Rhode Island’s perspective and possibility widening boarding and day school, grades 6-12 and postgraduate.

4 Advantages of Small Schools: Why Small Schools Do So Much More Than Improve Test Scores

The benefits of a small school go far beyond academic achievement and test scores. Small schools present unique opportunities for social emotional growth, relationship building, and high expectations both in and out of the classroom. St. Andrew’s School Counselor Ann Allain shares insights about the benefits of a small school environment.
1. Students at small schools develop strong relationships with their peers and their teachers in an environment where they are known and appreciated as a whole person, not just a classmate or student[1]. These close peer relationships help students in small schools feel safe and included, regardless of their differences[2]. Strong student-teacher relationships help students feel comfortable taking risks both academically and socially and can lead to greater social-emotional development.[3] A middle school student at St. Andrew’s recently remarked, “I can walk into any classroom here and feel confident because I know that I’m going to get the help I need from my teachers.” Strong relationships with classmates and teachers can even improve academic performance. Researchers found that “although a variety of factors affect student achievement, the greatest factor was the reduction of anonymity — going to a school where someone knows your name.”[4] School Counselor Ann Allain agrees: “When kids feel safe emotionally to make mistakes, they know that the support is there to help them recover. There’s a level of acceptance that is profound among our students. They feel supported by the school and their classmates. They let their defenses down and that makes them more open to learn and to connect with their teachers and each other.”

2. Small schools are able to tailor instruction to meet the needs of individual students while also encouraging all students to meet higher expectations. When class sizes are small, teachers are able to better know the academic strengths and weaknesses of each of their students and tailor their instruction accordingly[5]. At the same time, because teachers are able to know their students better in small schools, they often have higher expectations for them. “High expectations require relationships and communities of support.”[6] Additionally, teachers are able to provide the supports students need to meet those high expectations by collaborating with colleagues, maintaining consistent professional development, and having regular contact with parents[7].

3. Teachers at small schools report higher levels of job satisfaction, leading to increased teacher retention and, consequently, increased consistency for their students. The study Small Schools: Great Strides found that teachers in small schools “reported greater satisfaction because they felt more connected to one another… Many teachers told researchers that teaching at a small school reminded them why they became teachers in the first place.”[8] “For teachers, that consistency of relationships is also rewarding because we can see our students progress through the years — the growth from 9th grade to 12th grade is unbelievable,” Allain said.
Why does teacher satisfaction matter? When a teacher is enthusiastic about teaching, “students are more likely to be interested, energetic, curious, and excited about learning.”[9] Additionally, teachers that are satisfied with their current teaching position are more likely to stay at the same school, which helps schools build stronger cultures and curriculums.[10] “It can be traumatic for kids when a teacher they connect with leaves the school,” Allain said. “Kids are vulnerable when they walk into a school. We ask them to show us their challenges and trust that we will accept and help them. It’s not a quick process to build that trust and there’s not a set time frame, so predictability and consistency in relationships with teachers allows the trust process to unfold. By having the same teachers be a consistent presence in a student’s life, interactions that build trust are able to repeat over time, building a stronger relationship and providing a rich context for social emotional and academic learning.”

4. Small schools foster citizenship, leadership, and social emotional skills through increased student engagement. Students at small schools are more likely to be highly engaged in their school community, leading to a sense of personal responsibility for the community. “Students begin to internalize values of care and respect and model a critical and engaged citizenship.”[11] Students in small schools demonstrate an increased sense of personal responsibility, including feeling confident helping their peers problem solve, resolve conflicts, and work in teams.[12] Community service and personal accountability also tend to be more prevalent in small schools.[13] Finally, students at small schools generally have more opportunities to participate in clubs, athletics, and the arts, allowing them to “develop leadership skills in a greater diversity of situations.”[14] Allain explains that St. Andrew’s students build citizenship, leadership, and social emotional skills in a variety of ways. “We offer a new Empathy Class as part of the Residential Life curriculum. We push our kids out of their comfort zones to confront issues of race, gender, and differing perspectives. It is definitely uncomfortable for them sometimes, but they want to have these conversations with each other and with adults. Our students asked for more forums to have these conversations and we are working to provide them. We also have so many community service opportunities. I am always amazed that our kids get up early on a Saturday morning to go to the soup kitchen, and they can’t wait to go back. The volunteer opportunities transform them. St. Andrew’s also emphasizes the Chapin Tradition and we have opportunities for kids to be recognized as leaders. Part of being a leader at St. Andrew’s includes duties such as tutoring peers during exam week or serving as student ambassadors for prospective families. Our clubs and Spiritual Life program cultivate fun ways to engage kids while they are also learning. Here they can find their own unique voice.”

[2] The Tenney School. 5 Social Advantages of Small Schools. http://www.tenneyschool.com/5-social-advantages-of-smallschools/
[3] Gallagher, Emily. The Effects of Teacher-Student Relationships: Social and Academic Outcomes of Low-Income Middle and High School Students. NYU Steinhardt. 2013. http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2013/fall/gallagher
[4] Dunne, Diane Weaver. Are Smaller Schools Better Schools? Education World. 2000. http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/issues108.shtml
[5] Method Schools.
[6] Wasley, Patricia, et al. Small Schools: Great Strides, a study of new small schools in Chicago. Bank Street College of Education, New York, NY. 2000. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED465474.pdf
[7] Dunne, Diane Weaver.
[8] ibid
[9] Patrick, Angela Scott. Examination of Teacher Workplace Satisfaction and Student Achievement. Georgia Southern University, Jack N. Averitt College of Graduate Studies. Fall 2007. http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1272&context=etd
[10] Johnson, Susan Moore, et al. How Context Matters in High-Need Schools: The Effects of Teachers’ Working Conditions on Their Professional Satisfaction and Their Students’ Achievement. Teachers College Record, vol. 114, no. 10. 2012. http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=16685
[11] Wasley, Patricia.
[12] Ibid
[13] Ibid
[14] Barker, Bruce O. The Advantages of Small Schools, ERIC Digests. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, Las Cruces, NM. http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-923/small.htm
Rhode Island’s perspective and possibility widening boarding and day school, grades 6-12 and postgraduate