What Defines a Good School?

schoolhouseIn a recent opinion piece in Education Week, David Gamberg, superintendent of both the Southold Union Free School District and the Greenport Union Free School District, reflects on what makes a good school. Below are excerpts from his piece:

Words matter. Of course, brick and mortar are only a small part of the story. The academic and emotional climate, both inside and outside the physical space, gets us closer to an understanding of what forms the basis of any school. Throughout our country, we have many opinions, positions, and reform efforts competing to control the narrative not only of what defines a school, but also, more significantly, of what it means to be educated in 2016 and beyond.

The call to have children as young as 8 or 9 years old “college- and career-ready” does not create the same narrative as building a sound foundation in childhood filled with play and creativity. Among the many other more important ways to engage the hearts and minds of our youngest students, we must promote the childhood experience in all its wonder.

Schools have always existed as an expression of how a given community values its children, and how a society looks at the future—a covenant handed down from one generation to the next.

If schools do play a part in shaping our future—and I believe they do—how we articulate the issues matters as much as how we marshal the will and resources to meet these challenges.

The calls to shutter schools, to replace and dismantle them, are being offered by those with a variety of other interests. These are not the solutions we should accept. They create a hostile dialogue that reflects the worst in our democratic discourse.

Words matter in how we discuss our schools and the issues that confront all communities. Technology affords us wonderful ways to gather data points that could promote change, but it may still fail to foster a deliberative and thoughtful dialogue regarding the seeds of our problems. The most basic elements of our humanity must not get lost in the pursuit of a faster, data-driven decision-making process. Such is a key element of our current fascination with a punitive, high-stakes testing environment designed to sort and select students and teachers.

So, what truly defines a school?

The exchange between child and adult is at the heart of it. That exchange may be subtle or vigorous—not rigorous. Rigor, which shares roots with the Latin rigor mortis, implies severity, rigidity, and stiffness—all connotations that restrict the learner and the learning process—while vigor implies energy and dynamism.

Yes, words matter. The best learning occurs when both teacher and student are in pursuit of a deeper understanding. It is a quest that is based on love, one that is filled with authentic, joyful, challenging, and impactful experiences. A school is a place of respect and wonder.

The search to create, discover, reveal, and share is an unending journey that occurs in the best of our schools: the child immersed in beautiful poetry, the student acquiring the skill of using a watercolor-paint brush, the rendering of a museum-quality display of artifacts. Unpacking the essential elements of contemporary issues and having students learn to take responsibility for their actions coalesce to teach valuable lessons that extend beyond the school walls.

Schools of the future—no matter their size, technological sophistication, or cost-effectiveness—should always begin with the best qualities of our humanity.

To read the full piece, see http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/03/30/what-defines-a-good-school.html

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