My colleagues at SMUS had been using the word “personalization” for a couple of years when it also appeared in the new BC Education Plan, planted through the document like seeds designed to sprout in the fertile minds of educators. Since then, it has been cursed and worshipped. Some view it as yet another flavour that will pass when a new month comes along; others view it as nothing special, common not just in education but in artifacts as disparate as cars and coffee (how do you take your Starbucks coffee? What options do you put on your car? How many channels does your cable provide? This is personalization.) How can anyone can be surprised that students will have preferences at school?. The Executive Director of Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS, our national organization) Anne Marie Kee, and the President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS, in the US, the largest organization of Independent Schools in the world) call personalization the most important current in education – and it is their job to study these things. At SMUS, we think it’s worth serious attention – not just because it’s a development that is not going to go away, but also because it’s a development that is going to serve students better.
As it is unfolding at our School, the first observation to make is that personalization is at the heart of our Mission: “our School seeks the excellence in all of us.” This pillar of our Mission is consistent with the best impulses of personalization: that all students possess some inherent excellence to be cultivated and nurtured in the garden of our School. Its emphasis on the pursuit of a student’s passions and strengths should make learning more rewarding. We acknowledge at the same time that there may be some subjects that a student doesn’t take to and where they’re going to have to strive for a minimum competence regardless, in an excellent education. But in the end school should be about finding and pursuing strengths and passions; research supports the notion that time spent developing strengths is more powerful than time spent correcting deficiencies.
We believe in the education of the whole student. An excellent education has to have breadth. Breadth is the antidote to the single-minded pursuit of strengths and passions that, paradoxically, can end up distorting and even stunting achievement. One of the key conversations we have had asks several questions. “Where should we develop a minimum competence regardless of strength?” Secondly, “What common experiences – for instance, musical ensembles, service, team sports – are important to offer every growing child?” “What enriching experiences should be woven into a student’s education to make that fabric more solid, more powerful and more fulfilling?” The concrete answers to these questions are, and will be, the SMUS education. We remain committed to pursuing the excellence in all of us.