Speed Dating

After 17 years of marriage, it has come to this – I just spent two full days in Vancouver speed dating. Before the rumour mill takes over, I was at an ICEF fair, “dating” agents from all over the world. Our date focused on Canada as the preferred study destination.

World wide, Canada is perceived to be the fourth choice destination for education after Britain, the USA and Australia. So someone really needs to step up and make a strong first impression on the date. And our CAIS Boarding schools have grabbed a dance card.

Sarah Milligan, Director of Outreach for the Collaborative Boarding Project, and I had appointments from 9:00am – 6:00pm. The date works like this – at the ICEF fair, 800 people move tables every 25 minutes. Man from [name your country] sits down and tells us about his agency. Our first question is usually something polite: “Tell us more about your organization.”

On every date, we pull out our brochure listing the 28 Boarding Schools and give our elevator speech.

If he shows any knowledge of our schools, we might lean in. If he has sent students to any of our schools, we lean in AND make some serious eye contact. This is a potential long-term relationship so all guns are firing:

“You probably know that Canada is a very safe country.” This, we know, is the number one reason people choose Canada. When he sees that we nailed that easy target, we take it up a notch:

“You know, our education system scores incredibly high on the PISA tests.”

By this point, he is ours, so we might lower our voices:

“You should take the time to get to know our boarding schools. They provide so much more in terms of safety, high standards, and a well-rounded education in a caring environment.”

Then we seal the deal. Big time flirting now:

“You know, CAIS schools are accredited to meet high international standards. We collect data on university acceptance rates, and our students consistently get in to the university of their choice all over North America. You should look to CAIS for the very best in Canadian education.”

To finish off the date, we ask every question we can about how to work together. Can you help us to connect with families who might be interested in boarding? When we visit your country, can we arrange to meet with you? Can we partner with the local embassy and hold an event for Canadian boarding schools?

The bell rings. You exchange business cards, smile, stand, shake hands and start all over again.

Working with agents is all about relationships and this first impression counts. We want them to return home and have Canada on their minds when clients come to them.

This process may seem insincere and manipulative. But here’s the thing – you have to do a little sashay to get to know each other. And here’s the real thing – although you are seated in a loud room that lacks fresh air and all you want to do is explore Stanley Park on a bicycle built for two, you are selling Canada and CAIS and boarding.

Who wouldn’t want to go on a blind date?

By the numbers:


Number in millions of dollars spent by the government to promote the United States as a study destination.


Number in millions of dollars spent by the government to promote Australia as a study destination.


Percentage of homestay students who come to Canada through agents.


Number of international students studying in Canada in 2010.


Number of international students studying in CAIS Boarding schools in 2010.


Number in millions of dollars spent by the government to promote Canada as a study destination.


Number of dollars spent by CAIS Collaborative Boarding Project starting in July, a large part will promote Canada as a study of destination.

Summer Reading

In June before entering grade eight, I remember my Dad presenting me with a box of books for my summer reading. He read to me every night when I was little – I remember having to call my Mom to help me to wake him up since he’d sometimes fall asleep while reading to me. He always pushed the four of us kids to read. And we hated it. Imagine growing up having a Mom who was a Principal and a Dad who was a high school English teacher and librarian. We could never escape! I remember my younger brother explaining to him that he would read the books recommended by Dad, but the problem was that the pages of books bothered his skin. And they let him off the hook….

But the truth is, thanks to my Dad, I was an avid reader as a kid, and although I didn’t always admit to appreciating his recommendations, I did. And I read all summer. The other truth is that my parents’ passion for learning did have an impact on us – my two brothers are teachers and married teachers and my sister is working on her PhD at Duke. Simply stated: we are a family of educators who read.

So call me old school, but I love Summer Reading Lists – personal and professional – and I am happy to share mine with you. Here’s the secret – as with almost everything I do, I go straight to the experts.

So my professional reading list this year comes from Andy Hargreaves, CAIS Board member and Thomas More Brennan Chair in Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. His most recent book, The Fourth Way, will be available at the Summer LI at Shawnigan and all Next Step participants will be given a copy. I highly encourage this one!

And my personal list comes from my former colleagues in the English department at Lower Canada College who always develop great summer reading lists. This is my go-to spot for suggestions for me and my kids.

Naturally, thinking of LCC got me thinking about who else creates Summer Reading Lists. So I spent two hours devouring our CAIS schools – this time I went alphabetically though the first 60 schools in our directory. (I know what you are thinking – get a life – but I can’t help myself.) I probably shouldn’t do this, but I had a favorite – check out the presentation style of Brentwood’s Summer Reading List.

