Dr. Jadis Blurton: Fostering an Educational Environment for Psychological Development of Students
Dr. Jadis Blurton| The Harbour School Hong Kong

It’s no easy task being a student today. For many students, school generates intense anxiety associated with learning and for many others, extreme boredom. The forced and disconnected nature of schooling turns learning into toil. However, when students are given the freedom and opportunities to explore learning at their optimum pace, learning becomes enjoyable. Studies have shown that when this happens, students do remarkably well not only in academics but especially in their overall mental well-being. The perfect school would be a place where students can grow intellectually as well as having their social-emotional needs met – a place students would be happy going to every day of the week and be excited about learning new things. Hence begins the story of Dr Jadis Blurton’s journey in creating that perfect school. A child psychologist with her own thriving child development practice, the Jadis Blurton Family Development Center, Dr Blurton founded The Harbour School Hong Kong in 2008 with a vision of creating a school where students learn through experience rather than only from books. Dr. Blurton is a charismatic personality and a mother of six in a blended family. She has a love for learning and a curious mind that is always on the hunt for new discoveries. Dr Blurton’s passion led her to create an innovative school focused on the development of every student by giving each student individual attention. Her foresight in addressing the ills of today’s education system has impacted the way students are being taught. At the same time, Dr. Blurton’s professional psychology practice has played an important role in China for nearly two decades. The practice is based in the city of Hong Kong and is focused on helping children uncover their potential through developing their strengths. In her letter for the audience she states that “through exceptional psycho-educational assessments, counselling and innovative developmental interventions, we find fulfillment and a sense of community in advocating for those who face social, emotional and learning challenges.”

Let’s experience Dr. Blurton’s journey in her own words:

Achieving Excellence in Education

“I started my first school (The Two Horseshoe School) when I was seven years old because even though I loved school I knew that many of my friends did not. This was something I could not understand: learning is a natural instinct and discovery is fun and interesting, but many kids I knew felt bored, frustrated or anxious at school. Since then, my life has been a quest to understand this problem and to explore exciting learning environments and communities.”

“As a teenager, I was impressed by the respect for the child that I found in the writings of A.S. Neill, John Holt and Maria Montessori, and as a young adult I became a certified Montessori teacher. As I continued to learn about how children learn and problem-solve, I obtained a Ph.D. in Cognitive Developmental Psychology and master’s Degrees in both Psychology and Special Education (Gifted).”

“With my husband Craig, also a passionate advocate of progressive education and an expert in technology and science in education, I have met and worked with people who were at the forefront of change. And yet we would come home from exhilarating conferences to find that our six children were still being told to “read the chapter and answer the questions at the end of the book” because the field of education is highly resistant to change.”

“I completed further studies and an internship to become a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. For many years I worked with kids, families and schools where I was alarmed to find serious mental health issues that were directly related to the anxiety, competition, stress and essential lack of meaning experienced by many children every day at school. This didn’t seem logical to me when I was seven and is even more appalling today.”

Valuable Contribution in Education

“My most significant contribution has been the establishment of The Harbour School (THS), which is a joyful, exciting, compelling learning environment that encourages students to be themselves and which students enjoy attending.”

“Serving as a “proof of concept,” THS is evidence that school need not be disheartening, stultifying or terrifying experience in order to be academically exciting and rigorous. Unfortunately, there are still some people who believe that “progressive” means “easy” and “inclusive” is euphemistic for “special needs.”

“THS is a school that includes many different types of learners, with many different passions and interests, yet wins awards both nationally and internationally and has an excellent record of college acceptances. In fact, I am often amused by visitors’ surprise at our students’ high level of expertise and achievement. In today’s changing business environment, progressive methods such as a focus on independence, creativity, self-confidence, resilience and teamwork are emerging as the most sought-after strategies to prepare students for the future. As it happens, these methods are also the most mentally healthy and supportive for students.”

Thriving Learning Environment for Student

“THS attains a high level of success by having a very high teacher to student ratio in order to allow maximum differentiation in the areas of math and literacy, with gifted students progressing with advanced material at a faster pace while students who have difficulty in a particular area may go more slowly. At the same time, students work in heterogenous groups in subjects such as history/social studies, science, or art, often to complete authentic projects such as the design, funding and building of a school in Africa, the design and creation of a computer game for a peer with limited mobility in his fingers or building a prosthetic leg for a three-legged dog.”

“Many classes are multi-disciplinary, and some are student-created projects related to the students’ own area of interest. Because we are on an island (Hong Kong), we do a lot of place-based learning through our Marine Science Center and our 50-foot sailing ketch. We employ a “flexible best practice” approach that includes both individual work and group projects and ranges from such things as a Renaissance Faire to the active use of appropriate technology.”

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