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Cambridge International Academy:
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Grades 1 TO 12 — Ajax, ON (Map)

Cambridge International Academy:

Profile of Sandra Arff, Principal, Cambridge International Academy

Sandra Arff, Principal (since 2016)

Principal Sandra Arff always pictured herself in the performing arts. “I was an aspiring actress when I was young.” What she loved most about the theatre and entertainment was educating the audience. When she discovered she didn’t have the thick skin required to be an actress, she realized her talents were better suited for a career in education. Arff lived in Germany for a decade, teaching English and drama at an international school before coming to Canada. She joined Cambridge International Academy six years ago. 

Sandra Arff has always had a passion for learning and education. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in education. “I have that curiosity that propels me to always be reading and doing professional development workshops. I want every young person to feel that drive to know more.” 

While her administrative responsibilities as principal take up most of her day, Arff makes a point of leaving enough time in the day to teach. “I love to teach and I don’t want to give it up. It connects me to the students in a different way than if they only interacted with me as the principal.”

Arff is a firm believer in individualized education where students receive customized education plans. “I’ve always believed that a cookie-cutter approach to education fails too many students. It’s a methodology that doesn’t work for high-achievers because they get bored and become disengaged, or for students who are having difficulty because they don’t get the attention they need to close the achievement gap.” 

At Cambridge, both types of students are able to reach their full academic potential by having an education plan that takes into account their unique learning requirements. Students are constantly challenged to stretch and grow. “Learning isn’t linear. I tell my students that it’s okay to find yourself four steps forward one day and six steps back the next. It’s all part of learning, and it’s our job as teachers to guide you on that path.”

The students aren’t the only ones being challenged at Cambridge. Arff says she challenges herself as well. “I’m always reinventing myself as a teacher. We recently had an inspector who commented that I never use the same lesson plans from year to year. And I said, ‘Of course not, because I don’t have the same students from year to year, and I have to take their needs and interests into consideration.’”

Arff takes the time to get to know her students to understand how they learn best. “When I was a teenager, it always bothered me that adults would make judgments about us without knowing who we were. That’s something I’ve taken with me. Young people have many facets and layers, and it’s so important that we, as educators, take the time to get to know them and learn from each other.”

Arff looks for these qualities in faculty members as well. The teachers at Cambridge International Academy are a diverse group, but they have one thing in common. They view teaching as a vocation, not just a job. “When we hire, we look for people who really care about the well-being of students and want to be part of their personal and academic success. We want teachers who come to work excited and inspired, not just to put in the hours and clock out.”

Arff emphasizes to teachers the importance of recognizing and valuing students’ voices, taking their opinions and ideas into consideration in decision-making. “I always tell my students: ‘You learn from me, I learn from you, and I hope one day you excel and surpass me. Then I’ll know I’ve done my job as a teacher.’”


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