So here are my official Summer Reading Lists:

Recommended by Andy Hargreaves, May 2011:

Apart from my own work like The Fourth Way, I can make several suggestions that might fit an independent sector leadership audience.

Bellanca and  Brandt: 21st Century Skills: rethinking how students learn,Solution Tree. This is a good reader on all the different aspects of 21C skills and innovation with a final chapter and critique by me!!

Kets De Vries, Manuel:  The Leader on The Couch. One of the best books I have read in years about leadership and the inner psychodynamics of it. It will promote deep thinking and reflection and massive new insight. I guarantee it.

McDonald and Shirley: The Mindful Teacher. Sets out seven principles of mindfulness in teaching with examples and can be easily applied to leadership.

Robertson, J and Timperley,H : Leadership and Learning, Routledge. Just out. Two female editors. Range of good and interesting papers connecting leadership to student learning.

Grogan, M & Shakeshaft, C: Women and Educational Leadership… a new book that should stimulate some good cross-gender conversation.

CAIS Schools Recommend:

I easily found Summer Reading Lists at the following schools:

Balmoral Hall


Elmwood – Junior School

Elmwood – Senior School

Fraser Academy – A Good Read

Glenlyon Norfolk School

Gray Academy of Jewish Education

Hebrew Academy


Lower Canada College


Selwyn House

Shawnigan Lake

P.S. In my search, I came across a few great blogs too:

Glenlyon Norfolk

HIllfield Strathallan College

Holy Trinity

Rothesay Netherwood

Burnt Tacos

Last Wednesday, I managed to burn taco shells.  I was trying to make dinner while talking to Alison Holt about the boarding project.  Alison is also a working mother, so when I discovered the tacos, our conversation moved into the challenges of balancing work and home life and whether or not tacos counted as a home-cooked meal.  (I fried the beef, shredded the cheese and even stuffed them with greens – organic no less! – so we agreed: that’s home-cooked.)  Truth be told, I burned the shells twice.  Do you know how hard it is to do that?  My daughter just stared at the two cookie sheets sitting on the oven, with the toasted evidence of her mother’s failure, in disbelief.  Twice.

On Sunday, I was out of the country on a Candidate Review of a school.  It was Mother’s Day, and I spent it working.  But I found a poem tucked into my luggage from my daughter Kathleen called “Super Mom.”  I read and reread it; this time it was me who was puzzled – she’s a smart and honest girl, how could she possibly think I am a super mom?

As working parents, we are really in the business of making daily decisions on a case-by-case basis and then living with the consequences and hoping for the best.  Some days, I am a better Mother than Executive Director, and some days, including some weekends, it’s the reverse.  I think it is plain old hard work and we have to be intentional every day about priorities.

But you know what?  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m reading A Singular Woman, the new book about the mother of Barack Obama, and I am intrigued by her decisions as a working mother.  Janny Scott writes:

When people learned that I was working on a book on the president’s mother, the question I encountered most often was: “Do you like her?”  Sometimes people asked, “Was she nice?”  The line of questioning puzzled me: Why were those the first things people wanted to know? Gradually, it became apparent that those questions were a way of approaching the subject of Ann’s decision to live apart from her child.  They were followed by rumination on how a mother could do such a thing. As many Americans see it, a mother belongs with her child, and no extenuating circumstances can explain the perversity of choosing to be elsewhere…. But Ann felt she had no choice.  [Obama], who would enter high school the following fall, was flourishing at Punahou, which dispatched its graduates to some of the best universities in the country.” (pg. 157-8)

I admit to being intrigued – and inspired – by this mother who clearly valued her son’s education so much that she sacrificed day-to-day life with him.  When I am in hotel rooms late at night, I often focus on the fact that working enables my kids to attend a great CAIS school.  Similarly, many parents may feel they make a sacrifice for the sake of their kids’ well-being when they send their kids to boarding schools.

Rather than judge, I think we need to seek to understand the complexity of individual choices and admire the courage of those who make tough decisions in the best interests of their children.

Thankfully, my kids are able to look past burnt tacos and my many other motherly failings…. They must sense that I believe they can become Prime Minister one day.

What is water?

At Sacred Heart School of Halifax this weekend, 130 kids from 26 schools gathered for “Make a Wave,” the CAIS Student Leadership Conference. The strength of this conference has always been its philosophy: by the students and for the students.   This year’s student leaders developed a partnership with us; last year, students told us they wanted more of a program focused on leadership development. So this year, we agreed to introduce a pilot project partnership with Ellie Avishai from Rotman School of Management, and the students told us that this was an important component of their time in Halifax.

Below is the speech I gave to wind down the conference on Saturday afternoon:

Speech for CAIS Student Leadership Conference 2011

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks, “What the heck is water?”

If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish.

The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.

