When I speak about The Academy, I often speak about the six core values of The YMCA of Greater Toronto, generally focussing on the value of respect — which I think is the fundamental value underlying the other five: responsibility, inclusiveness, caring, health and honesty.  It is certainly at the core of both what we teach and also what we do at The Academy.

However, I’ve been thinking a great deal of another of the core values recently — caring.  At a recent social gathering, I was asked the usual question, “What do you do?”  My response to this question is always brief — something along the lines of “I’m the principal of a high school for students with learning disabilities” or “I run a high school for students who learn differently.”  Sometimes my answer stops a conversation, but at other times it starts one.

On this occasion, it started one.  “That must be very difficult.  How do you manage the students?  How do you control their behaviour?”  At first I found it difficult to answer the questions; after a few seconds I realized that my difficulty was based on the assumptions implied in the questions themselves.  One underlying assumption — students are difficult to control — is based on an understanding of the educational dynamic that we all experienced during our schooling, where the relationship was often adversarial.  The teacher possessed the power, and enforced rules that often seemed arbitrary or irrelevant to the students.  This idea of control was fundamental to the classroom — and teachers were given classroom management advice, and judged on their ability to control the behaviours in their classes.

The dynamic is entirely different at The Academy.  Underlying all “classroom management” here is the value of caring.  There is nothing arbitrary in our expectations of behaviour; indeed, they are collaboratively created by teachers and students. Our students know that we care, that expectations of behaviour spring from caring, and that our motivation is to benefit them.  Maybe that’s the most profound difference I can offer to students entering The Academy — the core value of caring.

Don Adams, Head of School

May 8th, 2013 – Care or Control?