Intergenerational Connections

My parents think they are pretty funny. They are very generous with their time, and both my brother and I count on them to care for our kids. Truth be told, we count on them caring for us just as much. But every winter, they go away for two months – and here’s the kicker – they won’t tell us where they go. Years ago at some point, my brother or I must have joked that we’d send the grandchildren down to Florida to stay with them. So they refuse to give details of their whereabouts. They skype and they send cards, but they don’t give us a landline number or address, and this amuses them to no end. (Pretty funny Mom and Dad.)

I understand that they need a break from their kids and grandchildren. When they are around, they pick up the kids right after school and give them their favorite snacks, home-made. They give my husband (known as “Poor Kevin” to all those sympathetic to being married to a travelling wife) a break when I travel, which means there’s hope that he might still love me when I return. My kids think that this is how life should be and give us helpful advice: “You should make muffins like Nana,” or “Pa walks the dog three times per day,” or “You should wake us up like Nana does.” (She never raises her voice and gently rubs their face with a warm facecloth – can you believe it?). The fact is, they are very generous, and we miss them in our day-to-day lives.

So I find myself seeking out examples of schools that have programs for grandparents. Most schools do some sort of Grandparents Day that often includes a lunch together. But here are a few other examples:

–       A Junior School that has grandparents – blood relatives or friends – read to the class once per week. If the grandparents are not close by, they read the story by skype. I met a girl whose grandmother skyped to the class from India.

–       A School Garden that is tended by the children in partnership with the grandparents.

–       A school-wide project where an older “Woman of Courage” is partnered with a class for one year, and they collaboratively design a project based on her passions. In one case, Sheila, a retired social worker, had the grade three children visit an unfamiliar neighborhood and take photos, share their stories and photos, and read a series of novels together with their parents.

CAIS schools are often thinking about creating intergenerational opportunities and meaningful connections. It doesn’t have to be grandparents. One thing that K – 12 schools can do that no public school can do is to connect older and younger kids together. Most recently, at Southridge, two grade 12 boys told me that one of their favorite experiences is to sit at assembly with their kindergarten buddies. At Meadowridge, when the older buddies graduate, the younger buddies write to them at university. The reciprocal benefits of multi-generations are deep, and I just hope that more schools find ways to access these relationships.

So with less than two weeks to go until my parents return, the count-down begins and soon we will have three generations around the table again laughing and talking.  Makes me feel really fortunate.  In a recent email, my Mom wrote that she missed Ginny, our dog. Like I said, my parents think they are pretty funny.  But we wouldn’t have them any other way, and, if they tell me where they stay in Florida, I might just tell them that.

41 Years

Guy McLean is retiring this June after 41 years at Appleby College, and his retirement celebration on Sunday was, in a word, remarkable.  All of the past Board Chairs paid a tribute, the Appleby student orchestra played professionally and beautifully, and Michael Schade, an Appleby parent, closed the program with an incredible musical tribute.

My favorite part of the program, though, was Guy’s speech. Now Guy is not one who likes attention, and many people joked that his wife, Joanne, had the most important job of the day – to make sure that Guy showed up! Guy spoke passionately about his motivations to develop Appleby. He said he was inspired by Joanne’s vision for schools to be places where kids have fun. Under Guy’s leadership, Appleby focused on enhancing the arts and the extensive co-curricular programs. His other motivation was to ensure that the school excelled in all areas; evidence of this goal is everywhere – Appleby was the first to introduce laptops and has continued to be a school that others look to in terms of facility development, global programs, differentiated learning, human resource strategies, and leadership development. Guy has demonstrated his commitment, for 41 years, to research, innovation, and learning.

I find myself repeating that number  – 41 years. It just seems so unbelievable that someone could spend an entire lifetime in one place.  Does anyone today expect to work in the same place for that long?  When CAIS Heads and Chairs identified Human Resources as the number one challenge facing independent schools, did any of them think about how to manage a faculty that is entering their school in 2010 and planning on teaching there until 2051?

But for 41 years, he pursued his vision for Appleby. And more than that, he didn’t become complacent or even coast a little; in fact, he picked up speed and also gave his time over the years to CESI, CAIS, Round Square and now the Collaborative Boarding Project.

I will never forget all of the work that Guy did to get 94 schools to form a new national organization or to get 28 schools to market boarding and Canada collaboratively. These bold visions can take thousands of countless – and thankless! – hours of determination to succeed. But Guy forges onwards.

On Sunday night, I sat in an audience of hundreds of people who had been influenced by Guy. But I found myself contemplating his far-reaching impact. I write this now from Mexico City, waiting for the CAIS Recruitment Fair to begin, and Sarah is making her way to Russia, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. We are promoting CAIS and Canada because of Guy’s commitment.

Makes me wonder, after 41 years, how many other people are out there thanks to Guy’s impact?  Now that’s remarkable.

Three Questions for a Friday Afternoon

I was the only Canadian in the room this week, along with 100 of the top Headmasters in America, who had the honour of listening to four esteemed College Presidents. I want to share a few of their thoughts on “The College Scene” and leave you with the main question posed by each of the presenters.

John McCardell is the President of Sewanee, The University of the South, and former President of Middlebury. Perhaps he is best known for his leadership in the debate on reducing the drinking age in America. Yesterday morning, he passionately explored the theme of connections and our role in cultivating the habits of the heart. He quoted E.M. Forster, from Howard’s End:

She might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man.

Question One: How do you create opportunities for intergenerational connectedness?

Lee Pelton is the current President of Emerson College. Although he joked that the definition of a College President is someone who lives in a big house and begs for money, he focused his words on moral leadership. He acknowledged that the role of the leader is fundraiser and administrator, but he said the call to greatness is to look through the confusion, see the compelling moral dilemmas, find the “educational moments” and shine a light on them. He gave the recent examples of the occupy movement and the identification of illegal staff on campus. He asked the audience, “What would you do?”

Question Two: Consider a current incident that provides the opportunity to explore a compelling moral issue – do you have the courage to exert moral leadership?

Kent Chabotar, President of Guilford College and former Professor of Education at Harvard, talked about ‘Economy, Higher Education and Independent Schools’. He spoke about ‘The New Normal’ and our need to focus and prioritize, make data driven decisions, focus on our competitive advantage, and emphasize outcomes. He challenged schools to articulate the goals of all Financial Aid and to start each budget with a narrative. He believes that most strategic plans are “crap” because they are great on aspirations and rhetoric but short on action items and performance metrics.

Question Three: How do we link our strategic priorities to short-term objectives, action steps, a long-range budget and metrics?

Now you may have noticed that I said there were four college presidents but I have only reported on three. Well, I guess I made the moral decision to opt for a cheaper flight and intergenerational connectedness – I left the conference early so I could be there to pick up my son from school on his 13th birthday.