Choosing a school for your child is not always an easy decision to make. There are many aspects to what makes up a good school.
Parents make their decisions based on criteria that they think are important. However, it is not only difficult to prioritise what things are most important, but also to distinguish which schools actually offer those things that matter most to you.
It helps, therefore, to have some guidance about what really matters about a school before you make that all-important decision and what should be a long-term commitment!
So, what are the most important things to consider when choosing the best school for your child?
Here are our Top 5 thoughts:
Keep reading to find out about these essential topics in more detail!
People matter more than anything else when it comes to education.
“Education is a social process”John Dewey
Education is a social process, so all of the people involved in a school matter. This includes the teachers, leaders, administrators, students, and parents / guardians (i.e. you!) that are part of that school.
As there are so many people involved in a school (AKA educational stakeholders). These people are described below with questions for you to ponder:
Teachers are the heart of any school.
Only with consistently top-quality teachers can a school achieve its goals for its students.
With that in mind, you should want to know about and meet the teachers of any school that you are considering.
A school’s website should provide detailed information about their teachers, including qualifications, experience, educational philosophies, expertise, and so on. If they don’t, you should wonder why.
Likewise, the school should provide opportunities for you to meet the teachers, generally through an open house.
Some questions you should consider are:
At Pear Tree School, all of our teachers not only have Masters of Education degrees and several years of classroom teaching experience as a minimum requirement, but they are also exceptional role models who embody Pear Tree’s values. Teachers have to go through a rigorous multi-stage application process and demonstrate the standards demanded of a Pear Tree teacher.
This means that whatever grade/class your child is in at Pear Tree School, they will receive an equally excellent and well-rounded education!
Areas of training include our literacy, numeracy, theme development, project-based learning, and socio-emotional approaches.
Our team also participates in external professional development both in person and virtually.
Recently, for example, we’ve been collaborating virtually with a former teacher – now freelancer PBL consultant – from High Tech High, a California-based school group which also does authentic Project-Based Learning.
What is more, given their amazing educational backgrounds, our teachers provide in-house training in their own areas of expertise to their peers; they are also encouraged to lead professional development and give talks at teacher training conferences.
Unlike many private schools, our teachers are not burdened with extra duties, such as extracurricular activities. Aside from weekly staff meetings and the assessment of prospective students, our team has plenty of time for individual / collaborative lesson planning, updating portfolios and the classroom noticeboards, and communicating with parents.
They also generally meet once per week with one of our directors to discuss their theme ideas and projects. This not only ensures that our teachers are fully supported with implementing our advanced educational model, but that there is quality assurance consistently across the school.
Who runs the school?
This might seem like a simple question with an obvious answer, but politics and bureaucracy can play a strong role in schools.
Every school is structured in a way that they feel is best. There isn’t a universal model that works for all schools. Very large schools obviously need a different structure than smaller schools.
However, it’s important to be aware of the reality of what life can be like behind-the-scenes in the schools that you are considering.
Sometimes, principals can be figureheads in schools where a governing body or private owners call the shots. These governing bodies or owners may have no formal educational training or qualifications or teaching experience, yet they can select principals to work for them that are cooperative.
In the same or other schools, wealthy parents that make sizable donations can wield tremendous influence over a school’s decisions, practices, and values. In either case, it can mean that your child is in a school where the educators aren’t really the ones deciding what education should look like in the school.
While most schools are technically not-for-profit, much of the leaderships’ time can be spent on fundraising to pay for the next shiny building, and can act as flagrant money making machines.
In other cases, out-of-touch leaders or bureaucratic schools can be extremely slow to change. Yet, schools should be constantly changing in order to provide your child with a cutting-edge education relevant that reflects an ever-changing world and the demands of an unknown future.
Likewise, teachers – who should be hired for their expertise – should have a strong voice in the school. Teachers in some schools, though, have little to no voice, or would not dare voice their opinions for fear of losing their jobs. This can apply to decisions about classroom resources, as well as the students that join the school, or even issues with staff bullying.
At Pear Tree School, the leaders of the school, Alexis and Paul, are both the founders/owners and are educators with decades of experience, covering an entire spectrum of ages and schooling types ranging from elementary school to specialist adult education; Alexis is a highly experienced and licensed elementary school teacher. Both have Masters of Education degrees; Alexis is currently part way through her Doctorate of Education degree.
Their combined experiences led them to found Pear Tree in 2011 with a progressive educational philosophy and sophisticated education method that universally works at any educational level.
