Kemo Sabe

One of my favourite things about my job is the sheer variety of interesting projects that I get to have my hands on. From student leadership to professional development, we have smart things on the go all the time, tapping into the clever brains of dedicated volunteers across the country.

Over the last year, I have been intrigued to watch the Collaborative Boarding Project grow from an inspired idea from a team of Admission Directors, to a large-scale strategic initiative including all 28 boarding schools across the country.

The Project was launched to increase interest in boarding and in Canada as a destination. As you may know, the landscape for Canadian boarding schools is changing, and these new challenges called for a new approach. I believe that with change comes opportunity.

We are proud to say that we just had our 18th school commit to the Premium level of our Boarding Project. Working together like this means that we are able to partner with other organizations – like TABS who will work with us on a “Why Boarding” campaign, and like DFAIT who will work with us on a “Why Canada” campaign. Together we can do what couldn’t be done by an individual school, and our collaboration will make all boarding schools stronger.

I was speaking to David Hadden this week, who is working with our team and advising for the Project. I said to him, “I’m really excited that all of these schools are eager to participate in the Project, but we really need to communicate and demonstrate value; the pressure is on, and we need to deliver.”

There was an exaggerated pause at the other end of the phone (typical of Mr. Hadden). He then said, “What do you mean ‘we’, kemo sabe?”

I had one of those moments where you sort of know the reference, but-not-for-sure…. So I took to Google. The expression comes from an episode of the Lone Ranger television show (more David’s vintage than mine!). In this scene, the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto see an ambush on the horizon, and the Lone Ranger remarks, “This doesn’t look good – I don’t think we will make it out of this alive”. Tonto replies, “What do you mean by ‘we’ kemo sabe?”

Kemo sabe is translated as, ‘trusty scout’ or ‘faithful friend,’ and together they seemed to right almost any wrong within the half-hour time frame of the show. The first radio episodes of the show premiered January 30, 1933, and reruns of the Lone Ranger were still being transmitted as of August 2010. That’s got to be one of the longest running partnerships in history!

The irony here is that the show is called the Lone Ranger, but he was not alone. And my point is that this is a great metaphor for our Boarding Project and, in fact, all national collaborations.

Here are a few of my favourite examples this week. The benchmarking reports were sent – the Business Officers have worked on this process over the years to ensure that the data is relevant to our schools. The Advancement Professionalsmet for their conference, and I learned that they also organize regional PD, awards, and mentor program. The e Learning Consortium – a provincial initiative that is gaining momentum nationally – posted a video of their students’ views.

I am extremely proud that our schools aren’t ‘Lone Rangers’ – they are increasingly thinking in terms of ‘we’ and seeking opportunities for national collaboration. Our schools may be competitive, but there is no question that generating more interest and always improving our programs, will be better for all.

We’re in this together, kemo sabes.

Ridley cubs respond

Ridley’s mascot is a tiger, although that descriptor is a bit fierce for my daughter in grade four.  But this week, she and her class, some Tiger cubs, responded to the Tiger Mom who has been making news.

On Wednesday, when I was at Bishop’s College School, my daughter was working on her homework assignment: research a current event and make a presentation to the class. Thanks to Kevin, our family’s source of all good ideas, she chose to present a video interview with Amy Chua about her new book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

I am intrigued by Chua.  I like her emphasis on perseverance and excellence.  She believes that her two daughters are capable of more than they think they are and pushes them to be their best.  I think there is nothing wrong with that.  Granted she goes to extreme measures, but she argues that when there is a basis of love, parents shouldn’t allow their children to be anything less than their best.  She pounces on American parents who let their kids waste time sitting in front of the tv and playing video games and who don’t expect kids to excel – she says they are the irresponsible ones. And I actually think she is on to something.

Chua is certainly in the opposite corner of Wendy Mogul. In Blessings of a B-Minus, Mogul argues in favour of “compassionate detachment,” defined as “viewing the upsetting aspects of adolescence as normal and necessary — as blessings that represent healthy growth, parents can put them in perspective and react thoughtfully instead of impulsively. Thus, bad grades, emotional outbursts, rudeness, breaking the rules, staying up late and experimentation become signs that a teen is on course, not headed for disaster.”

It is Chua, though, who has touched a nerve with today’s parents, and many reviews of her book are quite critical of her “Chinese style” of parenting (for instance, she didn’t let her daughters have play dates, or go to birthday parties or sleepovers).  In this week’s New York Times, columnist David Brooks makes the point that Chua was in fact indulging, not challenging her girls, because, in his opinion, going to a birthday party was more of a challenge than practicing piano for hours on end, because at birthday parties children learn how to relate and get along with others.

When Kathleen told me that she was presenting her views of parenting to her class, I forwarded Jim Power’s blog, The Power Point, to her teacher. Miss Lewis encouraged her class to respond to Jim Power’s question: “Is Chua just being honest about a reality (most of us coddle our already indulged children) we’d rather not think about? Or is she too narrow in her definition of success? Or is there something else in the air that has sparked this reaction?”

You can find the class response to the blog here, but this is what Miss Lewis reported to me from the mouths of her cubs:

“I am glad she is not my mother.”

“They were forced to do it … if they just did it themselves they would enjoy it more.”

“She should let her children have more friends because they could always rely on them to help out if you are having a tough time.”

“Parents should push kids but not over the top, they need to know what the boundaries are.”

“It is good to play an instrument but kids should practice because they want to, not because they are forced to.”

