Technology shouldn’t change what we teach

It is Easter morning and I carry on a tradition that my father started, and I write clues that my kids have to solve that will lead them to their Easter bunny. Last year they complained to me – and worse to their cousins – that my clues were too easy. And since that makes my brothers very happy, I ramped it up a bit this year.

One clue asked them both to figure out who inspires my husband. Kevin’s screen saver shows a slideshow of the three men who inspire him: one colleague from McGill, the principal of Queens, and the Governor General.

They first had to figure out that this screen saver existed, then they had to research their names. This was fascinating to watch because even an internet search wasn’t straight-forward. My son initially reported that the Governor General was the Queen…. It took a minute for him to realize that impossibility, given that the three photos were men. Eventually, Kevin went downstairs to help them. But I could hear frustration. Jacob came back upstairs and reported that Kathleen was completely upset, and even Dad’s help with an advanced google search wasn’t fast enough. He said to me, “There must be a better way,” then he took my iphone and spoke to it:

“Siri, who is the governor general?”

When he flew downstairs to show off, his ecstasy matched Kathleen’s anger. She started to cry. Happy Easter morning….

My first point is that technology is changing the way kids learn, and our schools need to teach kids to access information differently.

Back to Kathleen who is now crying on Easter morning and the bunny is yet to be found. I whispered to her, “See how your brother does on this next clue.”

Jacob read his clue out loud. It went something like this – If you lifted me up every morning, as we all remind you to do, your sister would not scream at you.

Kathleen smiled. She knew immediately that the clue was hiding under the toilet seat. But Jacob was miffed. It was one of those great gotcha moments.

My favorite line that morning was Kathleen’s immediate ability to stop crying and say this – “Why don’t you ask Siri?!”

Easter morning made me think about two things: Firstly, technology is changing everything and we need to adapt.

But secondly, technology is not changing everything, so we need to continue to teach thinking skills and problem solving and, of course, resilience and humour.

This Easter, my kids learned some important lessons about problem solving – and I, thankfully, regained my credibility with my brothers.

P.S – If you attended the Junior and Middle School Heads Conference in Ottawa last weekend, you can find some helpful resources on our website.

Why we chose a CAIS Junior School

We just signed our re-enrollment package for Ridley.  Although it was really somewhat of a non-decision, something about staring at that financial commitment number made me think about the value of an independent school.

When Kathleen was in public school, she came home every day with a behavior report.  It was a picture of a stop light and she got a checkmark next to the red light (if you were “bad”), green light (if you were “good”) or yellow light (which, quite frankly, I could never figure out.)  Needless to say, she got a green light every day.  And this made me cringe.  It got to the point that Kevin and I would joke that we would pay her five bucks to come home with a red light.  We wanted her to take a risk… or do something – anything! – that would snap her out of her natural tendency to please others… to be a good little girl.  I figured she already had that innately; she didn’t need that external praise for her good behavior.  Having said that, I doubt the parenting experts would have supported my encouragement of “bad” behavior either.

At the parent teacher interview, I asked the teacher if she could modify the daily behavior report. I asked if she could add some requirements to Kathleen’s report – could she be given a “green” if she if she asked a great question or if she helped someone without being asked.  But the teacher said no.  And for an entire year, Kathleen reported on who got green lights (mostly the girls) and who got the red lights (yup…mostly boys).  To this day, I cannot understand how this benefitted anyone.  Where was the personalized learning? Where was the influence of research?

So we went looking for a new school, and we chose Ridley College.  It was a big decision for us, but a few things put us over the top. 

1. We want a school that does more, that goes above and beyond provincial requirements to offer an academic program that will challenge and support kids daily. Kathleen tells me that the difference between public and private school is that she learns at Ridley.

2.  We want a school that considers the whole child.  Ridley has mandatory after-school sports and activities (including Cadets, which I love!), and the kids go to chapel on Fridays.  Daily physical activity is important and the bonus is that we don’t have to sign her up for evening activities so our evening time is family time.

3.  We want a school that truly partners with us in raising our kids. Kathleen’s teacher sends us a weekly newsletter with photos.  She is also her gymnastics coach and wrote us a beautiful email this winter when she saw Kathleen trying super hard to master a beam routine.  We celebrated her efforts together.

4. We love that we don’t need to make lunches.  Superficial but true.  We hated making lunches.  Kathleen eats healthy soup and loads up on veggies. She is not happy about Ridley’s dessert policy (once per week only) but I give that a green light.

5.  We want a school that commits to continuous whole school improvement.  In the past year, Ridley has introduced the IB program and Parent Coffee mornings, built a new hockey rink, and asked our opinion on strategic issues.  In short, Ridley demonstrates a passion for always striving for what’s next.  That is exactly what I want for my kids.

Naturally, because of my job, I am inclined toward a CAIS school.  I want a school that meets CAIS National Standards in all aspects of program and operation.  I want a school that requires professional development.  I want a school that commits to research.  And I want a school that is passionate about kids. 


I am going to hear Leonard Sax on Monday night at Lakefield College. I loved his book on boys: Boys Adrift and on girls: Girls on the Edge.


Here are the ten questions parents must ask when considering an independent school.

The Future of K-12 Online Education

About 15 years ago, I took an online course from Athabasca University. I needed one more course to be eligible to take my Principal’s Qualifications, but I had to complete the course – a full year university credit – in one summer.  I didn’t think it was possible to pull it off as I was already taking a summer education course in July and traveling across Canada in August.  My holiday was already booked!  But I signed up, got a box of books in the mail, and registered to take my exams in August in Calgary and Vancouver. 

