts, athletics and character-building. But my child tends to be keen in one area. Should I choose a school that focusses in that area?
Being well-rounded and capable of exploring new opportunities is key to being happy and successful. Ask how the school will support your child in their passion, yet ensure they engage in all areas.
How do I assess the ability of an upper or senior school (high school) to get my child into a rewarding program at a great university?
Ask for each school’s three- to five-year university placement records, and a detailed explanation of how its program and university counselling supports students. Ask about their graduates’ record beyond just getting in; strong schools ensure graduates are equipped to do well at university, in post-graduate studies and in their careers.
How can I assess whether a school caters to individuals?
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 it offer kids opportunities to pursue interests? What about advisor programs that ensure your child has a well-informed, dedicated teacher?
How do I ensure teachers and staff are expert, inspiring and highly committed?
Schools’ biggest expenses are the salaries and benefits required to attract, develop and retain great people. Compare the financial statements of schools you are interested in to understand the importance placed on having the best staff. Ask school officials how they hire the best people. You should also query them about faculty and staff turnover at the school.
My neighbour’s child is in grade six and does three hours of homework a night. Is this a good thing?
Some parents believe good schools pile on homework to ensure children succeed in a competitive, uncertain work force. The effectiveness of this approach is debatable. Homework should be meaningful and develop higher level thinking skills, such as applying knowledge and skills to solve problems. Developing an eager, disciplined approach to learning is important. But hours of memorizing will not help your child become a creative, innovative thought leader and problem-solver.
It’s important that my child is prepared for a world where technology is more and more prevalent. What should I look for?
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 about technology. You may hear every student has a Chromebook or an iPad, but how do students use these devices? They should be integrated into instruction and open up the world. Technology can be seductive without being highly effective as a learning tool. For example, one student using an interactive board while 19 others look on is not engaging every student.
What about social supports?
Making sure students look after each other should be one of the first things you hear about when you visit. Does the school handbook promote clear guidelines that promote positive interactions? Do programs bring older and younger students together to promote constructive relationships? When you visit, do students seem happy? Are they polite and respectful? Do teachers and administrative staff interact with students in a cheerful, encouraging, courteous manner?
Dr. Glenn Zederayko is Head of School at Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria, B.C. He has inspired students, staff and parents in five private schools in three provinces for more than 30 years.