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Welcome to Our Kids

A profile of ECS's Lauren Aslin

“We are required to think very deeply in the world, and intentionally—not just absorb it and consume it.” 

 

by Glen Herbert


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Lauren Aslin is the sixth head of Miss Edgar's and Miss Cramp's School in Montreal, though she first arrived two decades ago as director of IT. In that role, she wrote the first IT curriculum for all grades, Kindergarten to Grade 11, something that was cutting edge for the time. “I had a very high understanding of what that technology should be,” she says matter of factly. “So I did that.” In time she became acting head (she says, “The students would ask what that was, and I’d say ‘I’m not the head, I’m just acting like one. So how am I doing?’”) and was appointed head of school in 2017. “It gave me the opportunity to recalibrate and bring back some of the things we’ve had in the past,” she says. “Because sometimes we lose things. … Like our Heads’ Assembly, where we gather as a community—all of us, Kindergarten to Grade 11, faculty and staff—and we think about something that matters in the world.”

In demeanor as in action, Aslin is, by any measure, a strikingly dynamic leader. She can speak in political terms, and does, and isn’t prone to gilding any lilies. She mentioned “power tables” (the sites of power within Canadian culture) a few times when we visited her at the school, as well as climate justice and gender equity, yet it never feels polemical. She doesn’t talk like other heads or academics do, which can be both surprising and disarming, perhaps, if also a breath of fresh air. When we spoke in her office one morning, she described affirmative action as “a flaming neon arrow that points to a problem.” She talked about the need to allow students to be active learners rather than “obedient puppets.” She described the classrooms and labs as “kitchens of learning.” Aslin hopes that students see the school as a place they can express their true selves—to be, in her terms, “weirdly me”—while also appreciating the skills, talents, and personalities of others. In all of that, it’s hard not to smile in her presence: she’s expressive, forthcoming, and as passionate about social issues as she is about just being with people and sharing a laugh.

“We were created because girls weren’t where they needed to be,” says Lauren Aslin, the current head of school. And she adds that this is something that remains true today. Women are under-represented in some key aspects of the workforce, and their talents and their voices are under-utilized. “So, the job, the mission, is not done,” she says. “If you’re coming here, you’re aware that your daughter is joining a milieu where she is going to work towards gender equity.” The school is one where she’ll be participating in “the spirit of activism, which of course is self-agency,” and grow into a keen awareness “that your care and your advocacy can make a difference, even when you’re young.”

That’s a big, important idea, and while the school addresses it head on, there’s a playfulness, too. This is a place for young people, after all, and in the day to day, that’s how it feels. When it was decided that pants should become a uniform option (“You know,” says Aslin, “if a girl is crawling around doing robotics, she wants pants!”), Aslin organized five taxis to take students to clothing stores to try on options, take photographs, and then report back. Aslin herself accompanied the Pants Uniform Team, or P.U.T.: “I had in my taxi four girls and it was hard for them to go, try stuff on, and then step out and be photographed. So the first thing I did was try on pants that really didn’t suit me. … I stepped out and they went ‘Whoa!’ and I said ‘Bad eh!?’”

It’s not a moment that is central to the life of the school, though it’s telling in the way it exemplifies its culture. “We do things that way here,” Aslin says, meaning collaboratively, creatively, maybe a bit quirkily, in the awareness that we are all different people, each with our own talents, personalities, and anxieties. From choosing uniforms to developing programs and curricula, it’s a place that acknowledges that, in Aslin’s words, “every girl has a learning profile,” and that we all bring our own exceptionalities to whatever we do.

While relatively new to the role of head of school, she’s nevertheless been actively contributing significantly to the academic and social culture of ECS for more than two decades. If the students see this as their home, Aslin does, too. Walking through the halls with her, it’s clear that she knows the students by name, and that they know, respect, and enjoy her company. It’s difficult to imagine a person more suited to lead this particular school at this particular moment in time. For her part, she says “it’s a pretty wonderful gig.” 

For the Our Kids review of Miss Edgar's and Miss Cramp's School, click here

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