Whether choosing the best K-12 independent or private school for your elementary age child, or looking into the post-secondary collegiate options available to you, I think it’s good practice to engage in a process that helps identify your dreams of who your child will become and work backward in order to align the qualities of various schools that will realize your dream:
- Step 1—Describe your child as he/she/they walk across the stage at graduation. If you think about this, a range of descriptors of who your child has become, and what characteristics he/she/they possess, is extremely valuable. I ask everyone to do this exercise because it brings into full focus what really matters to you. I guarantee as you take that mental picture of your child receiving the diploma, and you think about all the wonderful facets of their being, your child’s college choice, or even eventual profession, will never enter into the conversation. So, that being said, how to choose the right school/college should be rarely be predicated on specific schools, per se, but rather how to satisfy those personal expectations.
- Step 2—Find schools that are soulful. Every great school has a certain ‘something’, that consciousness that transcends buildings and rooms and lockers. It’s what you feel when you come onto campus. Soulful schools are about partnerships with families, students and teachers. Soulful schools care for students in extraordinary ways, for schools know that if children don’t feel connected, they run the risk of falling prey to society’s worst nightmares. Soulful schools are tearful, joyous, thoughtful, inspiring—all of which reflect a singular purpose towards growing and educating young people.
- Step 3—Find schools that provide value and values. In today’s often vitriolic discourse around the high-stakes testing environment and the exploding cost of education, faculty productivity becomes a central theme—are educators becoming more productive given the increase in educational costs and the transactional desires of the tuition-paying families? No matter how much teachers and professors would like to be more productive, some things in education will always remain the same. Specifically, the process of education and the relationships that are its most valuable by-product will always take time and effort to nourish. Remember--It still takes a minute to play the Minute Waltz. Great schools understand the delicate dance between transactional and transformational outcomes. This is not merely a K-12 aspiration: even larger post-secondary universities are emphasizing the transformational impact students can make in their communities and for themselves personally. What distinguishes great schools is that they balance the expected, post-graduation outcomes of schooling with an equal emphasis on how shared values complete the student’s education.
- Step 4—Ask about a portrait of excellence. Every school has their own definition of excellence, and it should be easy for school officials to articulate what a successful educational outcome means to them. Seek alignment with your needs and about clarity of outcomes in that conversation. If you are unclear about that portrait of excellence, you probably need to keep looking at other schools, no matter how good their football team is.
- Step 5—Ask questions of school personnel or students that are not a part of the school tour. One of the best ways to identify school culture is to ask questions of people who have an unvarnished look on the type of experience the school offers. Remember—when choosing a school you are choosing an experience, not just an education. Do students like living there? Are the facilities accessible? Are teachers/professors? Do students know where to get help? Do the employees like working there? How do students behave when they’re not in class? What does the library look like? These are just a sample of questions that can help you uncover what your experience, and not just your education, will be like.