A Commitment to Prioritizing Anti-racism in Our Community

Earlier this week, I updated the school community with a message on Lakefield’s response to the call for anti-racist action by the Black Lives Matter movement.

In that message, I said, “I believe that the most important thing we should do at this time is to educate ourselves so we can seek to better understand what we can do in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and work towards reducing all forms of racism, globally” and I made “a commitment to prioritizing anti-racism in our community.”

As a follow-up to this message, faculty advisors met on Tuesday with our students to provide a space to talk through their thoughts, questions, and emotions surrounding recent global events and to discuss what the school could be doing better to confront racism and advance equity at LCS. In these small groups, students provided thoughtful input that will shape our work on anti-racism in the months and years to come. They asked to learn more – to incorporate racial injustice more deeply into course curricula, to deepen their understanding of the roots of racist issues, to develop media literacy, and to create more awareness about the challenges that exist within our own community.

And they asked to be active. They want to see student-led action on anti-racism, and they want more spaces, places, and platforms for conversations–places where they can share their own stories, hear others, and have difficult and at times uncomfortable conversations. Next week’s all-school gathering will be dedicated to reflection and activism.

To address the students’ suggestions and to begin the work of confronting racism and advancing equity more generally, I have created a task force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that will begin work shortly. The task force will include representation from current staff and students and members of our external community and seek engagement more broadly as their work unfolds.

As an educational institution whose mission is to challenge and enable students to achieve their individual potential, we recognize systemic racism and other forms of inequity as a significant roadblock to the realization of potential. Confronting this roadblock in our classrooms and in our communities will be a key focus moving forward.

What can we do now? One Canadian school’s response to Black Lives Matter

I feel it is my responsibility as a community leader to address the situation south of the border, around the world, and even in our own community, and confirm our school’s stance.

We are a school that is over 140 years old and made up of people from over 40 countries, all of whom aspire to be global citizens who care about all issues of injustice.

What does a 51-year old white woman, who grew up in a middle-class family, in a predominantly white community, now living in a beautiful area, in a small, safe community in rural Ontario have to contribute to today’s global conversation on systemic racism?

At Lakefield, one of our seven values is our Healthy, Caring Community — The belief in the dignity and worth of all individuals. We embrace diversity; we encourage empathy and acceptance.

In our School Life Guide, we have a Statement of Commitment:  The inherent right of all individuals to be treated with dignity and respect is central to the values and beliefs of Lakefield College School.  We are fully committed to respecting and protecting the personal dignity and human rights of our students and employees.  Harassment, bullying, and sexual misconduct, in any form or social medium, is against everything for which we stand as an educational institution and it will not be tolerated. (pg 43)

But at this moment in history, I believe in what Angela Davis, a civil rights activist in the United States has said: “It is not enough to not be racist. We must be anti-racist.”

I believe that the most important thing we should do at this time is to educate ourselves so we can seek to better understand what we can do in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and work towards reducing all forms of racism, globally.

I believe we need to take meaningful action, and I believe this begins with our own lives.

On a personal note, I have been reading, following the news, and reflecting on how my privilege has shaped my views.  I’ve signed the Justice for George Floyd Petition on change.org, and made a personal contribution to two non-profit organizations working on inequity.

I am focused on how I can better myself and our community.  As I said in chapel this morning, quoting from The Choice by Dr Edith Eger, a Holocaust survivor, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.  You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live now.

And now is our time.

I realize that I can do better and I am making a commitment to prioritizing anti-racism in our community.

I believe that we can do better.

We are going to seek to understand, raise awareness, and strive to lead members of our community to direct action.  We have compiled resources (see below); and we are dedicating time with students in tomorrow’s advisor meetings to listen and talk about how we can all contribute.

But this conversation will not end tomorrow.

What can we do each and every day to confront racism and advance equality at Lakefield College School?

For starters, our teachers and staff will commit to additional training on anti-racism and global issues. I know of at least one student who has already started a conversation about how we can address issues of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in a more fulsome way.  We also have the Safe Space, which was created exactly for this purpose.

My expectation is that students and staff will talk about what’s next in tomorrow’s advisor groups and share their actionable steps with our Leadership Team by the end of the week.

