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What Makes a Great School?

by Tim Oughton

Parents often ask me what is my vision for successful education. My response always relates to high quality teaching and learning founded upon high quality inter-personal relationships. Successful schools rely on recruiting, retaining and supporting good teachers. Successful schools have minimal personal conflict and maximum personal happiness and satisfaction. Successful schools are also learning schools – they understand the value of self-improvement and continually strive to improve teaching quality.

Last year, Philippa Fee and Ian Taylor interviewed me during the Kristin recruitment process. They asked me what my personal vision for Kristin would be; always a tough question but I have thought about it over the years and it is one that I now believe I have the best answer to. If you don’t mind, I would like to share the eight underpinnings for the school I lead. In no particular order, they are:

1. A Community of Learners

An effective school for me is a place where everyone is teaching and learning – simultaneously, under the same roof. Students are teaching and learning, teachers are teaching and learning and senior leaders are teaching and learning. Schools are not merely a place where the adults are learned and students are learners. Kristin’s recent focus on school improvements and action research groups indicate we score well on this criteria.

2. Collegiality

My experience in a wide range of schools suggests that the quality of adult relationships within a school has more to do with the quality and character of the school, and with the accomplishments of students, than any other factor. Staff at Kristin do get on well with each other; they readily share their skills and knowledge and actively help each other become better.

The collegiality factor, then, is alive and well here.

3. A Willingness to Explore New Ideas

New ideas should never be viewed as a nuisance because they are too hard or difficult, they should be viewed as a sign of life! If we are serious about learning for ourselves, and others, then we also need to take risks. Kristin is at the forefront of contemporary learning – 21st century learning as some prefer to call it – again a big score here.

4. Respect for Diversity

Schools are full of different people – teachers, parents, students – they have different ethnicities, abilities, interests and backgrounds. Valuing those differences, and I strongly believe we do at Kristin, helps make this a more enriching learning environment. Our support for education in Samoa is a shining example of our success in this dimension.

5. A Culture of Inquiry

It is critical to engender a philosophical, inquiry-based culture within a school. ‘Why’ questions are always powerful learning devices – teachers at Kristin don’t believe in the ‘empty head’ model of knowledge acquisition where information is deposited by the teacher. We encourage independent and inter-dependent learning.

6. Humour

A lot of funny things happen in schools yet often they can be taken too seriously and the humour of the situation is lost. People learn and develop through humour. I like to make an effort to elicit and cultivate humour – we all know laughter is the best medicine. Again, in the short time I have been at Kristin I would score us very highly in the humour stakes – I witness laughter and cheeriness constantly.

7. A Community of Leaders

One definition of leadership I read and like says, “to make happen that in which you believe.” Everyone, therefore, should get a chance to be a leader at school. This is without doubt a focus at Kristin.

8. Low Anxiety and High Standards

Considerable research suggests that attention, learning performance, retention and recall all diminish when the anxiety of the learner is high. I believe lower anxiety levels are best achieved if students, through their holistic teaching and learning programmes, get an appropriate balance in their life.

A Kristin education should be as much about building character, resilience, and a healthy mind and body as it is in achieving high academic grades. Again in my short time here I believe Kristin does this extremely well.

More information on Tim Oughton, Executive Principal >