There are multitudinous portions of our website devoted to philosophy; as a matter of fact, we are a philosophy-driven school based on self-directed learning. This is who we are, and the students we take must be capable of participating in such an environment. We are a member of the Canadian Coalition for Self-Directed Learning. There are 8 schools across Canada. There is a LOT of information on our website. To summarize, I will give you some philosophical and practical details. Being self-directed indicates certain philosophical beliefs:
- Students learn best when they are relaxed, and connected socially with their peers and mentors;
- Multi-aged classrooms are more reflective of the world at large, offer opportunities for leadership, empathy and confidence in dealing with people of a variety of ages;
- Students learn best when they are engaged in their activities, interested in the topics, connected to meaningful mentoring relationships, and are able to assess their progress.
- Small groups (usually around 10:1, with 12:1 being a maximum) of students in each class help teachers to spend the time that each one needs to learn according to their individual needs;
- Tutorial-based instruction is given, with periodic mini-lectures, rather than lecture-based and teacher-paced instruction;
- We do not stress competition between students, since it is not helpful for collaborative learning, and it creates performance anxiety;
- We do not operate on a behaviorist approach of punishment and rewards; instead of trying to control children, we try to convince them. We engage in conversation through meetings and in personal dialogue, in order to engage their thinking. In this way, they learn moral and logical reasoning;
- Our methods to develop self-responsibility and the soft skills prepare students well for post-secondary education;
- Children need encouragement, guidance and practice to develop communication and negotiation skills; and
- The adults in children’s lives need to cherish their role as mentors and role models for learning and living.
There are certain fundamental practices required for Self-Directed Learning, or SDL. This approach requires the following:
- student input in their academic programming and assignments,
- flexible scheduling,
- access to teachers and mentors for advisement,
- continuous progress through self-pacing of work, and
- authentic assessment of knowledge and skills;
- all of this must occur in an environment of collaborative learning.
In essence, Self-Directed Learning is the alternative approach to Teacher-Directed Learning, which has been the common approach in most conventional schools across the Western world since the Industrial Revolution. Teacher-Directed Learning is teacher-paced and lecture-based, where the teacher is the source of power over curriculum, organization of workspace and time management. Teacher-Directed Learning evolved with the economically-convenient (for adults) large schools with large classrooms. Self-Directed Learning, on the other hand, is a more participatory approach, in which decision-making is two-way. Teachers know what is on the curriculum and, due to their longer life experience, what is necessary to thrive within the world. Children know what their own interests are, what they are motivated to do, and what their level of energy or ability is. Together, decisions are made, in the best interests of the child. In addition, the teachers’ maturity and developed communication skills allow them to be altruistic and empathetic; in this way, they can be guides and mentors for children who are still learning pro-social behaviour. Banbury is designed to be a school that is convenient for children.
Conducting such a collaborative program is a direct offshoot of our trust in the innate drive within human children to learn about their environment, and SDL promotes student choice in the work they do. It promotes autonomy, which is our primary goal. Our school staff members are very good at supporting this development of independence—they pay acute attention to what students are interested in, are successful at, and are struggling with. We encourage a lot of personal interest projects, each one determined by student passions and curiosity. We attempt to address students’ individual needs. Those who struggle receive more attention and time and encouragement. When students need enrichment, we are very flexible in facilitating this. Banbury is fantastic for bright and talented children, as they usually have an agenda of their own, want human contact, and love being engrossed in their activities. SDL is very beneficial for promoting student engagement and self-confidence. It is also helpful for teachers, because it creates natural and relevant opportunities for gap teaching, and for personalizing academic instruction. The flexibility inherent in SDL facilitates student learning of organizational skills and management of their time; as well, it promotes self-confidence and mutually respectful behaviour.
In general, Self-Directed Learning promotes more student commitment to their activities. They learn that they get out of life what they put into it, which is an important life lesson. They tend to access information at a deeper level, to put more energy into the presentation of their work, and to persist in their interests over time. When they work on material they have directly designed, with an awareness of standards of quality that mean something to them personally, they see their teachers as mentors and guides, rather than as nags, judges or authority figures. They appreciate the caring and advice. This factor contributes tremendously to creating a collaborative and trusting tone within classrooms. SDL is what makes our school atmosphere peaceful, productive and happy.
The internship program for secondary students is one great example of this emphasis on students taking charge of their own education. In this case, they go out into the community to work at a business or service industry that they think they have an interest in pursuing after Grade 12. They may be out 1 full day per week. Elementary, kindergarten and pre-school students also have much contact with their community through group volunteering and field trips. Since one goal of education is to help children to learn about the world around them, we see it as essential that they actually can experience that outside world. Such experience is motivating, illustrative and engaging.