As writer James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

I am providing this message to all members of our Grove community, to publicly promise that we can and must be better.

Resources that may be of interest to you: Books, Podcasts, Articles:

 

Follow these organizations doing important work surrounding racial equity and justice:

We are Lakefield

On Monday morning, we ran our first ever Chapel service at Lakefield College School by zoom.  We weren’t sure how it would go, nor did we know how many would show up. Reading the New York Times article, As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out., makes me feel especially grateful to our students – we had over 450 people log in to zoom at 8:30am, and we have 376 students.

Here is the short summary of my message:

Never did I imagine, that we would gather by zoom, and not in our beloved A.W. Mackenzie Chapel.

So here we are, making history.

All of us will have our own distinct feelings about being back together again, here, in this way, in our new virtually shared chapel. For me, I am struck by a range of emotions: happiness to be connecting again – gratitude that everyone showed up! – uncertainty about where we are headed, loss for what we must all leave behind. Fortunately, for me, today, being together again gives me far greater feelings of hope than loss.

But make no mistake, like you, my sense of loss is acute.

I went in the chapel last week and stared at the empty pews and wondered when it would be full again. I felt an incredible sense of loss and miss each of you.  I also feel like I am grieving the loss of Regatta Day, Gladiator Day and of course, the likely loss of gathering under the white tent to celebrate our grads.  Grads, I am so sorry that this is your year. We will work hard, and consult with you, on how to make up for this. We will celebrate you.  We will make a plan.

This morning, I want to focus on what I see happening, some of the positives, so that we will not only survive this pandemic, we will make history together.

One positive is definitely the front-line staff in this pandemic.  I hope we all take time to celebrate health care workers around the world. In every pandemic, there are doctors and nurses who respond with unbelievable heroism and compassion, and this is what is happening today.  Look them up locally.  Here in Peterborough, people make noise during their shift change at 7pm.  In Toronto, certain buildings have lit up messages for health care workers. Some of you have parents or relatives or friends who are working through all of this. Today, we thank them.  I ask for a moment of silence for those who have passed away from the virus, and for those who are working and putting their own lives at risk, to save lives. [Moment of silence.]

For the rest of us who are not health care workers or on the front line, I want us to ask this question of ourselves:  what can I do to make a difference?  In what way can I serve?

I believe we are called to serve in three ways, and no Lakefield student will be surprised by my three ways:  Ask good questions. Try your best. Be kind.

First – Shout out to Anthony Overing and Ethan Webster.  They asked this good question:  How can I do a remote chapel talk? They both tried their best and did an incredible job. I loved their advice to get outside and to get a hobby.  Watching those chapel talks gave me incredible hope in the future. There was no hug line for either of them, but I felt the love and kindness of our community.  Chapel talks are one of those secrets of Lakefield… you have to experience them to understand them. They are “So Lakefield”. Thanks to our grade 12s, we will continue to experience that part of Lakefield, remotely.

My focus this morning is on what it means to be kind, and I hope we think of kindness in two ways – Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others.

How are you being kind to yourself? In particular – How are you being kind to your mind? How are you developing and growing your mind?  We can feel overwhelmed by anxiety, fear, and worry in these challenging times, and this is normal.  You have a choice to make – get lost in Netflix or social media… or do something more.

This morning, I am asking that you actually take care of your mind and pay attention to your various emotions. Learn more skillful ways to be with difficult emotions.  Take time each day to sit quietly and feel your emotions.  Or go for a walk. Get outside.  Get a new hobby.  Write about how you are feeling in a journal or talk about those feelings with a friend or family member. Another strategy to be kind to yourself is to take time to imagine what might happen in the future.  My point is that you need to find a way to have a sense of calm and peace. We all need to work on ourselves so we can have an impact on others.  Panic is contagious. Calm is contagious too.  The world needs a wise, calm person in each home that brings more understanding to these circumstances.

So my first hope is that you take time to be kind to yourself.

My second point is to be kind to others.  Connect. Call a friend. Call someone who wouldn’t necessarily get a call.  Call your grandparents. Write a note to a classmate.  Write a note to whoever made you dinner last night… Notice what others are doing to make your life better, and share that gratitude. Being kind to others actually feels good… gets us out of self-pity.

So my second hope is that you force yourself to be kind to others.

