The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

What is a Good School?

on October 16, 2015

Almost thirty Years ago I was invited to write a critique of a book, “Mc Donogh 15: Becoming a School” by Lucianne Bond Carmichael. Reading that book reinforced and expanded my own beliefs about what a good school does to empower students and strengthen teachers. As part of my review I wrote a definition and description of a good school, based partly on Carmichael’s experience as a principal and partly on my own. From time to time I go back to it to remind myself of the qualities of a good school as it contrasts with many charter schools and high scoring public schools. Today, I am taking the liberty of reminding the readers of this blog that there is a difference.


A good school is a place where students learn enough worthwhile things to make a strong start in life, where a foundation is laid that supports later learning, and where students develop the desire to learn more.

Specifically, a good school mirrors the realities of life in an ordered, adult society; it is rational and safe, a practice ground for the things people do in the outside world. The school creates a sense of community that permits personal expression within a framework of social responsibility. It focuses on learnings that grow through use, such as communication skills, decision making, craftsmanship, and group interaction.  It makes students think of themselves as people who find strength, nourishment, and joy in learning.

A good school has a broad-based and realistic curriculum with subject matter chosen not only for its relevance to higher education and jobs, but also to  family and community membership and personal enrichment.  It uses teaching practices that resemble, as far as possible, the way people live and work in the world.  Students are actively involved in productive tasks that combine and extend their skills.  They initiate projects, make their own decisions, enjoy using their skills, show off their accomplishments, and look for harder, more exciting work to do.

Any school can become a good school when its teachers have made the connections to life in the real world that I have been talking about. It operates as an organic entity—not a machine—moving always to expand its basic nature rather than to tack on artificial appendages.  A good school is like a healthy tree.  As it grows, it sinks its roots deep into its native soil: it adapts to the surrounding climate and vegetation; its branches thicken for support and spread for maximum exposure to the sun; it makes its own food; it heals its own wounds; and, in its season, it puts forth fresh leaves, blossoms, and fruit.

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