Characteristics of Successful Schools

Characteristics of Successful Schools

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Based on current research, this guide describes a set of characteristics that define the Wisconsin framework for a successful school. In its entirety, this publication provides a starting point for thinking about what it takes to successfully educate all children. This resource, combined with staff expertise, grants and aids, projects, and guides available to Wisconsin schools through the Department of Public Instruction is the "state road map" for improvement initiatives in public education. It is the designed to articulate in a simple way the essential elements and steps needed to provide an education that results in high achieving, good citizens.

To download the complete guide in PDF format click here: Characteristics of Successful Schools



Chapter 1 describes the seven characteristics that comprise a successful school. Briefly, they are:

  • Vision: having a common understanding of goals, principles and expectations for everyone in the learning-community
  • Leadership: having a group of individuals dedicated to helping the learning-community reach its vision
  • High Academic Standards: describing what students need to know and be able to do
  • Standards of the Heart: helping all within the learning community become caring, contributing, productive, and responsible citizens
  • Family School and Community Partnerships: "making room at the table" for a child's first and most influential teachers
  • Professional Development: providing consistent, meaningful opportunities for adults in the school setting to engage in continuous learning
  • Evidence of Success: collecting and analyzing data about students, programs, and staff

Countless characteristics of successful schools have been generated based on research regarding school reform and improvement. The department purposefully did not list equity, diversity, fairness, and inclusiveness as a separate characteristic; we believe that each characteristic listed above must include and attend to these important principles, commitments, and the corresponding responsive practices. The essential dynamic is that equity and diversity must be a part of every aspect of education. This includes every program or school improvement plan; every school-sponsored activity; every resource-allocation decision; every classroom environment, curriculum, and instructional plan; and every policy and procedure of the school. The practice of educational equity should permeate everything that happens in the school.

The resulting framework emphasizes essential elements of a school that is successful at helping all students achieve academically and helping them to be caring, contributing, productive, and responsible citizens. These dual missions, educating the hearts and educating the minds of youth, are considered of equal importance in a school's quest to be successful.

The elements do not stand alone: they are interdependent and part of a dynamic process. Each element must be revisited time and again as the staff gather and examine relevant data, develop and refine their vision; and employ the resources needed to provide leadership, high academic and behavioral standards, and continuous professional development.

Chapter 2 provides eight surveys to help school teams begin thinking about their accomplishments and the future in each of the seven elements. It is not meant as a complete list of essential questions. Rather, it provides a starting place for schoolwide dialogue about the current status and the future vision.

Chapter 3 provides a brief overview of a process for using the data generated by the self-assessment and other sources to create or sustain a successful school. It poses five questions for school-community teams to use to plan improvements or to prioritize current efforts that show promise:

  1. Where are we now?
    To answer this question, the team must gather a clear picture of current success and needs related to efforts to educate the hearts and minds of all students.
  2. What is our target?
    Answering this question provides a roadmap for creating and recognizing success.
  3. How will we get there?
    The school-community team must develop a long range plan, including tasks, timelines, and responsibilities of all involved.
  4. How will we know we're on target and what will we do if we're not?
    Answers to this question provide short-term benchmarks for the school-community team.
  5. How will we continue to focus and sustain our efforts?
    Providing the best educational experience possible for all students is not a project to be completed. It's an ongoing process of planning, delivering, reflecting, and refining our services to all children. The school-community team must give thought to sustaining efforts indefinitely and to supporting or documenting an institutional memory of its experience. This should prevent reinventing the wheel as teachers, administrators, pupil services personnel as well as students and parents implement change.


For questions about this information, contact Title I and School Support Team (608) 267-3721