I feel like Dorothy in Oz: As she learned at the end of her adventure, there’s no place like home. I’ll tell you why.
Words like “education” and “school” are pretty big and mean different things to different people. The sort of education a six-year old needs is different from what a sixteen-year old needs and a private high school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is a very different thing from an inner-city school in New Jersey. So I left Island Pacific School to get a first-hand sense of all that we mean when we talk about education and schools.
First to the remarkable THINK Global School, a school with no permanent home but one that continuously travels the world. Then to Mulgrave, to see how wealthy top-tier independent schools work. Then, eager to get an even broader perspective, I left teaching to join Apple where I worked with educators and schools in the USA, Mexico, Singapore, Australia, the UK and across Canada. And today I am working with a consulting firm called NoTosh which has education clients in more than 70 different countries.
I’ve worked with teachers in the Toronto District School Board, the fourth largest in North America with nearly 250,000 students, and with teachers in small towns like Weyburn, Saskatchewan, total population, 11,000. And I’ve worked with heads of independent schools in countries as different as Scotland and Korea and superintendents from public schools across Canada, who are, I can attest, just as colourfully different.
And after all my travels I feel confident about saying at least two things on education and schools:
First, what (curriculum), how (teachers and pedagogy) and where (in a classroom? under a tree? online?) we educate our children all matter, of course. And, so do the facilities and resources a school can draw on. But they don’t matter nearly as much as people think they do. What distinguishes a great school from a good one is its connection to its community. The more trust they share the better the school. In the hundreds of schools I’ve seen in my career, it’s as simple as that. And as rich as that. You can tell a great school right away as soon as you walk in the door: The children are happy. That doesn’t mean they are coasting, unchallenged. On the contrary, it means a lot is asked of them. School should be twice as hard and twice as fun as the grown up world, I like to say. That doesn’t mean they are always content with that or mannerly or without stress or troubles. It means they feel everything in their lives lines up to support them as they learn and grow: home, school and community. When that happens, they thrive.
Second, Island Pacific School is one of the best schools in the world. The world might not know it – yet – but I can say that with some authority, I think. Children are happy there in a way I’ve rarely seen. And they have been for more than a quarter century. My own included. That is what made it so special to work at Island Pacific School. And it’s what makes it so special to return to the school.
I have truly loved my travels around the world and thoroughly enjoyed working with and learning from dedicated educators from so many different countries and cultures. But there’s no place like home: and few people get to say they serve one of the best schools in the world.