Alexis and Paul are not only the co-founders and co-directors of Pear Tree, but are also married and have worked together in various educational settings since 2003.
Alexis and Paul are educators who treat their faculty how they would want to be treated. All of the school’s classroom teachers are paid the same, highly-competitive salary, which is publicly advertised on our website, and are hired based on their amazing teaching talents and specific areas of expertise.
Teachers and other staff are regularly encouraged to express their opinion and thus have a major voice in our school, and we are strong proponents of female empowerment and our team becoming educational leaders outside of the school, not just within it. We make informed decisions based on what would benefit all students and what is fiscally responsible.
Due to the streamlined team and non-conventional school roles (e.g. there’s no school ‘secretary’), Pear Tree School is able to make decisions and changes quickly, when necessary.
Parents simply want the best for their children regardless of the school that they attend. Most parents want to be involved and are involved in some way with their child’s school.
However, parents don’t necessarily share the same values or ideals for what the school should be doing or promoting.
What kind of parents exemplify the school communities you’re considering?
Suffice to say that it is worth finding out and, ideally, meeting existing parents in the school that you’re looking at in order to figure out if your values align.
Additionally, schools may have certain expectations about parent involvement:
Therefore, you should find out about the school’s expectations from parents.
Therefore, as much emphasis is placed on interviewing parents as on assessing their children.
The parents at Pear Tree School come from wide ranging socioeconomic and career backgrounds. Some have modern careers, such as in the gaming / tech industry; others are legal or medical professionals. All (hopefully) recognise, however, that their child needs Pear Tree’s progressive approach to be happy and successful and to have lifelong confidence. None should be looking for an ‘elite’ or prestigious institution, since that goes against our school’s values.
As much as possible, we want to work with parents who also embody the qualities that our school espouses, especially kindness, hard work, and a growth mindset. At the same time, we recognise that parents didn’t attend a school like Pear Tree School, which is often why they want their children to come to Pear Tree! We strike a balance between having families that embody our values while also understanding that that can be a tough thing to ask from parents that didn’t come from our education system.
Aside from supporting our team with helping their children become their best selves, parents are involved in organising community events, attending classroom events, arranging playdates, and spreading the word about Pear Tree School.
Some parents also act as guest speakers or provide specialised workshops for certain themes that our students happen to be studying.
Additionally, parents are occasionally invited to attend educational workshops to learn more about Pear Tree’s approaches to numeracy, literacy, and other approaches.
Check out our Parent Interview videos to get a better understanding of our parent community!
Students are the quintessential representatives of a school’s values and its outcomes.
Students should know what the school’s values are, what everyone is striving towards, and why that is. They should feel a sense of camaraderie and community and should be actively helping each other become their best selves.
Encouraging competition between students, therefore, undermines this.
Students want to learn, enjoy learning, and want to come to school. They should want to become the best that they can, and develop a strong, positive identity.
At Pear Tree School, we have students from diverse cultural backgrounds, which we feel is truly representative of multicultural Vancouver.
We miss the even greater diversity of having more international students – something that Canada’s COVID policies have impacted, but hope to rebuild that aspect now that global travel is becoming more common again.
Some of the key qualities we look for in our students are kindness and a growth mindset. We also look for students who are sociable and make friends easily.
A school’s job is to educate its students and to nurture their love of learning. Rather than select students with ‘perfect’ academics, we prioritise students with positive personalities who help strengthen the Pear Tree community.
Pear Tree’s students love learning and want to come to school – even on snow days! In fact, while I was writing this blog post, I got the following feedback from a parent:
Recap of conversation with [my daughter] this afternoon,
Parent – “Hey, you get to sleep-in in the morning!”
Child – “Why?”
Parent -”There’s no school tomorrow.”
Child – “Aww, but I like school. I wanna go.”
Check out comments from some of our alumni!
A school can’t be all things to all people.
It’s also important that all members of the school community share a common philosophy and common values.
While teachers are the heart of a school, the school’s philosophy and its values are its soul.
As such, you should have a fairly well developed idea of the following matters before approaching a prospective school to see if your views align. If you don’t do this, how will you know that the school is a good fit?
Many schools throw around popular buzz terms like “Progressive”, “Whole-Child Approach”, “Student Centered”, “Project-Based Learning”, “Real-Life Connections”, “Critical Thinking”, “Technology Enriched”, “Confidence”, “Entrepreneurship”, “Growth Mindset”, “Inclusive”, etc.
