Today, educators are breaking traditional moulds and revolutionizing the way they teach.
From the way they impart information to the audiences they teach to – modern teaching requires creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
Brenda Kastner graduated with a BAH from Queen’s University and a BEd from the University of Edinburgh. Her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for teaching led to the start of Glen Briar Academy in Toronto. Today, she is a Co-founder, Co-owner, and teacher at this specialized school.
TalentEgg had the chance to ask Brenda about her exciting career in education so far.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, where did you go to school?
Brenda: I was born in Lima, Peru, where I lived until age 10. At that time, my family moved to Canada, and we (my brothers and I) attended the local Catholic elementary and high schools in Oakville, Ontario. Once graduated, I moved to Kingston to complete an undergrad in English Literature at Queen’s University.
My plan had always been to attend teacher’s college as well – but being a firm believer in change, I knew the Concurrent Education path was not for me. Instead, in my fourth year, I decided I would move to Scotland to learn about education, and to “find myself” as I rode planes and trains around Europe. The city of Edinburgh and Moray House College at the University of Edinburgh became my new home, and my second alma mater.
Why did you decide to become an educator?
Brenda: I am not sure if this is true of every child, but I grew up having a fascination with my teachers. They always seemed to know everything, to be able to do anything, and to be so effortlessly prepared for every situation. And they had so much power; something which as a middle child, and the only girl in the family, I rarely had.
When I moved to Canada, I started to see the more human side to my teachers – perhaps because the switch from private schools (which I had attended back home) to public schools broke down the barrier to some degree, or perhaps because I had matured. Either way, this shift in perception allowed me to see that their true power was in the ability to change a life. And did they ever change mine!
I had teachers who challenged me to try sports, who inspired me to speak out, who pushed me to make mistakes, and who dared me to be different. I knew early on that this was exactly the kind of person I wanted to grow up to be.
You co-founded Glen Briar Academy, a private elementary school in North York focused on individualized learning. Tell us about it.
Brenda: Glen Briar Academy is an inclusive, safe space designed to suit modern children, their lifestyle, and their social, academic, and emotional needs. Addressing these individualities is the first crucial step we take in creating learning programs that nurture and challenge all of our students.
We are well aware that today’s students will one day fill jobs fueled by creativity and leadership, which is why GBA’s philosophies are deeply rooted in innovation by providing education that addresses where and how our students use, and will use their knowledge.
Individualized learning celebrates individuality, creativity and leadership, allowing every child to excel by means of their own strengths in any area of learning, both in and out of the classroom.
Why did you decide to open your own school?
Brenda: To be honest, I am not sure that I had ever wanted to own a school before I met my business partner. What I did want was to inhabit a space that provided learning opportunities for all children, regardless of ability, language competency or academic skill.
I had a vision for what learning, and teaching should look, sound and feel like – but I did not know how to make it work with what was happening outside my own classroom. Konstantina Peristeris, my business partner, helped me see my ambitions on a bigger scale, and so, GBA was born.
Glen Briar Academy is a school where pedagogy guides our practice not as individuals, but as a team. Every person, from teacher to student to parent, is well aware of our mission, our educational philosophies, and our goals. We have built a culture of acceptance, of encouragement and of creativity. Though owning a school was not my original focus, it has become the path for us to provide learning spaces where every child, and any child, can succeed.
Why is an individualized approach to learning integral to student success?
Brenda: The purpose of education is always the same: to prepare young people for the challenges of the world. However, when the challenges of the world are changing, should our systems of education not do the same?
This is precisely why the individualized model is important to student success.
Today’s children will take on jobs fueled by creativity, innovation and perseverance. They will be leaders and collaborators, bringing new ideas and perspectives to dynamic fields. Most importantly, they will be filling jobs of their choosing, and of their making.
Thus, it is necessary for children to know their strengths, and to find ways to optimize these in order to develop their skills and their confidence. Individualizing the learning model allows us to teach every child not only in the way they learn, but also in the way that they best apply their learning so that it can serve them, and their community today and tomorrow.
Describe your greatest career highlight. What made it so special?
Brenda: My career has two parts: I am a teacher and a business owner. Having spent more time working at the former than the latter, most of my highlights lie there – and they are my students. Each one of them represents a personal success.
Whether I helped them to read, to add, to conjugate, or just to play, my highlight is in their ability to succeed, and in their willingness to accept and work past failure. They represent all of my beliefs in them and in youth in general. They can defy odds, shatter preconceptions and surprise even themselves. Being a part of this process is not just my highlight, it is what lights the path of my career.
What are some of the biggest career lessons you’ve learned thus far?
Brenda: My biggest lessons have come from learning to be more than a teacher. When we first decided to open the school I struggled to come to terms with the idea of “selling” my practice. It was an odd feeling at first, having my success depend on the amount of people who signed up to support it. It was such a backwards concept to me, as my teaching had never been about the parents, or even the administration; it had always been about my students.
Today I realize that my role in education can reach beyond what happens in my classroom; and so it is my duty to work to include these limits. I am not only a teacher, or a business owner, or a director – I am part of a bigger effort, whose aim is farther reaching than academics. I work alongside fellow teachers, parents and grandparents, community volunteers and leaders, coaches and mentors. Through them, and with them, I have a platform to reach out to more than just the students in my class.
So today, I proudly promote myself, my work and my ideas. I shamelessly brag about my students’ achievements, my professional partnerships and my teachers’ accomplishments. I openly sell what I do so that I can encourage as many teachers, parents, and individuals to contribute to the creation of safe and inclusive environments that allow our youth to be exceptional individuals in every aspect of their lives.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Brenda: It might sound a bit cliché, but the best advice I have received has been to be myself. Authenticity is a hard thing to hold onto in a career that is centered on others. Who I am is so dependent on what my students, my teachers, and what our school needs – it can be easy to lose track of ‘the vision’, and start doing things because ‘they are supposed to be done.’
Instead, I try to focus on the why things need to be done, and as a result, the doing becomes the focus, rather than their completion. Being myself, both as a teacher and as a director, often times means standing alone defending my stance, but it always means that my principles, my goals and my students, are the focus of my practice- as a teacher and as a business owner. Being myself, as I have been finding out, is the key to become the best version of me possible.
What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming an educator?
Brenda: My advice for aspiring educators is simple – be ready.
Be ready to feel exhausted, overwhelmed and under prepared.
Be ready to experience new levels of frustration, criticism and despair (This sounds a bit dramatic, but some days, there is no other way to describe it!)
You should also be ready to accept countless smiles, thank yous and sorrys. Be ready to watch your students grow – and know that you were a part of it.
If you are thinking of becoming an educator, be ready to take it all in: the good and the not so pleasant. And if after knowing all of this you are still interested, then keep going – because that is exactly the kind of role model today’s kids need.