What to Ask When Visiting a School

In the beginning….  I had no idea what to ask or look for when I visited a school.  Over a year ago and less than a month into this site, I posted a blog entry asking for advice.  The following list of questions was compiled from resources that I obtained from school representatives as well as advice from friends and readers.  The questions are adapted here, with permission from the contributors.  I have made my own additions and edits as well.

First thing so many people have said to me when visiting a school is to look for “The Vibe” – you’ll know when the vibe feels welcoming and child-friendly and when it just feels wrong somehow.  Look for how teachers are interacting with students and how faculty/staff interact with one another.  Also be sure to check out The Notebook’s great article, “How to Observe your Child’s Class” for more suggestions on things to look for.

Questions to Ask:

  • What is the mission of the school?  What values are articulated in its literature/website?  Are these values reflected in the curriculum?  Are these values also present in the speech and discourse of the students, faculty and school representatives?
  • How does the school help children make sense of the world outside–the natural world, the community, other cultures and times?
  • What does the school do to advance students’ moral development?  Does a student develop his or her own internal sense of morality–one that goes beyond dependence on the rules, rewards, or punishments?
  • How is the school responding to issues of diversity as these continue to evolve today?  Is the stated approach to diversity reflected in the diversity (race/ethnicity, religion, family structure, socioeconomic, etc.) of student body and faculty/staff?
  • How do children work together?  How do they treat one another?  What is the school’s role in a child’s social development?  Do the children look happy?  How do they play?  Do they play enough?  Do you hear their voices?  Are they talking to one another about their activities and about their feelings, thoughts, and ideas?
  • How is conflict resolved?  Is there a social curriculum that proactively helps students feel connected to one another and helps them learn appropriate ways to share feelings/opinions, stand up for themselves, etc.?
  • How does the school teach the basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics?  What approach is used to teach reading and writing? (e.g. basal readers, authentic literature, workshop format)  How are science and math integrated into other subjects?  How are writing and speaking skills integrated into all subjects?  What is the range of literature my child will read at this school?  What is the purpose, not just the amount, of homework?
  • What “specials” (art, music, foreign languages, etc.) are offered and how often?  How often do kids go outside? What weather conditions will prevent outdoor activity (temperature/snow, etc)?
  • How much of student learning is through hands-on, experiential projects/tasks and how much is just sitting and listening/reading?
  • How much playtime (for both the younger and older grades) is there each day? How much of that play time is of the “free choice” variety (e.g. kids might choose imaginary play in a “playhouse” or constructing with blocks, etc.)?
  • What processes are in place to identify learning/behavioral/social issues?  If an issue arises for your child what are the protocols for incorporating parents into addressing those issues?
  • What is the faculty’s training, experience, and level of professional activity?  How are teachers involved in setting the school’s curriculum and adapting teaching method’s to student needs?  What is the hiring and firing process for teachers.  Is the school a site selection school (Philadelphia term)?  What are the lengths of individual teacher contracts?
  • What is the look and feel of each classroom?  What might it suggest about how the students are taught and how they learn?
  • How does the school deal with different learning rates and styles to insure that each child is appropriately challenged?
  • How does this school encourage children to think of, reflect on, and ask questions?  How does this school encourage children to try new things?
  • What should be continuous and consistent for your child from year to year and teacher to teacher?  What is not consistent and why?
  • How can I, as a parent, be a real partner in this school for my child’s education?  Am I a welcome participant?  In what ways do parents contribute?  How active/involved are parents in the school?

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