Leadership interview with Susan Goode, GlenOak Academy
Susan Goode is the principal and founder of GlenOak Academy. She started it originally for students who aren’t thriving in the traditional school environment, and need an alternative. GlenOak Academy aims to bridge the gap between school and home and works collaboratively with parents to give students the best chance at academic success. The teachers at the school bring excellence to the community with their creative ideas, outside-the-box thinking, and passion for educating young minds. The school emphasizes hands-on, experiential learning, which includes lots of outdoor activities. Susan is proud of the inclusive, warm, and inviting environment she has fostered within the school.
Highlights from the interview
What I love about my job is working with the students that I have at GlenOak Academy. They're absolutely amazing, and they bring a smile to my face every single day.
The families at GlenOak Academy are so invested and supportive of our school community and its growth.
I am proud of GlenOak Academy’s teachers, our teaching team and the excellence they bring to our school community with their creative ideas, outside-the-box thinking, and passion for teaching and learning. GlenOak Academy teaches Grade 1 through 8. We do a kindergarten program, and it ebbs and flows depending on the year. We have that open as an opportunity for parents if we have enrollment numbers.
GlenOak Academy was the realization of a dream of my own. I worked in a public education system as an educational consultant across the province of Ontario. While working my way across the province and being into different school boards and different schools, I noticed some of the gaps in the system. I wanted to do something about it, so I decided to open my own school. In 2017, I found this beautiful little space, took a leap of faith, and started GlenOak Academy with five students. It was just a team of two teachers and we did it. We made it work, and it grew quite quickly. We have over 40 students now closing out this year, which is pretty exciting.
What a hectic year it's been, moving into Covid-19 last year and pivoting again this year. GlenOak Academy had an advantage; we were ahead of the curve because we already had an online self-paced learning program. GlenOak Academy was already well equipped to pivot to online learning quickly during the pandemic. GlenOak Academy aimed to embed value for our students and teachers, create some good programming, look at things a little bit differently, and still incorporate that essential hands-on learning GlenOak Academy is known for into our online program.
GlenOak Academy has health and safety standards that we adhere to from a Covid-19 perspective, but we have a balanced day. We start like any typical school day at 8:45 am We have two nutrition breaks, and then we end at 3:15 pm. Within school hours, GlenOak Academy teaches the Ontario curriculum, but we embed a lot of hands-on activities. We have a wonderful green space, which is an opportunity to go and walk in the neighbourhood. There are also nature trails, and a marsh down the way.
GlenOak Academy’s teachers are very much invested in helping kids experience the curriculum. It's not just about reading it in books, and it's not about completing a bazillion worksheets. It's about diving into that learning, experiencing it, and learning from those experiences. That's really where the enjoyment happens. I always say to my students and their parents, ‘think about one of your best school memories. Is one of your best memories of school completing a worksheet? Or is it about going on a trip? Or maybe you went on a band trip in high school?’ That's the learning. That's where the learning happens. It's not filling out a worksheet and handing it in. That's what GlenOak Academy is about.
GlenOak Academy has students at grade level or above, or they might be approaching grade level, but they're all students who haven't necessarily really clicked with the public education system. So they're looking for something different. They're looking for that meaningful connection. They might be disengaged, or their experiences within the public education system haven't necessarily been as positive as they would have liked. So they're looking for that connection and reconnecting. That's really where GlenOak Academy starts.
If you go to our website, you'll see that we coined the phrase ‘start with heart.’ GlenOak Academy ‘starts with heart’ with students, starts with a relationship, builds that relationship, and once we have that relationship, trust, and connection, that's when the learning can start to happen. Then you have a student who is prepared to learn and can trust that learning process, because they have some supportive people by their side.
GlenOak Academy students want to experience their learning. They want to engage, use that outdoor learning space, and dive into the learning by building, creating, and problem-solving.
GlenOak Academy is still building, and we're responding to the increase in enrollment. We have new staff coming on board, but that's in response to the increased number of classes and number of students. We've seen some teachers transition out, and we've seen people transition in. GlenOak Academy has set our bar where we want only certified teachers, and teachers with qualifications that specifically speak to what we want to see in our programming and curriculum.
An example of someone who lives the values of GlenOak Academy would be somebody who takes the time to make connections, collaborates meaningfully with others, comes from a place of compassion, care, and understanding Someone who's not afraid of hard work, and not afraid to say, ‘you know what? I need a hand. I need some help.’
We live in one world. We're here to help and support one another. That's what we try to instill in our students at GlenOak Academy.
GlenOak Academy is very much a family-oriented school. We talk about having a GlenOak Academy family, the importance of family, and bridging home and school. That support model is really important to student success.
The student that comes to GlenOak Academy is one who is looking for opportunities to dive into their learning, use their problem-solving skills and their hands-on abilities to demonstrate their learning.
