28 April 2009 10:28 AM

What To Insist On In a School

by Dr. Rick

Not long ago, in response to many requests from parents relocating to new neighborhoods, I wrote about how to choose the right school for your family (Archive July 22 and 24, 2008).  Now that you’ve made your decision, you’re certainly not going to sit back and let that be the last time you became involved in the school, right?  Schooling is too important to view it from the sidelines.


Here are ten things you should insist on at your children’s school.  They’re important enough to advocate for, plan for, and help teachers and administrators implement.  If you’re looking for a school “cause,” any one of these will do.  Your school’s principal will welcome the help.


  1. The right adults.  These are the folks your kids will be spending a good chunk of time with every day.  Insist on excellence in their teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, librarians, coaches, and a support staff of bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and grounds keepers whom your children see every day.  You want enthusiasm, knowledge, experience, a drive to keep improving, warmth, accessibility to parents, and a genuine interest in and fondness for kids.  Yes, kids get their values from home, first, but they get a healthy dose from the adults they see at school, too.

  2. The arts.  I’ve written about this before (Archive July 30 and 31, 2008), but it bears repeating.  There’s much research to indicate that the arts complement and enhance learning, motivate kids to learn more, and bring excitement and interdisciplinary connections in countless ways to the learning process.  It’s not too strong to assert that the arts can turn around wayward and reluctant students in near-miraculous ways.

  3. Health and Physical Education.  We want our kids to be physically healthy as well as mentally sharp.  They need to know how to keep themselves healthy and to have regular routines of physical activity.  For some kids, activity is a “learning style” that helps them to learn and retain their lessons.  For others, sports can work the same near-miracles that the arts do.  Just look at the exuberance of a school play yard at recess time to see the importance of kids expending a little energy during the day.  (Without recess, just think of the poor teachers dealing with that pent-up energy!)

  4. Reasonable and meaningful homework.  (Archive, September 9 and 11; October 21 and 27; and November 11 and 13, 2008)  Homework is important, especially if it extends the lessons of the day, allows for all-important practice, or introduces concepts to be explored the following day.  Although homework doesn’t need to be graded formally each day, students do need to have regular feedback, which could include encouragement or individual help.  Homework gives students practice in establishing good study habits and attitudes.

  5. Relevant, challenging curriculum.  The curriculum of your school must include the skills and knowledge students will need in order to be the smart citizens our world requires today.  It should be based on reliable research, reflect your community’s expectations, meet the standards of your school’s certifier, challenge kids to learn and succeed, include technology that makes learning more efficient and motivating, and have healthy doses of fun and common sense.

  6. Extracurriculars.  Kids can’t learn everything in class, and there are plenty of interests that can’t get classroom attention. So there should be lots of opportunities for kids to explore and learn about new activities before and after school.  These include sports, music, publications, career exploration, foreign language experiences, technology, games – the list is endless.  Time and resources will be your only limitations.

  7. Values and philosophy.  Just as in families, every school reflects the group’s values and philosophy (Archive July 2 and 3, 2008).  Your school should encourage respect, courtesy, a regard for knowledge and accomplishment, high expectations, personal integrity, and responsibility.  Kids can see immediately if these values live in their classrooms, on the sports fields, in the halls.

  8. School reputation.  I learned a long time ago that it’s not sufficient for a school to do an exemplary job every day.  The community needs to know about that exemplary job.  Work to make sure your community knows about the excellent teaching, the proud student accomplishments, the music awards, the sports wins, the improving test scores, the successes of graduates.  You get the picture.  A community’s respect and support are vital to a school, just as a successful school is vital to a community.

  9. Technology.  Technology is not an end-goal in itself, but it’s necessary to prepare students for advanced learning, for the skills they’ll need in higher education and careers, and to make current learning efficient and motivating.  Technology will never take the place of a knowledgeable and skillful teacher – anyone who says differently is lying – but, when used appropriately, it can help teachers reach more kids, and help kids learn faster.

  10. Parent involvement.  Your school should encourage and welcome parental involvement with plenty of opportunities for volunteering, an active parent-teacher organization, and easy vehicles for keeping in touch with teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors.  There should be meaningful and well-planned conference times (Archive November 19, 2008), and student-centered events that keep parents informed and involved.

There’s much to do to help schools be successful in teaching, caring for, and nurturing children of all ages.  This list is intended to give you some ideas of how you can help your school.  No doubt there are suggestions I’ve not thought of.  Tell us your ideas by clicking on “comment” and sharing them with us.  The more the merrier.





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