Ten Reasons why CAIS Schools are Leading the Future of Education

Last week, we held our annual meeting with all CAIS Heads and Chairs, and our theme was Place, Pedagogy and Purpose.  Rather than try to tell you why I came away from that meeting full of inspiration about our schools, let me show you the theme in action in the CAIS schools I visited this month.

CAIS Schools are inspirational learning places

  1. img_6913Rundle College in Calgary has a new facility including a spectacular dining hall for their junior students.  When I say that the future of facilities is glass – you can see the impact of glass in this room with the ability to bring the outdoors in.  Very inspirational for those children to sit in round tables and enjoy their lunch.


img_69642.  The theme of dining halls and glass continues to Crofton House.  When I was there, I caught the choir rehearsing. Listening to those girls singing made my day! Crofton has also invested in their food services, so the choice of healthy interesting meals is also noteworthy.



3.  One more place that uses glass to create a beautiful space is found at Mulgrave.  When I visited earlier this month, I was blown away by their new facility and how they use space to display student artwork. Our accreditation team arrived early and walked in to the sound of children singing – again, cannot tell you how amazing it is that our schools celebrate the arts!


CAIS Schools are passionate about pedagogy

img_69794.  At Mulgrave, their new facility includes creative learning spaces, including private study rooms.  In a world that is so busy and highly collaborative, I was inspired to see some students search for this kind of space to enjoy quiet study.




img_69765.  We know that the best learning happens when children have teachers who inspire them, share their passions, challenge them and listen to them, and provide regular valuable feedback on learning. I always ask to meet those teachers whom students tell me are their favourites.  Sometimes those teachers are pretty quirky!  Check out the door to one of the classrooms I saw this month – who wouldn’t be inspired by this character!





img_71756.  Learning happens everywhere.  Meadowridge has invested in their outdoor spaces that are just as creative as their indoor spaces. The accreditation team this week just had to wander into the bushes to learn about this piece of artwork.






CAIS Schools live their purpose deeply and with authenticity

7.  img_7095First and foremost, our CAIS schools put the needs of children first. Students are known at our schools, and teachers work hard to understand them as individuals.  CAIS schools are passionate about students.  CAIS teachers know that their influence extends beyond the academic curriculum.  At our Heads and Chairs Conference, we heard from Dr. Mark Miliron who reminded us of our greater purpose in education.





8.  img_6899Our CAIS schools are passionate about the arts and about learning.  Take a look at this Wonder Wall at Rundle and the description of how the teachers inspired their students to Be Curious.



9.  img_6953Our CAIS schools have made a firm commitment to being Canadian.  What does that mean?  It means they celebrate diversity, history and culture.  It means that they offer Financial Assistance to ensure great students can attend, regardless of socio-economic status.  Last week, I attended an Old Boys Summit at Upper Canada College, where they have raised over $50 million to ensure a more diverse student body.





10. img_7161All CAIS schools partner with parents, and our CAIS boarding schools go the extra mile to connect with parents of students who live where they learn.

Last week, my son’s advisor sent me this photo of Jacob playing soccer.  He is a boarding student at Lakefield, and I miss him a lot!  So I feel so good when one of his teachers contacts me to show me what he is doing.  I know this is cheating – to show off my own son! – but I really see that all CAIS schools take this kind of personalized communication seriously.



Where do Middle School Students Learn Best?

At our upcoming Heads and Chairs Meeting in Ottawa, our theme is Place, Pedagogy and Purpose, and we will have an Architects Panel. This question will be part of our conversation.

But for now, I have reason to believe they learn best outdoors. Last week, over 100 Middle School Students from CAIS schools across the country gathered at Camp Onondaga. This year, our program focused on significant youth issues:

  • Bullying
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Social Media and Identity
  • Student Mental Health
  • Aboriginal Education

We were intentional about mixing the groups by province, and we gave them plenty of time to engage in conversations in the great outdoors. The photos tell the best story, but here’s some of the feedback as well:

– Students had many opportunities to meaningfully connect with their peers. Almost instantly, students developed friendships with students across Canada. Between their cabin groups, passport groups, and the time spent doing the camp activities, students were constantly having fun with new faces.

– The presenters told me that they were impressed with how engaged the students were during the sessions and the number of insightful questions. It shows that our students are not only capable, but passionate about solving big issues.

– My quietest student said she felt that the staff and students made it really easy for her to step out of her shell and talk to people from different schools.

– My students found the camp extremely valuable for improving their leadership skills. All of the girls were happy to learn that there are many different types of leaders (something they did not realize)

– My students noted that the workshops were fantastic and loved how the social media workshop did not focus on the dangers of having a profile but how they could use their social media accounts to promote leadership.

– The Gender Identity workshop was very valuable. My students were inspired by the speaker and think Gender Identity is an extremely important topic for kids their age. One of the initiatives they would like to start at our school is a Gender Identity workshop for their peers.

Huge thanks to Philip Lloyd, our CAIS Program Committee, our workshop presenters, the Onondaga staff, and the CAIS faculty advisors. Most of all, thanks to our CAIS students for their passion, energy, and ideas. May you go on to change the world.

