Scouting for a School Series (SSS): NOT Choosing a School for the Wrong Reasons

These past few weeks taught me a few hard lessons. I realized that not only should a parent choose a school for the wrong reasons, a parent should also NOT dismiss a school for the wrong reasons. This was the conversation I had with a friend of mine:

Mommy Friend: Tina, where can I send my son next school year?

Teacher Tina: Why not bring him to XYZ School (obviously fictitious)?

Mommy Friend: Oh, I don’t like it there..

Teacher Tina: Why?

Mommy Friend: I spoke to another friend and she doesn’t like it there.

Teacher Tina: Why not?

Mommy Friend: She spoke to another friend who didn’t like it….

Whoa! Wait wait wait. Let me stop the conversation at this point because the poor school is being misjudged by hearsay. In the 9 years that I’ve been a school administrator, only a few years back did I realize that I can’t please every parent. It’s just not possible. Schools may do their best in everything and still won’t be able to please everybody. But 1 thing I can say is that we can please MOST of the parents. So, hypothetically, what if my friend’s friend’s friend 🙂 spoke to that 1 irate parent of XYZ School? The school suddenly gets tainted with a bad reputation.

Studies show that a person would tell a good experience to less people than if the person experienced something bad. It’s human nature (to gripe, unfortunately).

Also, if you’re an unsatisfied parent, I suggest you inform the school of your issues. Most school administrators are very open to constructive criticism and if our goal is to improve not only the school but the education system, then your insight is crucial. When a parent posts a comment on this site about issues regarding their schools, I usually ask what their issues are. All of your issues are important and most of them are still “savable” — meaning, if told in the proper forum, may improve your child’s school life and improve the school as well. If you discuss issues only among yourselves, parents, then that’s not going to help.. it’s just simply, gossip.

So to continue with the conversation..

Teacher Tina: Why don’t you visit it first? I know the director and I know they have a genuine progressive curriculum.

Mommy Friend: You might be right. I’ll try passing by tomorrow.

The End.

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Scouting for a School Series (SSS): Choosing a School for the Wrong Reasons

When I look at the votes in our poll recently, I noticed that a lot of our readers are parents. Well, parents, this may be a difficult pill to swallow.. but a healthy pill, nonetheless. This may help you in choosing a school for your child or help you in the school where you are currently in.

Alfie Kohn, a speaker advocating progressive education, talks about non-progressive parents existing in progressive schools. I want to give this guy a standing ovation with this paragraph alone..

“The problem with almost any of these criteria for sending kids to a school is that you end up with parents who are impressed by the wrong things. I was in a classroom recently at a progressive school where, during a parents’ potluck breakfast, the Moms and Dads were glowing over the fact that their kids could spell “Australopithecus” or knew some obscure fact that the parents themselves didn’t know. “Isn’t that a wonderful education?” Of course, that’s not necessarily very impressive at all. But if we haven’t made a good match and helped to educate parents, as well as allowing them to educate us about what’s good for kids, you end up with parents who are worried about the very best features and who start to exert pressure, especially as the kids get older, for a more traditional kind of education because they didn’t come to the school for the right reasons in the first place.”

Parents, you may be asking what the right reasons are.. well, that’s what the blog is for.. to help you find out.. However, I do know this for sure. Don’t seek a progressive school having traditional expectations. It doesn’t add up.

My advise to school teachers and administrators is to prioritize your parent orientation. Encourage your parents to attend. In our school, we started to have intimate parent interviews prior to enrollment to ask the reason they chose the school and their expectations from it. It helps in preventing traditional expectations in the future. We learned this from experience 😉

Scouting for a School Series (SSS): Who is the Teacher?

One of the most vivid parent inquiry I handled was when the parent asked to meet the teacher who will be handling her son’s class in the coming school year. It was a rare but important request. The staff in our school find my interview process in hiring teachers so unorthodox. More than looking at their True Copy of Grades (TCG), I ask more personal questions to discover their passion for teaching. I always say, even if a teacher got high grades in education courses, it doesn’t mean he or she will be a good teacher. Teaching is a passion. Sadly, school teachers are not paid well in almost all countries. So for them to decide to teach, is a heroic effort in itself.

The first and foremost requirement of a good teacher is loving his or her students. In a progressive school, a teacher is usually a Family Life and Child Development specialist. This means he or she understands the children in the context of their families. And like family members, progressive school teachers have an innate feeling of love for their students. They will highlight their strengths and help them with their weaknesses.

 

Following is an excerpt from my thesis regarding the role and qualifications of a teacher..

The most important variable that the success of a preschool program depends on is the role of the teacher (Weikart, 1969; Bennett, 1977). No rules, no laws, no courses of study, can be successful except as the teacher makes them so (Washburne, 1952).

The DECS Order 107 defines a preschool teacher as “a person who is directly involved in handling preschool children.” He or she should also have a Bachelor of Science degree specializing in Family Life and Child Development or Early Childhood education or Kindergarten; or a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education with 18 units in Preschool education and 54 hours of practicum in preschool classes; or a Bachelor of Art/Science degree kin discipline allied to education, arts, nursing, and anthropology with 18 units of preschool education. The teacher can finish the 18 units of preschool education in four years as long as he or she has already taken 6 units upon appointment. Exemplary teaching experience will suffice for the required 18 units.

The teacher’s qualifications also affect parental satisfaction. Ruiz (2000) studied parental preference in the selection of a preschool for their children. The respondents were 63 parents with children aged four to five years and who are currently enrolled in two preschools. The findings indicate that the most influential factor in preschool selection is staff competence.

And this is an excerpt regarding teachers in progressive schools..

