We appreciate all the hard work and visionary thinking of retired principal Sharon Goulet that inspired the unique Suzuki Charter School learning environment in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
With a blond bob, bright blue eyes, and a sincere, encouraging smile, Madame Goulet stood outside our school every morning, enthusiastically welcoming students to enter the warm and challenging learning environment she masterfully nurtured for more than twenty-five years. Sparkling in her eyes burns the fierce determination to ensure that every child succeeds. As a strong champion of excellence, behind her warm smile lies the tireless courage and conviction to make the dream of having a school based on the Suzuki approach a tangible reality.
There will be many times in our lives when we will pause to recount the influence of our beloved Madame Goulet. After a successful career as a catalyst for innovative education, she has retired to pursue new adventures with her family and friends. The lucky students, staff and parents share in the legacy of love she passes on to future generations at Suzuki Charter School.
Sharon Goulet found her passion early in life: teaching young students. When it came time to start a family, she stepped away from teaching to raise her three children, Rachel, Andrea and Shawn. Her strong desire to provide her children with a rich musical environment led her to the Society for Talent Education in the Old King Edward School and her first experiences as a Suzuki mom. As Suzuki parents gathered and talked, the idea of starting a kindergarten inspired by the Suzuki approach gained momentum. As her husband, Rick, will attest, once Sharon gets an idea in her head, there is no stopping her. Along with a group of determined parents, string teachers Wendy Grant and Cherie Larson, and the Society for Talent Education championing the idea with space and support, an inspiring partnership between academics and music was born. Armed with a grant to showcase Alberta students playing music composed by Albertans, Sharon as a Suzuki mom and Wendy and Cherie as STE teachers traveled to Japan and Korea with other STE teachers and students, who would now be close to forty years old. While they were there, they investigated and observed existing Suzuki kindergartens. STE administrator Betty Parker-Jervis provided the impetus, and Joanne Gray, a dedicated Suzuki parent, completed all of the paperwork needed. It was decided that two teachers were imperative—Sharon and Wendy with their early childhood education specialties. There were only two instruments back then: Wendy taught advanced violin, Sharon taught beginner violin and French, and Victoria Clarke taught cello. Soon Cherie Larson replaced Wendy when Wendy left to start her family.
Confronted with a high mountain, you cannot reach the summit in one stride, but must climb step by step to approach your goal. There may be difficulties and hardships, but not disappointment or despair if you follow the path steadily. Do not hurry… Do not rest in your efforts… Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking a step at a time forward will surely get you there.
With gracious humility, Sharon deflects praise and consistently credits others with the foundational beginnings of the school, stating that she just needed a job. Through two school moves, growing pains, facility constraints and funding challenges, her willpower was unmatched; she was fearless, seeking to lead her school given the inherent challenges it faced. Striving for excellence, she mirrored a dedication to make anything she touched the best it could possibly be—not for personal gain, but because she simply couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.
There have been many milestones in her time through which her Suzuki family has continued to grow. From a small private school in 1985 housing a student population of nineteen, Suzuki Charter School has grown into a public charter school with more than 308 registered for 2011–2012. Classes have been added from the initial single kindergarten, to double classes from kindergarten to grade six and a preschool and afterschool care program. In the beginning, classroom teachers taught their own choral and French classes. Now specialists have enriched the learning environment. Instrument choices began with violin and cello, and have expanded to include viola, double bass, piano, guitar, flute and recorder with the collaborative support of the Suzuki Associations of Greater Edmonton and their talented teachers. Without any extra facility features, she had to be flexible and patiently await the day when office space and a gymnasium, stage, library and playground would happily emerge. Sharon’s role changed from entrepreneur to teacher, colleague, principal, mentor and now grandmother.
My heart brims over with a desire to help make all the children born upon this earth fine human beings, happy people, people of superior ability. My whole life and energies [are] devoted to this end. This is because of my discovery that every child, without exception, is born with this possibility.
Sharon Goulet’s true legacy is how her work carries on in the strength of her students, the strong commitment of Suzuki parents and the innovative and caring work of her staff. Her dream has become our dream. Her heart beats deeply within the culture of our school community, her touch has left fingerprints on every aspect of our continuously evolving program and her steps continue to echo down our hallways, encouraging us to strive for excellence in all we do, dream bigger, look for creative alternatives and believe in the goodness in everyone. Her legacy of love thrives in the hearts of her students, the appreciation of their parents, and the deep respect of her staff.
About Suzuki Charter School
The Suzuki Charter School, founded in 1985, integrates the Suzuki approach to education in the primary school classroom. Reflecting the Suzuki approach, staff, parents, and students actively nurture partnerships to support an engaging positive learning environment and empower student mastery of educational goals within our balanced program, which focuses on academic, personal, and musical excellence based on the Alberta Program of Studies and Current Research. The following principles, used in the Suzuki approach, provide the framework necessary to create a natural environment so that learning can occur in a way similar to that in which language development occurs: the “Mother Tongue” approach.
Principle 1: Partnerships
Staff members utilize excellent interpersonal skills, communicate effectively with parents and welcome and guide their participation. Staff build positive parent partnerships including supporting daily homework practice for review and mastery.
Fostering an attitude of cooperation
Staff have expertise in collaborative instructional teaming and learning and are able to model cooperative teamwork and positive interpersonal skills.
Staff design and implement educational experiences for multi-aged groups representing at least two grade levels. Staff members provide opportunities for older students to model excellent interpersonal and leadership skills.
Principle 2: Environment
A positive environment encourages learning
Staff members model problem-solving strategies, teamwork, and positive interpersonal skills. Staff members use collaborative, problem-solving strategies to be responsible for most behavior management issues, involving the parent and principal as additional team members when circumstances warrant it. Our goal is to promote conflict prevention and management skills that help students learn many different response options to problem situations. When conflicts arise, we expect individuals to focus on the problem and not on the person and work together to resolve conflicts in a timely and respectful manner.
Principle 3: Mastery
Every child can learn
Staff members strongly believe that all children, staff and parents have limitless potential. Staff members are diligent and innovative in finding the most effective teaching methods to help support each child’s learning.
Mastery approach to learning
Staff members are diligent in allowing students to understand learning expectations and provide ongoing positive assessment immediately. We expect staff to provide extra practice, extension and enrichment activities when needed as well as daily academic, music and personal excellence practice.
Children learn at different rates
We believe that all children learn at different rates according to their ability. Staff members develop lesson plans and differentiate instruction to foster the abilities of each student.
Education begins as early as possible
Our goal is to develop the strongest preschool and Kindergarten program as a vital component to the success of our program and foster the parent/child/teacher partnership as early as possible.
We believe that auditory experiences facilitate learning. Staff members provide excellent examples of language, music, reading or other subject matter. Students are immersed in daily listening experiences.
Quality Role Models
We believe that children need quality role models and be exposed to examples of exemplary work. Staff design and implement Alberta Education programs of study reflecting the Suzuki Approach and base their decision-making on well-grounded research considerations. We expect staff to actively engage in action research to better improve individual and collective instruction and management.
Adapted from Suzuki Charter School’s document “Integration of the Suzuki Approach within the Classroom.”