In this difficult time, we all need community more than ever. I am grateful for our Lakefield community.

We are making history. We are Lakefield. We got this.

Running a school by zoom

Almost two weeks ago, on March 17th, we launched zoom for our Leadership Team (LT) and introduced new protocols for meetings. We begin with a personal check-in, then move through our agenda, which always begins with students and ends with identification and updates on our list of biggest risks.   We end with something light-hearted, and it feels good to smile or even laugh as a team.  We have been meeting four times per week since we closed the school, and I don’t see that changing in the near future.  The challenges in this time of crisis are time-consuming and demand a whole new level of creativity and collaboration.  Thank goodness we have zoom to manage this reality.

On March 25th, we ran our first operational staff meeting by zoom with 57 colleagues.  Our LT talked a lot about our objectives, and we made a plan to spend time doing a check-in with everyone present.  The meeting turned out to be one of my week’s highlights.  People were efficient with their quick updates, and yet they packed in humour (like the cat’s tooth that fell out), generosity (baking for neighbours), love of nature (seeing deer from their new home office or a beaver and fox on a drive) and humility (turns out I am not a great teacher!).  What surprised me was the number of staff members who wore Lakefield gear, and I agree with one comment that our swag never looked better.

This week, our Heads of House began meeting their students by zoom call as well.  By the end of March, every Lakefield student will have participated on a zoom house-meeting call.  In one case, the Head of House and parents collaborated to plan a surprise birthday party as part of their zoom meeting.  In another house meeting, they included the very popular woman who cleans their house, so they could celebrate her birthday.  I am so inspired by the creativity of our community!

On March 27th, we ran our first round of parent meetings by zoom.  We scheduled three times for parents to call in, and by the end of Friday, we had connected with families from over 20 countries.  In total, over 125 families participated, with multiple family members in each household.  Every parent was invited to give a brief update, and I swear I could feel the relief when each person reported: “And we are all fine.”  One parent from Saudi Arabia reminded us that we are all brothers and sisters in this crisis, and he is praying for our Lakefield and global communities.  More than one parent asked if our teachers and staff were also fine.  We used the chat function for questions, greetings and gratitude, and each one-hour call was both informative and heart-warming.  I hadn’t thought about the fact that some of our students would join their parents, and it was amazingly fun to see their waves and smiles.  We will definitely repeat these meetings, in part so everyone can hear the updates and in part, so we can see each other and send our Lakefield love out around the world.

I had an absolute favourite moment.  At the end of our 5:00pm call, when we were saying our goodbyes, someone yelled out, “Bye Ms Kee… we love you”.  And then it started – in addition to the smiles and waves, people started blowing kisses before hanging up.  Some people yelled out messages of love to everyone as they blew kisses.  Naturally, I got teary as I, too, blew kisses to our families.  If you had told me when I became Head of School, that I would be blowing kisses to 75+ families on a zoom call, I would have never believed it to be true.  If you had told me that we would have a special experience that is unique to our community, something we call a “So Lakefield” moment, when using technology (and not in-person or outdoors), I would have never believed it to be true.

As we plan this week to shift to remote learning, as schools all over the world are doing, I am more confident than ever that we will make it work.  We have a plan to continue our academic program to the end of June so that students can continue their learning.  We are working on a plan to offer clubs and activities, so students can continue to be exposed to a variety of opportunities and enjoy a well-rounded education.  And after the past two weeks on zoom, I know for a fact that our plan for students and teachers to continue to connect will be a reality.  Thanks to zoom, our Grove roots will run deeper and wider than ever.  These relationships will help sustain us through this global crisis, and my hope is that our Lakefield community will be equally generous in extending their connections beyond school.  We are Lakefield, and the world needs our values more than ever.

What matters (or not) in a time of crisis

I bought a green dress to take on my holiday to Mexico for the March Break.  I was pretty excited about it because it is not a work-dress, and I typically focus my spending on work clothes.  I had visions of wearing my green dress to the pool; I even spent time wondering – would I reserve it for day-to-day pool use or might I wear it out for dinner?  I actually smiled when I caught myself thinking about this “important” question, and I counted the days to my holiday.  I remember thinking that I really needed this rest – we all run on empty leading up to March break! – and I longed for days thinking of other important questions, like sun-screen application and early morning beach-chair acquisition.

