Six questions for Jeff Aitken, the Upper School’s new head

We’re excited to welcome Dr. Aitken, an Ontarian who has extensive experience working in IB schools abroad.
How does it feel to be back in Canada, and how are you and your family settling into life on the UCC campus?

Although I was away a long time, my family and I returned eight years ago when I took a four-year position in Waterloo, Ont., so that felt like more of a transition. Now, it’s not a shock; it’s really positive to be back in Canada, close to family and part of a warm and welcoming community. I’m enjoying connecting with Toronto again, walking places and exploring.

Moving to campus has been what’s most different, but again very positive. My two boys absolutely love it. The other families on campus have been very welcoming, bringing us peach cobbler, bread, and vegetables from their gardens. It’s very clear that the people who live here reflect the entire school community. 

What excites you about being part of UCC?

There are a few things that drew me here. One is that the College is working to develop its IB continuum status and is looking at areas of innovation in teaching and learning. Also, there’s a long tradition and history with IB. I’ve been working with IB for more than 20 years and am familiar with UCC’s commitment to IB’s philosophy and curriculum. 

Over the past several years, UCC has become known for its values and their development as part of the school’s culture: community, service, learning, wellbeing and pluralism. The school is putting its mission to provide transformational learning experiences into action and finding ways to implement its values, which is to be commended. 

And finally, being in this part of Ontario again, close to family, is wonderful. 

What particular talents do you bring to your position?

I went into education and left Canada because I was interested in connecting to other cultures and an international mindset. I will draw on that in coming back to Toronto, because it’s part of what UCC is trying to achieve. I’m experienced with IB and committed to global citizenship. In terms of my own skills, I am a strong proponent of working collaboratively and I enjoy bringing emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to situations and organizations interested in positive change.

Why are you passionate about the IB framework?

For many reasons, but especially because of the program’s breadth. Any student going through an IB program experiences a breadth that doesn’t exist in many other curricula. Students are expected to stick with math and English and do a second language, as well as focus on Theory of Knowledge, and creativity, activity and service. It’s good for the brain, good for development, good for learning.

How are IB graduates unique?

They have critical thinking skills unlike those of other graduates. It’s ingrained in them to question truth, meaning, bias, even authority in some ways. It’s something you don’t see in many others that age and it puts them in such a strong position going into university. Additionally, IB has a challenging, demanding curriculum and program; data show that IB graduates are the most successful in their first year of university because they are prepared for the high level of engagement and demands. As a parent, I much preferred supporting my daughter through homework stress at home, compared to in first-year university when a student is living on their own and trying to cope with laundry, cooking and making friends at the same time. Our students get a high level of preparation that most 16-to-17-year-olds just don’t receive.

When you’re not at work, how do you enjoy spending your time?

We’re an outdoor family and our favourite activities include biking, hiking, walking and being outside at the cottage. If we’re outdoors, we’re happy. I also love theatre and very much enjoy baseball – playing with the boys, watching them play  – as well as the Blue Jays, of course!
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