Principal’s Message Connecting Learners and Learning to People and Place It’s a tremendous privilege to be Principal of Robert Service School. I have a long-standing connection to the school, Dawson City and the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in through my professional interests as a science and education researcher and my wife, daughters and now grand-daughter as TH citizens. Over my time as an educator I have worked as a teacher, school administrator, and university professor and researcher in New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Canada. My primary interest is in instructional leadership; that is in association with staff, parents and community advancing the quality of teaching and ensuring learning in positive learning environments. I am passionate about leading for learning and the conditions necessary for learning. I believe three things are pivotal in creating the conditions necessary for learning.
First is an ‘ethic of care’. The heart of our role as a teacher is expressed through care. As expressed by Nel Noddings (1997), care is not soft; instead it respects and appreciates every student, yet expects, demands, exhorts and encourages the very best from every student. It is loyal and believing but also challenging and draws each of us in partnership to accountability for the purpose of learning. In my principalship tenure I will expect this of all, and I expect this of myself. Learning does not occur in environments without expectation.
Second, central to learning is ‘quality teaching’. As a Professor well-published in the science and art of teaching, our school level discussions will focus on the practice of teaching to foster the learning required for all learners. We as teachers are required to bring our very best for all learners and we will commit to this.
Third is the role and importance of experiential learning. Any newcomer recognizes that Dawson is an active, ‘doing’ community, and this reality challenges the ‘banking model’ of education as expressed by the Yukon Indian (First Nations) People in Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow (1973). As John Dewey stated in 1907, “from the standpoint of the child, the great waste in the school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free-way within the school itself; while, on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning at school. That is the isolation of the school -- its isolation from life. When the child gets into the school-room he has to put out of his mind a large part of the ideas, interests, and activities that predominate in his home and neighborhood” (p. 89). This community is rich in its possibility of engaging students in the highest possible learning experiences and fostering the relationships to do so is a primary mandate of my tenure as principal.
Dewey’s sentiment is also expressed by respected Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Percy Henry. In the wake of the signing of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s Self-Governing Agreement Percy stated a very astute questioning of our local school. “It is like for many years we have watched this thing you call ‘education’ occur in our town. I know there is much that can occur in the school that is good, but it does not make a person wise. In our culture there is nothing more important than the learning that makes a person wise. The main thing the southern culture wants from school is ‘head knowledge’. That is what it has always emphasized. I do not know why. It intrigues me. Your focus is mainly on the gaining of a kind of knowledge that seems to have little value in understanding the world and to make us wise people. I see it has some value, but maybe this value is only to make someone seem better than another. I think that schools can become focused on this. I think this is why many of us in the past questioned the very purpose of schools. It seems to focus on the individual and their future, not the future of the community” (2012).
Percy’s comments are echoed in the recent developments in the BC Curriculum, which we follow, that draws attention to developing, in addition to subject specific content and skills, student Core Competencies, which are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning. It’s my opinion that no community provides the potential for the significant educational experience that can be provided to RSS children and youth. Robert Service School has a significant and overall positive history of providing a high-quality educational experience for its citizens. Its current developments, primarily in its partnership with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, endeavor to advance and assure this for all students. As Percy states, "there’s much more to be done and I wonder what education would look like if we worked on this together [form the start"]. I appreciate and respect the opportunity to lead in partnership for the identified priorities expressed by this community, the School Council and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in for a better future of all citizens. There’s no community better served to address this challenge.