From the front porch

During Sunday afternoon’s thunder storm, I sat on our front porch reading. As I sat, I remembered thunder storms as a kid and heading out to our front porch, even at night. Sometimes our neighbours would sit out front too, and we would catch up. I remember our next door neighbor once tossing over snacks to us – their snacks were always better than ours. Sometimes it would just be us kids with my parents. When I think of my sweetest memories as a child, time on our front porch is up there, particularly during thunder storms.

But if I had to think of my “sweetest” childhood memory, it wouldn’t involve my parents. The first one that came to mind was riding on the back of a motorcycle when I was 16 on an exchange in Switzerland; another was swimming across a lake, knowing there were snapping turtles; another was at camp using a magnifying glass and the sun to burn my initials in a piece of wood.

These memories mean that I am part of the 80% of adults who say that their parents weren’t part of their “sweetest” childhood memory, according to Michael Thompson, in his newest book, Homesick and Happy. How time away from parents can help a child growThompson has asked thousands of parents about “the sweetest memory of childhood” and the same four or five elements are always present: away from adult supervision, out-of-doors, with friends, facing a challenge and doing something a bit risky.

In his book, he explores some of the big questions that parents ask: When and how do we learn to let go? Any why is it so important that we do? He believes that parents need to step aside, ask other adults to take over, and even to send children away in order to help them become “loving, productive, moral, and independent young adults.” He writes that when kids accomplish something separate from their parents, the kids own that accomplishment.

So I put down my book to write. When do we let our kids go? That one feels easy. Kevin and I believe in giving our kids independence, and maybe we can be criticized for letting them go too early. When our kids were nine years old, they flew alone to visit family friends. By alone I mean that we paid an extra $100 to have an Air Canada employee accompany them. But people thought we were crazy. This summer, at age 13, Jacob flew out to Calgary for the third time and we had the option to pay the extra 100 bucks, or not. (Apparently Air Canada thinks my child is an adult??!!) Those of you who know me, will know my decision: we opted not to pay.

The day before the flight, Jacob clued in to the fact that he would have to get from security to the gate alone. He got a bit teary, and I was honestly a bit surprised by his anxiety. After all, we have flown a lot, and I have made a point of putting the kids in charge of navigating the airport. As a bit of a throw-away comment, I said, “Jacob, I believe you can get to the gate on your own.” He quickly turned to face me – that clearly got his attention – and he said, “thank you.” It was as if that little comment was a turning point for him.

Joanne Kates wrote an article about homesick kids at camp in last week’s Globe and one of her tips was this:

Project 100-per-cent confidence in your child’s ability to rise to this challenge. That helps him believe in his own ability to be on his own. Believing he can do it gets him halfway there.”

Kates’ tip worked for Jacob, and when I got a text from our friends that Jacob arrived safely, I thought of the fact that we let Jacob go so that he owned the accomplishment of travelling by himself.

Hopefully he feels this is a “sweet” memory and doesn’t feel the need to climb on a motorcycle any time soon… and when he does? I will be looking to Thompson and Kates for some “letting go” tips….

Who are you now?

On the final evening of the CAIS Leadership Institute at Shawnigan Lake last week, the LI Grads lead the crowd in a game of LI Jeopardy. In the “LI Instructors” category for 200 points was the answer: “Who are you now?” The question – and the whole crowd knew it so there was a big fight as to who would win the points – was “Who is Barry Wright?”

Over 120 people have taken Barry’s Change Leadership module over the past year, and many people have commented on how he has shaped their thinking.

So having survived the red-eye flight home, I have been reflecting on the 11 years of the LI. I have been thinking about “Who is the Leadership Institute now?”  Here are a few snap-shots.

Rodger Wright, Pat Dawson, Martha Perry and Marc Ayotte (Martha and Marc are both LI Graduates) gave amazing Art of Leadership and New Leaders Speeches. Throughout the week, I was told by different people that one of them was the highlight of their week. These speeches will be posted on our website by the end of the month.

The Next Step program began and on the first night, the group of 13 sat by a campfire sharing and critiquing their change projects until midnight. This bonding was important given that they have committed to implementing a change project and will meet as a National Cohort along with four mentors throughout the year.

For the first time, the LI also included a program for Heads and their final “Dock Talk” session was actually on the dock at Shawnigan Lake. When swimming lessons started, Dock Talk moved to the front lawn, overlooking the pond, in the sunshine and the Heads sat with “The Davids” (Robertson and Hadden) and Barry and seemed to solve every independent school challenge.

“Money and Managing Change” was the program for both the Next Step and Heads groups. The idea came from Allan Gregg’s study last fall of CAIS Heads and Chairs and their top challenges. The program centered around Switch: How to change things when change is hard and I liked catching glimpses of that blue book tucked into people’s belongings.