It is important to realize that the method of self-directed learning that Banbury uses is across the board for children of ALL AGES. What I describe in the other paragraphs is essentially true for the youngest amongst us. The materials they use will be geared to each age group; the amount of kinesthetic manipulation used will vary according to age and need; and other developmentally-appropriate practices are put in place. We teach children to read when they are ready—anywhere from age 3 (rare) to age 7. We also expose them to mathematical, social studies and science concepts. If they happen to be ready to read and do early mathematics, they sometimes move forward quickly, and, although we never push them, they sometimes maintain that pace, and end up ahead. The only times when children have been able to move ahead of their peers academically by a full year have been when they started at Banbury up to and including Kindergarten age. Older students may get ahead by a course or two, but the curriculum is far too heavy in the upper grades for students to be able to complete two full years of curricular work in only one year. This self-directed and student-paced learning works here, because we have a tutorial instruction approach, and because all children are in groups with other children of varying ages.
The dual-decision-making process that is described above ensures that students receive necessary assistance in goal setting and achievement. Teachers know what is on the Programs of Study and have an idea of which skills, attitudes and knowledge are requisite for successful participation in the world at large; they keep these ideas in mind when they are being consulted by their students regarding possible goals. As students are aware of their own interests, enthusiasm, energy and abilities, they are expected to keep those ideas in mind as they pursue their aspirations and plans. Together, teachers and students spend much effort determining what the students need. We have a class size of around 10-12 students, so this kind of academic interaction is not only absolutely possible, but is our usual way of operating. We assist students in developing skills in goal-setting, time management and organization. Time is set aside to discuss goals and progress at the beginnings and endings of the days for the elementary students, and during project block time for secondary students. All students have some times in the day when they receive individual and small-group attention; the rest of the time, they are working on their own, in a pair, or in a small group, at projects and work they are confident to undertake. Therefore, the fact that our students become independent learners over time is actually a description of their ability to take charge of their own education, and not an intimation that they are left unaided to plan and work.
There is a continuous enrolment policy at Banbury. Commonly, new students do begin at the start of each new school term. Some are students brand new to schooling; others complete the year at their old school, and begin anew in the autumn at Banbury. However, enrolment is common throughout the year as well. This may happen when parents discover during the year that their children are unhappy or unsuccessful at their current school, and decide that it is better to switch schools mid-year. In other cases, students arrive from out-of-city, out-of-province or out-of-country in the middle of the year, and need to enrol when they come to Calgary. This practice of incorporating new students on a continual basis allows for a smooth transition for each new individual student into the school community, since he or she may follow the lead of the students who are already enrolled and used to the way we do things at Banbury. This introduction tends to be very fluid and successful.
Yes, we typically give students two days, without cost to the parent, to try out the School. This allows the students to give feedback to their parents about their feelings of comfort or suitability, so that they are more likely to buy-in to the school experience. This feedback also empowers young people to contribute to the major decisions affecting their lives. Another reason for this trial period is so that teachers and students within the school may assess if the potential student would be a good fit for us. We are looking for suitable matches, so that everyone will feel satisfied with the decision in the long run. In some cases, two days may not be enough to determine suitability, and in those cases, we may make other arrangements.
Teachers at Banbury assess each child when they come, through individual discussions and demonstrations of student ability and skill. We have a relatively small ratio of student to teacher, so this is what we do with all students as they progress with their work. We do this every day. In addition, we recommend that students arrive with report cards or formal assessments from their previous schooling. This provides extremely helpful information for academic assessment. Any student who has special needs within the purview of Banbury’s philosophy MUST provide complete assessments to staff, so that we may consider whether and how we would address those needs. Since we are not a designated special needs school, our ability to assist students is limited to whether those students are capable of existing independently within our classes, and of learning the competencies we focus upon philosophically.
Our students stay at Banbury for various amounts of time. It depends upon the age at which they enter. Some come for their whole school lives. Others come at any stage along the way, from other public and private schools in Canada and internationally. If they find the school beneficial the first year, they usually stay until they graduate. Life sometimes intervenes, however: they may move away, discover other interests or needs, and so on. We prefer students to stay, because they benefit most from our methods.
Meeting the needs of individual students is one of our main goals—to respect their unique needs and interests and to create autonomy within them, so that they will be able to make decisions independently. We are a self-directed learning school. This means that we encourage students to devise their own schedules (around complementary courses), to work at their own pace and to mastery before moving on, to create projects around their interests, to participate in goal-setting, and to take charge of their own education through asking for mentoring, and being willing to receive instruction in small groups and individually. Students here need to be motivated to learn, in order to benefit from this structure and environment.
We also offer complementary courses, such as Spanish, music, French, art, art history, philosophy, foods, drama, psychology, and so on. In addition, clubs are offered each year on a variety of topics, such as crafts and other arts, chess, dance, outdoor education, computer-related topics, knitting, and extramural sports.
Elementary students have a schedule based around complementary courses like music or drama, as well as playtime at recess and eating at morning recess (snack) and lunch. They all have time at the beginning of the day to set goals and to decide what they will work on, where in the three rooms allotted to them they will work, for how long and with whom. They are learning to organize their time and recognize their learning style in an organic and intuitive fashion.