All of these should matter to you.
However, how many schools actually do anything to merit using these terms?
As Terry Heick of TeachThought says:
“A good school doesn’t make empty promises, create misleading mission statements, or mislead parents and community-members with edu-jargon. It is authentic and transparent.”
For example, if a school teaches through a traditional method of education and oozes traditional values, how can you believe that they do anything that merits using the term “Progressive” or “Student Centered”?
Common sense suggests that education should be directly connected to real life. After all, what would be the point of studying if it weren’t? Yet, even though the vast majority of us readily admit that we barely remember, let alone use, anything that we studied at school, we still walk around with a conservative hat that says: ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ We are a species that loves security.
Nevertheless, research proves that modern life and work have changed dramatically in a very short period of human history, not just technologically, but also in the way we do things. In contrast, the education system has barely changed. Education wasn’t relevant to us when we were at school, and it’s far less relevant to today’s children. So, we need to admit to ourselves that education needs to be modernised to be relevant to modern life and society.
When scholars start debating about modernising education (or anything in fact), they tend to think in singular concepts. This is a notable side-effect of our current education system, which forces us to specialise. When you specialise, you believe that your way is the most relevant and important. The truth is, though, that life isn’t that simple. Modernising education requires a whole host of changes.
Knowledge isn’t meaningless, but the way it is generally taught is. Undoubtedly, you studied algebra and calculus. You almost certainly asked yourself: ‘Why am I studying this?’ Maybe even one brave soul in the class asked the teacher this very question. Yet, the response from teachers rarely satisfies young minds: “Because it’s on the test”; “Because you’ll need it one day”; “Because some of the finest mathematical concepts are found in calculus!”
In reality, calculus is an extremely useful tool for business, engineering, medicine, and computer science. It’s not astrophysics. It’s a bit more down-to-earth than we think. However, no young person would ever know that, because math is always taught in a ‘math world’. Teachers expect students to share their passion for their subject; but, that is not a realistic expectation. If math was taught alongside business or medicine, it might actually be interesting to students. It would certainly make much more sense. Sure, it might make it more difficult give its in-context nature, but at least kids will want to understand, because they will see a point to learning it. Motivation plays a huge part in learning. It will engage students that would otherwise be disinterested.
Knowledge is interrelated. For example, talk about ‘air pollution’ and you’d need to consider science, economics, social studies, business, politics, engineering, history, and geography. But we wouldn’t tell ourselves, ‘Oh, I need to think about chemistry right now’; we would simply talk about ‘air pollution’. That’s because our brains naturally want to connect learning to fully understand concepts.
In contrast, education separates collective knowledge into separate subjects: we go to our chemistry class to learn how oil is turned into different gases and by-products; we go to our physics class to learn about the mechanics of the internal combustion engine; we go to our ‘sustainable resources’ class to learn about oil depletion, and so on. Why do we have so many subjects all talking about oil? Why are none of these classes connected? It’s illogical. Yet, we’ve been brought up to think it’s normal and, therefore, right. It’s not. It probably never was.
Some kids will use critical thinking to make connections between subjects. Some kids will not, though. To them, all these different subjects are just plain boring; and, to top it off, they have an exam for each of them. However, if a child were to learn about ‘oil’, not as separate subjects, but just as its own topic/theme, then that becomes a fascinating class of endless possibilities for both the students and the teacher. Every student can contribute to the class, because they will each be able to bring their own strengths. Furthermore, from looking at oil using different areas of knowledge, young people are more likely to take an interest in subject areas that they ordinarily don’t like or think that they are no good at.
Additionally, students want to do things in education that affect the world. While it’s a generalisation, children want to be agents of change.
“It’s about empowering students to change the world for the better”Brown (2010)
Students complain that education is not helping them to prepare for dealing with such global issues as ethnic conflict, hunger, and war. “I did not create the problems, but they are my problems” (Wesch, 2007).