Oh how times have changed.  With the global pandemic crisis and potential economic recession, and with a world-wide educational shift to distance learning, I cannot believe how quickly we have entered into a totally new environment, where former concerns over green dresses seem pathetic.

Two weeks before break, I had to tell students who were excited to be going on one of our international trips that we had decided to cancel.  The only trip allowed to proceed was a group of international students who chose not to go home because of the virus, who were having a stay-cation in Ontario.  We were all disappointed, and while I suspect that some may have wondered if we were over-reacting, everyone was supportive.

On the last morning of school, we held a mandatory staff meeting, and we shared our plans for remote learning.  Judging by a show of hands, most of our teachers had already taken a Global Online Academy course on how to teach online or were planning to take one to prepare for this new reality.  I was so proud of the attitude in the theatre that morning.  Had I known that would be the last time we would gather in person for weeks (and perhaps months), I would have spent more time thanking them for being an incredible group of colleagues.

On the first day of break, Monday, March 16, we made the decision to close the school, one day before Premier Ford forced private schools in Ontario to close.  We had already called back our 20 international students from their stay-cation to Blue Mountain, and we acted on the advice of our Prime Minister.  We spent the afternoon calling our 44 international students whom we knew had not traveled home.  Our message was simple:  we encourage you to go home.  This call was yet another heart-breaking decision by our Leadership Team, but we evaluated whether or not we could keep our students safe indefinitely. We knew the right thing was to encourage everyone to go home to their families.  That day, I also hired security for 24-hour-seven-day-a-week monitoring of our campus and all pedestrian and vehicular traffic.  We continued to reiterate that our single biggest priority was the health and safety of our community.

As of today, Monday, March 23, all of our students are safely off-campus.  Every day last week, we said goodbye to our students in a way that was not so Lakefield at all.  There were no hugs and no happy promises to ‘See you soon’.  There were eye-locking moments, where no words were necessarily exchanged, but we understood each other’s good intentions.

Now what?  With our students gone, we can turn our attention to the enormous shift that is required to provide remote learning in a manner that is quintessentially Lakefield.  We have a goal to be excellent in three areas:

  1. Academic learning that is authentic, challenging, and relational
  2. Co-curricular programs that enable us to continue to inspire well-rounded leaders who can be artists and athletes for life
  3. Community engagement that connects and supports students in personal ways.

Learning at Lakefield will be different – how do we do Outdoor Education when students are in 45 different countries?  And we will all have to process our extraordinary range of emotions as we will miss the fun that goes with living at Lakefield, especially if remote learning continues into the spring.

As for me and my green dress?  I put the dress in a closet where I don’t have to look at it; the last thing I need right now is to focus on how much has changed, or what is lost.  What I am focusing on is to stay informed with all that is happening in our world without losing focus on what I can control, which is the experience of our students, staff and families in the coming weeks.  My hope is to stay focused on the present, to search for the positive in each day, and to connect with friends and family.  More than ever, we need to ask good questions, try our best, and be kind.

My other hope is that the day will come when I get to pull out my green dress.  I imagine wearing it, not to a pool, but rather to a reunion with family and friends.   That image of our reconnection is my reminder that this too shall pass.

Curious and Kind

“Ask Good Questions. Try Your Best. Be Kind.” It’s a phrase I truly believe in.  In fact, when my two children were younger, we used to repeat this phrase so often that it became a bit of a family mantra.  Now at Lakefield, I use these three points frequently with our community. After all, don’t we all want our kids to grow up to be curious and kind people?

As I monitor the updates on the coronavirus outbreak, sometimes multiple times per day, I think about how we should handle this situation as a community.  First, our priority is to maintain the safety of our students.  Last week in chapel, I reminded students of the need for good health, common sense:  wash your hands, sneeze into your sleeve, and go to the Health and Wellbeing Centre (The Well)  if you have a fever or any concerns.  We are surveying our students about their travels and we have implemented a screening tool.  For any family that may be concerned about the upcoming holidays, we have a plan for students who cannot travel home because of the virus.  I also reminded students that they are here to learn, so they need to pay attention to what is happening in the world, but they also need to focus here, on their studies.  My hope is that they enter each and every class with the attitude that today they will try their best.