Progressive schools need teachers that are well trained, dedicated and absorbed in their work (Washburne, 1952; Gardner, 1991). Considering the uniqueness of each child means creating individual behavioral goals, specific teacher-made
materials and individualized assessment tools. Teachers utilize their knowledge of child development and learning to identify the learning experiences that are appropriate for a class or an individual child (Bredekamp, 1997). But above all, the progressive teacher must have a warm, sympathetic interest in children and youth, and respect for their different, individual personalities (Washburne, 1952).

Dewey (1897) states that, traditionally, too much stimulus comes from the teacher. In progressive schools, the teacher does not impose but rather stimulates and assists the child in properly responding to the environment.  Teacher qualification, therefore, is crucial to the success of the preschool program. However, the success is congruent to the compatibility of the beliefs of the preschool and its teachers. Teachers should apply to preschools whose philosophy is attuned with their own personal beliefs otherwise it will result to friction and dissatisfaction for both parties (Taylor, 1989).

 

What are the things you need to ask about the teaching staff of a school you are visiting?

  1. What course did the teachers graduate from? Progressive preschool teachers usually come from the Family Life and Child Development department of the UP College of Home Economics — the pioneer institution for progressive education. Teacher who graduate from UP-FLCD are trained in the UP Child Development Center and taught by the great professors of the department (..a shout out to my former professors, the heroes of their generation and mine..). The good news is that FLCD graduates are already teaching college students in DLSU, Ateneo and Miriam College to spread the progressive advocacy.
  2. Can I meet the teacher of my child’s class? This is a rare request but is one of my favorites 🙂 If the school is open to it, add ten points for transparency. Progressive preschools value good parent-teacher communication. Spend a few minutes with the teacher and just have a casual chat.
  3. Most schools hire during the summer season, so you may not be able to ask question no. 2. In this case, ask to meet the director or the directress. Introduce yourself and ask your pertinent questions.

Scouting for a School Series (SSS): The Learning Environment

We have discussed the school’s learning environment, but let’s discuss it in the parent’s persepective in looking for a school for their children. I have seen schools with very expensive surroundings but with a very weak curriculum. Don’t judge a school with its chairs, tables, expensive toys and playgrounds. Even if a school has these things, if their curriculum is weak and they do not have a clear philosophy, then they are just a glorified daycare center. I have also seen schools with very humble learning materials but have very strong curricula, definite philosophies, and great teachers. These resources outweigh the physical all the time.

The important thing you should watch out for is cleanliness and maintenance for the furniture and classrooms. Are the chairs and tables well-maintained? Are the walls of the rooms clean? Is there a variety of learning materials — puzzles, blocks, toy animals? Is the reading area well-stocked with books? I highlight this because there are many schools that say they are literature-based but have very few books in the reading area because of cost-cutting! Their philosophy should be congruent to the learning environment.

The classrooms should also be big enough for the class size. The children should have space to move around the different learning areas.

Most importantly, the progressive classroom is a decentralized classroom. It is divided into learning areas namely, a Manipulatives area where the the blocks, puzzles and other table top materials are located, the Activity Area where the tables and chairs are (this doubles up as the Eating Area), a Reading Area (which hopefully, is stocked with books… I’ve seen Reading Areas that can hardly be called as such), etc. For a more detailed description of these areas, go to our posts about Learning Environment.

Scouting for a School Series (SSS): The School’s Philosophy

There are only 3 kinds of schools — Traditional, Montessori and Progressive. You first have to determine the kind of school that you feel can best benefit your child.

Every school should have one. If the school says they are eclectic, BEWARE. Why? Merriam-Webster defines the word eclectic as composed of elements drawn from various sources. In my language, that just means that the school isn’t sure what their philosophy is and is only catering to all philosophies for marketing purposes.

A school without a philosophy is like a ship without a rudder. It doesn’t know where it’s going.

So when you enter the school you’re checking out for your child, ask the director or the teacher what their school philosophy is. If you come out of the school still uncertain, then go back in and ask it AGAIN. I, personally, love it when parents ask a lot of questions. It means that they are very interested to learn how the school will educate their children. It also gives the school the opportunity to explain its philosophy and its curriculum.

Since progressive schools are the IN thing nowadays, most schools claim they are progressive even if their practices say something different. For example, a preschool that has a big class size cannot claim to be progressive or a preschool that is divided into subjects instead of routines cannot claim to be progressive. Just like a preschool cannot claim to be a Montessori if they do not have the Montessori learning materials.

What questions can you ask the director?

  • Is the curriculum child-centered (progressive, Montessori) or teacher-centered (traditional)?
  • Does the teacher interact much with the students (progressive) or lectures and stays in the one place in the room (traditional)
  • Does the school have a strong home-school connection (progressive) or do parents only meet teachers during parent-teacher meetings (traditional)

I know, I know.. my progressive leanings are obvious..hence the title of the blog!

Check out our post about the Progressive Philosophy and watch this video to help you to separate the real from the pirated 🙂

 

Scouting for a School Series (SSS): Location, location, location

It’s January and it’s school scouting season for most parents. Most of the parenting forums I’ve scanned these past weeks are all talking about what school is best for their children and parents talk about different schools’ credentials. So to interrupt our regular series on Classroom Routines, let’s first tackle the journey that most parents take.. scouting for a school.

The first thing is LOCATION. This is important because your child’s school should be near your residence. Let’s qualify the term “near”. Your child should not be traveling for hours just to reach school. I’m sure it will be very inconvenient for your family and very tiring for your child.

If your child’s school is VERY NEAR your home, this will also give you a chance to walk your child to school 🙂 One of the parents in our school placed a car seat on her bike just to bring her child to school while biking. Some of our students also bike to school with their parents.

The important thing about distance is that it should not give added strain, anxiety and exhaustion to your child. He may equate these feelings to his overall school outlook.