The Head's Tales: Limitless Learning

St. Margaret’s has the most enviable of locations allowing us to extend learning beyond the regular classroom.  This past year, St. Margaret’s introduced an innovative program entitled OWL (Outside While Learning) that has grouped our early learners together to explore our fabulous 22 acre campus.  As stated by one of our teachers, Ms. Pekter, in a recent article posted in the Times Colonist: 

“OWL allows the teachers and educators at SMS to focus on the children’s areas of interest, based on the flora and fauna they see around the campus each day. Using all of their senses to guide them, the girls of SMS have been curious about the many different trees onsite, learning the differences between deciduous and evergreen trees, partaking in in-depth investigations about the local animals (mammals, bird, and insects) that may use the trees for shelter, camouflage, or food, and discovering as much as possible about hibernation. The girls are actively involved in connecting to these aspects of nature outside and are just as eager to share their knowledge and articulate their findings once they return to their “inside” classroom. The Kindergartners and Junior Kindergartners (JKs) learn through specific environmentally focused curriculum and through self-directed experiences, which help them question and discover their natural world. Additional exploration and investigation is supported by the newly built SMS Nature House, which offers a magical place for children to further their learning beyond the walls of their “inside” classrooms.”

Thinking about how St. Margaret’s utilizes its resources to support learning – whether it be curricular, self-initiated or incidental – I was reminded of an incident that took place during lunch hour as the older girls were outside playing in the wooded area.

Upon my arrival in the Junior School during noon hour, three somewhat sad looking girls were sitting on the bench in the front hall.  When I asked them why they were sitting there, they informed me they had gotten into trouble with the noon hour supervisor.  One of the girls informed me that she had climbed up into a tree, but couldn’t find her way down to the ground.  After much “hooting and hollering” from her friends, the supervisor came to address the calls of panic and to assist with the girl’s rescue.  She chastised the young girl for her poor choice reminding her that she should be a role model for the younger children and that such activities were deemed not safe.  She then sent them to sit and think of what they could do differently next time.  This led me to ask the question, “What did you learn from this incident?”

Girl 1’s Response:  Don’t climb a tree unless you know how to get down?
Girl 2’s Response:  I think the supervisor was angry because she was worried about our safety.
Girl 3’s Response:  Screaming does not help solve the problem.

I can remember chuckling at their responses, thinking these were all good lessons to learn, but the best comment came from one of the Grade 3 girls later that evening (as relayed to me by a parent):

“Ms. Thornicroft spoke to us today about what happened on the playground.  She was stern but caring!” 

From my perspective, that is exactly how a Head of School should be perceived and that was the lesson I learned from this incident.  A balance is struck between a learning environment that encourages girls to explore beyond their comfort zone and an understanding of leadership that ensures appropriate boundaries are negotiated with care. This very balance is one of the reasons that St. Margaret’s is a great place to grow, take risks, and learn from mistakes.

How could you not love this place?


Further Reading and Listening:

Article on the OWL program as seen in the Times Colonist - Green Feature (Sunday April 14, 2013)

Environmental advocate David Suzuki discusses the importance of outdoor experiences with CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi.

Kim Westad's article about the joint study by University of Victoria, Camosun College and Royal Roads University looking at the impacts and outcomes of "nature kindergarten"



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