May there be moments

Everyone advised me to take time off between jobs.  Everyone.  Given that the Kee family is about to embark on major life adventures – with me starting a new job in a new community; Kathleen starting a new school; and Jacob beginning McGill – many people offered advice on how to cope with our upcoming change.  Some said to take a good month off; others advised that the amount of time was not as important as the need to actually get away.   My husband Kevin and I really thought about what our ideal holiday could include, and we decided to totally splurge on a two-week family trip to France.

But when we really thought about what it meant to “take time off,” we decided that in addition to time and place, we actually needed a third criteria:  a complete break from email or anything work-related.  For the first time in years, I didn’t have a professional book with me, and I didn’t have any access to email or social media.

The combination of extended time in a beautiful and interesting place, with no ties to regular life, created what our kids started calling – the dream vacation.  We were trying to be quite mindful of our dream vacation, so we planned our outings (and our food!) each day.  As those of you with teens understand, our kids sometimes could be cynical. Whenever we were faced with our trip not going as planned, like when we were lost or when it poured rain on our bike ride, the kids would lower their voices and snicker, “Dream vacation”.  But every night over dinner, we came to enjoy recounting the day’s adventures, and we focused on describing certain moments – highlights for each of us.  A few of mine include the following:

  • We turned a corner on our bike path along the Loire Valley and suddenly, as we pushed to get up a hill, we realized that we were between two enormous, as-far-as-the-eye-could-see fields of sunflowers. I remember gasping at the beauty.
  • We sat at the Louvre, staring at “Liberty Leading the People,” and Kevin came to life explaining the context. The kids and I marveled that he could recount so much history but also explain it in such a compelling way.  The moment was certainly the inspirational painting, but it was also this chance to be reminded of a strength of personality that we don’t have time to appreciate daily.
  • As we sat under a tree in the rain, we remembered that we had two umbrellas. Kathleen and Kevin sat under one, and Jacob arranged the second without realizing that he had left me completely uncovered. When Kathleen laughed and pointed to me sitting completely in the rain between two umbrellas, Jacob said, “But then my legs would be exposed.”  Almost immediately he was startled by the selfishness of what he had said, and we all laughed.  At other points on the trip, when there was a quiet moment, one of us would whisper, “But then my legs would be exposed,” and we laughed every time.

I guess my point is that a dream vacation includes beauty, inspiration, laughter and joy.  We are so grateful for our experience!  But now that I am back, I realize I want to try to do two things:  I want to seek opportunities for moments on a daily basis, and I want to take time to feel them and relive them.  My hope is that our dream vacation is not limited to two weeks in France.

And as we head into the second month of summer, my hope for you is that you have many moments of beauty, inspiration, laughter, and joy.  More importantly, may you take the time to know – really know and feel! – that you are experiencing a moment, and enjoy that moment too.

Transitions

Today I am between two great jobs – CAIS and Lakefield College School – and I am about to head off for a holiday of a lifetime.  But before I sign off from CAIS for good, and begin writing from my new position, I wanted to write a few thoughts to the members of our national organization.

As I said in my newsletter, I have two messages.

First – thank you. At CAIS, we always say that an association is like a gym membership – you only get what you put into it. Over the years, I have had to make many – MANY! – calls so that we could make things happen, and I have appreciated your investment of time to bring ideas to life. I get teased about how much everyone dreads the call or email from me, so I just want to say that I try not to take it personally!

I have been truly blessed by incredible leadership at the board level, by intelligent people who want to give their energy to our mission of whole school improvement and our vision to shape the future of education. A special thank you to my Chairs, all of whom have put in long hours behind the scenes: Tom Hockin, Jeff Paikin, Rob Cruickshank, and Peter Jewett.

Finally, the biggest of thanks goes to the CAIS team. Something magical happens when you put a group of passionate, hard-working, smart and good people together… in our case, they are all of that and more. I have learned so much from them and will miss each of them.

I also want to say this – keep going. Our CAIS schools are filled with teachers who pour their hearts and souls into their jobs. Our schools are filled with students who will go on to change the world – I have no doubt about that! So our schools really need leaders, who will manage all of the day-to-day stress of schools, but who will also spend time thinking about how to make their schools even better.

The real challenge of the future of independent schools is that good is not good enough…we can never rest on our laurels. No matter how great our schools are – and CAIS schools are great schools! – we must strive to get even better…our students deserve our best and ongoing efforts.

