Tis the Season

Four years ago, when my kids were still in public school, I sat in the audience watching their school Christmas show and shed a little tear. The little ones sang some songs and I think they even danced – there is nothing I love more than to watch children belting out their favorite tunes. (One of the absolute perks of my job is that I get to watch this so often in chapel and assemblies across this country…there is nothing but joy when children sing.)   And while they sing, the proud parents try to hold still so they can capture that twinkle in their eye on video. I love watching them too – especially if the kid has found the eyes of his or her parents and is singing only for them and then gives a little wave to top it all off.   At Christmas, for me, the only thing better is when the entire audience joins in the fun and sings a good round of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, or my elementary school favorite, Feliz Navidad. I’m a real sucker for that holiday experience.

But four years ago, I didn’t leave with that warm family feeling. Instead, I watched a performance where the senior students had rewritten the lyrics and sang the Twelve Days of Christmas with each day involving a popular toy or game. I know that kids find this funny, but I was disappointed that these students were allowed to focus on material stuff. To make things worse, they had not been prepared and even they weren’t smiling. Now I know that my holiday show expectations are probably higher than most, but I couldn’t help but wonder: where was the joy of the holiday season?

Last night I saw Stuart McLean’s Christmas Concert, and it captured everything you could hope for – funny and thought-provoking stories as well as fun and beautiful music – and, yes, there were cute kids on stage and the entire Hamilton Place audience sang a couple of Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir songs (my favorite holiday show in Montreal… if you could get tickets….)

So as everyone is busy preparing for their holiday shows, I love thinking about this opportunity to do what our CAIS schools do best. We engage all kids. We challenge them to be kind and generous. We celebrate what is good. We include grandparents, so we bring together three generations.

We prepare our students so we excel at performance – we play music, we put on plays, and we sing – and I know our CAIS schools, so when I say we sing, you know we sing our hearts out.  We strive to help our kids combine preparation with passion.  That’s why our holiday shows hit that sweet spot, warm our hearts, and create memories for a lifetime.

Pilot Project Presentation

It has become a joke in our office that everything we do is either “draft” or a “test” or a “pilot project.” We take our commitment to continuous improvement seriously, and we like taking risks. Learning and leadership is CAIS’ vision, and it is really becoming part of our culture. We joke that if you don’t like something, then you’re in luck! – it was only a pilot. (But then we work super hard to get it right the next time.) And if you do like something, then we want to hear about that feedback too because, after all, it was only a pilot project. So around here, we evaluate everything.

So it will come as no surprise that on the accreditation review of Rothesay Netherwood School (RNS), we tried something new.

Here’s part of the background motivation. I always feel slightly uneasy about the need with an accreditation process to focus on what’s wrong with the school. Of course our CAIS schools share a burning desire to improve, and the only way to improve is to question what is working and what is not necessarily working as well as it could. But after spending four days immersed in the life of the school, observing classes and programs and meeting staff, parents, alumni, Board, and students, the Visiting Committee tends to fall in love with the place.

All CAIS Schools are full of passionate learners, and I feel so fortunate to witness, first-hand, Canada’s best independent schools. So when it comes time to writing a Visiting Committee Report, I can see that the team can struggle with suggesting improvements, so we all have to be reminded that the ultimate goal is to improve – we go through the process to make the good school that we loveeven better.

The other inspiration for change came from a workshop I attended with other Accreditation Directors. Our focus was on how to improve the process for schools and a great speaker, Fred Dust, lead the discussion on change (Fred will be presenting at next year’s CAIS Conference for Heads, Chairs and Business Officers in Toronto).

So here’s the new idea. As you know, accreditation is a snapshot of a moving target, and the Visiting Committee writes a report based on three things: what they read in the Internal Evaluation Report, and on what they see and hear at the school at time of the visit. In our workshop, we brainstormed how we could approach accreditation differently. There will be other ideas that we develop in the coming years, but for now, I am focused on the fact that even with Commendations in our Visiting Committee Reports, we don’t quite capture all that is great about a school. I wanted to improve this.

I firmly believe that accreditation in Canada is about school improvement, but it is also an opportunity to celebrate what is done really well in our CAIS schools.

So I hired a photographer to do a some photo-journalism during the RNS review, and I put together a collection of what we saw and heard on one of the days of the review.

Enjoy the RNS Accreditation slideshow: “Snapshot” (and if you don’t like it, well, it is just a pilot project!)


My Pa is 94 years old and was in the navy in WWII. But don’t bother asking him about his experiences. He once told me that when he got home, he only wanted to focus on the future. A couple of years ago, he changed his policy and agreed to be interviewed by Kathleen’s grade three class by skype. How could he say no to his great-grand-daughter? That day, I sat with him in his nursing home with my laptop, and the Ridley kids watched him on their SMARTBoard. Each time a student asked a question, Pa gave a little laugh. One little boy eagerly asked, “What is your favorite memory of the war?”

I cringed, but without a pause, my Pa answered: “That’s easy. I was a decoder on a ship, so I was the first to get a very important message that I delivered to the captain. The message read: Germany has surrendered. The war is over.

I loved hearing his story and it seemed like he got a kick out of the experience with the kids, but after that, he reverted back to his vow of silence about the war. So he doesn’t call himself a vet, he’s never going to try a program called Operation Veteran, and I don’t even know what he would think about the Kee family trip to Ottawa to join 16 CAIS schools across Canada for Remembrance Day.

