What does it mean to be a great school?
If you work at a school that is not struggling to survive, there is a good chance that the message you and your colleagues, perhaps even your parent community, tries to communicate, is “we are a great school”. There is nothing wrong with that; we should be proud of our school and want to share what is wonderful and positive about the experiences of many of our students.
But what does “great” actually mean? And if we don’t clearly know what it means, does it mean anything?
As I dig ever deeper into the crystal ball of what “schools” will be 20 years from now, I keep coming back to the idea of trajectory, of the critical importance of having an aiming point. As I have written before, we will never be successful at change if we don’t have an idea of where we are aiming and the trajectory we need to intersect that future.
I am pushing some of the schools I work with unwrap their ideas around words like “great” and “leading”. What does it take, and what will it take, for a school to be good, great, or leading in the future. What about the word “significant”? Is that something towards which your school aspires? How is a trajectory of becoming significant different from the path to become leading? What are the characteristics of a school that is actually good, great,leading, or significant?
One of the primary conclusions of our 20-year look ahead is that in that time frame, schools will all fall into one of three categories: those that can do anything they want because they are insulated by wealth, geography, markets, or legacy; those that offer a truly differentiated learning experience that is sought after by consumers; and those that are struggling or failing. Few schools will fit into the first group, which means most that are not struggling will be those that have a clear idea of what words like great, leading, or significant mean to them and to their community of stakeholders. If that discussion sounds like something for a board to ponder once and then set aside, you are missing the point. If it sounds like fruitful discussion amongst your faculty, students, and parents, then welcome to a positive future!
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