Secondary students create their own weekly schedules, and may change them throughout the year. They may allot one, two or three courses per morning, and usually one or two for the afternoons. Complementary courses and Physical Education are set, so students work their core subjects around those timetables. The day starts at 9 am and goes until 3:35 p.m., except on Fridays, when it ends at 1:45 pm. There are no bells. Students get one 10-minute break in the morning at a time of their choosing. Students have 55 minutes for lunch, and on Friday, since they get off early, they grab their lunch whenever they want during the morning. Internships occur whenever the community mentor and the student arrange them, usually one day per week.
Having small classes makes it possible for teachers and other staff to easily supervise students, both inside and outside the school. We believe that our school is a peaceful, caring and safe place, in which we invest much energy in protecting students from bullies, and other dangers. We have many students who have come here to get away from bullies, or who have developed social anxieties. Strangers do not enter our hallways unnoticed. We are small, having 70 to 80 students in all. We do not believe in a behaviourist approach to social functioning. We believe in mutual respect. Therefore, retaliation is not acceptable. Victims who become bullies are not acceptable. Bullying is complex, and the reasons underlying both the bully’s and the victim’s behaviour need to be understood and changed. We follow a communication and problem-solving approach from P.E.T. (Parent Effectiveness Training). We have a comprehensive Conflict Resolution Policy that mirrors what we actually do here.
The short answer is NO to the first question, and YES to the second question. Due to our smallish enrolment, students need each other to participate in collaborative learning. When a new student comes, the current ones are excited to see whether the new person might be a new friend for them. Children maintain their general personalities, but it is difficult to remain painfully shy at Banbury. Also, it is actually not true that when a new student comes, all the other, current students have been here for a long time. In any particular year, some students may have been attending Banbury for their whole lives; however, others may have been attending for different time periods, from several years to several months. Therefore, it is almost unheard of for students here to exclude a new (and shy) student, simply to maintain existing circles of friendship. The only caveat here regards the presence or absence of soft skills in the new student: if he or she is irritating, or confrontational, or unfriendly, or unresponsive to complaints, or non-empathetic, then that new student will not be accepted, because those behaviours are simply unacceptable in this environment. In this way, a new student’s acceptance does depend somewhat on their own presenting behaviour.
Another aspect of the school is that girls and boys often create friendships, simply because a person of the opposite sex may be the only available person to work or play with on some particular task. Furthermore, we tend to not get cliques forming here, as our small student population makes it easy for individuals to find meaningful places to belong. The issue of “best friends” is another thing that rarely happens; it can, but we always encourage students to widen their circle of relationships. Overall, the Banbury Way has evolved into people being civil and friendly to everyone, with each individual finding a few other peers that they relate to especially well, and simply spending more time with them. We have watched many “shy” students blossom into socially connected people over the years of their attendance.
Our classes are not lecture-based nor teacher-paced. They are tutorial and student-paced. We also offer mini-lectures, small-group discussion, debates, presentations and collaborative project work.
Extracurricular activities change from year to year. We have had outdoor ed. clubs, chess games and scrabble ladders, crafts clubs, debates, and extramural sports between our students and other private schools. We focus on individual sports, rather than team sports. We also take overnight ski trips and usually host an out-of-country trip each year.
If we go back to the fundamental purposes of education, the bottom-line meaning of schooling derives from the fact that all cultures need children to learn how to cope with the demands of their culture, so that they may, in turn, take their places as adults alongside their parents, and ultimately, replace them. This is a citizenship issue. However, parents are so occupied with their own participation in the world of work that they do not have the time, nor do they have the skills, to teach their children everything. Simply spoken, parents need assistance from teachers in helping young people to discover information about the complex world they live in. Utilizing a parent-teacher partnership is the most effective way to help youth gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes that would allow them to participate in a contributive way to their culture and the world at large. Our goal is to nurture students’ love of learning so that they naturally approach life with an open heart and mind, ultimately allowing them to pursue passionate interests and to engage in meaningful relationships that sustain them and make the world a finer place. With this aim in mind, therefore, it makes sense to take young people out into the world to explore it directly, rather than to just enclose them within a school building (with minimal windows) and to try teaching them from pictures and explanations about the world we just cut them off from! That just doesn’t make sense, considering how children learn. This explains our deep and abiding devotion to field trips, volunteerism, personal interest projects and internships.
First of all, we see our students as whole persons, not just academic producers. This means that the emotional, social and physical state of our students matters to us. We have such a small ratio of student to teacher that we actually have the time and inclination to notice and observe them. We also have time to interact with them through discussion and problem solving sessions. Academic assessment is conducted in a variety of ways. We assess their work daily through teacher observation of their writing and other presentation skills, feedback and re-teaching cycles. It also happens through student demonstrations of understanding in hands-on projects and multi-media presentations, dances, skits and songs. Students produce essays, art pieces and reports, quizzes and exams, both oral and written. We want students to demonstrate in some form what they know and the skills they have learned. We use rubrics meaningful to students; we make sure that students know what they need to do to improve their work. We have no marks until Grade 10. We have about 7 different reasons for this. One of them is that we reserve the right to actually teach our students. After giving individuals time to instruct them on subject-specific concepts or skills, such as writing essays, we cannot give them a mark, because we were there, alongside them as they learned. Yet, students need those mentoring sessions, because our true goal is that they learn. Another reason is that we teach to mastery, until all students have accomplished the material to their individual potential, rather than simply stopping the learning process at a point where we can compare students with each other. We want students to compare their performance to their own past performance, and to their personal goals. We have seen that, by the time students are in Grade 10, they realize what their mark signifies, and they may re-write tests. They understand that they are entering a new stage of development, the prove what you know stage. This stage is for the protection of the public, that all people claiming to have expertise have actually proven that they do.