“Her kids got hurt, like they got broken hearts because they could not meet her expectations.”

“Kids need balance in their life and to experience all different sorts of things to find out what they are good at and what they enjoy.”

“You cannot be perfect at everything because you need to learn from your mistakes to get better.”

Maybe what is great about Chua’s book is the conversations that are happening between parents, teachers, and children – how to strive for excellence while letting kids be kids.

Dear Dr. Gulley,

On a Friday afternoon in mid December, when most teachers were wrapping up exams and reports and trying to leave for the weekend, when most normal people are tired and focusing on the upcoming holidays, two of your staff made time for me to share their work.

I originally heard about your school from a conversation with Pat Bassett who said that Woodward Academy was using an innovative teaching method. So I began emailing Shelley, and she introduced me to Mark and next thing I know we have a date to Skype together.

It was fascinating to meet them and learn about your programs. I wish to offer you and your school congratulations on two of your innovative initiatives:

1. Customized training of the next generation of leaders.

Mark described your Leadership Woodward program. How clever of you to prepare for your and your team’s retirements by developing in-house leaders. I like the way you opened up the application process, offered monthly training and sharing sessions, and committed to repeating this process annually. Our schools in Canada are facing similarly high rates of leadership turnover and your commitment to developing future leaders – for your school and others – is an inspiration.

2. Flip teaching.

Shelley’s role as Lead Instructional Technology Specialist is vital to innovation in the classroom and she is all over research and supporting a culture of risk-taking in 21st century teaching and learning. Again, very smart of you to ensure your school is committed to continuous improvement. She commented that “Every good thing I know I learned on twitter”, but I can see that she looks to multiple sources for new ideas; for example, she found Daniel Pinks’ flip teaching articlelast September. (She offers a great online course for educators too…next program starts in May.)

As a quick reminder, flip teaching means you watch lectures at night and do your “homework” in class during the day. The potential for the classroom is awesome – now teachers report having time to offer more individual support in class and can ensure more hands-on, creative, collaborative and active learning without having to repeat the main lessons. It was first started by Bergmann and Sams, and it is spreading quickly. (There is a Canadian teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan who is reflecting openly on her flip teaching regularly).

Shelley sparked Mark’s interest, and together they began the experiment. Shelley found an easy way for teachers to load videos and for students to watch them. Mark believed flip teaching would work really well in one of his Chemistry units. He first required parents and students to watch his first video together – he immediately hooked them and now describes this as “pedagogically brilliant” and says (this quote is my favourite) that he is “learning how to teach again”. All feedback indicates that the students and parents enjoy it and found they learned better and at their own pace.

Both Shelley and Mark have done a thoughtful job at implementing this, and I wanted to promote their work at your school.

Thank you for the inspiration.


Anne-Marie Kee

ps – my blog advisor told me to write a Dear Diary format, but as I wrote this entry to myself, I thought it seemed pointless to not share my enthusiasm with you. Congratulations again supporting leadership development and risk-taking in your school.

pps – having now focused on twitter, websites, blogs and skype, I hope to make an old fashioned in person visit to your school one day!

Time for time

A neighbour once asked Kathleen what her Mom did for a living and she replied, “My Mom’s a traveler.” This week alone I flew to Philadelphia (to develop a partnership with TABS) and Montreal (to meet the Board at Hebrew Foundation School), and this was a four day week…. When I find myself doing this kind of travel, I often try to justify the time away, especially when it means time away from family.

So on my flight home today, I made a list of how I spent my days, hour by hour. I was inspired to think like a lawyer, in terms of billable hours, by Richard Light, author of Making the Most of College and a Harvard professor. Light spent over ten years researching why some students do better in college than others. He found that one key factor was time: “Sophomores who had a great first year typically talked about realizing, when they got to college, that they had to think about how to spend their time. They mentioned time management, and time allocation, and time as a scarce resource.”

I’m trying to be more reflective about how to better use my time, and what better time than the beginning of a brand new year?  To be clear, my goal is not to maximize efficiency, but rather to become more strategic. David Hadden, retired Head of Lakefield, challenged the Leadership Institute attendees as well as the first year SEAL Canada Heads to “Do what only you can do.” (watch the speech here). This got me thinking about how we spend time, and I think it inspires some great questions for schools:

  • How do Heads divide their time between hanging out with students, dining with donors, observing classes, greeting parents, attending PD, engaging alum, blogging, meeting prospective families, or reflecting on the above?
  • How do teachers balance their time between classroom teaching, keeping up with the latest research, getting to know their students beyond the classroom, returning calls to parents, running co-curricular activities or leading interesting lives?

Individual time is not the only point of reflection; it is great when schools also look at how collective time is spent. How much time at Board meetings is spent on listening, discussing, debating, and deciding?  How do assemblies support the mission and vision of the school? How much of every staff meeting is dedicated to teaching and learning and kids? What I like about our accreditation process is that it forces this kind of intentional reflection.

Here is what I learned from my exercise this morning on the plane:

Good use of time

  • All efforts to communicate with members
  • Face-to-face meetings with potential strategic partners
  • To-do lists
  • Playing Angry Birds with my kids

Ways to improve

  • Shut down blackberry when trying to write and edit
  • Focus on strategic plan priorities first
  • Spend time on flights writing blogs
  • Not playing Angry Birds alone when I would benefit more from an extra hour of sleep (although I am apparently not alone according to the New York Times, but still….)

Happy New Year and have a good time… taking time to think about time….