School Spotlight: Priory School

Tim Peters is the Head of The Priory School, an English co-educational private elementary school in Montreal for children in Kindergarten to Grade 6. He is passionate about The Priory’s welcoming atmosphere  where “ Happy Children Learn Best”. From creating a “homey” environment that is comforting to students to the Nonnas who do the home cooking; this is a place where learning is cool and fun and kindness prevails. Here’s what he had to say about the school, its student body, and why discipline is so rarely needed.

Tell us about the school’s philosophy.

We believe that happy children learn best, and in order to ensure children are happy, they need be in a small school environment, so that when they walk in, they’re just as comfortable as when they walk into their own home. Our small school environment nurtures strong relationships with classmates and teachers so that children feel safe to make mistakes and feel comfortable about taking risks. We have 168 students with 24 children at every grade level, and they break into groups of 12 students throughout the day when learning a new concept. Students need to feel emotionally secure, respected and constantly challenged. A child needs to feel valued before they will be confident enough to show you their brilliance. We hire, train and retain teachers who believe in that philosophy, and it shows in the happiness of our students. Our students have a genuine love for learning, coming to school and for each other. 

How do you gauge that level of comfort?

We empower our students to use their voices. Our students give suggestions and share their wisdom on how to improve their school, their community and their world. Students are very comfortable approaching the adults in the school because Priory students feel valued and feel that they have a significant contribution to make. When students contribute to their schools in a positive way, it nurtures intrinsic motivation in students and increases their sense of belonging.

What about discipline?

If the environment is inherently positive, then anytime negativity arises, it is seen as strange. If there is no negativity to be emulated, then positivity will take over. Every teacher, parent and staff member look for the positives that occur between children every moment of everyday and we celebrate these actions loudly. All children want to be positive. We’ve seen this throughout our 70 years of evolution and it’s really what makes us different. 

How important is parent involvement at your school?

Parents are always welcome and encouraged to get involved with the school on many levels. We want our school to have the same values as home. If we want to achieve this, then having parents actively engaged in our school is essential. School should not be an artificial or institutional environment with rules and values that do not make sense to children. Parents have ample opportunities to contribute to our school and be a part of their child’s magical early years.  The more children see their parents involved in the school, the more engaged the children become. The Priory is a melding of home and school values. It is why alumni consistently say that The Priory is a “home away from home”.

Tell us about student life at Priory School.

Our curriculum is founded in deeper learning – we believe children have a meaningful voice and have a voice today. We don’t ask them what they will be when they grow up but who they are right now. Do they want to change something in their school, their community, in the world? We empower them to ignite positive change, and not end learning with a bristol board with facts learned. We want to cultivate compassionate people who are going to go out in the world and do something good. You’ve acquired all this knowledge, now what are you going to do with it? We want them to think, “I am something now…not only in 10 years. I can do something now.”

Given your traditionalist values, do you use technology in your learning approach?

We believe in penmanship, the joy of reading a book, and having a balanced life. Living the “Priory way” has to do with being outside for a portion of the day, being active, being involved and helping friends and family.  At The Priory, technology is used as an enhancement of the curriculum and the learning process. Yes, there’s screen time, we use iPads, laptops and chromebooks, but the focus is on the learning and not the technology. One thing that will never change in learning is the need for human interaction.

How do you educate students on Internet safety?

We have a digital citizenship program that runs through all the grades, and in the upper grades it becomes quite serious about appropriate posting, screen time and understanding your digital footprint. The focus is to keep it positive, because our goal is to empower our students to think critically and surf the web safely and responsibly.

We’ve heard amazing things about the food at Priory. We want to know more!

We had five Italian grandmothers cooking hot lunches to our students and staff, but even Italian grandmothers need to retire at some point so we now have two Nonnas that help make traditional Italian recipes. Our lunches are not catered, and they are always a healthy, home-cooked meal.  Our students look forward to lunch each day and our alumni and visitors will never refuse an invitation for lunch at The Priory!