GlenOak Academy wants to go beyond just pen and paper tasks. That experiential piece is so important to us.
I think anybody could excel at GlenOak Academy, to be perfectly honest. Are we a school for students with high special needs? No. But that's because we're just not there yet as a school. We're still quite small, we only have 40 students, so we can't cater to all the needs.
Whenever anybody comes to visit GlenOak Academy, the first thing they say is how warm and inviting it is. They feel like they've just gotten a warm, big hug. We're very much a family, and we're very connected. We take the time to build personal connections with our families, students, and staff.
It is a family at GlenOak Academy, that's who we are. The relationship between parents, teachers, and administrators at the school is very collaborative. I've always had an open door policy, even when I was in the public system. I've always told my parents that we have an open door policy. So if they come in and we need to talk, I say, ‘let's do that. Let's have a phone call. Come and sit down in my office. Let's have a conversation.’ The same goes for the teachers. When you come to GlenOak Academy, it's a team. As GlenOak Academy community members you're going to know the principal, the teachers, and the students.
GlenOak Academy has a wonderful parent community. We have a Parent Council that meets once a month, and that's where we talk about fundraising, enrollment, and marketing to expand the school. We do this collaboratively. Many hands make light work, and everybody has wonderful ideas to share. That's what it's about, that's how we build community, and that's how we build success, and that's what we do. The Parent Council is volunteer. I come from the public system, so half of my career was spent in the public education system. Every school has a Parent Council. We want to hear the parents' voice. We want to hear their needs, because that informs what we do at the school and as educators.
GlenOak Academy is here to support the learning and development of all our students, and that includes when they get into conflict or disagreement. It starts with a conversation. It's usually mediated by the teacher, and we don't just talk about the problem, we talk about how to avoid that problem in the future. There's a restorative, justice part aspect to GlenOak Academy’s problem solving as well. It's all about building understanding and perspective so that when the students come to a similar situation in the future, they'll have the tools and strategies they need to navigate independently through it. Sometimes we have to call parents and have a conversation with parents as well. It's not coming from a place of animosity or anger, it's coming from a place of just compassion, care and building understanding.
If GlenOak Academy were a person, they would be a person of compassion and care, a good communicator, someone who speaks from the heart, starts from a place of understanding, is invested in learning more about the world around them, and is actively engaged in the world around them.
It's important also to note that GlenOak Academy isn't just in Mississauga. We have actually two campuses, so we have our Mississauga site. So in terms of our relationship with the Mississauga area, we're all over typically There's a nature trail, that we call the ‘Nature Way,’ and we go down there and investigate, do science experiments On Earth Day, we pick up litter and make sure that our community is clean Sometimes we go down to the Lawrence Park Library to do some research. GlenOak Academy tries to make use of our community resources and understand what our community and what it has to offer. Our philosophy is very much the world as our oyster. Learning doesn't just happen within the four walls of a classroom. Learning is a dynamic experience, so we are looking to the world and community around us to inform our understanding of that world.
GlenOak Academy has a second campus. We have a program with an Indigenous community up in Sault St. Marie, and we do a lot of work with Indigenous communities, and we are expanding that program. It's specifically called the Sociocultural and Academic Reengagement Program, or S.O.A.R. for short. We have children who come from the public education system that may have gaps in their learning, and they're in our S.O.A.R. program to fill those gaps and improve their skills in literacy, numeracy, and also social skills. Within that program there's a cultural component as well. It is an Indigenous program, and Indigenous educators come in to support them in that, which is pretty exciting.
I have had parents call me interested in GlenOak Academy and say to me, ‘you're an inclusive school, and that is why I called.’ I have a specialist in special education, and I've taught in the regular classrooms, and special education programs. GlenOak Academy isn't necessarily a school for students with special needs, but it is an inclusive school because if you think about it, we don't live in an able-bodied world and special education world. We live in one world. We're all in this together, we have to help one another and support one another, and we have to teach our kids how to do that. How do we teach our kids compassion and care if we exclude them from people different from them? We're just perpetuating that difference when we want to perpetuate inclusion. We want to build inclusion. So we have to have kids together to learn from one another. We all have special learning, and special needs. We all have something that we want people to keep in mind or to think about when they interact with us.
When you come to GlenOak Academy you come to a school that is inclusive, loving, and caring, and represents best practices in teaching, learning, and excellence, and I'm pretty proud of that.
GlenOak Academy has a student ambassador who will take parents around, and the kids are absolutely thrilled to be ambassadors. They’re typically vying for that role at the school. They're in competition, and we sometimes have to have so many that want to be student ambassadors that we have a schedule so that they can follow and each get a turn. They get so excited, and are so proud to show off the school.