A photo of Keith Driscoll

Appearing on the "Roll Call Podcast" aimed at educators and school leaders offered a distinctive chance to delve into my 17-year tenure at SMUS. It was an opportunity to reflect on how we've shaped the SMUS experience and evolved collectively, which was truly enlightening. Our collective growth shed light on the rationale behind our methodologies, offering a deeper understanding of our practices.

Personally, it was a heartfelt moment to acknowledge the dedication of my colleagues in Boarding and at SMUS. The podcast served as a wonderful affirmation, instilling a deep sense of gratitude for being part of this incredible community, and working alongside amazing individuals.

Below is an excerpt from the Roll Call Podcast discussing the evolution of the boarding experience as of 2023.

Brian Murray: Keith. Thought we would start off the conversation tonight talking about boarding at St. Michaels University School or SMUS - what it looks like and the dynamics of running a boarding program with a very large day school component. Tell us about it.

Keith Driscoll: At our school, it's a JK to 12 school that has about a thousand students and we have two campuses. We have a Junior School campus, which we just started with Junior Kindergarten this year - So Junior Kindergarten to Grade 5. Then on the Richmond Road campus, we have our Middle School which is Grade 6, 7 and 8. And then, we have a Senior School which is Grade 9 through 12.

Our senior program is primarily coordinated with the Senior School boarding program. So our Senior School has about 600 students and 260 are boarders - about 330 to 340 are day students. So that creates a really nice dynamic when you bring international and domestic students - we're bringing people from around the world to Victoria, British Columbia. Then that gets sustained with a really nice Canadian educational background.

So it creates a really interesting culture as the two intermingle and broaden each other's horizons in terms of the Canadian experience. The Canadians involved in the day school, who become friends with those boarding students, create relationships that last a lifetime and see them, visiting them in all parts of the world. So it's a very mutually beneficial relationship.

Brian M: The scope of boarding has changed right from the students that are going to boarding school, how boarding schools are being run, to the community that exists within boarding schools, technology, all of these things have kind of transformed the boarding school space. You're not new, and I mean that with the utmost respect, you're not new to this. What have you seen in the last ten years in terms of significant changes in the creation of a boarding community?

Keith D: You know, if we go back even a little bit further, you know, I think there was a notion that boarding schools were places where you sent your child to become something that was a product of that school. It was kind of like dropping your child off, and then the school would transform that child. Then hopefully upon graduation, the child would leave, having changed for the better, so to speak. And although I haven't had lots of experience in those early days, there was a sense that there was a bit of the idea of the boarding component of school life was supervision, and they went to school and then they were supervised.

I think what's happened, you know, over the last 15-20 years, is the notion that there's a real opportunity in the boarding experience itself, to make that an educational experience in conjunction with what's happening in your classes during the day. In fact, if you're not doing that, you're probably losing the value added piece of what people are looking for nowadays.

You really see, at least at our School and some of my colleagues that I talk to, people are choosing to go to the boarding schools because it's providing them that opportunity to get this sense of what it's like to be a little bit self-reliant, maybe before they go away to university. But there's enough guardrails around, that the experience is one where we're not going to make you into something, but you have the opportunity to make yourself into something. I think the boarding schools that are finding success have kind of found the balance in that recipe of how to do that in a way that allows the student to explore and discover.

And the second thing that is helping boarding schools be really successful now is they just have a breadth of opportunities because, the one size fits all thing is a really hard thing to pull off in a boarding school if you're asking for diversity of cultures, races, and genders, and interests, and we want everybody to be excellent, and we want everybody to follow their passion - well, if you're going to do that, in a boarding school, you have to have lots of opportunities and you have to give lots of students lots of ways to try new things.

And also to have adults around when those things don't go so well, to teach them. I think that's the difference nowadays, maybe, the expectation that we have some adults who aren't going to do the work for them, but will be around them to help them understand that failure is okay. We can do hard things and you'll get over this - because you've had that experience now, positive or perhaps negative, together within this community and we can show you that you have resilience so that when you leave this school, two things can happen.

One, you can manage the world around you, hopefully you can make the world a little bit better because of what you've learned. You can help somebody else who maybe wasn't as fortunate as you were to have that opportunity. You can show them the way and think, you know, if we're doing our job really well, we're making good people. I think that's really the thing, you know? And I think about a community and a boarding program, you're showing them how to live together as good people so that no matter what their community is when they leave, they can function in it, but they can also make it a better place.

Brian M: You talk about how in the past, years ago, the boarding school perception or the reality maybe was that you dropped your kids off, it was school during the day, you were supervised at night, and then you talked about an incredible change where there's all this opportunity, programming and support that's offered after school. Was that driven by the market? Was that driven by the client, or was that something that schools started to offer and then the market responded to?

I'm kind of interested to know what was the motivation for going from what we saw in the old movies, where you dropped your kid off at the train station and you picked them up six months later to like being incredibly involved within the community.

Keith D: I think it's all of those. I think as an independent school, we all understand that there can be the perception of a bit of an arms race. So schools would add programming and do things, and then they become like magnet schools for doing one thing and doing something else - then the school down the road is like, well, we're losing market share to that, so what are we going to do? So there's a little bit of that. I also think pedagogically we've come to understand that the way we teach in the classroom has changed, and the way that we understand how relationships work and how we can help people fulfill their potential, like, in the mid 2000s to now, the brain science, the literature, the understanding of this idea, like just telling somebody to do something just isn't going to work. And what works for one student isn't necessarily going to work for another.

I think we went through a whole period starting in the late 90s and early 2000s with schools and their mission statements, and these statements had things like follow your passion and be excellent. You know, you can probably go across and you'll find those words somewhere in there. Well, if you're going to stay true to your mission, you better make sure that you're creating lots of opportunities for students to follow their passion, and you better make sure you have adults in place that understand what it means to pursue excellence, versus we're going to make you excellent. I think that's the trick as an educator, what is your ethos and philosophy in regards to that? My experience from the schools I've visited, the schools that have the right balance - they know what they're trying to do, and they've put their systems and structures in place to try to maximize whatever that is that they say that they're doing in their mission and vision or their values.

Listen to the entire podcast at : Roll Call Podcast