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The Purpose of Education

Earlier this week I was away in Winnipeg attending the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools Annual Heads and Chairs conference. This conference provides Heads of Schools and our Board Chairs time away to connect and access speakers and resources about emerging issues and opportunities for our Schools. I enjoy this conference as, beyond the resources, I have time for significant dialogue with other leaders and for reflection on St. Clement’s and its future.

The flow of the conference was an interesting one- and the first day had a powerful effect on me resulting in some important contemplation.

On this day, sessions included topics of financial sustainability, the importance of creating a unique value proposition, brand chemistry, fundraising and risk management. These are important considerations for our schools, particularly for Heads of Schools in what is a complex economic and social time. We absolutely need to ensure that current and prospective families understand who we are, know that their daughters will be safe, and trust that the School is being financially responsible. And- to our community- rest assured that we are.

However, by the end of the day, I found myself feeling a little jaded about the business side of our schools and wondered aloud to our Board Chair if the students and their learning how to learn have been lost in the noise of economics, and if the purpose of education has been muddied because of this as well.

I have observed, listened and reflected a lot over the course of several years as the framing of education has changed. As one of our facilitators indicated on the first day of the conference, many, many people are viewing education like a car that is made to take a person from one destination to another- a simple conduit in life; and that, I know, is what hit me the hardest.

I recognize that our parents and prospective parents are (and should be) thinking about the future and investing in an education that is well-rounded and deep, its purpose to ensure the success of their daughters. However, I am troubled by what ‘successful’ education has come to mean for so many.

In conversations, brochures, and our promotion at school fairs we talk about who we are, what makes us unique, and how a St. Clement’s education will afford one’s daughters- our girls- success in the future beyond post-secondary experiences and into life. This is important; however, what is most important is the work that accomplishes this, and the people who contribute to how we accomplish it. For, at SCS, it is the environment that really is the ‘how’ as opposed to a simple road equating education as a conduit to a next step. Our girls from Grades 1-12 are known and valued, are encouraged to challenge themselves, and are nurtured to be themselves as they learn how to learn.

At St. Clement’s our mission to develop outstanding women who are intellectually curious, courageous and compassionate is the filter through which all our decisions are made- be they curricular, co-curricular, financial or otherwise. The work that we do is for our girls’ growth and learning and this principle must stay front and center. And to be clear, we cannot- will not- guarantee, that their paths will be smoothly paved or straight.

What we can assure families is that with a collaborative and nurturing parent and school partnership, and mutual support, our girls- their daughters- will grow, learn and stand out along the way- all for the better. For at St. Clement’s, we view our students not as the users of the institution we work to keep viable, but as the daughters of our school’s families, the focus of our work, and the very reason for our school’s existence.

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