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.

 

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.

 

 

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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.

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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?

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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!