I believe every Canadian should attend the ceremony in Canada’s capital. I was proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the crowd, to see our Prime Minister and Governor General, to be shaken by each shot of the 21-gun salute, and to gaze up as the planes and helicopters flew overhead. There were 30,000 people on the streets and yet there was absolute silence at the eleventh hour.

Our trip to Ottawa was inspired by a dentist in Laval who is on a mission. Dr. Paul Kavanagh and his wife Trudy started Operation Veteran, a program to provide a lunch to every veteran who visits the Canadian War Museum. They are so passionate about supporting the museum and Canada’s veterans that they inspired 250 students from 46 schools across Canada to come to Ottawa for Remembrance Day.

Our group carried flags and walked down to the War Museum where we ate lunch together then visited the exhibit. Now I admit that, at times, I wasn’t sure of the objectives of the museum – I felt uneasy watching the students’ excitement over every gun and the mob of flashes around Hitler’s black Mercedes – why are we remembering this? But the museum does capture the bitter experiences of both men and women, and my kids were engaged in Canada’s history all afternoon. We left with a deeper understanding of the horror of war.

Watching one man push a vet in a wheelchair made me think about my Pa who will never set foot in that museum. I understand – and respect – why he wants to forget the past. Actually, there’s one special reason why I am thankful that he did focus explicitly on the future. When my Pa came home from the war, he met his baby for the first time…his son, my Dad. I like to think that his firstborn was the spark that quickly shifted his focus from past to present.

So on Remembrance day, my hope is that we help our students – through ceremonies, assemblies or trips to museums – to stop and shift from present to past in the hopes of ensuring a future of peace.

p.s.  Read the article featuring CAIS schools.

R-I-S-K: Not a four letter word

I just returned from a review of Solomon Schechter Academy in Montreal where our team enjoyed a lively drama and music presentation by the students in three languages. Yes, I meant three languages. In fact, all of their students enter with one or maybe a bit of a second language, but all graduate fluent in English, French and Hebrew. For someone who struggles with French, even after attending school in Switzerland for three months and living in Montreal for six years, I consider this to be a miracle. Languages are extremely valuable, especially as we exist in a global economy where many people speak at least two languages.

While in Montreal, I popped in to St Viateur Bagel on Monkland Avenue, my old stomping ground, to pick up some bagels for the team. I asked for 11 dozen and the bagel maker joked, “Is this for here or to go?” The bagels were so fresh from the wood burning oven, that when the Visiting Committee members took their first bite, the bagels were still warm. Vive Montreal!

What on earth do languages and culture have to do with that four letter word RISK?

I find it an absolute shame that we live in an increasingly litigious society. One implication is that educators sometimes fear taking students out of the school and often feel overwhelmed by the approval process.

So with a goal to ensure that our students will continue to visit great cities to experience different languages and foods and cultures, I am happy to present the SEAL Canada Risk Management Guidelines for Off-Site Activities.

Public and Private

Two weeks ago, Jacob entered my office yelling that I embarrassed him. He was really mad, and it took me a moment to figure out the issue. Here it is. I watched part of his soccer game at Ridley that afternoon, and as I walked back to my office, he happened to be near the side of the field so I called good-bye. “Called” is not even the word. He was playing right defense, so I was able to speak in a regular voice as he was right there. But my error was saying our regular exchange: “Bye Jacob. Love you.”

Those words caused this reaction in my office:


Mom: Say what?


Mom: But I just said it quietly, to you.


I should have seen it coming. At the start of this year, grade seven, when I dropped the kids off at school, I got a cheek to kiss. Then I started to get the lean-and-nod, so I could kiss the top of his head. After the soccer field incident, he just smirks when I look at him and won’t come near me. Sometimes he mutters good-bye, if he is in a good mood. Last week when no one was around, I rolled down the window and yelled, “I love you.” He knew what I was up to and I at least got a big smile.

And so begins a new era in the Kee household – what can be said publicly and what can be said privately. He sets these terms and I follow course, reluctantly but respectfully.

We are having related conversations here in our virtual office as we enter into the world of social media. What goes public? At last week’s staff meeting, we discussed our strategy and looked at our first draft of a CAIS Social Media Policy. Paul is our Digital Media Strategist who, along with LiQuid, is leading our launch into Twitter, YouTube, and FaceBook. He shared two resources worth checking out:

Here is a link to a tool that generates a policy based on answers to a number of questions. LiQuid suggested it, and Paul used it to develop our first draft.

The Telestra link is an interesting example of how a large company approaches social media.  I think its popularity stems from the comic book form but the content is also quite interesting and the embedded videos really add something. It also broaches the subject of the area between what is personal and what is company related.  On that note, Telestra is clear that it has no say over private social media where the company is not discussed.

So stay tuned as CAIS enters the world of earned media this month. We will begin with our Collaborative Boarding Project (check out our new boarding website) but we will only enter once our policies and procedures are totally approved.

On the home-front, the good news is that there is the odd case where my son – unintentionally – slips between public and private. Yesterday he called the office and signed-off with the usual, “Bye Mom. Love you.” (I never take those words for granted anymore.) My colleague, Margo, our CAIS Business Coordinator and Mother of three boys, was in my office at the time. Jacob was on speaker phone so Margo heard the conversation and that lovely sign-off. When she heard Jacob say, “love you,” we looked at each other and smiled.