It was unlike anything I have ever done.  I would call my assigned tutor from pay phones in camp grounds en route.  One day, Kevin and I hiked at Yellowstone National Park by day, then took turns reading to each other while we drove all night.  Another day, my Dad and my husband edited my essays while my brother typed the pages I hand-wrote. All true.  It was an intense summer, and I loved that I could get so much done in that short period of time. Did I learn more? Or retain more?  Not sure. But the experience was worth it and so was the convenience.

The fact is, online education – even back then – had an important role to play. And the truth is that most everybody does some kind of online education: for example, yesterday, we placed a number of online learning resources in our new PD Resources section of our website, and we will continue to add to the list. I’d call that online education.

But recently, there has been a lot of attention on one newer form on online education:  MOOCs.  For those of you who are not hip (like me!!!), let me enlighten you – experts are saying that the advent of massively open online classes (MOOCs) is the single most important technological development of the millennium.  (A January HBR blog highlights a panel of experts discussing the future of education, or watch the whole thing here.)

Why the recent buzz?  Loads of people are attracted to loads of content delivered to loads of students via MOOCs.  (Daphne Koller, founder of Coursera confirmed, 
”We’re at 2.4 million students now”.)  This popularity means that for American universities that traditionally charge a lot of tuition, MOOCs offer a reasonably priced way to educate students.  And the technology exists to ensure that the delivery mechanism will never be an inhibitor.  So this cheap educational option is highly attractive to a nation of young people stressed by student debt loads in America. 

So when you’ve covered the supply side with reasonable quality and competitive prices, and you’ve got demand from students around the world, you’ve got a disruptive innovation.

What is the impact on CAIS schools?  I believe it is threefold.

1.  As our tuitions continue to outpace inflation, we need to address opportunities that will sustain our schools.  Can schools integrate the online model with the on-campus experience and save – or even generate! – money?

2. As university preparatory schools, we need to prepare students for online learning.  Should K-12 schools require an online course?

3.  As schools that are passionate about learning and preparing kids for a changing world, we need to be very intentional about time.  If kids are already engaged in the online world, and they are, how can our schools do what we do even better?  In other words, can we use online learning to enhance learning through even more authentic face-to-face experiences that cannot be found elsewhere?  For instance, could we move some of the information transfer that happens in a classroom online, and instead use that class time for dialogue and debate, or hiking in Yellowstone Park? 

We must be proactive in the opportunities presented by online education.  Sustainable schools must make a commitment to seeking out new business models.  But I believe that the best business solution will always come from the best education solution.  Starting with what is best for kids must remain at the core of all we do, and that won’t change.

p.s.  Last week, Queen’s University joined the ranks of other universities trying to find their future in this new arena.  Their approach – town hall on online learning – is worth examining.  So too is their draft report.

This week, Forbes magazine chimed in:  MOOCs aren’t likely to solve the fundamental student learning challenges that colleges and universities face, and they certainly won’t take the place of a college education.

Independent School Research Summit

Imagine this – it is 8:30pm on the evening before a long weekend.  A woman wearing a business suit, lugging a laptop bag and purse while pulling a suitcase, is skipping stairs up the escalator and sprinting through the Atlanta airport.  Her heart is racing.  She knows that there is not another flight this evening because she has already done that research in the first airport when she knew her first flight was delayed.  She knows that she does not have a moment to spare.  She is desperate to get home because her 12 year old daughter is having a birthday party sleepover with her friends and cousins.

Do you wish this story ends a certain way?  I know I did.  Sadly, last Thursday night, despite my best efforts, I got to my gate six minutes after my connecting flight had shut the doors and so I spent an unexpected night in Atlanta.

Somewhere just after 8:30pm, when I had texted my husband and kids with the update that I wouldn’t be home, I got a text from my colleague Sarah who asked if I made my connecting flight.  With all of her international travel, she knows this scene all too well.  I replied, “PPP.”  This has become our code for rotten news.  It means: Pity Party Please.

The whole concept of living in the moment does not seem to apply at these times.  In fact, travel mishaps are actually some of the most challenging parts of my job – flight delays can leave you in a strange city, late at night, alone, and homesick – how do you snap out of wallowing in that woes me whine?

That night provided another reminder of the need to focus on what is good.  And I mean to really train your brain to shift from that unbecoming state and instead think about gratitude.  In Thursday’s case, I had had an amazing day.

A group of educational leaders of national and international organizations met in Ashville, North Carolina this week for an Independent School Research Summit.  It seems that all schools are hungry for research and some schools are in trouble, so there is a sense of urgency for associations to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of collaborative research.  At this time, all of our associations – even the big ones! – recognize this challenge:  we have big questions and small shops.

As those of you who work with me know, I really believe that we can do things better together, so I was grateful to be invited to participate.

In our next news letter, I will give you a summary of the great work underway with my colleagues at NAIS, TABS, NCGS, CASE, NBOA, CSEE, AISAP, SSATB, INDEX.  There is an exciting new initiative, and CAIS is proud to participate in this North American effort to identify possible opportunities for larger-scale research about independent schools.

Our next meeting will be in Washington.  I might drive.  And I will definitely bring the kids with me.

p.s.  Two articles you need to read:

1.  NYT on Tony Wagner (Who will be at our Summer LI along with the CWRA)

2.  The amazing case of Hotchkiss’s international travel legal case