How do you stay motivated?

Last week, I met with my colleagues from 40+ independent school associations. We focused on the big challenges facing our schools – governance, student safety, insurance, globalism, and diversity to name a few – as well as challenges facing our associations – duplication of services, disruption, and strategies to enhance member value. Other than one session when we were inspired by Jason Dorland (who spoke at our NLC last year) it was pretty heavy stuff.

But the learning was powerful, and it got me thinking about a few of our recent CAIS projects – we are:

  • Launching our new Governance Guide and a series of strategies to support good governance in our schools
  • Engaging the Business Professionals in our annual Benchmarking that is now online; we are also considering a Captive Insurance program
  • Preparing a Culture of Philanthropy Webinar series
  • Developing a CAIS Orientation package to provide new leaders who join one of our CAIS schools with an overview of our mission, applicable resources, and how to connect with their national network
  • Continuing the 2051 Project conversations to ensure our schools are moving beyond talking about innovation (there’s no shortage of good ideas!) so they are actually engaging in the messiness of change.
  • Enhancing our CAIS accreditation so we have an even more efficient and meaningful process for whole school improvement
  • Touring international agents in our boarding schools as part of this year’s CAIS Fam Tour.

This weekend, when I took some time to stop and think about what motivates me, I realized that I am motivated by four things:

  1. School improvement work – I find it compelling to think deeply about what we can do better together as a group of independent schools.
  2. My team – I am really motivated by my team and their unrelenting focus on strategies that can support our passionate school leaders. I have to work hard to keep up with them, and I love that feeling!
  3. My colleagues – When I stop and reflect, I realized I am motivated by my time with colleagues. Last week in San Diego, when I was not in meetings and presentations, I had some time to connect with other association leaders. I was reminded of the value of time to connect with people who walk your walk. It is important to me to have time to talk through challenges and opportunities in non-structured ways. I appreciate my ISAnet colleagues who woke up early to run and bike.
  4. Taking time to reflect – When life gets busy, as it inevitably does in our world, especially in September, I find it helpful to remind myself of what makes me tick. I need to make time to reflect on how I spend my time. That’s good motivation for me.

And you?


The two biggest differences a teacher can make in September

Dear Teachers,

The buzz word of the day is personalized, and I follow the debates carefully. In August, McKinsey and Company wrote about how to scale personalized learning; this week, One Schoolhouse claimed to be the “first independent school with personalized student courses.” We all use the word, and at the very least, we all seem to agree that however you define it, you should articulate your vision for teaching and learning, and then you should live it. (Our updated CAIS Accreditation Guidelines includes this requirement: Through an ongoing consultative process, the school has published a definition of excellence in teaching and learning that encompasses current research.)

I am also excited by the way technology can enhance personalized learning. This week alone, I have had seven meetings with my colleague Claudia Daggett, President of ISACS, as well as NEASC/CIE Heads from around the world. A conference call is one thing, but meeting by Zoom allows us to see each other and thus create a deeper connection. This summer, when I had the chance to explore the work of the Global Online Academy’s Teacher Institute, I was inspired by their intentional focus on how to build community with students in an online environment.

But here’s the thing – while I care about research, technology, resources, and course content, and I care that you have learned about the latest in teaching and learning, including your definition of personalized learning, I mostly care about one thing and one thing only.

I care about my children and I care that you know, and I mean really know, my children. So as I think about personalized learning and what really matters to me, whether it is face-to-face or virtual, I think about two of the most important things you can do this month.

Number One: Get to know your students.

When I visited TCS last month, I was impressed that they asked all new students to share a one minute video about themselves. The faculty watched them in their opening meetings and the students will also get to see them. This is such a demonstration of a commitment to knowing students, and I was inspired by their intentionality. I know that TCS, like all CAIS schools, will continue to be intentional about knowing their students. To me, this means challenging and supporting them, sharing stories, and laughing together, in a way that you can only do when you know each other. Deep learning follows from there. It is the connection between teachers and students that is the most important differentiator between good and great schools.

Number Two: Connect with your students’ parents.

When I dropped off Jacob at LCS this week, I was struck by one thing. Hugging. Jacob hugged his friends, but also his housemaster, teachers and staff members. And so did I. The LCS community, like all of our CAIS schools, is so good about reaching out to parents. I didn’t hug the new residence don, Elliott, because I just met him, but I loved that as I pulled out, he yelled across the road: “Bye Anne-Marie and nice to meet you!” If he is the hugging type, I will hug him next time I see him.

My hope? Connect with me. It doesn’t have to be a long letter or phone call, but please
know that I want to be part of my child’s day-to-img_6754day, because all he gives me is a “good”. For example, I was sent a photo of Jacob as he was leaving for his four-day trip to Algonquin Park; I know this is a trendy marketing strategy, but I also know it made my day.

I appreciate that you have a zillion things to think about and do in September, and I thank you in advance for considering my request. Believe me when I say, it will make a huge difference.

