This page is a compilation of blogs from the many authors in the Southridge Community.
Every term our faculty has the opportunity to participate in a professional book club. This term, the book was, The End of Average by Todd Rose. In the book, Rose establishes the context for the rise of averagarian thinking and how it has influenced science and psychology, along with the world of education.
Over time, the average has become the benchmark by which we define success. If average represents what is desirable, then anything less than that is below average, and anything more is above average. Rose argues that averagarian thinking ignores the science of the individual, and leads us to see humans as one-dimensional, when we are really complex, multi-dimensional beings, each with unique talents, abilities, gifts and challenges.
He relates his research to education and how schools, including higher education institutions, use averages to measure achievement and make decisions about learning. He argues that if we measure learners by how many degrees they are either above or below the average, we miss out on the opportunity to truly be responsive to their individual needs as learners and in supporting the development of their passions. Rose poses the following question: “Do we want a system of...education that compels each student to be like everyone else-only better? Or do we want a system that empowers each student to make her own choices?” (p. 179)
In a school like Southridge, where our mission calls us to develop “well-rounded students with the knowledge, integrity, character and confidence to realize their full potential…” it’s important that we never stop seeing each learner as an individual and that we always consider the ways we might respond to who each learner truly is and who they might become, and not define them by how close, below or above average the metrics tell us they are.
Tanya de Hoog
Head of Junior School
Somewhere along the pathway of life, a sense of independence takes hold of us and we strive to establish our own identity, individuality and capabilities – all good things, of course. For many people, independence becomes a way of life and some cultures have established it as a dominant characteristic of what it means to be successful. Popular culture reinforces the glory of independence by way of fictional characters, some of them with superhuman powers, even. Marvel characters, for example do just that: Spiderman, Black widow, Thor and, of course, Captain America.
But what if superheroes were interdependent? What if glorified independence is recognized as limiting? What if independence is seen only as a stepping stone to another level of development? What if pop culture supported the message that the only way we’re going to have a true impact on the world is if we admit our own limitations and join forces to work in a way that allows us to be better people and do even more good by depending on one another.
In fact, this kind of thing happens in real life all of the time, but we often don’t realize or recognize it because we’re too busy trying to be an individual with our own distinct identity and capabilities. The secret is that our relationships provide interdependent opportunities. Certainly, at Southridge we have many relationships and partnerships in the greater South Surrey community and throughout the world: W.E. Kinvig School, Semiahmoo House Society, the Surrey Urban Mission and communities in developing countries.
We may classify these relationships as service learning opportunities, but I like to think of them as examples of our interdependencies; as opportunities to learn and grow by virtue of sharing our vulnerabilities and opening ourselves up to the kind of growth that can only happen when we interact with a rich diversity of people in our own local community and throughout the world.
The next time we see our children pushing for independence and, perhaps, succumbing to the societal pressure to be superheroes, it might be helpful to reassure them (and give them permission) to admit that it’s alright to be wrong, to say sorry and to ask for help. As we all know, it is incredible how liberating it can be to admit our vulnerabilities – and how powerfully they can help us grow . . . into true superheroes.
Head of School
I recently read an extended post from highschoolsportsstuff titled “One Sport Athletes”. This continues to be a hot topic in youth sports and it is one that impacts members of the Southridge School community. Over the past few years, parents may feel more pressured than ever to place their children in year-round academies and into extra off-season training. Outside of traditional early specialization sports such as figure skating and gymnastics, there is increasing commentary in opposition to having kids give up one (or more) sports in order to “focus” on another. While there are success stories in both approaches, here are some interesting anecdotes and statistics:
Close to home is the famous case of Steve Nash who still became an NBA MVP in spite of playing on the soccer, basketball, and rugby teams for St. Michael’s University School in his grade 12 year.
Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks said one of the first questions he asks about potential recruits are “What other sports does he play?...I hate that kids don’t play three sports in high school. I really don’t favor kids having to specialize in one sport.” Although coach Carroll doesn’t provide specifics, some of the potential hazards of early specialization cited in the blog, can include overuse injuries, burnout, loss of free play time, and missing out on the social, emotional and character development that come from playing a variety of sports, and in the case of Southridge School, playing on mixed age teams.
Southridge School provides these opportunities, and encourages our students to participate in as many activities as they can. At this past year’s athletic banquet, we honoured to students who played four (!) sports for the school. While the school puts a priority of developing well-rounded individuals, our coaches also encourage this attribute in our student-athletes. As another example, two of our top senior boys’ basketball players (now playing at the university level) also played on the soccer team in their grade 12 years.
