by Erin Anderson
Last year, SMUS created a new position to examine how well the school’s practices matched with new research into how our brains work when it comes to learning. Our new Director of Learning, Heather Clayton, has now settled into SMUS and is ready for the school year to begin.
What will you do as Director of Learning?
As the Director of Learning, I will work hard to help support the great work that is already being done at this school from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Collaborating with parents, teachers and students, I hope to offer evening presentations and workshop opportunities for interested parents on learning and brain research. To begin with, most of my work will be with teachers in the areas of their professional growth as it relates to student learning. Initially, I will be listening, learning and probably asking a lot of questions as I meet with teachers in various contexts.
Often teachers are already doing great work that aligns with the research, and deeper understanding of this research allows for greater purpose and intention in teaching. Sometimes, a new strategy or idea can be just the thing to create forward movement in both relationship with the students and their learning. Some of the greatest professional growth opportunities occur when teachers collaborate together, sharing practices and learning from each other. I hope that I can also help to encourage and facilitate these rich times of growth.
How did you become interested in learning processes?
I am fascinated by learning and I think always have been. Teachers are lifelong learners, often attracted to education as a way of continuing their own growth and sharing their learning passion. Even as a teen, I taught swimming. I was fascinated to see – as I taught the “Terrified Adult” swimming class – how powerful it was to facilitate a learning experience for others that could really help them grow and develop. I was hooked! I have spent the last 24 years in the study of teaching and the practice of learning, as a student, teacher, consultant and educational coach.
What are some things people may not know about how we learn?
There is a lot that we know and are continuing to discover about how we learn. We learn best when we can focus and when we are not stressed. We also learn when we can find meaning and make connections between what we are learning and our own lives. These are important truths for the adolescent brain – but I think also true for us as adults. They are also only the tip of the iceberg. Neuroscience and the increased research in learning styles and strengths, as well as solid research on the most effective teaching practices, all provide a backdrop for our continued learning as educators.
Where did you work before SMUS?
I have worked in both middle and high schools, as a teacher. I also went on a teacher exchange (my husband’s) to Australia in 2000 and became an educational consultant (K – 12) in the outback, travelling great distances through kangaroos and emus to visit schools! For the past seven years, I worked for a school district in Ontario as a consultant part-time and also ran my own part-time educational consulting business, which led me across Canada and the US to work on differentiated learning, assessment, brain research and leadership/coaching with other educators.
What attracted you to SMUS?
A colleague sent me the posting for the Director of Learning position and it felt like the perfect job because of the experiences and work I have been doing. In fact, when I showed another colleague the job posting, she asked me, “If you were to write your own dream job description, would it look any different?” So I applied for the job.
I was so impressed with all of the people that I met, and the conversations that we had. It felt like the vision and the values of SMUS were being lived in an authentic way. Having worked with various schools over the past few years, I felt ready in my career to focus my energies in one place and to go deeper in both relationships and learning. I have been in Victoria a bit over the past two years, completing my MA in Leadership at Royal Roads, so I felt at home here. The fact that I can see mountains and am close to water is also amazing!
What are your hopes for the coming school year?
My plan is to listen, learn and ask lots of questions in order to better understand the SMUS culture. I look forward to supporting these amazing teachers through dialogue and professional development opportunities. I hope that I can assist parents through conversations and presentations to better understand how their children learn. I hope that all students will continue to feel valued and will be better able to understand how their brain works and advocate for what helps them as learners.
My hope is that I can get to know (and remember) all the names of all the people in the SMUS community!