In closing, the genuine commitment to improvement of our entire CAIS community has been a driver for me over the years. I look forward to maintaining my ties in my new role at Lakefield, and once I get my head above water, I promise to take the phone calls and give back, the way you have taught me to do.

For now – happy summer!

image1On a hike in Twillingate after our amazing CAIS Summer Leadership Institute…shooing away the mosquitoes…marvelling at the icebergs….and looking to the future…

On teaching goodness

With the drama in American politics and the Quebec mosque shooting tragedy this week, I find myself searching for goodness, and last night I think I found it.

I attended a production at Ashbury College by Dandelion Dance, featuring a diverse group of girls telling their stories through dance. These young women bravely took on important and very personal issues, and the whole experience of watching them was moving. But there was something else about the performance that was special. I don’t think any one of them was ever dancing alone on stage; this was never about a singular performance. I found myself watching their stories, but I was equally drawn to the non-dancing girls, as they stood along the sides, watching and smiling. They seemed genuinely supportive of each other. That vulnerability in teenage girls as they danced, combined with the open display of support by their peers, was profound.

I needed last night. I needed to see that the world is still full of joy, generosity, hope, and beauty. I know that life is not that simple, but I was reminded last night that it can be.

Can it be this simple for schools?

We have a responsibility to teach subjects. I know there is concern about the extent to which tackling world events should take precedence over “covering the curriculum”, but good teachers find that balance.

We are also getting better at teaching skills like creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.  We help students discover their passions and give them real-world opportunities to learn.

We are also focusing – very appropriately – on teaching mindfulness and wellness. As we think about all of the problems in our world, we need to engage our students in big conversations, and we must be mindful of their anxiety and help them to remain optimistic.

My hope is that we continue to take seriously our responsibility to teach goodness. Our CAIS schools are special communities where students learn and realize their full potential with innovative programs. But they are also loving communities where good teachers inspire students to listen, accept differences, build trust, and celebrate others.

It is that simple.

Who is shaping the future of education?

Between zoom meetings and school visits, I have been in conversations with over 40 school leaders this month – and it is only January 21st! Here are some highlights:

  • CAIS Boarding schools want to better understand the impact of a new President in America on high school student school choice. Will more students choose Canada? (In case there was any doubt, we think the answer is a resounding yes!)
  • Martin Jones, Principal of the Middle School at Mulgrave, was very kind to give me a tutorial on their pilot project on Live Time Assessment. He and Craig Davis were so motivated by John Hattie’s work on the 195 influences on student achievement, and the particular finding of the powerful influence of feedback on enhancing student achievement, that they are eliminating traditional report cards and moving to a system of continuous reporting. Their faculty is highly motivated and their parent body is hugely supportive. I admit – I am fascinated by this initiative, and Craig Davis will be leading two Catalytic Conversations at the National Leaders Conference (NLC). (See below for more links to this research).
  • Small schools leaders discussed the unique value proposition of small schools – relationships, opportunities to support learning, nimble environment to implement change quickly, student leadership, strong sense of community – and they want to explore creative opportunities for collaboration.
  • K-8 school leaders are passionate about the value-add of an independent school education that begins at age four. They are interested in finding more research to support the benefits of an early investment in education.
  • Erin Corbett, Head of River Valley in Calgary, introduced me to a new app called Seesaw, which is a student driven digital portfolio that enables easy parent communication. I was very excited to learn from a lovely student (see below) and when I shared my enthusiasm with the NLC Program Committee, I learned that a number of CAIS schools are piloting this and other apps like Sesame and FreshGrade. Again, more on this at the NLC.
  • When I met with the boards and leadership teams of Elmwood, Southridge and St John’s, I was inspired by their commitment to continuous improvement. Like all CAIS schools, they are already excellent, and yet they invest time in learning about international trends and research, and debating their choices.
  • This week, when I walked in to the office of Rob Lake, Head of Collingwood, he handed me a copy of The World Economic Forum White Paper, (included in yesterday’s Top 12) and told me about his commitment to inviting every parent – and they have over 1000 students! – to his home for dinner this year. I was moved by his dedication to knowing his community and developing relationships.
  • When I met with Carol Grant-Watt, Head of West Island College, and when I spoke with Conor Jones, Head of York School, they explained how they supported a fellow CAIS school in their time of need. I cannot emphasize enough that they were not bragging; they just wanted me to know about our powerfully caring community in CAIS.
  • The Catalytic Conversation facilitators and I met this week to prepare for the NLC, and I was reminded that the scope of initiatives happening in our schools in all areas of program and operations is impressive. Get to Montreal in April to engage with these leaders, and you too will see their leadership in action. One word for them – wow.