In many cases, kids specialize early fearing that if they don’t they won’t get an athletic scholarship or a professional contract. (For every 1 athletic scholarship in the United States, there are approximately 100 academic scholarships). The recruiting breakdown of the Ohio State Football Team also counters this belief. Of the 47 recruits by head coach Urban Meyer, 42 were multi-sport athletes in high school (close to 90%). Another growing trend in British Columbia is for club coaches to discourage and in many cases not permit athletes to play for their high schools.
One final quote, and the author might surprise you:
“If a sport has a high point of the year, it must be the first week of spring. When I was growing up, I used to love this time of year. It was when I put my hockey equipment away and I was absolutely ecstatic to see the end of the hockey season. One of the worst things to happen to the game, in my opinion, has been year-round hockey and, in particular, summer hockey. All it does for kids, as far as I can tell, is keep them out of sports they should be doing in the warmer weather. I could hardly wait to get my lacrosse stick out and start throwing the ball against the walls and working on our moves as we played the lacrosse equivalent to road hockey. All the good hockey players seemed to play lacrosse in those days and every one of them learned something from the game to carry over to the other - things athletes can only learn by mixing up the games they play when they are young.” - Wayne Gretzky
Senior School Athletic Director
Here’s a different take on letting every spirit soar; a take that is within reach of all of us and yet remains relatively unexplored. Home is where the heart is. It stands for the stable core where individual life is often shaped. It is the familiar touch-point for us to connect with, it helps to centre us in times of uncertainty and it helps comfort us when we feel alone and frightened. It is a safe harbour for our spirits to rest and recover. It is a warm space for us to be ourselves, for our souls and our passions to find freedom and expression.
To be at home is a calling. As parents and teachers, the formative years of childhood and adolescence represent a crucial time for us to help our children find a sense of home within themselves – a stable core, a touch-point, a known centre, a safe harbor. This is something that is often overlooked, but it is a vital requirement for the creative expression of individuality, and it is the internal foundation that needs to be in place for a spirit to soar.
Having a sense of our inner ground, our essence, knows no bounds and it is not retrained by physical constructs (houses and schools) that we so often imagine when we speak of coming home. On the other hand, in preparing our children to leave home and attend university, we have a job to do beyond ensuring the academic groundwork is in place. Our job extends beyond character preparation as well. Our job also encompasses the cultivation of our children’s spirituality, which is assumed to be understood in our vision, “a community where every spirit soars”.
When a person is at home internally in life, s/he has a sense of spirituality. S/he has a clear instinct about how to respond to situations and unexpected events that happen externally. Even in the midst of confusion s/he can discern the pathway forward, a pathway that is true and authentic. When a person is at home in themselves, s/he is integrated and enjoys a sense of balance and poise; a confidence that is deeply rooted in a stable core and a known centre.
Spirits soaring invoke images and feelings associated with fulfillment, happiness and purpose. Alas, all too often we push the conditions for our own spirit soaring onto others, and are disappointed when the external world doesn’t fulfill us or make us happy. What is in reach for all of us is the cultivation of our own internal foundation - the art of coming home is, in reality, the source of spirits soaring.
Head of School
John O’Donohue was a philosopher and poet who wrote beautifully on the Celtic spirit. I came across some of his work this past summer and was literally stopped in my tracks by his moving thoughts and imaginative expressions. His poetry in particular is quite thought provoking and, besides being beautifully written, holds simple wisdom that is both striking and uplifting.
In his book called To Bless this Space between Us, a poem about welcoming the morning is a great way to remember the tendency we all have to rest in the comfort of the safety and warmth of the shells that we create around us. Alas, these shells are also the source of immobility and, despite their coziness, they often hold us back from growth in all of its fullness embodying intellect, emotion and spirit.
The stanza from the poem that I am referring to is written in a way that resonates well with schools because of its open posture towards the discomfort that is often required to learn something new; discomfort that is particularly “disturbing” when the learning in question challenges sources of comfort and predictability. He writes,
May your mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites you to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed
If you happened to be around in 1975, you may remember the song “Hide in Your Shell” written and composed by Roger Hodgson of Supertramp. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the song originally appeared on the album Crime of the Century, for it certainly would be a horrible crime if we didn’t break the dead shells that keep us hidden – safe, perhaps, but hidden nevertheless.
Learning is all about change and growth; and it’s about being less hidden, isn’t it? Southridge strives to create a learning environment that feels safe enough for our students (and all of us, really) to take risks, to try something new, to speak out, to be “disturbed”, to explore new frontiers and to . . . well . . . come out of our shells to become the most whole people we are called to be.
Energy, debate, laughter, dialogue and intrigue – our classrooms are full of it!