We communicate with parents personally and through report cards twice a year that are about 8 pages long, with detailed anecdotal comments and lists of what has been accomplished and what remains for the grade; we have Exhibitions for both parent-teacher-student meetings and for the conclusions of their internships. We do not have enough students writing standardized government exams to be able to produce relevant results. We simply try to help every student learn to their potential, and to learn how to organize their time, set goals and reach them.
We teach according to The Alberta Programs of Study. We see this as our bottom line; however, we remediate and enhance the students’ learning in whichever ways are appropriate to their engagement and abilities.
We will always have some turnover, even if it is one teacher leaving or coming, since part-time staff members sometimes yearn for full-time work. In addition, some teachers move to Australia! Well, at least one is, next year. However, as long as we have a preponderance of teachers who either are long-term and/or fully invested in our philosophy and practices, then we have the continuity that we need.
Teachers are very important for our school. They have significant influence upon the accomplishments and atmosphere at Banbury. Over the years, we have become more efficient at recognizing those teachers who are in sync with our philosophy and practices (those who “get it”). We choose new teachers based upon two things: their mastery of subject matter, which includes their education, experience and professional expertise; and who they are personally. This latter aspect is crucial, because it determines their effectiveness as a mentor and guide in children’s lives. It includes aspects such as whether or not they can laugh and communicate effectively, know what is important, be kindly and empathetic, be patient and helpful, be wise and trustworthy, be energetic and full of initiative, be responsive and flexible, and be able to give up control and power over others. These elements all describe who a person is. Personality itself is less important, as we try to hire teachers who are different from each other, so that the children can all find someone they can relate to. It is usually quickly evident whether or not a teacher will “fit” into our school environment. Nevertheless, it takes awhile for a teacher to demonstrate all of the desired aspects of our ideal teacher. Banbury is a simple place in a way, in that there is a high degree of congruency between our theory and practice; however, it is a complicated place in terms of teachers bringing every tiny detail of that theory and practice into existence each and every day. Everyone—new teachers, students and current staff—become aware of the nature of this “fit” of a new teacher at some point throughout the first year, and decisions regarding whether they stay or go are usually made with agreement on all sides. One thing that bears mentioning, though, is that, even when a teacher comes here briefly who does not fit, the students still tend to find their voices to advocate for themselves and to be part of the solution-finding process. This is the silver lining to the cloud of students experiencing a temporary “misfit”.
- We have spaces for children from age 3 through Grade 12;
- Our way of being here is described in our document entitled, “Rights and Responsibilities”. It describes a number of mirror-image statements about the rights we each have, and the responsibilities we also each have to provide that very thing for others. For instance, one of them is, “We have the right to work in peace. We have the responsibility to leave others alone when they are working.”
- Multi-aged groups are as follows: Pre-school through Grade One, in two rooms with a teacher and a teacher’s assistant; Grades Two through Grade Six in three rooms and three teachers; Grades Seven through Grade Twelve, in five rooms with 4 teachers (one room is a library);
- Elementary students have the opportunity within two homeroom planning and review sessions each day to create daily and longer-term goals that define their daily schedule. This organic style of planning helps them to become aware of, and develop, their study preferences, energy levels, persistence and concentration;
- Based upon their long-term goals, and with the help of their Teacher Mentor, Junior/Senior students create a weekly schedule that is personalized to meet their study style, interests, motivation and need for individualized instruction. It is based around Phys. Ed. and the complementary courses that they choose;
- Elementary students have a schedule based around complementary courses like music or drama, as well as playtime at recess and eating at morning recess (snack) and lunch. They all have time in the day to set goals and to decide what they will work on, where in the three rooms allotted to them they will work, for how long and with whom. They are learning to organize their time and recognize their learning style in an organic and intuitive fashion;
- Academic assessment is conducted in a variety of ways. We assess their work daily through observation, feedback and re-teaching cycles. We use rubrics meaningful to students. We assess what the students produce: projects, essays, art pieces and reports, quizzes and exams, multi-media presentations, dances, skits and songs. We want students to demonstrate in some form what they know and the skills they have learned. We communicate with parents personally and through lengthy anecdotal report cards, as well as by student exhibitions of their work to parents and teachers;
- Our year loosely follows the public board’s calendar, with our own variations on the theme;
- Our hours are from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., except on Fridays, which is 9 a.m. until 2:30 (elementary students) or 1:45 (secondary students);
- Our Tuition Fee Schedule and Registration Form are on our website;
- We have no formal bussing system, although we are on bus routes and some parents carpool;
- Before- and After-school care is an arrangement made between parents and older student babysitters.
