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What makes for a great school?

Five features of some of the best schools

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We talk a lot about finding the right fit. But are there some features that all great schools should have? We think that there are at least five of them.


1. A healthy environment

The health of a school stems from the interactions between students, teachers, administrators, and staff. It’s also something you can only really get a sense of by visiting the campus. Where do people gather? Are teachers interacting with students outside the classroom? Is there happy banter in the hallways, or do students walk with their eyes down, focused only on their destination? These kinds of observations can tell you a lot about the overall health of the school environment.

2. Leadership

The health of a school stems from the interaction between students, teachers, administrators, and staff. School leaders play a critical role in setting the tone: they establish firm guidelines for communication and interaction (not to mention culture, academic progress, social development, and more).

3. A strong core philosophy

“Parenting and mentoring children,” says Diane Swiatek, “is a matter of choosing philosophy and principles, and acting so as to live out those principles.” Swiatek is the head of Banbury Crossroads School in Calgary, Alberta. The best schools are those that have a clear mandate (which should be outlined in the school’s mission statement), and that demonstrate commitment to that mandate.

4. Location

Ideally, you’ll want a school that’s fairly close by. Beyond proximity, type of setting is also important, whether the school is in the heart of a city, in a greenbelt, close to the ocean, or next door to a sports facility. The right school setting will provide your child with opportunities to focus their attention on the things that matter most to them.

5. Care

Marie Lardino, head of Voice Integrative School (VIS), in Toronto, believes students learn best in environments where “belonging and safety are acknowledged, practiced, and celebrated.” It may take different forms, but the best schools are those that begin there. “It’s that feeling I have when I drop her off in the morning,” says Holly Huehn, whose daughter attends St. John’s Kilmarnock School in Waterloo, Ontario.

“It’s that caring aspect. Not only do the teachers want to challenge the students, they also want to let them explore in different ways. They clearly care about the students and the education they’re receiving.”

It’s important students learn in a supportive and caring environment. Schools aim to foster this by promoting mental health and awareness, physical health, and by offering guidance inside and outside the classroom. This commitment to care is essential, since learning and development flounder without it.

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