Life factors outside of school control (such as parental education and income, and family stability) have the by far the greatest influence on how well a student does in school. It is why students at private schools and public schools in affluent areas get comparable high marks and are acceptances to high-prestige universities, and that these outstrip those of students from less affluent families: they start off with advantages that students from less privileged families can’t match.
But when it comes to factors within the control of the school, the research is clear: the capability and compassion of the school staff is by far the most important influence on student well-being and achievement. As long as the curriculum and education policies are reasonable, the building isn’t falling down, class size is neither too small or much too large, and school resources are at least at a basic level, and education policies, the adults in the building make all the difference.
It is the adults in the school, not the board or the head office or the government, who establish the culture of kindness, support, and high expectations in which students thrive. It is the adults in the school who are in the best position to when a child is struggling with a concept or at home, is being harassed or threatened, or is facing emotional or financial challenges. It is the adults in the school, if they have formed a caring relationship with the students and pay attention to the students, who can most effectively intervene. And it is the adults in the school who can work with the student’s family to provide any intervention needed to support the student through a difficult time.
This is why practices related to training, hiring, evaluating, and mentoring teachers, principals, education assistants, office staff, and caretakers are critically important.
Unfortunately, too often these practices place the interests of adults ahead of the interests of students, and the interests of people outside the school ahead of those who work directly with the children. Politicians and union leaders and lobbyists and activists and even parent groups often have agendas that are out-of-sync with the needs of the adults and youth in the school.