For several hundred years, the “stand and deliver” technique of teaching was the accepted practice. Students would sit quietly in rows, listening attentively to their teacher, who for all intents and purposes, was the holder of the knowledge. In this environment, students worked individually on assignments, and cooperation was not typically encouraged. Certainly, before the dawn of the internet and mobile technology, this method served our society quite well.
But what happens when the world evolves and students can simply ask Google for the answers? What happens when society and economy tell us that students need to know how to think creatively, how to work collaboratively, how to assess information critically and how to communicate effectively? How do teachers “teach” when solutions and information are now easily available through iPhones, iPads and other handheld devices?
In today’s world, schools and educators must adapt, change and innovate. We must accept the shifting paradigm of our traditional classrooms to keep up with the ever-changing pace of technology, the accessibility of information and the skills our students will need to flourish in our knowledge society. We must move from the teacher-centred, “stand and deliver” method, to a student-centred one.
Student-centred classrooms are busy and energetic, full of debate, laughter, dialogue and intrigue. They’re fun, engaging and interesting places to be! They’re the opposite of the muffled, restricted classrooms of yesterday.
Student-centred teaching methods shift the focus from the teacher to the learners. A student-centred approach supports active learning opportunities, in which students formulate questions of their own, discuss, explain, debate, create and brainstorm during class; students work in teams on problems and projects, and they collaborate in an environment that facilitates both individual accountability, as well as mutual interdependence. This approach teaches students how to ask questions, solve problems, think critically, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments, and generate ideas.
Student-centred teaching engages students in the hard, difficult, and circuitous work of learning. Content is presented and questions are posed that require students to broaden their thinking, question assumptions, and analyze how the world works. In this way, students develop the sophisticated skills of asking thoughtful questions, creating understanding and working through the “why” of a problem. Students construct meaning, build a better awareness of how they learn and strengthen their understanding of who they are and how they fit in the world.
At Southridge, our teachers seldom “stand and deliver,” and our student-centred approach to teaching and learning is the thread that weaves our Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum together. Although the Junior and Senior School educational programs may be distinct in how they address the different ages of our students, they are complementary to one another and are founded in the philosophy of student-centred teaching. They work in concert to help our students ask questions, probe challenges, debate ideas, and work collaboratively to construct an advanced understanding of their world as they continuously search for a deeper appreciation of the truth.
HEAD OF SCHOOL
Student leadership and participation in action!
Grade 4 is an exciting year for the students in the Junior School, as they transition upstairs and have a newly formed sense of independence, especially when it comes to their responsibilities here at school. As teachers, we actively work to give the students opportunities to self-direct their learning and leave room for them to explore various areas that tweak their interest. One of those ways in Grade 4 is the PYP Exhibition.
From start to finish, the PYP Exhibition is a student-centred, student directed research project where the students play a vital role in the planning, developing, and executing of the entire unit. Students decide which aspects of our theme interest them the most, and which areas they would love to learn more about. It is from this point that the students work collaboratively to develop their area of focus including the development of their own key concepts, lines of inquiry and ultimately, their own central ideas. It is an incredible learning process to be a part of as the students explore not only their research questions with their groups, they experience the nature of inquiry based, student-centred learning. Students are able to explore the questions that they generate, which creates tremendously meaningful learning experiences.
Beyond the scope of their research, the students truly get to live and grow in the PYP Approaches to Learning. While going through the Exhibition process, they are constantly learning to utilize their research, social, communication and self-management skills, to name a few. On a weekly basis they are given an opportunity to reflect upon their personal growth in these areas, and make suggestions as to how they might improve going forward. This stage in particular, is a marvelous way to see the students learning an awareness of themselves both as growing people, and as growing students.
No matter how much we want them to “learn this” or “learn that” in ways that we do, the students will often make the most meaningful connections and understandings when given the chance to take the lead, and learn as they go with guidance from teachers and mentors. There will be mistakes indeed, but our job as educators is to not prevent those experiences. It is those experiences from which the greatest learning occurs.
GRADE 4 TEACHER
Messy classrooms and engaged brains
According to the 18th century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, “It is beyond a doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience.” Of course, it is not possible for our students to personally experience all things, but through the IB MYP program understanding can also be achieved through guided inquiry in a student-centred classroom. What does this look like?
