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From the desk of the Second Master – No. 22-01

No.21-01/ 24 March 2021

Dear Parents,

What makes great schools great?

Part 1: To teach or to educate, that is the question…

Recently I have been pondering the difference between good schools and great schools, and what it is that great schools do differently. I hope to write a few commentaries in this regard in the coming year as this is both a pertinent and gargantuan topic.

If we are honest there are many good schools out there and I’m sure that if I asked you to identify schools of this ilk, you would be able to name a few. These are schools with great academic, sporting and cultural results and I would imagine that this is invariably coupled with a dedicated teaching staff and world class facilities. But are any of them great schools…? To answer this question, we need to consider the definition of a great school.
For me, an outstanding characteristic of great schools is that they are those institutions that educate and don’t just teach. Yes sure, you may well contest that the words educate and teach are one and the same… But, in common use, they are somewhat different. Teaching implies the active participation of an instructor in transferring extrinsic knowledge to a learner. This stands in stark contrast to educating; a term that implies the active participation of both the instructor and the learner in the process of gaining understanding.

To my point, words commonly associated with teaching include instructing, coaching and training, which broadly suggests that teaching is more facts based, formulaic and results driven. It requires pupils to absorb, repeat and regurgitate with little intention (if any at all) given to holistic learning in which EQ and character development are integral to the learning process. Educating, on the other hand, is often equated with words such as cultivating and refining. It looks firstly to the learner as a person, appreciating that each learner is unique, and that their learning is as much dependent on their emotional and character formation as it is their gaining knowledge. In order to affect this, true education includes a learning curriculum that goes both deep and wide in the life of a school – a framework of learning which celebrates all things experiential (all of the relational, imaginative, collaborative and exploratory devices that underpin learning in great schools) and which are facilitated by mentors, not teachers.

Many good schools know the value of a curriculum that extends beyond the formal syllabi of their academic, sport and culture departments – but few get it right. This curriculum, often referred to as the hidden curriculum, is so hidden it barely exists at all! Learning in this way is incidental and haphazard and any success is more credited to certain exceptional staff who are natural educators than it is to the intention of the school.

So, in summary, what makes a school great? As a first attempt to answer this question, I would suggest that great schools are intentional in their endeavour to educate. They imagine and operate far beyond the learning drills and formulas which abound in the curricula of results driven (and siloed) academic, cultural and sport departments. Great schools are always deliberate – by targeting learning opportunities in all areas of schooling they apply a holistic curriculum which develops their pupils in heart, body and mind. Hilton College has long explored the notion of being a great school. Leveraging our full-time boarding construct, we have created our own broad-based curriculum in our quest to educate boys to become the truest and best version of themselves. I hope to highlight some of these aspects in my next letter as we explore the depth and width of great schools’ curricula. I am also interested in your thoughts about areas of our curriculum that we should consider as great, and areas that still require further work. I look forward to a lively discussion after my next letter!

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