Before leaving Shawnigan, a few graduates made a point of asking about the future – how could they maintain a national network?  What modules would we offer next year so they could return?

I love thinking about the growth of the LI. And if who it has become now is any indication of who it will become in the future, we should all be excited.

What I learned at the Summer LI

I slept for 13 hours on Saturday night.

If you attended this year’s CAIS Summer Leadership Institute at Trinity College School in Port Hope, you will totally understand why that is a big deal.  And I bet you did the same.  I bet you walked into your bedroom when you got home and smiled.

Ever since that good night’s sleep, I have found myself thinking back on the week, and feeling even happier.

For starters, I was so pleased with the two new Forums for the Athletic Directors and the Communications Professionals, who have joined the Summer LI for the first time ever. As part of the wrap-up, I shared our PD Vision and asked the groups to explain what “demonstrable impact” the CAIS Forums will have on their schools. I filled chart papers with these action items that will make our schools even better. Isn’t that what it is all about?

Seven Heads joined us – including three who are starting their careers at the Summer LI! I heard many comments on this year’s topic, Money and Managing Change, and the ever-popular leaders: David Robertson and David Hadden (aka The Davids), Val Cambre, and Barry Wright. When I think about the busy lives that our Heads lead, I feel tremendous pressure to provide a valuable program. Based on this year’s feedback, it appears that CAIS is on to something good. We will offer a Heads program again, but our focus may change – I keep hearing requests for performance management, so that might be on next year’s agenda?

My greatest source of energy came from the Next Step group. As you may recall, this program is designed for current administrators who have to apply to the program and spend two summers in class and a year in between working on a change project with mentors. The feedback is still rolling in, but so far I have heard that “This program changes our school, fundamentally”, “The program was incredibly challenging and fulfilling in both a professional and personal level” and “The program helped me implement change in an area that aligns with the strategic plan and also helped me work through a change project within a structure of feedback.” If you know me, you know I am a real mush for this kind of work being completed by incredible people in our schools. I cannot say enough about the group who completed our program – they are wonderful! Congratulations!

And of course, I am humbled – truly! – with the energy and commitment of all those who attended the LI. This summer we hit a record – and I am not referring to the temperatures! – with over 170 people in attendance, and as I wandered the halls, I saw engagement and reflection and passion. Over four days, these folks put in 30 hours in the classroom plus additional hours of reading and prepping. In each room, there were up to eight provinces represented and over 40 different schools. Nothing makes me happier than to see the national network in action…

Our evenings include my favorite part. We will post the videos of this year’s Art of Leadership and New Leaders Series speeches. You are in for a real treat when you hear Karen Murton (Branksome Hall), Ian Robinson (Sterling Hall), John Liggett (Country Day) and Derek Logan (Kingsway College).   I love that they take time out from their summers to share their experiences with us, and I have found my mind wandering in the past few days, thinking about their words. Many people commented that this part of the program is a highlight for them.

Speaking of comments, I love to hear from people! Happy to share some of the emails:

Hal Hannaford, Head of Selwyn House: Back to reality. What a great week! The LI is such an incredibly rich educational experience for all, and as you know I have been very committed since the beginning. We are very lucky to have such an institution. …Let’s all reflect on another extremely successful Leadership Institute. It just might be the most important thing CAIS does.

Laurie Faith, Primary Co-ordinator at Montcrest School: This was my first year at the CAIS LI, and I wanted to thank you for all the work you did to make it so excellent. In particular, the Coaching module was absolutely transformative, and Barry’s Change Management module was so well-organized and cleverly taught that 10 hours seemed like about 2. I felt really lucky to be able to work alongside some of the most dynamic, inspired young heads in Canada, and so delighted to meet some of the old hands as well. Who knew what I was stumbling into when I sat down with Dave Hadden for dinner! Thank you so very much. It truly was a privilege to attend.

David Robertson, Head of Shawnigan Lake School: Just a few words to congratulate you and thank you for another very successful Institute – well done! Your energy and commitment are admirable and you should feel great pride in the outcomes; any feedback that I got about the whole experience was very positive. Thank you for giving me the chance to work with my old buddy which, as you well know is a veritable treat, but tiring as all out!

Susan Orr-Mongeau, Director, Communications &​ Marketing at The Study: Just a quick note to let you know how much I appreciated the CAIS Communication Forum. Your team did a great job. I was delighted with the talks, the openness and interactivity of the group and the discussions, which have gone on since. The spirit of collaboration has been planted! Thank you.

Keep the comments coming! Please email your feedback (or even better, comment on my blog!). We will send out our formal evaluation next week, and we will use it to make improvements as we do every year. So far, I know one change will be to our ‘What to Pack’ List….

That would be a fan.

A very warm thank you to Stuart Grainger and TCS for hosting us.