David Foster Wallace, one of the most influential and innovative American writers of the last 20 years, used this opening story in a speech to college graduates. He went on to speak about the need to be aware of your surroundings and think about what is obvious; understand it; question it; challenge it. Like the fish, you need to ask: What is water?

And so I am here to get you to think about something similarly obvious: leadership. You have spent a few days thinking about what it means to be a leader and doing some great work as leaders. You’ve done some reflecting, and I think the pursuit of self-awareness is vital – you need to know who you are and what you think and what gets you motivated to change the world.

Obviously, in becoming future leaders, you need to think about yourself. And this may seem to be a bit of a selfish process, but it is necessary nonetheless. If you stop and think about it, your world centers around you, and my world centers around me.

There is no experience I have had that I am not the absolute center of. The world as I experience it is there in front of ME or behind ME, to the left or right of ME, on MY laptop or MY blackberry. And so on. It is all about ME. People’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to me somehow, but my own feelings are so immediate, urgent, real. Enough about me, let me tell you more about me…

We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness. To be so self-centered is so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our brains at birth. We can’t really help it.

But can we?

If you focus on the fact that everyone is thinking from that perspective, if everyone is thinking – I am most important – then life will be miserable. Let’s play that out. You get up late and eat a bag of cheerios for breakfast which is not even filling and your Mom gives you a hard time for being late and your teacher makes a snappy remark about your shirt not being tucked in and the fact that you can’t find a pen, again, but meanwhile the guys at the back of the room are texting without their homework done and the teacher says nothing to them.

All you can think about is MY hungriness and how dreadful MY Mom is even worse MY teacher is, and MY desire to be anywhere except this place and if only everyone else would see it MY way and know that MY life is tough. Ever get into those moods?

I want you to go away with another thought on leadership. I want you to ask – what is water?

The challenge is this – be aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at life. You can learn to pay attention to what appears to be obvious and question it

How might your day look if you looked at it from another perspective? Did your Mom stay up late working? Did your teacher have a tough night and maybe he’s trying to focus on class when all he can think about is getting back home to care for his child who has been sick?

Leaders focus on three things – they know they have a choice, they believe they can influence outcomes, and they think about others, not just themselves.

I promised to not be the wise old fish, so I will give you a real example. Any football players in the room?

In 2005, the two top quarterback prospects that year were Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers. Smith played for the University of Utah and wowed the scouts with his athletic ability at the NFL combine. He also scored an amazing 40 out of 50 on an intelligence test. The 49ers, who saw him as a smart, gifted athlete, made him the first pick in the draft. Rodgers, who many thought would go No. 1, had the painful experience of lingering in the green room on live television until he was selected by the Packers as the 24th pick.

About five years ago, the NFL was having trouble with a rash of arrests and suspensions, and coaches and scouts wanted to see if there was some kind of data to help their decision-making. When they are making $20 million decisions, they want all the research they can find. So they found a company with the premise that spontaneous speech reflects our character, and they began collecting and analyzing interviews with college stars.

What would you have done if you were the 49ers general manager on draft day in 2005 and you had this kind of interview data? We know now that Alex Smith had low scores in positive power and in-group affiliation. He talked like someone who didn’t see himself as a leader and he is focused on himself. Aaron Rodgers was at the opposite end of the spectrum. He was a guy who talked about team and took ownership of actions.

Now, who can tell me who was the more successful of the two?

Language, then, not only reflects our character, it reflects our potential—that future backup quarterbacks talk like backups, and future starters talk, and therefore think, like starters.

Everyone in this room has been identified by your schools as future starters. You are young, live in a country where you are free to make decisions, and you are educated at CAIS schools, the top schools in Canada.

You can choose to live life on your default setting – so you are passive, and think only of yourself and getting more stuff and figuring out a way to get rich.

You are, of course, free to think of whatever you wish.

But I urge you to avoid asking: What about me? I urge you to really get to know other people, really understand the points of view of others – your friends, your new friends, and those you don’t know, future friends. I urge you to make the decision to ask good questions.

The real value of education has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with increasing your simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

I love the theme of your conference: making waves. Congratulations to the student leaders: Julia, Kelsie, Emily, and Maura and to their Faculty Advisor: Tamara Drummond. They have run a great conference and they chose the awesome theme of Make a Wave – it is a perfect and powerful image. But there are many factors contributing to what makes a wave – the collective force of all of you in this room is a remarkable start.

At this stage in your lives, there are so many competing interests for your time and energy, but I suggest to you that real leaders have self-awareness and understand choice. And I wish you all the best as you go forward, choosing to ask, “What the heck is water?” and making some waves.

P.S. Thanks to Ellie for collecting student feedback!