So, in answer to my initial question, in the title of this blog?

Without a doubt, our CAIS schools are full of leaders who are more committed than ever to learning and creating powerful opportunities to challenge and support students. Thanks for a great start to 2017.

Read more about the most powerful influences on student learning:

Teachers make a differenceimg_7847

Influences on Student Learning

Visible Learning summary

Visible Learning powerpoint

Alina Blunston is a Grade 3 student at River Valley School in Calgary.

 

Top Reads of 2016

What are the topics that defined independent school education in 2016? I scoured our CAIS Top 12 articles to find those that met two criteria – most important (to me) and most read (by you) – and I have organized them by our CAIS National Standards.

#1 Vision, Mission, Values and Strategy

I love predictions, and so do you…. Here are Deloitte’s predictions for the year ahead (2017).

#2 Co-Curriculum and the Learning Environment

We are all focusing more on helping students cope with the challenging issues they face today, and almost every strategic plan includes wellness. I am a fan of Lisa Damour, author of the New York Times bestseller Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. Read the book or read excerpts here.

#3 Academic Program

The popularity of this article should come as no surprise, as all CAIS schools are obsessed with providing the school experience possible. I love this finding from this popular Atlantic article: if high schools want to prepare students for college, they should focus less on specific content and more on critical thinking, reasoning, and teamwork.

#4 School Leadership

Here is a case of the title really saying all there is to say – The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around a Failing School. Who doesn’t want to read this Harvard Business Review article?

#5 Human Resources

Our new CAIS Accreditation Guidelines include a new Indicator on School Culture:

Policies and practices are in place to ensure that teachers and staff work collaboratively and actively to pursue positive, respectful, and appropriate relationships with their students and with other adults in the school community.

I could write a lot about why, but culture is definitely a priority for all schools. Hal Hannaford (Selwyn House) teaches a module at our CAIS Leadership Institute, and Jason Rogers (Rundle) is going to join him at our Summer LI at King’s Edgehill in July.

Here’s the culture article pick: The #1 Factor That Determines A Toxic or Thriving School Culture

#6 School and Community

Here’s a favourite topic for all educators – today’s parents. Robert Evans and Michael Thompson wrote about Parents Who Bully The School in this NAIS article, and perhaps somewhat unfortunately, this proved to be a popular choice with our CAIS readership.

#7 Enrolment Management

We have come a long way – thanks in part to the work of The Enrolment Management Association – in understanding that effective enrolment management includes recruitment, marketing, retention, and financial strategies. This popular article resonated with our CAIS community, probably because we work hard to be authentic and engaging with prospective families.

#8 Governance

The most important publication of 2016 was our CAIS Governance Guide…. Obviously! But this list of seven rules for board members’ fundraising is another popular – and super quick! – read.

#9 Finance

Truth time – the most read article was this one about the bbq test, and it is somewhat along the same lines as this more substantial McKinsey one: Are today’s CFOs ready for tomorrow’s demands on finance?

#10 Physical Plant, Health and Safety

There is a notable increase in, and sophistication toward, the approach to risk management in our schools, and I am proud that CAIS Schools take student safe-guarding so seriously.

#11 School Improvement

The most popular article was this one: These ten ideas are each getting $10M to Change High School.

If these kinds of ideas inspire you – and I hope they do! – join our National Engagement Forum hosted by SMUS and SAC. (Warning: No cash prize.)

#12 Boarding

2016 will be famous as the year that Trump was elected. What will be the impact on Canadian enrolment? Read:  College in Canada? Trump Effect. Alarm Bells in China. Is it safe?

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Happy New Year! The Kees on Brooklyn Bridge, New Year’s Eve, 2016.

Leonard Cohen and one of my best teaching moments

Teaching poetry to teenagers can be tough. I don’t remember where I got the idea from, but I used to focus on one poet a month and start each class by reading one poem. I actually read each one two times so the students had time to think about and write down their favourite line. This practice made poetry so accessible – everyone can choose one thing that they liked!

Once we spent an entire class on Margaret Atwood’s poem ‘It is dangerous to read newspapers’.   Something in that poem struck a chord that morning, and I had to make the call as to whether to push on to whatever we were supposed to do that day, or to let the conversation flow. I chose the latter, and now as I think back to best moments in the classroom, I wish I had done that more often.

