What makes a school, a school?

Working in a relatively small and new school, I ask myself this question quite often: “What really makes a school, a school?”

Parents choose big and well-established schools because they trust in them. They trust big schools because almost always, big schools promise to be everything that a school, in its most traditional sense should be (in terms of physical structures, infrastructures, pedagogical approaches, view on students and how they learn, exam-centrism, etc.). Unfortunately, these do not service students for maximum and meaningful learning. Research over a period of 30 years or so in the area of learning and cognitive sciences reveal that the traditional school setup is the least conducive to learning.

What makes a school then?

A school is not necessarily a concept that connotes a systematically-run physical structure, governed by tenets proposed by a few educated “geniuses” anymore. Like so many things in this ever-evolving world, “schooling” has undergone tremendous changes. It goes beyond physical-structural limits and extends to all that the human mind could imagine doing. In other words, schooling is equated to living itself.

In my opinion, the following makes a school, a school, in this changing times:

  1. progressiveness – ability to constantly change and re-invent ways of doing things and how learning is viewed.
  2. data driven practices – decision-making that is anchored solidly in hard evidences rather than “we do this because so and so feels it is good and/or said so!”
  3. collaborative actions among teachers, students, parents, administrators, community, businesses, industries, etc. – the school is not perceived and run in isolation by any one of its constituencies – schooling is living life itself – and life is lived in connection with all of its community/societal components.
  4. shared decision-making – big schools are famous for the detachment within their systems – most decisions are made by top authorities and others are expected to “follow” the leader without questioning the appropriateness and effectiveness of decisions made – communication to the power of ten thousand among the various constituencies of the school is the key to success in progressive educational institutions!
  5. vision-driven (focus on the big picture) – big schools strive to keep status quo in-tact “if something is good and functional, we keep it” – this is common in well-established schools – but when asked where the school is headed, most staff and faculty will not be able to answer the question because they live, almost completely, in the “now and here” – the “future” does not guide the present, the past does. While the past and present is important, progressive schools focus on the “future” and the big picture, which is PROVIDING MEANINGFUL LEARNING EXPERIENCES TO STUDENTS.

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