Frogs and Blogs

You may be surprised by this, but on Saturday, I learned a lot from frogs and blogs.

Saturday we had to do some major cajoling to convince our kids to hike with us at Shorthills Provincial Park.  Once we got there, they came to life, as we hoped, and we hit the trail with a good pace.  Who could resist a walk on a sunny spring day? But when we got to this one bog where the frogs were particularly loud, the kids stopped to explore. Kevin and I were restless to keep moving, but they were in the mud – Jacob went in over the top of his boots and Kathleen just rolled up her pants and waded in.  Reluctantly, I stood watching them hoping this wouldn’t last.  Kevin kept walking.  But then a man caught my attention – just like my kids, he was wading in and then he delivered a frog to his girlfriend.  I had to have a look.  I figured a frog that loud had to be the size of my fist at least.

This “frog guy” (as our family is calling him), captured our attention.  The kids asked non-stop questions.  We learned all about chorus frogs and spring peepers and bullfrogs.  He got right in to the bog and found a snapping turtle – another highlight.  After close to two hours of literally wading in mud and talking frogs, I was sensitive to his time. I told the kids “One more question,” and Frog Guy looked right at the kids and said: “I have a personal policy to answer every question so I don’t mind if you have more than one”.  Seeing as I often remind my kids to ask good questions, I was quite taken with his commitment to taking time to satisfy curiosity.  A true teacher…

I love good questions, and believe in the saying:  be more interested than interesting.  Recognizing that I just don’t have a hope of ever being the latter, I work extra hard at the former.  I know for sure that I do better work and live a fuller life when I ask good questions.

So this month, I am trying to apply this to the online world.  I’ve been writing a blog for almost a year, and I am curious to learn more from what others write about.  I don’t want to just write, I want to read and join the conversations out there. This means asking questions.

When we got home from the hike, I started visiting websites from the bottom of our School Directory (that way I hit four provinces immediately).  I thought I’d hit four or five.  But I also became so lost in what’s interesting in our school’s websites that I read for over two hours. I found myself starting to ask some good questions.

As a way to help keep you up to speed on what some of our schools are talking about online, here are excerpts from five Heads who have blogged this month. May you also have the curiosity of a child who can hang out with frogs….

The Power Point, Jim Power’s blog, “A Not So Secret Secret”

Psssst. I hope this isn’t really a secret. But there may be some confusion about this, so I thought I’d try to clarify things a bit.

It has to do with admissions, and the not so secret secret is: UCC recruits students. That’s right. We do. We recruit.

It’s more obvious when it comes to boarding admissions, in part because there just aren’t that many families who can plunk down 50 K to cover the cost of one year’s schooling. As a result, we need to actively look for boys, boys who are bright, ambitious, and able to contribute to co-curriculars.

Vivat, Bob Snowden’s blog:  “April”

In a memorable piece of irony, the poet T.S. Eliot called April the “cruellest month”. Eliot was fond of literary allusion, quoting, or as he put it, “stealing” phrases from writers who had gone before him. In this instance, Eliot is contradicting quite knowingly another, much earlier poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, who in his famous line finds the showers of April “sweet”. I tend to side with Chaucer, and although I can see what Eliot was driving at – that the budding of life in the dormant earth should remind us as much of death as of life – my own response to spring, including this particular spring, is a rosier one. We have had a week when days of rain and sun alternated in emphatic succession, and it is the earth’s possibilities that win the poetry prize.

Head Lines, Stuart Grainger’s blog:  “Surpassing Expectations”

So, as I understand it, blogs are best if you speak authentically to what has recently peaked your interest, engaged your mind or spirit, or has inspired you. Then it was certainly no surprise to me that I was intuitively drawn to my blog topic this week. And also, no surprise, that this blog topic has become an annual tradition as it is based on an annual tradition. Make sense?

Headways, Adam de Pencier’s blog:  “Hear ye hear ye; head’s book club”

Head’s book club is coming to a school near you soon.

In fact pencil in the following date and time: Monday, June 6 from 8:15 to 10:00am in the cottage.

I invite anyone (anyone that is who doesn’t need to be in a Trafalgar classroom) to join us having read:  Why Gender Matters. The idea is to have a conversation about a subject of interest whether we are parents, teachers, or administrators.  Signing up for the book club is simple: contact Sarah Harries-Taylor at who will ensure a copy of the book is ordered–at a reduced school price–and ready in plenty of time for June 6th.   We’ll see how it goes and if there is sufficient interest we’ll perhaps plan a few of these for next year, potentially around a given theme or topic.

Perry Perspective, Martha Perry’s blog:  “Voluntarily involved”

The Oxford Dictionary provides the following definition for voluntary: “Having free will, depending on the exercise of will, not subject to or done or brought about by compulsion.” One might argue that the concept of volunteerism has changed over time for the better. With the mandated volunteer hours in high schools across the province, and the additional hours expected by many independent schools, one could argue that volunteerism is placed in the forefront of our students’ minds. It is certainly the reasoning behind the implementation of this program.

But I would argue that what is just as important in sustaining the desire of our girls to give back to communities beyond their years in high school is the need to model the importance of ‘voluntary’ as a key component of volunteering.

Thanks to Jim, Bob, Stuart, Adam and Martha, my goal to read our school blogs became not a task on my always lengthy to-do list, but a pure pleasure. I hope to revisit these sites and check out others, and, of course, add to the conversations. Maybe I’ll even pose some good questions…

P.S.  I couldn’t resist this one – Hal doesn’t blog, but Selwyn’s website does include a Head’s photo section that similarly tells a story:

Hal Hannaford Photos

P.P.S.  Social media poses a new set of risks for our schools.  Check out the Ontario College of Teachers Guidelines for Social Media.

Luctor et Emergo

At the accreditation review of Athol Murray College of Notre Dame this week in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, I was reminded of a story of a researcher who was working on a book about famous people. After repeatedly being turned down by this world famous heart surgeon for an interview, and thoroughly frustrated, the researcher got his opportunity – finally! – but only on one condition: a maximum of 10 minutes. After the interview, he saw the surgeon talking at length to someone else who did not appear to be on the medical staff. And for several minutes! Curious to know who could possibly be important enough to deserve this amount of the surgeon’s precious time, the researcher approached the man and inquired, “Excuse me sir. Can you tell me what on earth you do at this hospital?” As the man replied, he turned to reveal his ‘Cleaning Staff ‘ shirt. He stood tall, mop in hand and said, “WE SAVE LIVES!

You may have heard that Notre Dame is a hockey school, but like most of our CAIS schools, it has a vision and staff dedicated to the whole child. I saw this in action this week when meeting with a group of 25 students. One boy quietly said, “Back home, I would probably be doing drugs and alcohol like many of my friends.” Other students nodded – maybe they were from a similar situation or maybe not. But what was notable was the absolute silence in the room. He quietly continued, “This school changed my life.”

At that, others in the group told stories of Hounds who went on to play NHL hockey, or become a rocket scientist, or pursue their dreams, or attend the university of their choice. There was a resounding: “This school changed my life too.”

Notre Dame’s motto is “Luctor et Emergo,” meaning struggle and emerge. I can tell you about the recent struggles with water as this year’s record amount of snow is flooding the prairies, and I can tell you about how their community is emerging after the tragic loss of one of their young alums, Mandi Schwartz, who went on to play hockey at Yale and the entire team, along with over 1000 others returned last week for her funeral, and can I encourage you to check out the anti-bullying campaign we experienced called “I’ve got your back.”

But what left the strongest impression on me this week at Notre Dame was a community that is committed, like all of our CAIS schools, to changing lives.