In chapel this week, we reviewed again all that we are doing to ensure the safety of our community.  We also had a moment of silence, for those who are suffering and for those who have passed away.

I wanted to write this blog to highlight the third part of the phrase – be kind – and I would like the support of our entire community.  In a school like ours—a small village, really, with 380 students, 155 staff, and roughly 360 living on campus fulltime (including staff and family members, plus pets!)—it’s important that we have the courage to ask good questions about this case and the media coverage.  Health officials repeatedly confirm that the risk to the public remains low in Canada.

But what I hope – and expect – is that we are kind to each other, particularly to those who are worried for friends and family.  Our students represent many parts of Canada and 45 countries around the world, which means our school is rich with opportunities to learn from each other, share experiences and debate different perspectives. Living and learning in such a diverse community reminds us all that there are multiple viewpoints for every issue and helps us to practice empathy.  Empathy is a powerful tool for our students to understand, relate, and connect with other people. It’s crucial for collaboration and true learning and leads to compassion and kindness.

It encourages me to hear our students supporting each other. Especially now, when so many parts of the world are experiencing devasting natural disasters, political and civil unrest and most recently the coronavirus. I was moved by the words of one of our students who said:

“One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that other people think the way we think. We need to think about each other and how everything affects everyone in some way.  Harper Lee once said, ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view,’ this is especially true at this school where many of us are away from our parents and far from home. It is extremely difficult to not be able to be there and support our loved ones in a time of need.”

The words of this young woman give me confidence in knowing that our students are supported and encouraged by their teachers, coaches, Heads of House and, most important, each other to use their skills of empathy to ask good questions, be kind and compassionate.  We are committed to this ideal.

Only together can we create a caring community.

The Education Reform Most Needed for the New Decade

Kevin and I are beginning a new era of holidaying without our kids.  After a few amazing days together in New York City, both kids flew home to Ottawa for New Year’s Eve.  We hoped they would ring in the new year with us by joining us at the Cathedral of St John the Divine for the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, just like we had done in the past.  To put it mildly, they had zero interest. As they were leaving for the airport, their last words were not “Happy new year”; they were this: “Have fun at church tonight”.

And it was their loss.  We loved joining thousands of people (including Tony Goldwyn!), enjoying outstanding music, in the world’s largest cathedral. (As is always my interest, it is also home to the largest rose window in the US and fifth largest in the world, made out of 10,000 pieces of stained glass). In addition to the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra, performers included Paul Winter, Jason Robert Brown, and Judy Collins; I could have listened to any of them for the entire program.  The evening was narrated by Harry Smith, who read the Prayer of St Francis (one of my all-time favourites), and the choir performed a beautiful version of Oseh Shalom, a song for peace by Nurit Hirsh, in honour of the recent anti-Semitic attacks.  The concert ended as it has in the past – everyone lights candles and Jamet Pittman leads the group in singing This little light of mine.  I include a photo below so you can try to imagine how that would feel.  The whole evening was moving, and I wished my kids were there.

This night got me thinking – how can more people experience this kind of deeply moving music and the powerful energy that only comes from a large group gathering?  And of course, as Head of a high school, I always think about how teens in particular can have this kind of profound experience?

When I read about education trends and calls for improvements to our school systems, the focus is often on one of three areas:  Emerging technology (Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, gamification); Personalized or do-it-yourself (DIY) learning, which also requires technology; and skills, competencies, and attributes required to address the environmental, economic and social challenges of the world  (Wellness, positive psychology and strength-based learning would fall in this category).  To be clear, I believe in all of this and work hard to ensure my school is preparing students for the future.  I also believe that educators are passionate consumers of research on best practice and all schools strive to do their best for students.  But my night at the cathedral makes me wonder if something is missing, and that something is connection.

I believe that students need experiences when they feel the beauty of the arts, when they are confronted by challenges, including how to strive for a more peaceful world, and when they feel joy from being part of a gathering of like-minded people.  None of this requires technology and all of it requires community.  These kinds of experiences are not easy to organize nor are they inherently appealing to students (just ask my 18 and 20 year-old children).  But here’s the thing – we need to force it.  Today’s teens spend more time alone than past generations, and even when they are with others, they tend to be on their screens.