The student-centred classroom in the Southridge MYP division has many different faces: it can be students in a Grade 5 social studies class selecting candidates and going through the voting process to gain a deeper understanding of the Canadian system of government; or it can be a Grade 6 science class designing a robot to accomplish a particular task; it may even be something as lofty as spending half a term in English 7 investigating various world problems and then choosing one of these to attempt to make a positive world change. These are big examples and tend to be the activities that students have lasting memories about as they look back on their school years; however, on a daily basis, the student-centred classroom consists of the myriad of little ways that the teacher designs her lessons to allow students to unlock meaning and create deeper understanding. When the teacher allows learning to unfold and students to be the driving force behind this through discussion, research, and hands-on activities, the learning is so much more powerful than when the teacher stands at the front of the classroom and delivers content.
The student-centred and inquiry-driven classroom will be, at times, a little loud and a little messy because that’s one of the signs of engaged brains; that hum of excitement is what every MYP teacher at Southridge strives for.
GRADE 7, GRADE 7 HUMANITIES AND ENGLISH, MYP DIVISION LEADER
Edward Harkness was ahead of his time when he founded the Harkness philosophy in 1930. Harkness is a way of teaching and learning that brings students together around a table for discussion. Students come to class prepared to question, discuss, debate and share learnings. The teacher helps coordinate dialogue by asking probing questions or initiating ideas but without lecturing, so as to allow the students to mould the conversation and form a more personal and collaborative understanding of the course content. This philosophy is used in all our Senior School courses at Southridge. The learning looks and feels different from teacher to teacher, as well as between subjects; however the general principles and goals of the Harkness method remain the same: to bring students together for discussion, encourage them to shape their own ideas and understanding of the subject matter, and to facilitate effective dialogue that results in a deeper understanding of the world.
Questions (lots of questions!) and thoughtful, lively debate
As a proud Southridge alumnus, I can say that teaching here isn’t what it was fifteen years ago. I don’t say that negatively. My teachers were obviously incredible! So great in fact, that they inspired me to join the profession. What I mean is that while my high school teachers were innovative, creative and thoughtful, the way we do things now is very different than the way they did things then. Harkness classes vary greatly in terms of norms, roles, procedures, but I will try to give you a glimpse into my social studies classroom.
One of the most notable changes from my high school experience is that we now sit around a big oval table - teachers and students. No more rows, no more teacher dispensing knowledge from the front of the classroom. All of us understand that the internet is the great keeper of knowledge now.
When I sit at the table with the students, the power-balance of the classroom shifts. I am neither the content expert nor the classroom manager. Instead, I am but one of 12-20 people sitting around a large wooden table, ready to have a respectful discussion about the topic at hand. I ask questions and contribute my insights just like everyone else at the table. This modified dynamic between teacher and student builds trust and respect, and allows both parties to feel safe and yet slightly vulnerable. Because the power balance is more equal, everyone seems more open and forthcoming with their comments. It’s one of my favourite things about Harkness.
Seated around the Harkness table, we make eye contact with the speaker. We track each other’s body language and work to find gaps to enter the discussion. We ask questions; lots of questions. Sometimes it’s me asking, but in a great discussion, it’s mainly the students. We share our personal experiences and exchange our individual comprehensions of the materials that we read, viewed, and/or annotated before class.
In a Harkness classroom, preparation is key for both teacher and student. On a summer pilgrimage to the Harkness homeland (Phillips Exeter Academy), it was confirmed by several Harkness experts that the role of the teacher at the table is challenging but rewarding. No matter the hours that I put into planning for a discussion, it will rarely go as forecasted. Student-driven discussion means that there will be detours on the path to the desired outcome. Harkness veterans of 30 years assured me that the unpredictable messiness of the practice is totally normal, and actually pretty important.
After all of the planning and preparation, I take an active but non-dominant role in our discussions at the table. Sometimes these discussions go exactly as I imagine they will, but more often they don’t. And that’s okay.
For their part, students prepare by reading, viewing, and/or annotating these resources prior to our discussions. When they come to the table well prepared the discussions can be rich, productive and enduring. Some can even become fiery or respectfully argumentative.
Not surprisingly, academic achievement has benefitted from the implementation of Harkness at Southridge. Course marks are strong, and in social studies, provincial exam scores have never been higher. But marks aren’t everything.
There are many other benefits that the philosophy provides for the students. Character and valuable lifelong skills are developed around the table. Students learn to be assertive and confident. They learn to speak respectfully and articulately with others. They learn to be collaborative and cooperative. They learn to listen and to empathize. They learn to develop trusting relationships with their peers. Around the table, students feel safe, empowered, and respected.
Harkness may sound simple in its philosophy. In reality, it’s not. It requires flexibility, preparation, and accountability from everyone seated at the table. While it’s far from the traditional education many of us received, I love the messiness of it all and I look forward to every discussion.
SENIOR SCHOOL SOCIAL STUDIES TEACHER
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