I tried to focus on Canadians, but I had to share one of my favourites, Billy Collins, who was the Poet Laureate of the United States at the time. His poem ‘On turning ten” became a very popular assignment where students wrote about what they used to think as a child, and what they think now that they are getting older. I thought we were so high tech back then, since the students included photos of themselves as children with their poems. The glimpse into their childhood and their exploration of lessons learned made for incredible projects.

But my favourite moment was thanks to Leonard Cohen. Because he was also a Montrealer, we felt a certain loyalty and connection, and when one of my students brought in his parents’ CD, we had fun listening to our daily poems. My favourite Cohen line is from ‘Anthem”: there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.   But it wasn’t that poem, or ‘Suzanne’ or ‘Bird on the Wire’ or even the now popular ‘Hallelujah’ that became legendary in my class, it was one of his poems that never made it to song.

On the day we first read ‘For Anne,’ we talked about Cohen’s ability to conjure a powerful feeling in very few words. Truth be told, I think the class was mostly impressed that it was short and yet still considered a poem. So we memorized it.

Another day, months later, we were interrupted by a visitor, a very important person. I was honoured that my class made the tour, and knew that the pressure was on… we had to perform. I explained that we start each class with a poem, and on a whim, I asked if someone would like to recite one. It was already an inside joke, since we all knew there was only one poem that anyone could recite. But it became a funnier moment when one boy, in particular, raised his hand.

Every class has this student, the unpredictable one who is more likely to crack a joke than recite a poem. So I smiled and paused, trying to decide if I should take the risk. Would I find myself hours later, in the Headmaster’s office, listening to him express disappointment, as I had embarrassed the school in front of our distinguished guest? All eyes turned in the direction of my gaze. No one moved, and yet the room was bursting with the hope – and anxiety! – that he would be the chosen one. What would he do?

I nodded, and he stood, as the students were trained to do, and buttoned his jacket. He looked like the portrait of academic excellence.  And then he recited:

With Annie gone,

whose eyes to compare

with the morning sun?

Not that I did compare,

But I do compare

Now that she’s gone.

All eyes remained on him as he delivered it perfectly and sat down to rapturous applause.

As a teacher, there are moments of pure joy in the classroom, and that was one of them.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen.

p.s. Watch the NFB’s film, Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen, here.

p.p.s. I just found my old work with the National Film Board called Canadian Poet a Day.

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Leonard Cohen in concert, December 2012.

The Great Canadian Curriculum Debate

We are bringing together the academic leaders from all of our CAIS schools, and organizing something called The Great Canadian Curriculum Debate on Tuesday April 11 at 8:30am in Montreal.  This is the final morning of our National Leaders Conference.

Our panel will explore what is best for Canada, our schools and our students.

In Canada, a provincial curriculum is required in all schools, including independent schools, whether they receive provincial funding or not.  We also have schools choosing other curriculums in addition to the provincial requirements – IB, AP, Reggio Emilia, and Montessori. When it comes to university admissions, we see that universities accept the IB diploma from high schools all over the world, except from Canadian high schools.

Should we consider truly independent independent schools, from a curriculum perspective? What do other countries do? Which is ideal?  If one of the provinces has the “best” curriculum, could we do more to share nationally?  Our vision for CAIS is shaping the future of education, and more and more I am hearing that we cannot do this while we are bound by provincial requirements.  Can there be a new national vision?  Of interest in terms of university admissions, would universities accept students who didn’t have the provincial diploma, for example?  I asked an education lawyer, and he said he does not think anyone is bound by law to only accept provincial diplomas, so what would it look like if independent schools offered their own diplomas? Or could CAIS offer a diploma?

The role of curriculum is also changing. Enormous time and resources are focused on developing curriculum and ensuring its effectiveness. But we know that the teacher is the key. Meanwhile personalization and technology are upending schools. So as we shift toward a more personalized model of education in our technology driven world, what is the value of curriculum? How will a set curriculum contribute to developing well-rounded people, who want to pursue their individual passions and make a difference in the world? And when you have the confidence to allow your teachers and students to thrive in this innovative environment, how will assessment and university admissions change?

We believe that Canada needs more innovation and leadership from our K-12 schools, and we are excited to invite leaders to the table to help shape the path forward for our schools and our students.

To join our CAIS National Leaders Conference, you must be in an academic leadership position.  To register, click here.

p.s. One of my CAIS Board Members, Michaele Robertson, suggested we have a look at this http://www.nzcer.org.nz/sites/all/libraries/games/.  It is New Zealand’s way of puzzling through the same question.