- We have school vans for field trips, although some parents assist us by driving.
- During the school term, the usual procedures for student selection include a visit by parents to discuss philosophy and needs, and a one- or two-day trial period. In the summertime, this trial period is not possible. Finally, upon mutual agreement that there could be a good match between family and school, the completion of a Parent Questionnaire and other registration papers, and the receipt of funds, the child will be formally accepted by the school.
Multi-aged grouping is crucial to our student-paced approach, because that is what makes individual progress not socially punitive. It also allows for peer instruction that occurs naturally. It encourages leadership and trust. The instruction style is tutorial throughout the school. The teachers work comfortably, either one-on-one or in small groups, giving guidance, assistance and explanation. This individualized attention is possible, because in a multi-aged group, some students will be more independent, which in turn allows teachers to focus on those who require more assistance. The students are given academic work by the teacher, and they work on it as best they can, each student progressing at his/her own rate. Each student’s work is given to them depending upon the grade and the course. We emphasize learning to mastery, which means achieving a level of competence in keeping with the student’s age, interest, motivation and abilities. We give constant feedback. Each student moves forward at a pace comfortable to them until they complete the work. We do not “socially promote”; nor do we “hold children back”. Through this process, they learn that you get out of life what you put into it, which is an important attitude. In addition to this individualized instruction and work, a multi-aged approach is convenient for students to collaborate on projects, such as science or math fair projects, either spontaneously or organized by the teacher. Their interest-driven projects may span several subjects and students can receive credit for both. All projects develop skills that are included in the curriculum. We encourage as much hands-on activity as possible, and adjust the work to suit the learning style of each student. Some may need more auditory instruction, some more visual or kinesthetic. We do not, however, adjust the expectations so that they no longer meet standards for particular courses. We are not a special needs school.
It is fortunate for our children that we operate on a student-paced schedule, since all students have certain areas of strength, yet they often have varying levels of competence in other subjects. This method of having students work at a pace that matches their abilities, in multi-aged groups, allows them to work at different levels in different subjects. They proceed with each subject until they master the components of it, before they move on. We have found from experience that having a student-paced school is interesting, because it tests our trust. It is certainly the most respectful thing for students, to be working where they REALLY are at, to have them proceed along in a way that matches their true understanding, and to strive for mastery. It is definitely a fantastic way to learn, because it reduces stress for them, it makes sure that they don’t have huge, glaring gaps in their understanding, and it gives them a sense of confidence, that they orchestrated their own success. We have found from experience that parents whose children proceed more quickly than usual, who get ahead of their typical peer group, are never, ever upset.
The only glitch with a student-paced approach appears when some parents discover that their children are proceeding slower than usual, and are falling behind their “typical” peer group. They sometimes discover that it brings up fear for them, fear that their children will not finish school, or finish disastrously late, or not be able to compete in the global market. It truly is a worst-case-scenario that gets spun before their eyes. I like to point out this possibility to parents far in advance, so that if it happens, they will be able to handle it. Our belief is that, if it takes a student an extra half-year or year to finish, or even longer, then there must be a reason for it particular to that student, and it must have been necessary. In the end, if that student is older as a result, when entering a post-secondary institution, he/she may be more mature, and perhaps will cope with it better. In other words, we do not guarantee that any particular student will complete a full grade’s worth of work in all subjects within the 10-month school term. This depends upon the work that the student actually does.
What we do guarantee is that we teachers will make every attempt to reach out supportively to each student in order to mentor and teach them, and to work with the students to help them find interest and/or purpose in the work they are doing. The teachers are available and willing to participate in that dual-decision-making relationship. Our school is very good at paying attention to what students are interested in, being successful at, and struggling with. Teachers spend much effort determining, with the collaboration of the students, what they need. With a class size of around 10 students, instruction is on a one-to-one or small-group basis. The classroom atmosphere is peaceful. It is non-stressed and relaxed, so that fear will not inhibit learning. We do a lot of personal interest projects, based on curiosities that the students have.
The internship program, as previously mentioned in the Self-Directed Learning section, is one of our prized programs for secondary students. Our junior and senior high students go out into the community to work at a business or service industry, one that they think they might be interested in pursuing after Grade 12. They may be out for 1 full day per week, two solid weeks, or some other combination of days. All internships are different, since they depend upon the organization hosting our student interns. We organize internships with any contacts we have through parents and staff and previous community mentors. Our database of mentors is growing every year.
The benefits of this SDL activity are many. Students love these chances to see what it means to immerse themselves in a business atmosphere where they can pursue various interests; the community mentors are pleased to have the help, even if they have to put lots of energy into mentoring them. This element of getting students doing more kinesthetic activities, and getting off-campus into the urban or rural environment, is very good for students in Junior and Senior High. Internships connect learning with life—they show students viscerally that what they are learning in school is relevant in the world outside, and has applications for their future life. Students often show much more interest in their academic work after beginning an internship. They find the experience motivating, illustrative and engaging.