Hogg (2010) recognizes that fact-based learning and separated subjects are intimately tied, and sums up the feelings of students towards education in general:
“Disciplines, issues, problems, they are not divided any more… The solutions to the world’s common and numerous problems actually necessitate innovative, interdisciplinary thought and actions, which is weird because our educational criteria doesn’t [sic] really speak to that. In fact, usually our success is determinant of whether or not we’re able to regurgitate information in a very short amount of time, or if we can answer really obscure multiple choice questions, or in some cases how much boredom we can endure.”Hogg (2010)
So why, you ask, is this venturing into perilous waters? High schools and universities are extremely departmentalised. Ask the average teacher to teach all there is to know about oil, and you’d get endless thoughts about one subject area, and very little about all other subjects. It’s not really the teacher’s fault. Like I mentioned before, we are taught to specialise. You’re told to choose between Arts or Science at university, but heaven forbid that you want to do both. Although there are some teachers that would love to teach everything, they just aren’t allowed to:
“You’re a physics teacher. That’s all you are qualified to teach.”
“How can you teach social studies and chemistry?”
What is more, there are a great many teachers that are just happy to keep subjects separated, because they know how awful they are in other subject areas.
There are two ironies here, though.
Young people are expected to be ‘well-rounded’, straight-A students in all subjects. You can’t go through high school saying, “I’m a science student, so I don’t need to study language arts.”
The second irony is that the education system professes that it promotes life-long learning. However, a lot of school teachers stop learning once they get their education degrees. They just can’t be bothered to learn how to use an interactive whiteboard, or how to teach a different method of doing math, or a way to make their classes less teacher centered… Besides, if a teacher does get a master’s degree, a school might not hire them, because they’re now deemed ‘too expensive’. So, not only are you not allowed to teach all subjects, but you’re not allowed to become too specialised either.
“If we learn by doing, what are we learning by sitting [at our desks]?” ask the school students in Nesbitt’s (2007) YouTube video. In a world where facts can be found at the touch of a button, fact-based learning and the associated memorising involved have become irrelevant to the lives of most students and their future careers.
“Test time would come around, and we would memorize our scribblings. We’d take the test, and we would receive a grade based on how many facts we memorized. But society no longer cares how many facts we can memorize, because in the Information Age facts are free.”Brown, 2010
Instead of learning facts, students want and need education to a focus on learning by doing and by applying, synthesising, and creating ideas.
Hogg (2010) indicates the paradox between the words of educators and the reality of education:
“You gatekeepers [teachers] have told me on a number of occasions that there is a certain skill set that I should possess in order to be successful; very simple things like working with others; talking and communicating effectively; practical problem solving skills; and, we’ve noticed that there are graduates that go into the workforce that don’t have these skills. Art students who can’t relate theory to reality, or scientists who can’t think outside of science, or just students who lack general professional skills.”Hogg (2010)
Pear Tree School has a long list of values, which all interrelate with our philosophy and The Pear Tree Method of education.
Among these values, students are educated and expected to:
Want to talk more about our values? Why not book a private tour with one of our directors?
Attending a school, particularly a school that you’re paying money for, should have a commonly agreed upon objective.
Is the objective mostly to prepare your child for university? Is that university intended to be an Ivy League college? Is it to create future world leaders? Is it to create more professionals, such as doctors and lawyers?
Or are the school’s outcomes broader and more future focused?
For Pear Tree, we think about a combination of the individual and that individual’s place in society.
You also have the impact that that individual – whether positive or negative – has on society, and vice versa.
Pear Tree School’s long-term goals are to create happy, healthy and productive members of society who have lifelong confidence and who bring about positive change in the world.
Pear Tree’s education method (The Pear Tree Method) and our values are designed to achieve exactly this!
Want to talk more about this topic? Why not book a private tour with one of our directors?
In order for a school to execute its philosophy and achieve its promoted student outcomes, it must have a method of education that is used by all of its teachers.
A method of education should provide a consistent approach to achieving a complete range of learning outcomes.
You can’t have one teacher that does things one way, and then the next teacher who does things completely differently, because those different methods of teaching would not be working towards the same objectives.
Ironically, this is a fundamental gap in most schools, whether public or private.
Aside from Montessori, Waldorf, inquiry-based learning schools, project-based learning schools (e.g. High Tech High) and, of course, Pear Tree School, most other schools have no specific method of education.
Therefore, those schools have no real way to say that they will meet their intended student goals.
Additionally, that education method should allow its teachers to meet the needs of all of their students.
Learning is a continuum. All of the knowledge and skills should build upon what has been previously learned.
It also goes without saying that any education method should be effective, should produce results, and should fulfill both provincial standards and the needs of a child for their lives beyond school.
While some schools do have methods of education, we don’t share their belief that their approach is the right one, or that they reflect the current or future needs of their students.
If we did, we wouldn’t have created our own!
