Top 10 Characteristics of a Quality School

How to Determine if a School is Effective

How do you know if the school where you are teaching is the right one for you? How can you tell before you even take a job there? What are some of the key characteristics of effective schools? Here are 10 ways to know if your school is a quality one.

1
Attitude of the Office Staff

The first thing that greets you when you enter a school is the office staff. Their actions set the tone for the rest of the school. If the front office is inviting for teachers, parents and students, then the school leadership values customer service. However, if the office staff is unhappy and rude, you must question whether the school as a whole including its principal has the correct attitude toward students, parents and teachers. Be wary of schools where the staff is not approachable. Look for a school where the office staff is friendly, efficient and ready to help.

2
Attitude of the Principal

You will probably have the chance to meet with the principal before taking a job at any school. His attitude is extremely important for you and the school as a whole. An effective principal should be open, encouraging and innovative. He should be student-centered in his decisions. The principal should also empower teachers while providing them with the necessary support and training to grow each year. Principals who are never present or who are not open to innovation will be difficult to work for, resulting in disgruntled employees, including you -- if you take a job at such a school.

3
A Mix of New and Veteran Teachers

New teachers come into a school fired up to teach and innovate. Many feel that they can make a difference. At the same time, they often have a lot to learn about classroom management and the workings of the school system. By contrast, veteran teachers provide years of experience and understanding about how to manage their classrooms and get things done in the school, but they may be wary of innovation. A mix of veterans and newbies can motivate you to learn and help you grow as a teacher.

4
Student-Centered

To be truly effective, a principal must create a system of core values that the entire staff shares. To do this, she needs to involve the teachers and staff. A common theme to each of the core values should be a student-centered view of education. When a decision is made in the school, the first thought should always be: "What's best for the students?" When everyone shares this belief, infighting will lessen and the school can focus on the business of teaching.

5
Mentoring Program

Most school districts provide new teachers with a mentor during their first year. Some have formal mentoring programs while others offer new teachers more informal tutelage. However, each school should provide new teachers with a mentor whether the incoming educator is fresh out of college or coming from another school district. Mentors can help new teachers understand the culture of the school and navigate its bureaucracy in areas such as field trip procedures and purchasing classroom supplies.

6
Departmental Politics Kept to a Minimum

Almost every department in a school will have its share of politics and drama. For example, a math department might have teachers who want more power or who try and get a larger share of the department's resources. There will probably be a seniority system in place for picking courses for the following year or determining who gets to go to specific conferences. However, a quality school will not allow this type of behavior to undermine the basic goal of teaching students. The school's leaders should be clear on its goals for each department and work with the department heads to create a collaborative environment where politics are kept to a minimum.

7
Faculty Is Empowered and Involved

When the faculty is empowered to make decisions backed up by the administration, a level of trust grows that allows for greater innovation and more effective teaching. A teacher who feels empowered and involved in the decision-making process will not only have greater job satisfaction but will also be better able to accept decisions with which he might disagree. This, again, starts with the principal and shared core values that relate back to determining what's best for students. A school where teacher opinions are not valued and where they feel powerless will result in disgruntled teachers who do not have the desire to put as much into their teaching. You can tell this type of school if you hear phrases such as, "Why bother?"

8
Teamwork

Even in the best of schools, there will be teachers who do not want to share with others. They will be the ones who get to school in the morning, close themselves in their room and don't come out except for mandatory meetings. If the majority of the teachers at the school do this, steer clear. Look for a quality school that strives to create an atmosphere where teachers want to share with each other. This should be something the school and department leadership strive to model. Schools that reward intradepartmental and interdepartmental sharing will see a huge increase in the quality of classroom teaching.

9
Communication Is Honest and Frequent

The school leadership in a quality school provides teachers, staff, students and parents with frequent communication about what is happening. Rumors and gossip are usually rampant in schools where administrators do not promptly communicate the reasons for decisions or upcoming changes. School leadership should communicate frequently with staff; the principal and administrators should have an open-door policy so that teachers and staff can come forward with questions and concerns as they arise.

10
Parental Involvement

Many middle and high schools do not stress parental involvement; they should. It is the school's job to pull parents in and help them understand what they can do. The more a school involves parents, the better the students will behave and perform. Many parents want to know what's going on in class but have no way of figuring out how to do this. A school that stresses parental contact for both positive and negative reasons will grow more effective over time. Thankfully, this is something that each teacher can institute even if the school as a whole does not stress such involvement.