Learning and Leadership

As I stood at the bottom of the stairs early on Friday morning, I sent each of the five kids back upstairs for one reason or another. We billeted three boys here for the CAIS U13 Soccer Tournament, and they were polite, bright, and fun boys. But five kids required my full attention to get to Ridley by 8:00am with all their gear. So I developed a system by the second morning. Before they got to the front hall, I did the first check – shin pads, toque, socks, snack, teeth, etc – and if they missed something, they went back up. My favorite exchange was this:

AM: “Shin pads?”

Boy: “Yup. Both today.”

AM: “Teeth brushed”

Boy: “Mmmmm…. I did that yesterday”

It was a sincere comment but I couldn’t help but to laugh. And as he turned his head to go up to the bathroom, he laughed too.

There was a lot of laughter in our house. Around 8:30 pm the first night, the kids had too much energy to settle any time soon, so I suggested we all take our dog for a walk.

Boy: “A walk? At this hour? In the dark? What if we get mugged?”

Now part of me wondered if this comment was a slight on St Catharines or even our neighborhood, but I just laughed it off and assured him, “We are not going to get mugged around here.

Our billet shrugged and turned to put on his shoes, but he quickly retorted:

“We would in Winnipeg.”

As billeting parents, Kevin and I loved the extra energy the boys brought to our home, and I have to say, we learned a lot. For starters, it was work to keep these kids fed and in clean clothes. Many times I thought of my Nana who had nine kids. I could barely keep enough milk in the house for five kids!

But the real value, of course, is for the kids. National tournaments provide many excellent sporting moments. They also connect people from coast to coast – when SAC and UCC played the final game, there were boys from 16 CAIS schools across Canada cheering side by side, and I suspect that our billet boys will stay connected with my son. But the tournaments, including the opportunity to billet, are also about leadership development.

I saw that these boys had a lot to manage – playing three games per day in the rain and cold, meeting over 300 new people from across Canada, joining a family for three nights, and all while being far from the comforts of home. In an age when most parents hover over their kids, our CAIS boys are given the opportunity to learn independence.

Yesterday morning, here in Montreal at an assembly at The Study, I witnessed the leadership development that continues after the actual event. The girls’ soccer team presented a slide show about their time at the CAIS Soccer Tournament in Halifax. The girls clearly had a fun time – the mud and rain didn’t stop them – and they made great friendships with girls from across Canada. But they also demonstrated leadership – the girls were gracious enough to thank their coach for spending a weekend away with them and they articulated some of what they learned from their experience. One girl quoted Michael Jordon on the need to pick yourself up after losing and get back in the game. Even as a visitor to the school and not knowing the girls, I was proud to watch them reflect on resiliency with poise.

Last week, the CAIS Board approved a Billeting Policy to ensure these national opportunities will continue according to best risk management practices. This makes me proud. Clearly the vision of CAIS, to be the “voice of excellence in learning and leadership, shaping the future of education” applies not only to our staff but to our 45,000 students.

The key is good teachers

I try to read a variety of educational issues, and one spot I often turn to is the PISA website. One recent article caught my attention: Private Schools: Who benefits?

Great news – students who attend private schools tend to perform “significantly better “ on international achievement tests. (This is a finding that I will repeat whenever I can, so take note that you read it here first.) A new report, commissioned by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), conducts a socio-economic analysis of the results and paints a more complicated picture, but the good news still stands. Visit the parent section of our website to read a ”CAIS Snapshot” summary of this article.

I moved from this article to Canada’s ranking on the PISA scores. PISA stands forProgramme for International Student Assessment. Of the 31 nations studied in 2009, Canada scored:

–       Third in Reading Literacy (1. South Korea 2. Finland)

–       Fifth in Mathematical Literacy (1. South Korea 2. Finland 3. Switzerland 4. Japan)

–       Fifth in Scientific Literacy (1. Finland 2. Japan 3. South Korea 4. New Zealand)

Canada consistently scored in the top six in 2000 as well, but Finland is the real story as it has made significant improvements to secure high rankings. Finland also ranks first on the UN’s Education Index (Canada ranks sixth).

Now I know that the success of Finland is a two-year-old news item, but I’m hoping a refresher is interesting for you too. After weeks of the Toronto Star’s negative reporting on education, I needed a good news story so I followed abunch of videos and articles (I’ve linked my favorites).

Finns – and others – are attributing their success to some of the following (no doubt there are other factors, but here is what I found as a Top Ten):

  1. Kids don’t start school until the age of 7
  2. Kids can attend free day-care and pre-school programs where the philosophy is that children learn through playing; and for those who so choose, mothers are paid to stay home with their kids until age 3
  3. Finnish families read together
  4. The best university students become teachers, and every teacher must have a masters degree
  5. Small classes and no streaming
  6. Teachers are given full autonomy and even choose their own textbooks
  7. Homework is minimal and outdoor activities are plentiful
  8. There are no high-stakes tests; in fact, there is very little testing at all
  9. Summer vacation is 3 months
  10. Choice is critical: One third of a high school student’s curriculum is electives. At age 16, school is not compulsory and students choose academic or occupational training. (In 2007, 51% of the age group was enrolled in academics)

There is a new film out called The Finland Phenomenon with Tony Wagner. In the middle of ordering it, our friend arrived with a trunk-full of turkeys that had been alive this morning. His turkeys were well-hydrated and organic. Randy said the key to Thanksgiving is a good turkey. So I bought myself a $90 turkey from him because I believed him.

I also believe Henna Virkkunen, the Minister of Education and Science in Finland, who summed up her country’s success in five words: the key is good teachers.