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The York School:
The Our Kids Report
Grades JK TO Gr. 12 — Toronto, ON (Map)

The York School:

Leadership interview with Struan Robertson, The York School

  • Name
    Struan Robertson
  • Title
    Head of School

Struan Robertson is Head of School at The York School, and he believes in leading through relationships. He says what sets his small, midtown Toronto school apart is how innovation is built into its culture. That, plus the fact that The York School is one of the few co-ed options available in the city for families interested in the IB program.

Video Contents

Highlights from the interview

  • I think we’re different. Being a really urban school right in the heart of downtown Toronto, we really use Toronto as our outdoor classroom. I think the best example is our Grade 9 program. It’s called our ICE program, which stands for the ‘Integrated Canadian Experience.’ They spend every other day in the building and every other day out and about in Toronto—going on hands-on experiences all over the city, from Toronto Island to community housing projects to a variety of field trips. They really get very, very deeply involved in the city.

  • I think being an IB World School, that’s a big part of what attracts our faculty.  I think also the makeup of our student and family population has been very international. International families are familiar with the IB. So I think it goes both ways: it connects us with the world, but it also brings the world to us.

  • The simplest way of how we differentiate ourselves is that we’re co-ed.  We look just to the north of us and there’s an independent boys’ school that’s IB, and just to the south of us is an independent girls’ school. So we’re the co-ed option, right in the heart of the city. It’s the gold-standard curriculum combined with the fact that the world is co-ed.

  • I lead through relationships, just as I expect our teachers to teach through relationships. I think that’s a huge advantage of being an independent school, with smaller class sizes. We expect our teachers to get to know our kids really well, create that safe, nurturing environment, and get to know our parents really well.

  • Parents are very much in the school daily, part of the learning that’s happening. Family comes first. So for our students and parents, we want them to be partners. We know that kids’ academic success increases when parents are involved in their education.

  • We call our kids that have been with us from JK to Grade 12 ‘Yorkies’. And at graduation it is a real badge of honour to be called out as a Yorkie, which means you’ve spent your entire school career with us.

  • Having graduated with the IB diploma opens up an awful lot of doors for our kids, both to the top schools in Canada, south of the border, and around the world. Our IB scores are well above the world average annually. So our kids get an awful lot of choices and we’re very proud of where they go—some of the top schools around the world. When you’ve achieved the IB diploma, it is really an incredible achievement that opens doors.

  • One of our programs of distinction is our debating program. We send kids every year to regionals, provincials, nationals and World Championships in debating. Last year, our co-head student attended the World Debating Championships in South Africa. This year we had two students go to Cambridge in England to attend the World Debating Championships there.

  • I think Service is also a huge part of the IB approach. We have big trips during March Break. We have had, for about the last 20 years, a relationship in developing a Global Pathways school in India. We have a very tight relationship with that school where we send probably 20 to 30 kids every March Break over to India.

  • We’re a very tech-focused school. I’d say we’re very progressive. I think one of the unique things about The York School is our age—being 50 years old, I like to look at it as we don’t have the long legacy pieces which makes change difficult. Change is in the blood of our school because we’ve gone from a very small school in a church basement to having these two beautiful campuses in the heart of downtown Toronto.

  • We have a whole wellness program. We did a lot of work last year with Marc Brackett out of Yale, who has an approach—not a program, but a whole approach—to wellness that our school has enacted.  We’ve got two social workers in our senior school and counsellors in our other two schools. We’ve hired a school nurse this year. So I think just our approach to wellness is going to be more important now than ever, and I see that being a real focus of both time and resources over the next five years.

  • I think if we can help kids through failure, I think failure is seen as such a negative word in education. I think if we can flip that to ‘failing forward’, that—in the nurturing, safe, supportive, small environment of our school—if we can teach our kids to ‘fail forward’ now, when they go off to post-secondary, they’ll hopefully have those mechanisms built-in to be able to deal with it far better.


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