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The Sterling Hall School:
The Our Kids Report
Grades JK TO Gr. 8 — Toronto, ON (Map)

The Sterling Hall School:

Leadership interview with Susie Heinrich, The Sterling Hall School

  • Name
    Susie Heinrich
  • Title

Video Contents

Highlights from the interview

  • I absolutely love Sterling Hall School. The community here is so welcoming, and it's such a positive, joyful culture. Now that we have the boys back in school, the building is full of joy. So three things that I really love about the place is that it's very focused on voice. So being a K to eight school, it's all about the voice. And that is not just a statement that we put in writing. It's true in everything we do.

  • The focus is on the students and the focus is on the boys. So that's the first thing I like is they're at the forefront of what we do. The second thing I like is that it's really small. And being small means that we can change quickly. We can be innovative, and that is so critical during something like a pandemic. It means we can respond very quickly and we can do what we need to do. It's not like changing or moving an ocean liner. And so that's great. So if I have a new idea, it can be done almost overnight.

  • The faculty is super-energetic and innovative. And so when it comes to taking on new brain research for the boys or a new strategy that's going to make learning more effective, like our new character program, they're right into it because they know it's the best thing for them, and so they do it. And I think those are the three things that I really love about it.

  • Most of my time has actually been as an educator, and I've always been drawn to brain research and to within the context of my own classrooms and as an educator, knowing how to differentiate for different kids. And so I've spent a lot of my time studying and researching motivation and looking at how do boys learn and what are their needs compared to girls? I also have three of my own children, two boys and a girl, and they're very different. And I like to understand why, as I grew in my education, I just got to be really good with voice.

  • And I became known as the teacher and the educator who was very good with the boys. And I often got them in my classroom whether they were stronger or weaker academically, whether they had attention issues. I just was a very kinesthetic teacher. And I grew to understand that they're much more visual spatial as younger learners, and they need more support with their literacy. And when you have an all boys school, you can cater to all those brain issues and you can do your instructional strategy in a more kinesthetic way. So our school caters to that, and I love that about a K to eight program.

  • We can accelerate the math because that's how their brains work. We can support literacy because that's what they need, and they have low confidence in that. And we can boost that. We can teach in a more kinesthetic way. We can provide more outdoor education. We can focus more on character in a way that is good for boys. We can enhance their empathy because that's what they need. And so I've just been drawn to that because, one, I'm good at it. And two, I think it's so critical in those K to eight years.

  • I actually love it. It was interesting. As I was interviewing for jobs. People would say, I think you'd be really good at admissions. And given my background in education, it's helpful to know about learners and it's helpful to talk through with families about their sons because I think finding a school is all about fit. And the more parents understand their own son and what his needs are, then I can help them figure out if Sterling Hall is the right place for them and if it will meet their needs. So if they're after something that fits with our values of learning and character and community and that fits with their family needs, then this might be a really good fit for them. I really try to understand what it is they want in their education. And so I think it helps me care about our families and it enhances our values, I think I hope.

  • So we have three values: learning, character, and community and so we would say all three of them are equal. We definitely have an academically rigorous program, and it starts young because we believe in building a foundation for our boys. So our academics are accelerated, particularly in math. And then I would say a huge strength of ours is our character program. Those are values in action, and it's a common language spoken throughout the whole school. So all the teachers understand the character strengths, and they're in place in our curriculum, in our co curriculum, in our outdoor education, in our leadership model, in everything.

  • So the kids are reflective about their character strengths. During an assignment, they'll talk about, how did I demonstrate perseverance? Where do I lack empathy? How have I shown empathy? And so they're constantly talking about it. And so out at recess, if a teacher says, what character strength are we demonstrating here? How come this isn't working? The kids don't look at you and go, what are you talking about all know, because we all use the same language, and that's critical.

  • And then the community element is consistently apparent. So the kids have a community circle every single morning from JK to grade eight, and then the community element is expanded all the way through. So as they reach the intermediate program, they have advisories where grades six, seven, and eight are all together with an advisory teacher, and they learn to help each other, to protect each other, to care for each other. And then we have leaders in grade eight who lead as agents will change or lead the athletics. So we bring the school together through community, and then our parents are hugely involved, and we bring them in to help and to a very active PA. So all three elements, all three values are equally weighted, and we look for that. That's important to us.

  • It's often parents who focus on character more. They're not just after this rigorous, rigorous education and learning. And I want all academics or we'll find boys that they see their boys character developing, but they're not sure where the boy wants to go, and they really want to help him become his own individual. We very much believe in developing the boy to be the best that he can be. So we don't have a picture of what a Sterling Hall graduate looks like because we believe that every boy will be his unique self, and we want them to be the best version of themselves.

  • And when they come in in kindergarten, we don't know what that's going to look like. When they finish in grade eight. So they come in and we want them to figure out their passions and whether they're going to be an athlete or a musician or an academic or combination of all of those. And they might change part way through. And often it's parents who come in and say, we don't know what it is he wants. And if we put him through to a school that goes to grade twelve, then that's already defined.

  • Whereas if we go K to eight, we're saying he has that time to explore. And then one of the things that we really love is that our director of graduate placement in grade eight helps those boys who now have a much better understanding of who they are find the right fit for high school. And that is a huge strength of our school, is that we send those boys off to so many different high schools and people say, well, why don't you have a grade nine to twelve? Because our boys are all so different. By the time they finish grade eight, then that's what we've developed. We've made them into themselves, and that's a goal of ours. And so to continue grade nine to twelve defeats our goal, because we would need ten to twelve different high schools. Right. Because we send them to co-ed, to continuing private, to IB, to experiential Ed, to math, science, to all these different schools. And that's the strength that we've helped them figure out who they are as a K to eight, because that's when you figure out who you are, that's when you figure out your character and your identity.