Thank you, and have a great year.

Welcome to our new CAIS Heads

We are very excited to introduce you to the newest members of CAIS:

And welcome back to our colleagues:

We are thrilled to have such incredible leaders in our independent schools, and we wish them a warm welcome to our learning community.

Happy September everyone!

Why the LI is powerful

Having attended eight CAIS Leadership Institutes, I am pretty qualified to figure out what made last week’s LI the best one yet. I observed every class at least once, and in some cases, I sat down and participated in discussions. I talked to most people, and asked a lot of questions. Now that I am back and have caught up on my sleep, I have read every feedback form filled out by participants, and this morning, at our Monday Morning Meeting, we discussed the same question – what made this one so good?

My theory might be different from others. What I heard is that the faculty were amazing – they are passionate about their course content and they vary their teaching styles. The speakers were phenomenal, and everyone loved the St. Andrew’s facilities. My team felt that they were better organized and they couldn’t say enough about the SAC team, with particular compliments to Greg Reid for being our On-site Coordinator and to Grace Wyvill for the superb food. Of course, everyone appreciated that Kevin McHenry hosted us at his home.

But what I think made this year’s LI the best one yet, is that we are finally figuring out how to do what our schools know to be true – in order to create powerful learning, you need to establish developmental relationships.

I have recently become acquainted with the work of the Search Institute, and here’s a quick lesson on the developmental relationships framework. There are 20 actions that make a relationship developmental, and you can read all about this on the website, but for now, consider the five categories:

  1. Express care
  2. Challenge growth
  3. Provide support
  4. Share power
  5. Expand possibilities

So how has CAIS worked on developing close connections? Four highlights:

To graduate, participants need ten modules, which means they spend three summers together, learning and living in a boarding environment. There are deep connections among participants and faculty that extend beyond the classroom. (See this year’s grads below).


Next Step 2016

Our Next Step Program includes a strong faculty, ongoing cohort meetings, mentors, job shadowing, and personalized learning. But a key component of the first summer experience is the “campfire” where they share their Change Projects and give each other positive feedback and ask challenging questions. This year, the conversation lasted until 12:40am.

Our two evenings of speakers included a new component – both the Art of Leadership and the New Leaders speakers stood for a Q and A afterwards. This shifted the evening from a formal presentation to a very authentic connection with the audience. (Watch the speeches here).

Our CAIS team has been working together for a few years, and we know each others’ strengths and how to perform best as a team (and I cannot thank them enough!) I believe we can focus on serving participants to ensure their experience is meaningful and serving our faculty so they can focus on the aspiring leaders.

We know that CAIS schools are exceptional at cultivating relational learning with students;  I believe our CAIS community is doing the same at the Leadership Institute.

p.s. Didn’t get to attend this summer? Watch our slideshow here.


CAIS Summer Leadership Institute Faculty and Graduates 2016



Advice to Teachers (from an Awesome Teacher)

The month of June can be tough on teachers – everyone is tired, cranky, and ready for a holiday. I was so inspired by the story of one of Jacob’s favourite teachers, Rory Gilfillan, that I asked him to share it:

Last week I was talking an Advisee down from great heights.  She is shy.  She also LOVES history and has a 97 in it.  She desperately wanted to win the History Award.  I don’t teach this course so I have no influence. I wasn’t sure she would get it so I ordered a book on Amazon called Inventing Freedom and then I got a card.  I texted her and told her to meet me under the tent they have put up for grad.  Turns out her Mom was with her. I set out two chairs at the back and made a small speech at the front outlining the short but distinguished pedigree of the Gilfillan History Award for Awesomeness.  I then called her up receive her award.

It’s seriously the best thing I have done in a very long time.

The interesting part of it was how long it took me to figure it out.  Katherine had a 97 in history but a lower mark in Math.  I kept saying, “Why on earth are you stressing about History?  You don’t even need to write the exam and you would still do well.   You really need to be stressed about Math.” And then, after a long back and forth conversation, I worked it out.  She wanted the award.

Quite frankly, I don’t always listen closely enough or hang in long enough to get to the truth.  In this instant I slowed down my usually high frequency operation and hung in two minutes longer.  There I found the truth, and I wanted to celebrate her.  This was a great moment for Katherine but, seriously, an even better moment for me.  I achieved, for about three minutes, what I came in to this profession to do:  I made a difference.

We, as teachers, spend so much time worrying about technology and assessment and making our classes good.  All fine and well but that’s not why I got in to this and it certainly won’t be what I remember when I reach the end of my career. I want to remember this lesson: I need to hang in on conversations in order to be able to hear what matters and then act on it.

I will remember that moment.

The best part is that the student in this story ended up winning the actual award at Saturday’s Closing Ceremony at Lakefield College School.

I wonder about this question – when she thinks back on her graduating year, which moment will be more cherished and memorable?

My guess is the audience of two, and my hope is that more teachers follow the lead of Rory Gilfillan.


p.s. I had permission from both Rory and Katherine Petrasek to publish this story.