Finding the Right School for Your Child

Finding the right school for your child can feel like sorting threads in a tapestry. Terms like Montessori, magnet and parochial can create confusion.

Students who have positive social relationships with teachers and peers tend to think more positively about school. This is especially true when adversity is present, such as poverty, housing and food insecurity, and abuse or neglect.


The word school has an interesting history. It derives from Greek schole, which had the sense of leisure and eventually became associated with learning. It evolved into Middle English scol, and then into our modern school. The same root also produces shoal, as in a large group of fish swimming together.

Before formal schooling emerged, various religious, civil service and apprenticeship systems existed. These emphasized the enrichment of self and community through literacy, philosophical thought, and practical skills.

Formal schooling started to take shape in ancient Greece and Rome, when the ludus litterarius was introduced for boys. It was a precursor to university education, and the students were known as schoolmen. Schooling then spread to the rest of Europe, with countries developing different educational philosophies and structures. Today, many countries have systems of formal education that are sometimes compulsory. The philosophies and structure of schools can vary widely by country, but all have the same fundamental goal: to nurture informed, capable individuals.


Schools fulfill a variety of purposes. They can train people for specialized jobs or teach them the skills they need to succeed in life. They can also foster social and emotional growth. They can help students understand their cultural heritage and appreciate diversity. They can also teach students how to make decisions, communicate effectively, solve problems and cooperate with others.

Some people believe that the primary purpose of school is to prepare students for the workforce. Others, however, think that this purpose is too narrow and that schools should foster a culture of curiosity, creativity, criticism and communication. They should also help students develop the ability to learn in a variety of ways, including through hands-on activities.

Understanding the history and purpose of schools can help us understand the challenges many countries face in ensuring that their education systems are relevant. It can also help us ensure that educational transformation efforts center relevance alongside inclusion, equity and quality.


Schools are places where people come together to learn. They have classrooms, cafeterias (dining halls), all-purpose play fields and schoolyards. Schools may also have laboratories, workshops and other specialized spaces. They have teachers and administrative staff. Most countries have systems of formal education, which is often compulsory. These include primary and secondary schools, and sometimes kindergarten or pre-school. They can also have tertiary education institutions, such as universities, vocational schools and colleges.

The kind of culture and supporting structure schools need require a very special nexus of structure, time and culture. As long as these remain adaptive responses that bend, rather than break, existing customs, they are unlikely to get schools where they need to go.

One way to make structural change work is for schools to treat collective time as a precious resource, formally scheduled and rigorously allocated to specific aspects of the school agenda. When this is done, schools can reclaim their power to improve student learning.


School culture is a key element of success, but it can be difficult to define. Principals often report that their schools have a good culture when teachers are unified and students succeed, but they struggle to explain exactly what creates this sense of unity and support.

This can be partly explained by the fact that culture is less tangible than concrete measures like test scores or graduation rates. Instead, it is the underlying values and beliefs that make up a school’s culture. This can include how a school treats its employees and students, but also the traditions and ceremonies that shape the culture.

The most effective way to change a school’s culture is through communication. When all levels of the school are communicating effectively, it is easier for messages about shared beliefs and commitment to spread throughout the culture. When communication is poor, however, it is harder for these ideas to take hold. This is why a strong leader can play such an important role in shaping a positive school culture.

Finding the Right School for Your Child
Scroll to top