So my hope for 2020 is this:  that educators will get the best training in how to have courageous conversations so they connect on topics that matter; and that today’s school leaders will figure out how to gather their communities and provide opportunities to challenge and inspire, engage in the arts, and create moments of humour and joy.

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What do trees have to do with well-being? (Trees Part Two)

We have a standing item on our Leadership Team agenda on risk, so we can try to stay on top of incidents and whether or not we need to update our policies or practices.  We often come back to what we consider one of our biggest risks, and that is the mental health and well-being of all of our students.  Lakefield College School is a community of 382 teenagers, and the world is an increasingly complex and scary place for teens.

  • In a wall street journal article, The American Association of Pediatrics warns that too much social-media use can lead teenagers to depression and anxiety. Girls today collect “likes” instead of making friends. They can be devastated by a cruel text or a tepid reaction to a selfie. Long before they hold hands with a date, they are exposed to online pornography and misogynistic messages. Modern girls are never truly alone and never truly with others. In a 2018 national health survey, girls reported the highest levels of loneliness on record.
  • The author of The Coddling of the American Mind writes about a mental health crisis. Kids born after 1995 have really high rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide.  Suicide rates in the US have gone up 25% for boys and 70% for girls.

Schools – as well as universities and colleges – are all working hard to support student mental health and well-being.  We are all updating our health care systems (The Well@LCS), adding programs (We are excited by our positive education and well-being program called Thrive), encouraging student-led clubs (Jack.org) and recognizing special days (Bell Let’s Talk Day).

But I have been thinking about this in a new way thanks in part to a presentation I heard at the CAIS Heads and Chairs Conference.  Michael Unger challenged us to create opportunities for teenagers to take responsibility for others in more meaningful ways, to become more intentional about cultivating empathy and strengthening connection.

And this takes us back to our trees…

In my research,  I’ve become fascinated by roots.

A few facts:

  • It is a myth that roots run deep. The most common depth of roots is only about two to two and a half meters.
  • Roots are typically – and surprisingly – shallow and wide-spreading, extending radially in any direction.
  • While genetic characteristics of a tree play some part in a rooting pattern, soil conditions are of overriding importance.

I don’t know about you but as a former English teacher, I cannot help but draw comparisons to our students.  The lives of teens in terms of meaningful connections are shallow, perhaps even more so today with social media.

But I believe we can also be inspired by roots as we think about how to support students in navigating this complex world.

In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben shares ground-breaking new discoveries about the interconnectedness of trees.  He writes that – Much like human families, trees live together in a community, communicate with each other, and support each other, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or growing or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold, for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. Wohlleben cites evidence of a 400 year-old beech tree that was actually being kept alive by neighboring beech trees. In contrast, solitary trees have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group.  He believes that where once we saw trees as isolated individuals, we now perceive a wood as a place of multiple and sophisticated interrelationships, many of them operating deep beneath the earth.

This inspires me to think about additional strategies for addressing today’s mental health crisis.  How can we help teens to form more meaningful relationships?  How can we help them understand the need to authentically give to others and form community?  Can we be so bold as to wonder if less focus on self will help to strengthen self?

I am inspired by our campus – the Grove – not only as a community of trees, but as this incredibly alive underground root system, one of intertwined stories, lives, experiences and communities, and one that teaches that in order to help yourself, you need to connect with and help others.

May our trees remind us to get to know others, to connect with them meaningfully.

May our trees remind us that we are part of a community, and we have a responsibility to care for others.

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Focus on Trees – Part One

My metaphor for this year is trees.

I talked about trees in my opening chapel talk with both staff and our graduates, and my plan is to share some of my thinking here in this blog as well.

Why trees?  I am in awe by the beauty of trees, the resilience of trees, and the way they are used to inspire creativity.  In and of themselves, trees are beautiful, and we are fortunate to have a campus full of them!  When I ask people who are new to the Grove about their first impressions of our school, most people say something related to the beauty of our campus, and trees in particular.

Our school, where we study – and for about 300 of us, where we live – is somewhere that is beautiful.  This campus is a gift!  No matter the season, no matter if we stare from our windows or take a walk or ski in the woods, we are lucky to have a campus with varying types and ages of gorgeous trees.