Another important benefit of internships is that they allow students to develop mentoring and trusting relationships with adults in their community. This is particularly helpful at this stage in their lives, when they are perched on the threshold of becoming adults themselves, and will soon need to be able to relate to other adults in a mutually-respectful and productive way. A third benefit is that internships give students an opportunity to contribute to their community; this develops their understanding of the place of altruism in their daily lives. A fourth benefit is that students may explore a variety of career options before they make a life-altering choice for their post-secondary education.
We do not have an entrance test. Our focus is upon our methodology, which is progressive and suitable for children with a wide range of academic accomplishments and aptitudes. Our goals are in line with those outlined through the Inspiring Education initiative by Alberta Education over the past few years. Our school is focused on the development of well-rounded citizens, and we do not see students as simply brains on chairs. Children’s emotional, social, physical, creative and philosophical development would also be taken into account. We evaluate entrants with different criteria. From our point of view, what matters is that students are motivated to learn—this means that they are willing to try (to put in effort) on their academic work, willing to put in time for personal instruction from a teacher, and able to concentrate enough that they can work independently. They also need to be socially pleasant (not aggressive), socially adept enough to use appropriate behaviour, and to be responsive to other students’ and teachers’ input. In addition, they must be respectful of the needs of others, and not so hyperactive that they would distract other students from their learning. Overall, they must be academically and emotionally capable of participating in the philosophical goals of our school; they must be capable of becoming autonomous, socially responsive, engaged learners, willing to capitalize upon their talents and passions to create good within their community, now and in their future.
No. We want our students to explore their individuality; having all of them wear the same thing would be counterproductive. In addition, the issue of social competition over style of dress is not an issue here, as our numbers are small at any one age group, so students tend to simply wear what they like. We hold to a standard of tasteful and clean clothing, with no swear words on tee-shirts, etc.
We do not offer an IB Program, although we will be incorporating some AP courses, beginning with English, as of the autumn of 2015. On an everyday basis, we offer enrichment in a variety of ways. Our self-directed learning approach, in itself, is flexible enough to meet the needs of intellectually gifted and talented children. Our bright students have many benefits: they are able to receive intensive individual instruction, to work at their own pace and according to their own schedules, to design projects suitable to their interests and abilities, to develop meaningful and collaborative mentoring relationships with adults and with peers of a variety of ages, to participate in dual enrolment at both high school and university, and to contribute to the school community and the wider community through volunteerism and internships. Through these means, they develop not only academic competence, but confidence, initiative, entrepreneurial spirit and, as well, soft skills that are needed in the outside world. Our graduates get accepted at universities within and outside the Province; they do Honours theses, Masters’ Degrees and Doctorates. They are well-rounded, capable yet modest, socially responsive and caring citizens who do contribute to the world and make change happen, one person at a time.
We have had many bright, talented and gifted children who have attended our school since its beginning. We have had several over the years who attended here since they were 3 or 4 years old, and attended Banbury from childhood to adulthood. Sometimes, these students graduated from Banbury one full year earlier than typical. We have also had many graduates with high marks out of high school, and almost every single student who has graduated from this school has gone on to further education in universities or colleges (depending which was appropriate for their goals). These are the reasons Banbury students acclimatize so easily to post-secondary education:
- Students learn through experience here that teachers WANT to help them learn. Therefore, when they go to university, they easily establish working relationships with their professors. This leads to networking that results in honors theses, masters degrees, leadership roles, out-of-country courses, and so on.
- Students here learn how to work independently. They consciously set goals, organize their own time, understand their own learning style, strive for quality in keeping with their abilities, and self-assess their work. This is crucial for success in the outside world, as adults are more effective and emotionally healthy if they are aware of their own autonomy and can make decisions based upon the merits of each case.
- Students here gain valuable “soft skills” that translate smoothly into the world of post-school. Our emphasis upon effective communication and negotiation, problem solving skills and empathy make for socially enlightened and confident individuals going out into the world. Our graduates all, no matter their personality, seem to possess a sense of quiet dignity.
When I was considering a name for my potential school, it just so happened that I came across the Mother Goose Rhyme, Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross. This was intriguing to me for several reasons. The first reason is that I had used fragments of that rhyme in a poem I wrote about 7 years earlier, but had varied those fragments since I couldn’t remember the actual rhyme at the time. So, when I heard it before establishing the school, there was a Eureka moment for me, as I realized how positive that poem was. It wasn’t about the Bubonic Plague, for one thing. It was about a lady and her creation of music all about her. I could relate to that: I have played classical piano from childhood; I was in a choir in my teens; I was in a folk group, the Bonniefolk, back in the late sixties and seventies; I taught music. The second reason I found this rhyme intriguing was that I realized that there is actually a place in England called Banbury. Therefore, there was a mingling of the real with the fantasy associated with the name Banbury. I had a dream of my school existing and I wanted it to be reality. The third reason was that Banbury, the real place, had been a pilgrimage site, and I saw my dream school as acting in that fashion: that people would come from various directions to the school, experience the schooling in that place, and then go off again in all directions into their adulthood. For all these reasons, I decided that Banbury Crossroads would be a fine name.