  • So one of the things in JK and being at an all boys school is boys often struggle with their executive functioning skills, which includes their organization, their time management. There are about eight different elements in executive functioning. And often boys struggle more with that. And right away in JK being a boy school, we start to hone in on those skills right now. Even now, they all have their own box, they all have their own little learning space, and they have to manage all of their own stuff. And that takes so much time. And those skills can be learned. They're not just innate.

  • And often people think, oh, they just shouldn't know how to do that. But we have to teach those skills. And when you start young, they're built upon similarly with the literacy skills, boys need to be together in their very youngest years to build on the foundation of literacy. So if you chuck them in later, you're missing some of the very basic building blocks for literacy. And if they've been in co-ed schools, often teachers move faster because the girls pick up literacy faster. And so the boys, either their confidence is lower or they're missing some of the basic skills.

  • We're not just looking at academics, but we want the kids to be successful when they come. So there's never a no, because we give you feedback and we give you the strategies to work on the things that we feel you might need to enhance so that you can be successful here. And with that, it's an ongoing dialogue. It's never just a quick process, but it is a rigorous program, and it's important that it's the right fit for you. So feedback from us is really important. And with that feedback comes those critical educational strategies. And I think that's another reason why I'm in this role is we just don't say no. We give you that educational feedback so that it could be a fit.

  • So parents are constantly in touch with teachers. So I can just use the grade eight, for example. I know that the teachers write as a team every week to the teacher, sorry, the teachers every week, right to the parents. And they say, here's what's going on. Here's what we've been studying. Here are the learnings that we've been doing. Here are the assessments that the kids have gotten back. Please discuss this with your kids. And don't forget, you'll get what's called a snag email after this is behind in any work. So the parent right away gets an email after that if they're behind in any work so that the child can catch up. So in terms of academics, that is what goes on.

  • The teachers are always tracking. So there's a whole school document if there's any instances related to character, because, again, that common language about character. Every teacher knows the expectations because we all have the common language. And so teachers are all working together. And kids have a lot of different mentors that they're working with. So they have their homeroom teachers, they potentially have an advisor in grade eight. They also have a faculty mentor.

  • So they have lots of teachers that are looking after them. And these teachers are always communicating with each other. This year it's over email because we're all in our cohorts and different bubbles, but normally it's just in person. And again, that's the small school aspect because we don't have that many kids in each grade level. Teams are always meeting, how's this kid doing? How is this kid doing? We do have an academic success team that this year has six teachers on it, and they're always looking after kids and they're going into classrooms and they're meeting with parents. 

  • So, for example, we had a meeting with the new parent, and it was me as the admissions person, the academic success teacher, and the homeroom teacher, and we were all pulling together to see how we were going to best support this new student to make sure that they fit in. So there's constant contact with the parents. And we're not a school that believes in punishment. We're a school that believes in educating and helping them grow through positive feedback and through education. So when something's going wrong, we need to educate them as to why through the character.

  • And we know that boys need their energy breaks. But we also know that the more activity they get, it also grows the problem solving part of their brain at the back here. So if they're running around, they're also developing their problem solving skills. So we're very against taking away recess to increase the academic learning time, but simply during recess when kids aren't doing the right thing, like yesterday. None of them are terribly significant at this point because the kids are all very excited. So I'm out with the JK kids and there's four seats at a table, and they know that only one can be sitting for social distancing. We'll do little things, and when they sit together, we just do things like, oh, give your helicopter arms out. Instead of saying, no, you can't do that, we just say, put your helicopter arms out. And then they say, but I want to sit beside my friend. And it's like, of course you care about your friend.

  • And then we're looking at problem solving skills, and then we get them to think about what we could do instead of focusing on the fact that I can't sit here or I can't sit here and I don't like this. And then we have fun with it. One of the kids says, well, I could sit right on the table. Right on. And I said, oh, well, do you sit on your table at home? No. And then they're all laughing and they've forgotten that they're getting in trouble for but they're not really getting in trouble. It's just learning the right way to do things. And then we continue brainstorming, well, look around, what else could we be doing? I mean, mine. There are four, right? But it could easily have been me going up and going, you can't sit there, but right away, how can we all still play together? How can we care about each other? How can we be empathetic that if I just say, no, one of you is left out and we don't want to leave anybody out, so how else could we do this?

  • In any school? I think everything, especially curriculum, is always evolving. I think you would ask any teacher in any school and they would always say, we want to do more. We want to be able to provide more for the kids. And any good teacher would say, I'd like to differentiate more or enhance the curriculum more or align it vertically more. I think these guys work so much as a team across in a grade level that I think that's amazing. But I think any school would say they want to align their curriculum a little more because you're so busy all the time as a teacher caring about your kids. This faculty is always jumping in to let me do that. Let me help with that. 

  • They'll take on any role. This year we went from 18 to 31 home rooms, and teachers just had to jump in and take different roles. And they don't complain, they just do it and they support each other and teachers are working from home to stay safe and they've had to cover for each other and they just get on with it. And that's the type of school it is and that oozes through into the boys and it's amazing how that culture just rolls.

  • Get on our website and look because it definitely has a feel. And I think if the feeling resonates with you. Then attend an open house and do our personalised information sessions with me where we can talk about your son and get to know him and see if we're a good fit. And as you're thinking about schools, get to know your son as a learner and as a person. so that you can find the best fit school for him. 


THE OUR KIDS REPORT: The Sterling Hall School

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