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Micro schools: the wave of the future

The main features and benefits of micro schools

The one-room-school-house of the past is back, but it’s retooled and positioned to be the school of the future. Dubbed “micro schools,” these independent, often progressive schools have been opening across the UK, the US, and here in Canada. Many, though, have been around for decades.

What micro schools are like

While micro schools can vary in many ways, one thing they have in common is their size. Micro schools, as you might expect, are small and have an intimate learning environment. In particular, you can expect a micro school will have most of the following features related to its size:

  • A small student body (10 to 150 students)
  • Small, mixed-age classes (12 students or less)
  • An intimate, home-like community and environment

While micro schools vary in their aims and goals, they tend to share a common approach. This approach is in stark contrast to that of more traditional or conventional schools. Indeed, micro schools tend to have the following alternative or progressive characteristics:

  • A student-centred approach
  • Non-traditional field and outdoor learning opportunities
  • Project-based and personalized learning (similar to Reggio emilia-inspired schools)
  • Flexibility and adaptability in terms of:
    • Learning environments
    • Daily schedules and annual calendars
    • Curriculum and approaches

Benefits of micro schools

It is widely accepted that any current education system must continually adapt and reform to keep pace with the needs of the future. It can be a struggle, though, for large schools to make effective changes to keep up. It is exactly this ability of micro schools to adapt and manage change quickly that makes them so successful.  

Little bureaucracy and lower overhead costs allow for a flexibility in education not experienced in other models. Micro schools can be adaptable and innovative, and can apply best practices, new programs, and methodologies that are being developed and implemented in other parts of the world.

Small classes and programs make on-going evaluation and assessment of programs and student achievement easier to do in real-time. They also provide the flexibility to make improvements right away.  

The curriculum at micro schools tends to be student-driven to increase engagement and an appreciation for lifelong learning (similar to Montessori and Waldorf schools). The focus is on developing each child, with their unique abilities, strengths, interests, and personal learning goals in mind.

This contrasts with the “one-size-fits-all,” standardized curriculum that is still the norm, despite being developed to educate the masses over a century ago. Newer, innovative approaches in education that favour the development of 21st century skills, such as inquiry and project-based learning, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, and an integrated curriculum are easier to apply effectively in the small setting of a micro school.

Personalized learning” programs are commonplace in micro schools, with the educator team working collaboratively to guide and support students in all aspects, including academics, 21st century skill development, and social-emotional needs. The collaborative “it-takes-a village” approach allows for a seamless transition from year-to-year, with a continuation of goal-setting and skill development, because all staff members understand each student’s needs and work together to provide support. This individualized approach supports the development of the whole child: academically, socially, and emotionally.

Micro schools and the future

Micro schools focus on 21st century skills, modern approaches, personalized learning, and have an intimate home-like environment. This “old-is-new-again” model is quickly becoming an appealing option for many families looking for a more progressive and innovative approach to education. The growing coverage of these schools in the media means bringing their unique take on learning to the forefront of discussions on the definition of school.

These schools thus have the unique opportunity to take huge steps forward in education. This is the reason their founders and directors have decided to open up shop and take education reform into their own hands. The drive to be innovative, efficient, and effective helps ensure big success for students. This ability to be so adaptive and responsive to the individual needs of students is very appealing in an age where the pace of change is hard to keep up with.

Micro schools do have their limits of course, such as fewer extracurriculars and sports clubs. However, the addition of these schools provides much needed choice in education. This is becoming more important as we look to meet the changing needs of our students, so that they can succeed in the 21st century.

 

—Amanda Dervaitis, founder and principal of High Park Day School in Toronto

 

 

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