It’s not rocket science.
There’s no need to look up test scores or read extensive reports. No rigorous research is necessary. You don’t even need to talk to teachers or observe classrooms.
In my experience, this is all you need to do: Walk into the school and say hello to three random students. If all three say hello back — and do so normally, without shock or a who-are-you look — it’s a good school.
Now that I’m an instructional coach, I get to travel to several schools, including several outside my network, and every day, I say hi (or hi there) to students who don’t know me. I’m just a random white guy to them. It’s fun.
Sometimes, I get a totally neutral non-response — the student is in his own world, oblivious and distracted, with something more important on his mind.
Other times, I get a negative non-response — the student knows I’ve said hi, but doesn’t trust me, or is fearful, or thinks it’s weird that a random adult is trying to make conversation.
But in good schools, students give me the benefit of the doubt. They say hi not just because they’re friendly, respectful young people. They say hi because they feel safe at the school, because they’re happy to be there, and because adults do not threaten them.
They say hi because they trust adults — including white adults — to be on their side, to be helpful, and they’re willing to listen to what adults have to say.
They say hi because adults have high standards and do not let students hide or grumble or skulk.
This say-hi test may seem too simplistic, but I’ve found it works. Within the first 30 seconds of entering a school, I can sense the vibe. How’s the school culture? Is this a place of joy and respect? Are there opportunities for teachers and students to learn together?
If you’re near a school next week, please try out my little test and let me know how it goes!