This past week has been a very thought-provoking one, leaving me feeling an urgency to ensure our school community members share a common understanding about the role of a St. Clement’s education.
I have been away from St. Clement’s since Homecoming Friday and am just leaving the annual Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Heads’ and Chairs’ Conference in Halifax to attend a National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) Trustees’ meeting in Los Angeles.
Spending time over Thanksgiving with my brother, his wife and their young children allowed me to live life through the eyes of parents. Despite not being a parent myself, I have a sense of their strong desire to ensure their children are getting the best education possible. Attending a national educational conference allowed me access to expertise and time with colleagues to discuss opportunities and complexities in education as we prepare our students for a dynamic and complex world. Joining NCGS colleagues whose focus is the education of girls allows me more specific conversations and resources around gender and the importance of ensuring that our girls and young women are resilient and capable. Perhaps most important is that the travel time between these events affords some wonderful and disconnected reflective time as I fly from east to west coast.
As I leave the CAIS conference and head to the NCGS meetings, I am filled with information from excellent sessions on topics such as educational innovation, enrolment management, governance, blended learning, diversity in our schools, design thinking and changes in the perception of the purpose and role of education.
These sessions highlight the tremendous opportunities we are faced with as educators of independent schools, while also reminding me of the complexities of information about education and its purpose.
On the last day of the conference, Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor and developmental psychologist, shared initial thoughts on some research he is doing about the diminished support for a liberal arts and science degree. Gardner suggests that too often students and parents are looking for a program that guarantees a job at the end. While he acknowledges the logic in this, Gardner asked us to consider whether we are sure that our parents are truly invested in our schools for what we- the schools- believe in. He wonders whether schools are increasingly being seen as simply a conduit to the ‘next life step’ rather than a place for learning experiences, challenges, failures and growth, and that if that is the case, whether schools are really able to facilitate learning and growth.
As I take time to reflect between flights, I think about the important roles that parents, schools, and our students play in defining their futures. More importantly, I think about the need to ensure that we have alignment within our community about the role of education. St. Clement’s mission is to develop outstanding women who are intellectually curious, courageous and compassionate, and that takes work. The notion of a school’s being simply a conduit paints a sad picture with students travelling seamlessly along in their school journey without sidetracking, stumbling, or changing course such that they not only learn things but they learn ‘life.’
My hope is that our school is not simply seen as a conduit but as a place to learn, a place in which to engage and a place that stretches our girls not just as students but as individuals who are going to take many paths over time.