Three Essential Questions Parents Must Answer About Their Child’s Educational Pathway
By Ray Diffley
Director of AISAP's Center for Admission and Enrollment Management
Through 25-years in admission, traveling the world to explore schools and meet families in the US and abroad, reading educational philosophies, talking to school counselors and placement people in a variety of schools, and of course reading or reviewing upwards of 50,000 applications from students from 50 states and 60 countries, I have developed the following three questions to help families identify a school pathway for their children.
First, I would like to share the moment when I realized how I came to know what I know.
Several years ago, as I was at perhaps the height of studying traits that lead to students success, I was invited to be a speaker at a gifted student event. I wondered what angle I would take to enlighten students and parents since I (shocker) did not journey through the gifted and talented pathway. Quickly I realized my “gift” was one of perspective from my experiences as an educator and admission professional. What I also realized is that I believe these three questions are somewhat universal to a quality education and educational experience and that they might help families as they ponder their children’s educational pathways.
Over twenty years ago I sat in a waiting room at a very influential K-9 private day school. I could not help but overhear a board of trustees and senior administrators conversation in a room down the hallway. What I heard had a great impact on me. They exclaimed (loud enough for me to hear) that the number one factor their school sought in “next schools” (high schools in this case) was for their students “to be known.”
My belief in what they exclaimed has only grown over the last 20 years. Which leads me to number 1:
1. The school must have systems, a culture and a passion for “knowing your child.” Therefore question #1 is: How will your school get to know my child?
At AISAP we represent admission professionals, and it is my firm belief that each admission representative is a bit of a walking advertisement for their school. Put more succinctly, the representative represents their school in values, often in personality, (at least one aspect) and certainly in the belief that they do great work with the children and families they serve. Thus, it’s fair to say that they represent the culture of their school, or they certainly know it and can describe it.
With this “must,” “knowing each child” as the foundation, my second observation or question, is the following:
2. The culture of the school must fit your child (and ideally, family values) such that they can maximize and grow your child to reach their full potential at that stage of development. After all, developmental windows, we know, can be small. Thus question #2 is: Tell me about the culture and values of your school? E.g., who comes here, why, and why is it they succeed?
The third question is more complicated than it used to be, given our ever-changing world, but it is just as important to ask, perhaps even more important than the first two as it may speak to the vision and congruence of the school’s leadership.
3. The school, and its culture must prepare your child for what’s next in school (and in life) to successfully and happily navigate this wonderfully complicated world they will inhabit. Thus the question is: How is your school preparing its students for the future?
This is trickier, in that the experts tell us that a computer science major in college, as freshmen, might have their learning be obsolete by junior year, if not sooner! Living in the information age only turns the focus, in my opinion, on the fact that we are teaching mindset, values, and a “ways of being” more than ever before. But we are also bringing it back to the core of knowing yourself, knowing how you function and perhaps with whom you function best, and in what environment.
Finally, do read school mission statements. I always love seeing the word “joy” in a mission statement, or in a school’s philosophy. I believe independent schools understand relationships, joy, discovery, responsibility and so many other ways of being, your task is to explore the myriad options out there and become a good analyst of your pathway and future.
A few words for anyone attending an AISAP Educational Expo:
We’re planting seeds for families to find the culture/atmosphere that suits them as they walk into an Expo and greet the schools and their representatives. I encourage you to stop at every table (within reason!) and a variety of tables, and ask questions. These admission representatives share some of the same goals you have. They want to know the culture of this area, of families in this area and see if what they offer has appealed to you, and in what ways. Take advantage of that time to get to know schools and yourselves as you go about the journey.