Diane Swiatek, Director
B.A., B.Ed., E.C.S. Dip.
Congratulations to us all! Banbury Crossroads School passed its 40th Anniversary mark on November 1st, 2019. The historical inertia represented in its continued existence warms my heart, because it means that the Banbury way of learning is still available for children in the Calgary region. It has been my passionate dream for the entirety of my adulthood for children to have the opportunity to be respected as individual people, and to be happy, visible, and nurtured while they learn in a holistic fashion. Over the years, the thinking and writing that was done from the very beginning is still valid and relevant. Our philosophy and practices of self-directed learning from those early years have become richer and validated through practice, flourishing into our present ways of being. The inspired devotion and multitudinous efforts of teachers, students, and parents have all contributed to create the actual way we are now. We are a very unique school, with our own particular identity. By this time, it is common for me to tell children and young adults, “At Banbury, we…” while explaining our ways of relating to others, engaging in learning activities and interest-based projects, developing emotional intelligence and self-regulation, connecting with the real world outside our walls, and creating the school culture inside them.
Over the years, Banbury has honed its mission to foster learning through self-empowerment, intrinsic motivation, management of time and resources, and active goal setting. Mutual respect is the foundational principle. So, all of us expect to have both rights and responsibilities. Some of the hallmarks of our school are the development of moral and logical reasoning, and competence in the soft skills that are crucial for smooth social functioning, We have developed expertise in developing communication and negotiation skills, and providing guided conflict resolution among willing participants.
Academics matter, because students have an innate impetus for intellectual growth. They need to learn about, and master, their environment. To be respectful to our students, we allow them to work on material that suits their true level of accomplishment, rather than pushing them ahead or holding them back within same-age cohorts. This requires personalized and individualized instruction. So, students set their own schedules and deadlines, and pace their academics, individually working to levels of mastery in accordance with their abilities and motivation. The Alberta Programs of Study are the baseline; students often go beyond that.
As a result, Banbury offers very unique schooling. The first difference is shown in how we treat children. Since we respect them as persons, we value their development in autonomy and self-sufficiency, while at the same time emphasizing their interdependence with other people. They are important individually, and so is everyone else. So, we put energy into helping them develop self-leadership, confidence, empathy, compassion, and social responsiveness. We emphasize the need to contribute to their communities.
In order to enable such individualized mentoring, the student-teacher ratio is 10 to 1. This allows students to receive the visibility, attention, and nurturance necessary for optimal learning. Our choice of this small ratio allows the school atmosphere to be peaceful, comfortable, trusting, and optimistic. Joy happens here. Within these small classes, in order to allow students to work at their true levels of competence, we have chosen multi-aged groupings. This is not unique in the world at large—indeed, this describes the world at large—however, it is certainly unique in schools. This multi-aged approach fosters peer learning, and trust and comfort between people of various ages. As well, it does not socially penalize those students who are working either ahead or behind their peers.
Therefore, teachers need to use tutorial instruction, rather than lecture-based, teacher-paced instruction. This facilitates academic mentoring, with students being able to ask questions and receive assistance in answering them. In academic pursuits, students are encouraged to compete with themselves, to surpass their historical achievements, and work towards their current, personal goals. They may participate in designing their assignments and projects in line with their interests, and they use manipulative materials to carry them out. They participate in the community for real-world learning. In non-COVID years, we do this through field trips, volunteerism, internships, and international travel. Since it is a COVID year, because we have small class sizes, we are able to socially distance our students, and when we need to engage in remote learning, we contact our students daily. Banbury is the school when students may experience learning activities that are impossible in large institutions. Banbury Crossroads is a fine example of unique, innovative schooling!