What Are Characteristics of a Highly Effective School?

Nov 18, 2015 11:00:00 AM Justin Barbaro Education Trends

Our team of educators wanted to understand the characteristics of highly effective schools. We mined current research to uncover the nine characteristics of highly effective schools.

Highly effective schools:

Set and enact a clear mission and vision. Everyone in highly effective schools understands where the organization is going, why they are going there, and how they are contributing this greater cause (Collins, 2001).    

Apply high standards and expectations for all students.Highly effective schools offer all students ambitious, rigorous courses of study regardless of the barriers and obstacles individual students face (Langer, 2004).

Leverage effective instructional and administrative leadership strategies to identify, address, and reform schools. Additionally, instructional leadership helps to foster communities of development for faculty and students (Elmore, 2000)

Communicate and collaborate as a team in order to achieve shared goals. High performing boarding schools require twenty-four hours of collaboration and communication a day between faculty, staff, and students in order to remain responsive to community challenges (Bryk & Schnieder, 2002). 

Align curriculum, instruction, and assessments in ways that facilitate synergies to foster student learning. Faculty in high-performing schools design, utilize, and reflect upon research-based strategies and materials used across each of these three components (Fullan, Hill, & Crevola, 2006). 

Frequently monitor student progress, adjusting instruction to provide additional support. In highly effective schools, teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning, and school leaders are responsible for managing teacher development and instruction (Darling-Hammond, 2002).

Prioritize development and training of teachers in areas that are most applicable to the specific school context. Professional learning is extensive and ongoing and aligned to the school’s overarching mission and vision (McLaughlin, 2006).

Develop and maintain a safe and intellectually stimulating learning environment for students. Students feel engaged in classroom learning and are invested in school (Marzano, 2003).

Promote high levels of family and community engagement. Students, teachers, parents and the community feel respected and connected with the school and are positively welcomed into the twenty-four hour learning environment. Families and community members understand their responsibility to educate students in partnership with teachers and the school (Henderson, 2007).


Bryk, A.S. & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap--and others don't. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2002). Redesigning Schools: What Matters and What Works. School Redesign Network at Stanford University. http://222.schoolredesign.net/srn/binary/schoolsBook.pdf

Elmore, R.F. (2000, Winter). Building a New Structure for School Leadership. The Albert Shanker Institute.

Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership & Sustainability: System Thinkers in Action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Henderson, A.T., Mapp, K.L., Johnson V.R., & Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships. New York: The New Press.

Langer, J.A. (2004). Getting to Excellent: How to Create Better Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Marzano, RJ. (2003). What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

McLaughlin, M.W. & Talbert, J.E. (2006). Building School-Based Teacher Learning Communities: Professional Strategies to Improve Student Achievement. New York: Teachers College Press.