Profile of Dr. Angela Terpstra, Head of School, Bishop Strachan School
It's not necessarily now what students think but it's how they think
Dr. Angela Terpstra, or Dr. T as the students at Bishop Strachan School (BSS) call her, didn’t follow a typical career trajectory of a head of school. Terpstra came to BSS as principal of the Senior School in 2005 after having taught English at the university level for 13 years. “I think I’ve followed my nose more than having been strategic,” says Terpstra, who was named Head of School in 2018.
“I have this little maxim that my kids follow: sometimes you need to do things that will make more of you. What will make more of you? And I think that’s an interesting way to think about challenges. You think ‘will this make more of me?’”
As Head of School, Dr. Terpstra always making herself available to the students. “I love being with young women today. I love the energy. I love the questions. I love the way they push me to think about different things.” At BSS, relationships are seen as the cornerstone of student success. “We are a very caring community.” Terpstra says while some schools of thought imply that being a caring environment means sacrificing on the academic front, Terpstra challenges this school of thought and says BSS is proof that you can have a caring community with an incredibly strong academic program.
Being a Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 school provides Dr. Terpstra with many unique opportunities to connect with students and alumni, witnessing multiple generations of women. “I get to interact with kids who are 3 years old and just starting school and who’s world is just opening up and I also get to interact with our oldest alum who could have graduated from the class of 1945.” The diversity in that offers Dr. Terpstra several interesting viewpoints.
Becoming head of school was Dr. Terpstra’s first experience with single-sex education. Her PhD research examined how girls function in coed environments. “I was situated in coed schools and talking to girls about their experiences in that environment. I had done quite a bit of research about what it is that fosters the best environment for girls to flourish.” She says the research in women’s colleges finds that girls in all girls schools find a sense of power and autonomy.
BSS sees students as partners, a philosophy that trickles down from the Junior School. The Junior School follows the Reggio Emilia approach that sees the child, even at the age of 3, as a person who has skills, thoughts and ideas of the world. It’s the job of the teacher to draw those out of the child. “Our image of the child demands that we get to know these children because they are bringing things to the school – their own ideas and thoughts – that we need and it’s important for us to be respectful of that.” This philosophy of the child not as an empty vessel that needs to be filled but as a contributing member of the school carries through to the higher years.
Terpstra sees education as not simply a linear path to higher education or a career. “For many of us, our high school years were very limiting, because you were on a track just to get to university.” Dr. Terpstra states that BSS offer something more than simply this transaction. The school will deliver students to university, but simultaneously provides students with opportunities to explore their interests, grow as people, and find their place in the world. “These girls need teachers who will push them, perhaps, into things they would never do,” says Dr. Terpstra.
The role of educators, Dr. Terpstra says, is to foster fierce listeners and diverse thinkers. “It’s not necessarily now what students think but it’s how they think. How do we help them be fierce listeners to others. How do they become thoughtful about the ethical challenges we face in the world.”
For the Our Kids Feature Review of Bishop Strachan School, click here: Private School Review: The Bishop Strachan School | Our Take (ourkids.net)
To view Dr. Terpstra’s one-on-one Our Kids interview, click here: The Bishop Strachan School - Toronto Private Day Boarding School (ourkids.net)
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