What needs to be noted first is that we offer all the required courses for post-secondary education: English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Physical Education, and Career and Life Management. Options can include Art, Spanish, French, Drama, Philosophy, Psychology, Food Studies, World Religions, Art History, and Band. In addition, we offer students the option of creating an Internship or a Personal Interest Project that falls under the CTS courses, or Special Projects. Our school is fully accredited, and Banbury follows the Alberta Programs of Study. This means that students who complete our program are eligible to be accepted into post-secondary institutions, and about 99% of our students do.
More importantly, though, our philosophy and methods are very congruent with the type of learning required in post-secondary institutions. Adults must be self-directed, intrinsically-motivated learners. They are responsible for themselves. Since Banbury is a self-directed learning school, students retain their childhood enthusiasm and energy for exploring their environment, and for mastering skills and knowledge in order to take their place within their culture as fully-functioning and contributing citizens. Through their experiences in this environment during their youth, students learn to set meaningful goals, organize their own time, seek out desired resources, carry through with plans, and assess their learning results. This long-term preparation prepares them well for the independent learning that is expected in universities, colleges and technological institutions.
In addition, a Banbury graduate has learned a host of connotations regarding the learning process that allows them to be successful as a student beyond high school. They have experienced a situation where their teachers care deeply about whether and how they are learning. They easily advocate for themselves. They approach post-secondary instructors and professors with an expectation that they will learn something from their courses. They realize that their education is about them—that they need to take responsibility for what they achieve. Therefore, they create and follow their own schedules. They effortlessly devise ideas for projects and papers, and make desirable group members due to their ability to follow-through with plans and their comfort with public presentations. They meet with their professors and talk about the work itself, not just their marks. This practice distinguishes them from their silent peers, and makes them visible. If they have trouble learning from the instructor they are assigned, they seek out other instructors teaching the same course, and audit those classes. They organize tutors for themselves. They form study buddies and support groups. They also form networks of professional relationships with professors and other students, and through these networks, they find out about opportunities for leadership roles through the students’ unions, mentorship positions for classes they completed, honour’s theses, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, out-of-country courses, conferences, possible employment and so on. All of these opportunities enhance their learning experience at university, college, or technical schools. They create a strong foothold for themselves within these institutions, and this sense of belonging, in turn, builds their confidence and satisfaction.
The initiative that students demonstrate in becoming advocates for themselves in their educational experience during and following high school also leads to their success as adults in the wider community. Due to their internships, they have had experience at real businesses and developed trusting relationships with adults, with whom they are able to converse maturely. They organize and manage their own time. They tend to become entrepreneurs, often creating their own jobs or projects at work. They have superior communication skills, which increases the possibility of their solving work- and personal-related problems. They become empathetic and analytical parents and marriage partners, and they are better able to solve problems to complicated tasks. They are likely to recognize abusive situations and not accept them. Their soft skills and their ability to make autonomous decisions make them desirable collaborators, particularly because they fulfill their obligations, they are creative and self-motivated, and they are comfortable and respectful dealing with people of all ages. They mentor those younger than themselves, and they are mentored by those older. They recognize their freedom and empowerment to create healthy and balanced lives. They are courageous and able to take calculated risks. They display initiative and take responsibility for their behaviour. They learn from their mistakes and persist until they discover the means to achieve their goals. They can do this, because they have adopted a positive attitude towards the challenges and demands of a rapidly changing and complex world. They are seen as competent, likeable leaders, who are also able to follow cooperative plans to achieve mutually-held goals. And, best of all, they develop a quiet dignity and a comfortable humility, even in the midst of great success.
Our student profile is diverse and mirrors the larger community. Younger children usually come to us because their parents’ philosophical beliefs regarding child rearing are aligned with ours. The children themselves are often gifted, shy or active. These parents want their children to maintain and develop the curiosity and energy they display for discovering the world around them. They know that these children will thrive in our small, self-directed classes. Some older children arrive from other parts of Canada or other countries, and their parents like our individualized programs and respectful approach. Some older children come to us because conventional education institutions within Calgary have not adequately met their emotional status or learning styles, or been a good fit with their personalities or interests. The “gifted but bored” scenario is common, with children sometimes teased for being intelligent or creative. Others may be shy, or insecure about their reading ability. Maybe they have fallen behind the rest of the class, and were unable to catch up. Among some of these students, bullying appears as a new issue, and they seek a safe learning environment. For other students arriving from large schools, stress and performance anxiety have been their challenge, and Banbury is particularly apt for addressing this pain. Since students exist within a multi-aged and non-competitive setting, social peer pressure is minimized. Students often comment, “I can be myself, here!” This is music to our ears!