As part of my research on trees, I studied our Lakefield history. Our big trees have been around for a century or more. They have provided shade, beauty, warmth and seeds for a new generation of trees. Many of them have a special background:

  • The young oak tree across from Moodie House was named in memory of Tim Dunn. The Dunn’s are related to the Moodies (as in the original settler Susannah Moodie) and they provided the funding to build Moodie House and fix it after the fire.  The Dunn’s are one of only a few four-generational families to have attended Lakefield College School.
  • There is a dedicated tree across from Rashleigh in honour of Ken Sunderland who retired about 5 years ago.
  • And then there are the three larger planted trees in the Grove tree circle and all are special.
  • The west one was planted to begin reforestation of the Grove in 1992, after the library building was completed.
  • The east one is named after Paige Wadsworth, and the inscription reads: It is a privilege to serve.
  • The south one is named for Beef Carr-Harris, a former chair of the board, and that inscription reads: Beef loved the school as he loved life.

Given the age of our trees and all that they have seen and heard, I think of our trees as keepers of our culture.  I’ve been told that when alumni come back and drive onto the campus and see the trees, this feeling wells up inside that they can’t describe.  But it’s home.  We know that there is something about this place that we cannot quite describe… something that is special, magical.

What I hope for all of us – staff and students – is that when we look at our trees, that we pause and try to hold on to that good feeling that comes from time in nature.  Sometimes when life gets messy – and it gets messy in high school – we need to take a moment to remember this goodness… to proactively seek it out.

May our trees remind us to do that, this year, and always.

 

Have you ever put a tooth in the microwave?

I believe in asking good questions. It is one of the mantras of our family; it was what drove the CAIS accreditation process; it is what I am thinking about today as I attend the EMA Heads Institute; and one of my summer projects is always to think about – and maybe even answer! – a few questions.  Sometimes, figuring out the questions is more important than figuring out the answers.

Here are my summer questions:

What to read?  I am lugging a hard-cover Harvard University Press book around called In Search of Deeper Learning.  With our new strategic plan’s direction of Authentic Learning, I want to understand: how can we ensure LCS is an inspirational learning community that includes mastery, identity and creativity?  Our Leadership Team is also reading Collins’ new book, Turning the Flywheel, and our summer project is to think about our unique flywheel. (Just so you don’t think I am completely work-obsessed, for fun, I grabbed a Louise Penny book).

How can we be even better?  Our school is thriving on several fronts and has achieved two significant firsts:  we were full as of May 1st with great students and we received our largest ever single donation.  This is simultaneously amazing and terrifying and raises more questions:  Why have we experienced some success? What if we can’t continue this trend? And what’s next?  I ask the same questions of myself.  I spend time writing out my key moments of the year – both highs and lows, for the school and for myself – and then I see what happens.  I return to the list over the two months and find this exercise valuable.

How can I think about revenue and our unique value proposition?  At the EMA Heads Institute, we began with some big trends about demographics and the economy.  When leaders who have worked with independent schools for decades say they are worried about the industry, I also worry about sustainability.  I always loved Chris Bart’s explanation of strategy – that there are three things and three things only that you need to think about strategy, and then he only has two:  revenue and unique value.  So how do we sharpen our unique value proposition saw? How do we generate more revenue and what are the creative ways to reinvest in our school?

As for the question posed in the title of this blog, it is not one of my summer questions. Kathleen is working at a camp and never fails to come home with funny stories.  As a family, we always laugh at good kid questions, and this, so far, is my favourite.  But it does remind me of the need to listen to student questions and pose questions back to them.   And then listen.  So here is my final question:

How can we prioritize student voice in our programs?  The pressures on teenagers are growing and we need to learn all we can to support, challenge and inspire them.  (As a Leadership Team, we listened to this podcast about adolescents and well-being: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/when-good-intentions-go-bad/id990149481?i=1000443425082.)  What I really love to do is meet with students and listen to their ideas.  I ask them how can we improve our school and learning. Next year, with our new vision statement, I will also ask how they will make the world a better place.

For now, however, as I head into my holidays, I might also spend some time thinking about what happens if you put a tooth in the microwave…

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