Respect for the Learner

SMUS-Views-Bob

There probably isn’t a more fundamental question to ask in a school than “what should be our approach to learning?”

At the beginning of this week, the Management Team, along with twelve other teaching staff, were gathered in a room in Parksville asking that very question. We were at our annual retreat, an event that takes place every summer to look at issues of importance to the school over the next twelve to eighteen months. A year ago, we group of about forty staff and Board members gathered to do a study of the book, “Cosmopolitanism”, an extended body of reflections and analysis which connects very effectively to the theme of Global Responsibility, an important topic at the school these days. In other years we have looked at our Leadership program, or Service, or the School’s Vision. One of the most impressive things for me is to work with teaching staff who are not only willing but actually eager to give up a couple of days of their summer holiday to throw ideas around and shape the next year.

This year, looking at the question of our approach to learning is particular useful with the arrival of our new Director of Learning, Heather Clayton. Parents and staff will get to know Heather over the coming year.  In her role she will look at the emphasis we have been placing recently on meeting the needs of all learners – especially through the implementation of current powerful research in brain-based learning, differentiation and assessment practices – and she will work with staff on making sure we are doing the best we can. This is her area of expertise.

What is our approach to learning? The question has a complex answer, and I can tell you that it leads to an intense discussion with a group of dedicated and interested teachers. The list of attributes that surfaced to define and form our approach to learning was long. And this particular attribute – that our approach to learning should be marked by respect for the learner – came out of the mouth of Nancy Richards, our Director of Junior School. Right away I wrote it down, and turned to the person next to me and said, “I have my theme for this week’s blog entry.” If you are going to meet the needs of the learners in the classroom, you have to start here, recognizing that all learners want to learn, that they bring different strengths and abilities to the experience, and that the hallmark of a good teacher and a good approach to learning is to discover where that student is, and start in that place, not the teacher’s place, when you start down the path of education.

So now we are ready to begin.

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

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