At Pear Tree School, we have developed an extremely comprehensive and advanced education method, which we simply refer to now as the Pear Tree Method.
Keep reading to learn more!
Pear Tree’s academic approach is centered first and foremost around its theme-based learning approach, which is a holistic interdisciplinary approach.
As with most buzzwords, many schools throw around the term ‘theme-based learning’, but don’t actually do this, because they teach through subjects.
Through Pear Tree’s theme-based learning approach, students learn through themes rather than subjects.
The only separate classes are French, music and P.E., and even these are blended into our themes.
Themes are Pear Tree need to be:
Want to talk more about The Pear Tree Method? Why not book a private tour with one of our directors?
TENEMENTS (Gr 3/4)
Pear Tree’s ‘Tenements’ theme is intended for our grade 3 / 4 students to learn about Vancouver’s social urban past (as well as its present) and what life was like for the underprivileged during those times.
We explored what the demographic composition of Vancouver was like back then, what their jobs were, what their financial situation would have been like, what kind of physical places people lived in, and how many people lived in those places.
Due to the lack of books on the social component of Vancouver’s urban past (non-existent for books suitable for young people), we broadened our perspective to include New York’s Tenements, which are extremely well documented, including a diverse range of books and educational materials aimed at elementary school children.
While Vancouver didn’t have much in the way of tenements, it had slums, ‘marginal housing’, lodging house, boarding houses, jungles (shanties), foreshore shacks, and houseboats. Some of these forms of ‘housing’ can still be found today, such as the derelict house boats tied together in False Creek.
Our Tenements theme meaningfully and regularly incorporates social studies, language arts, math, art, performing arts, and technology.
This is one of three themes these students are studying this term. They will study other themes in the winter and spring terms.
Join us for an upcoming open house to talk to our teachers about what they are doing in their class’ themes this term.
No, not a science project or a bootstrapped once a week project class. This is the real-deal form of project-based learning.
As with theme-based learning, authentic project-based learning does not have separate subjects. Everything is learned through the process of making a theme-related project.
The limitation with PBL is the lack of guarantee of all students getting the full range of knowledge and skills.
As such, project-based learning at Pear Tree School is an extension of its theme-based approach.
Every student works on a wide range of learning and skill development related to a specific theme so that everyone has solid foundations in these areas.
Then, around midway through the term, the class will kick into PBL gear.
It’s authentic PBL, but with none of the potential drawbacks!
The same applies with these forms of learning as with project-based learning. We do not rely on them as exclusive education methods. Instead, they are used as extensions of our themes.
Another term that schools use, but don’t really have justification for doing so, is student-centered learning.
Student-centered learning means that the bulk of ‘work’ done in the classroom is done by the students. There are a plethora of things that Pear Tree students do both in terms of the academics and other things going on in the school; a lot of life and study skills are learned in the process!
Yes, our faculty are very busy, but the fact that the students carry much more responsibility for themselves and the class means that teachers have time to do things that teachers in other schools don’t, e.g. mentorship, wide-ranging assessment, photography, documenting, and so on.
That’s part of the beauty of theme-based learning and project-based learning. Collaboration, creativity, entrepreneurship, and real-life connections are all seamlessly integrated.
However, it goes without saying that you need more than an academic method (which essentially is what our theme-based learning approach is) to achieve your intended outcomes. You need a Whole-Child Approach.
While I mentioned a Whole-Child Approach in both the School Philosophy and Method Education sections, it really deserves a category of its own.
I can’t emphasize enough how important a Whole-Child Approach is when choosing a school.
Everything is interconnected.
As such, if a school isn’t constantly working on all aspects of a child’s development, it simply can’t claim to achieve academic excellence!
So often, schools either neglect certain aspects of a whole-child approach, such as daily physical education or a healthy hot lunch program, or relegate it to a lesser status – something to be occasionally addressed, e.g. through workshops or one-day events.
Parents frequently make the following observation:
“Pear Tree has a whole-child approach… I mean a WHOLE-child approach.”
They emphasise the word ‘Whole’, because they make the distinction between our whole-child approach and the version promoted by other schools (one that we would not define as whole child).
The Pear Tree Method isn’t just an academic approach. It seamlessly integrates socio-emotional, identity, cognitive, and mental health development. Added to this is our amazing daily physical education and healthy hot lunch programs.
Pear Tree’s whole-child approach is designed to nurture every aspect of a child, and enables us to achieve the school’s intended student outcomes, as detailed above.