It has been a busy month in the world of school enrollment. Families with children that will start at a new preschool, elementary, middle or high school next school year have juggled the question of where to enroll the child. Those families that applied to independent schools received admission decisions. Families that are considering public schools wrestled with the question of public neighborhood school or an option school. Still, others juggled choices between independent and public schools. They have all asked: how do we choose the right education for our unique and beloved child? I have had the tremendous privilege of working with many families from varied backgrounds, all faced with a variety of choices.
The families I worked with had a huge variability in the choices they had to make. Yet, their decision-making process was strikingly similar. Ultimately, a family that felt confident, comfortable and empowered in their decision felt so not because they got to choose their top choice. Their confidence and clarity came from their values, trust in themselves as a family and confidence in their child. These are some of the common threads that braid together how families made the ultimate decision of where to enroll a child.
Faith in the child
How do you decide what is best for you child? Is it based on what you believe? Is it rooted in your own education experiences? Or is the choice rooted in who your child is? It is hard to separate your own educational experiences and how they shape your thinking for your child. We all react to school classrooms, teachers, curricula and activities based on what we liked or didn’t. Our children are a result of the upbringing we offer them so its hard to tell whether they need the best of what we experienced or longed for or something different. Over and over, when I see a family walk away confident in their school choice decision it is because they base the decision on who the child is.
Families demonstrate their faith in the child by thinking about the child as unique from parents and siblings. Parents of middle and high school bound students listen carefully to the children and provide them a clear pathway for evaluating their own choices. When making the final decision, they give a priority to what the child wants, where the child thinks she will succeed and feels most comfortable. They trust the child in her ability to advocate for herself, to frame her experience and to take responsibility for it. Parents of younger children considering independent schools notice the child after a visit day at a school. They listen closely to what she says she did, what she enjoyed, who she connected with. It is not uncommon for children as young as 4 years of age to distinguish between schools and state a strong preference for one, not just because of the playground equipment but because something about the vibe, culture, or people of the school made the child feel right at home. School is an extension of the home, so a child that feels at home in a school is headed to the right school.
Families that feel empowered in their decision are committed to the whole process of education — before school, in partnership with a school, outside a school and beyond formal schooling years.
Trust the process
School choice is a process; one that is either cultivated conscientiously or that takes shape serendipitously. It is a process in which families inspect who they are, what they believe about education, who the child is, what options are available to them, where they will apply (even for public schools) and ultimately where they accept enrollment.
For many families, this process happens organically. It is a journey marked by highlights and low, dark moments. Families that feel comfortable with their ultimate decision know that they cannot control the outcome of the process. They can only trust their efforts and recognize that many factors outside of them also have control over their ultimate choice and decision. They keep their eyes open to the highlights and trust their gut when something doesn’t feel right. They analyze and do all the diligent leg work to apply to schools (both public and private). Then, they let go and let the universe of school administrators do their magic. They trust that their ultimate choices are the ones meant to be. They accept their offered choices with grace and trust. They have faith in their decision because they have faith in themselves as a family.
One step in the journey
School choice is one step in the journey of crafting and supporting a rich, fulfilling education experience. Families that feel empowered in their decision are committed to the whole process of education — before school, in partnership with a school, outside a school and beyond formal schooling years. They know that regardless of the choices made available to them, they will put in the effort to do right by the child. They know this because they know themselves as a family, they know their values and they see the child as a sovereign being. They are committed to the whole process of living and learning, the school being one important part of that experience, not as a gating factor to a successful and fulfilling experience but as one piece in the larger puzzle of educating the whole child.
These seemingly amorphous, emotionally grounded and philosophically charged aspects have a deep impact on school choice. As shaky as it sounds, intuition, beliefs and faith in an ever-changing being lead to grounded decisions. Of course studious data gathering, reflection and analysis lay the foundation for school choice. The ultimate decision, in those last hours just before signing on the dotted line, comes from a deep place of trust in self, child and the universe.