Lead Learners Transform the Classroom

Helen Pereira-Raso, Head of School
An excerpt from the Fall 2017 Corridors magazine

In 2012, the Board of Governors, along with the school’s leadership team, set out a vision for learning that was well ahead of its time. At HTS, we believe in a personalized, learner-centred approach. Our responsibility as educators is to plumb the individual needs, abilities, goals and interests of our students, in order to engage them fully in developing the skills, knowledge and disposition to achieve success in life.

This vision applies to teachers as well as students. Recognizing that learning is an ever-evolving partnership between teacher and pupil, the Board also made a significant commitment to the growth and development of HTS leaders and faculty. Teachers are encouraged to dive deeper into areas of professional interest, refuelling their passion, self-directing their learning, expanding their knowledge and sharing their expertise.

This transformative learning experience is having a direct impact in our classrooms and throughout the school. Teachers trained on project-based learning are presenting their students with rich and stimulating interdisciplinary challenges, such as the Sustainable Dwellings and the Fashion Forward projects. As all staff continue to build on the innovative use and implementation of technology, students working on programming, computer-aided design (CAD) software, 3-D modelling and printing, and design-thinking strategies are developing aptitudes that will set them apart in the working world they will inhabit.

HTS faculty and students also have access to an extensive network of outside experts, who share of their time and talents to enrich our programs. Last year, prize-winning author Joseph Boyden took part in a Senior School English workshop, providing invaluable insight into the art and business of creative writing, and critiquing student work with a discerning eye.

We regularly draw upon our “partners in pedagogy” – from Future Design School, One Schoolhouse and Sheridan College to STEM Minds and ALIVE Outdoors – to support innovative initiatives that broaden and deepen the learning experience for both student and teacher, inside the classroom and out in the natural world.

Nowhere has the contribution of external partners been more evident, or more valuable, than in our approach to assessment and evaluation. Student-directed learning demands a responsive and instructive system of appraisal. Back in the days when answers were true or false, right or wrong, numerical grades did the job.  A score was all that was required or expected.

But learning about learning has changed a lot since then. Now we know that student-engaged assessment is a vital component of a richer, deeper, personalized learning experience. No longer is evaluation solely the purview of the teacher: our students are as involved in assessing their work as they are in producing it. They set goals for their own learning and are accountable for attaining them.

In this important area, we have been fortunate to enlist the expertise of Sandra Herbst, a noted educational leader and co-author of Leading the Way to Assessment for Learning. She has challenged us to ask probing questions about what we value, how we gather evidence of proficiency and where we can improve our practice. Now, in addition to assigning grades to tests and papers in the traditional way, teachers are able to confer more meaningfully with students and parents around evidence collected in a comprehensive portfolio of learning.

At HTS, learning is not a destination but a lifelong journey – one that we undertake alongside our students, even as we instruct, guide and support them. As educational theorist and philosopher Mortimer J. Adler reflected, “The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.”