The School is the Learning Centre


Next week we will be interviewing for the new position of Director of Learning. The position had its genesis in a single, simple idea: to meet the needs of all learners. I have observed before that in the bad old days an assumption prevailed that if we could teach the “best and brightest” to excel, then the rest of the students would be swept along by their example and the momentum of their success. The reality is that while these other students fared reasonably well, we missed giving them the opportunity to discover how they might become the best and brightest themselves, each in his or her particular way. We simply didn’t have the knowledge or tools to identify very well how different students learned – which was “differently” in a myriad of ways – and so we did our best, frankly. Recent research and educational practice has now opened up opportunities for all our students to fulfill their promise.

The new position of Director of Learning, driven by this goal of meeting the needs of all learners, had two separate sources. The Management Team was responsible for implementing the recommendations in the Strategic Plan of 2005 that we make priorities out of differentiated instruction, more sophisticated and useful assessment and evaluation, and a collaborative learning environment. These priorities stemmed from solid current research about brain-based learning, a body of research that presented new findings about how students learn.

The other source of the idea came from a committee that was struck to consider a “Learning Centre” at SMUS. More and more in recent years we have offered learning support for students with learning differences, including “gifted” students. We built a team of Learning Resource teachers responsible for this support. The purpose of the committee was to look at the team’s work, to make sure it was as effective as possible, and then to see if that work could be extended to more students. At the outset of the committee’s discussions, we anticipated the creation of a “Learning Centre” that would be a physical place, which would be the nexus of our learning resource activity and student support, and which would spread its nurturing influence wherever it was needed. The end result was quite different, however. In the end, we came to the conclusion that the benefits of brain-based learning, differentiated instruction, assessment and evaluation for learning, and related practices were clearly good not just for identified students, but for all students. Therefore, we didn’t need to create a separate “Learning Centre”; what we needed to understand was that the entire school was the “Learning Centre”. The Director of Learning, who will have expertise in these areas, is to oversee the work of the continued evolution of our classroom practices. It is an exciting prospect.

In keeping with past practice for such appointments, the interview team will consist of a combination of staff, Management Team, parents and Board members. These different perspectives ensure a broad range of eyes who will look at the candidates, and affirm in the community that the process is transparent and professional. The team consists of Susan MacDonald, Senior School English teacher; Nicky Newsome, Junior School primary teacher; Xavier Abrioux, Director of Middle School; Kathy Roth, Director of Senior School; John Liggett, Director of Academics; Patti McIntyre Gray, Middle School parent and parent of two graduates; Linda Bodine, Middle and Senior School parent; and David Edwards, Board member and Middle School parent (all three of these parents have children who started in kindergarten, in case a feeling exists that the Junior School is under-represented!).

Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.


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