We have found at Banbury that meeting children’s individual needs is primarily an issue of time, nurturance and accommodation to different learning styles and abilities. Our small class sizes make it possible for all students to enjoy plenty of individual and small-group attention, stimulating opportunities for learning, and differentiated ways of exploring and sharing. Teachers are tutorial mentors for their students, and they develop meaningful and caring relationships with these students, which contribute to the process of noticing and responding to their intellectual strengths and areas of challenge, as well as their emotional and social responses. When persistent social and learning difficulties arise, teachers consult with parents and appropriate outside professionals to gain the skills and viewpoints that teamwork offers.
Peer instruction, which has been proven for decades to be an effective and comfortable means of learning, is also encouraged at Banbury, and arises naturally in this collaborative environment. All children work at their own pace and at different levels within multi-aged groups, until they have fulfilled their goals to successfully and master the subject matter and skills. In this self-directed environment, teachers encourage initiative and autonomy, facilitating learning by helping individual students discover their interests within the curriculum, and pursue projects that build on them. Then, using their intrinsic motivation as a platform for further systematic inquiry, young people are motivated to put the effort and diligence into their search for knowledge. They discover that learning is purposeful, possible and pleasurable. We also acknowledge that young people need conversation and input from adults, in order to filter, validate and interpret the data that they are constantly receiving, particularly from digital technology systems. One benefit to our approach is that it is not just focused upon mastering factual curricular material. It also fosters student awareness that courses are just an introduction to the fields of study that incorporate these particular concepts. The learning has just begun! This Banbury experience, repeated over time, leads to students achieving not only desired levels of competence, but also the confidence to apply these newly acquired skills, habits and attitudes in real world situations. We have found that success breeds further success.
Discipline really refers to the means by which smooth social functioning is established in a group, where divergence of opinion and personality are a normal part of life. We see relationships as being central to creating harmony within our school, with mutual respect being at their core. Therefore, we attempt to live according to humane principles such as empathy, kindness, patience, diplomacy and responsiveness to others. We believe in cultivating influence, rather than power and control. Instead of attempting to control children using simplistic rewards or punishments, we attempt to convince them—helping students to discover their own intrinsic reasons for doing things. Both teacher input and student input is sought in planning and decision-making. This approach increases autonomy and self-esteem within each student, and enhances tolerance, politeness, and confidence when working with others. Within this peaceful and fear-free atmosphere, learning flourishes.
The long-term mentorship by teachers that occurs here fosters trust, confidence, and effective communication and negotiation strategies within their students. We problem-solve, in order to preserve all persons’ rights to determine the course of their own lives, as long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others. We encourage the development of critical thinking skills through individual and small-group discussion. This experience is crucial for students’ understanding that decisions, especially when they are composed of controversial issues, require logically defensible and morally constructive reasons. The teenage and young adult years are rife with unfamiliar and dicey situations that require the ability to problem-solve. The consequences in these cases are deep and long-lasting, so this analytical ability is crucial to develop. Through it, they grow in insight and wisdom.
We teach young children to read when they are ready. We watch for signs like the following: when sitting down for a reading lesson, their eyes are firmly on the page, not wandering around the room. They understand the purpose of writing and reading, for enjoyment and transmitting information. They have eagerly listened to books being read and sometimes memorize favorite sections. They have practiced drawing from left to right and up to down. They have enjoyed participating in games using rhymes, phonograms, matching puzzles and discriminating pictures. They have shown interest in what words look like, particularly words that have emotional meaning—those generating fear, pleasure, interest and dislike. They sound out words on signs, doors or buildings. With young students, offering reading instruction, or math, science or cultural information, is based on each child’s learning readiness, which could be anywhere between the ages of 3 and 7.
We trust that reading, in particular, is so pervasive in our culture that children may realize, on their own, the importance of learning this fundamental skill, and that, barring learning disabilities, they will participate in the process of decoding words by their own initiative. While we are giving individual and small group instruction, we are on the lookout for the presence of such barriers to this natural process. In these cases, we remediate according to our analysis of the situation, and, in more serious instances, we recommend the Reading Foundation for children who are displaying difficulties with short-term or working memory, consistent letter reversals or other markers of learning disabilities. Usually, though, our approach is non-intrusive, yet encouraging. We offer opportunities to learn these skills to both individuals and small groups. We respect and nurture each child’s natural sense of wonder, enthusiasm and curiosity towards learning.
The Internship Program assists in our goal to help students discover useful aspects about the world around them. It is a favorite with our secondary students, as it takes them out into the community to apply what they are learning in school, and to absorb the direct experience of participating in our local culture. These internships are based on students’ personal interests and/or potential career routes and are immersive and contributive in nature. Students spend somewhere between 25 and 125 hours out of their classes volunteering for an organization in the community. During their time at that placement, they are paired with an adult mentor who guides them in designing, or participating in a project to give back to the organization. Students keep a journal of their experiences, and the internship is concluded with an oral and visual exhibition of the learning and of the connections that were made to the curriculum.