Creating successful schools is a priority for governments, district officials, administrators, teachers and parents around the world, but just what does ‘school success’ mean? Grounded in theories of collective sense-making and learning, this article presents how school success is defined in three schools in Ontario, Canada, and draws on Ball, Maguire and Braun’s theory of policy enactment to explain similarities and differences between the schools’ definitions. A comparative case study of three elementary schools in the same neighbourhood finds that students’ happiness and academic learning (rather than achievement on standardized tests) are common aspects of each school’s multifaceted definition of success. Each school also has unique elements in its definition that can be attributed to differences in the schools’ situated, material, and professional contexts. In addition to local influences, class-based deficit ideology and professional discourses in their external contexts impact the schools’ definitions of success. Notably, the schools’ definitions emphasize individual growth and outcomes that reproduce rather than transform social inequities.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.