Profile of Karen Harrison, Principal, Banbury Crossroads School

“Students stand out like a sore thumb. In big schools, they can hide, but they can't hide here.”

As one of the school’s first teachers, Principal Karen Harrison has a profound understanding of Banbury Crossroads School’s educational philosophy. Her dedication to the students and commitment to fostering a nurturing learning environment make her an invaluable and inspiring leader.  Inside the school’s walls, Harrison and her team go to great lengths to create a warm and comfortable environment and a tight-knit community. 

Because of its nature, there is rarely a student that wouldn’t succeed at Banbury Crossroads, but Harrison admits that students are a better fit at the school when they are independent in their learning and when they are at least moderately well-adjusted socially, with few behavioural issues.

“Students stand out like a sore thumb. In big schools, they can hide, but they can't hide here,” she says. “There are designated schools for disabilities, so they're going to give you a lot more support. And even in some public schools, they have more aides or psychologists than we do.”

When issues do arise, teachers notice and act quickly. While any type of bullying or retaliation isn’t tolerated, the administration follows a P.E.T. (Parent Effectiveness Training) problem-solving approach and draws from their Conflict Resolution Policy to address the issue with understanding and respect on both sides. “It's about active listening. So, we’re acknowledging the feeling, and then allowing everyone in the meeting to have a say as to what went on. Everyone has their own perspectives,” says Harrison.

Says one parent about how Harrison deals with conflicts, “Concerns are always addressed promptly and as a team of both teachers and parents. Interpersonal and disciplinary issues are worked out by talking to each other respectfully through conflict resolution practices. The environment is open and supportive.”

Throughout the “growing pains” that the school and administration may feel, the focus will remain on keeping Banbury Crossroads true to itself, according to Harrison and other staff members. This mission remains central to the operating philosophy of the staff at the school. “I don't think I would have been a teacher if I hadn't found [Banbury Crossroads] because what was going on in the public system was just not tasteful for me. And I think that anyone who's been here for a long time feels that way,” says Harrison. “I refuse to believe that there aren't 150 people out there who want a different style of education…. They need to be interested in learning and can't be totally jaded by the whole thing.”

Harrison is always open and specific about what she expects from students. And she goes the extra mile to give students and parents feedback and include them in important decisions. One parent raves about this hands-on approach to communication: “[The school leaders] provide clear and effective communication with students and their parents. They keep parents informed and involved in all school activities. They give wings to students with positive concepts and let them fly on their own which helps students show their creative side more and more. They let students decide their own learning pace.”

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