When Brunn first joined Sunnybrook, the school looked very different than it does today. There wasn’t an IB Programme then. “Back then the classes felt more like islands. Everyone taught their grade. There wasn’t a lot of collaboration.”
With the introduction of the IB Programme, teachers became more collaborative and community-oriented. “There’s more continuity through the curriculum.” Staff stay connected even through the summer months through professional development work. “We read a staff book together over the summer.”
As Sunnybrook evolved, so did Brunn’s career. “I kind of just grew into the (administrative) role.” When Brunn started her career at Sunnybrook, the school didn’t have a large faculty and because Brunn was co-teaching a Kindergarten classroom, she had some extra time during the day and began taking on the responsibility of touring potential families around the school. “I’m touring people. Then I’m into admissions. Then I’m a vice-principal. I really just evolved into the role.”
Brunn’s long run at Sunnybrook isn’t unusual. Brunn took over from Irene Davy who was director and principal for over 30 years. The only director before Davy was her mother, Irmingard Hoff, who founded Sunnybrook as a preschool in 1960.
While Sunnybrook is no longer a “family enterprise,” the family feel of the school remains. Davy continues to be involved in the school’s life, even after her retirement. Many staff have been at the school for over 10 years, creating a true family feel. The school has recently brought in some newer staff members, not due to turnover, but due to a few retired teachers. Brunn sees the family nature of the school as one of its greatest strengths. “We’re going to build and improve on the existing strengths of the school, because we already have a great foundation.”
As principal, Brunn enjoys being immersed into everything at Sunnybrook. “My favourite part of the day is walking around the school and going into each of the classrooms and visiting them, seeing what the kids are learning, seeing just kind of what’s the pulse of the school.” Brunn describes that Sunnybrook pulse as lively and active—a school that continues to follow its founders’ philosophy that children should be seen for who they are, and their needs should be addressed as unique individuals.
Sunnybrook encourages what Brunn describes as “messy learning,” a term used metaphorically to describe the inquiry-based approach to learning the school is known for. “We are okay with students making mistakes. We are okay with them going on tangents so that their learning becomes broader and bigger and deeper. The teacher could have something planned for that day, but because of the inquiry approach if the children kind of go off on a tangent it kind of gets messy for a bit and then the teacher brings it back to the big learning.”
The IB Programme plays a key role in the inquiry style of learning, and Brunn says it truly fosters a love of learning. “We’re very big on the children having responsibility for their own learning and taking ownership, and that is where the fun comes in because if they’re passionate about it and they want to learn about it then it doesn’t feel like work.”