Girl Rising Niagara

With the Canada-Sweden game now at 3-0, it is time for me to post a blog and get out for a run here in Orlando before it gets too hot…. I hope I am not too confident in our gold win.  And yes, I am happy to be away from Ontario winter weather.

I was inspired by Fiona Webster Mourant, a CAIS Board Member in Winnipeg, to host a screening of Girl Rising.  If you haven’t heard of Girl Rising, it is a groundbreaking feature film that spotlights the stories of nine unforgettable girls born into unforgiving circumstances.  The film captures their dreams, their voices and their remarkable lives.  It is also a movement dedicated to empowering and achieving educational equity for girls around the world.

My daughter, Kathleen, and I are hosting a screening of this outstanding documentary on the evening of March 3rd at Ridley College. Our goal is to raise global visibility about the importance of educating girls and to be part of the movement to capture the attention of global policy leaders to inspire them to include girls’ education on the post  2015 United Nations agenda.  For more information about Girl Rising and to check out the trailer, visit:

Our aim, for International Women’s Day 2014, is to demonstrate our commitment to breaking down the barriers that prevent girls around the world from going to school.  Barriers like child marriage, sex trafficking, gender violence and discrimination.  We want the members of our Niagara community to be part of this growing movement, raising awareness and visibility alongside thousands of other events worldwide.  We hope you’ll join us to enjoy a cupcake and watch the screening of this incredible documentary.

Kathleen and I decided that all money raised with be donated in equal parts to the Girl Rising Movement and Gillian’s Place, an organization that empowers abused women of Niagara (  Kathleen’s best friend’s Mom works there, and we are excited to support the amazing work done for women at Gillian’s Place.

We ALL need to help raise awareness globally while at the same time supporting the needs of girls in our community. 

Visit the Girl Rising website to learn more.  Buy tickets to our event here:

Go Canada!

This is an ibex



I have probably seen pictures of ibexes in books, and I may even have seen a documentary about animals that included an ibex.  But when an ibex approached our car, I could not identify it as an ibex, and I had to look it up.  Some people might pride themselves on being able to recognize an ibex when they see one.  Not me.  So for other city-slickers who are curious, an ibex is a wild goat.

But by the time it jumped onto our car window, I knew that I would always remember an ibex.

The whole experience at Parc Omega in Montebello, Quebec on Family Day weekend was a reminder that we learn best by doing.  When we fully experience something – like the fear of an ibex in your face! – we are more likely to learn more deeply.  We are also more likely to laugh and have stories and photos to share.  

Makes me proud that our CAIS schools value experiential learning and work hard to give students the gift of learning outside of traditional settings.  It goes without saying that the same is true for families.



Top Ten Values that create the Ideal Working Culture


Last week, in preparation for attending the Grid program in Vancouver, I had to describe the characteristics of an ideal work culture.  As I stared at the empty page, I thought about how pleased Hal Hannaford would be with this exercise.  For those who don’t know Hal, he often stresses the importance of faculty culture and developed a popular Leadership Institute module.

I began by writing this:  An ideal culture should be shaped around immutable values.

But then the fun began.  What do I value?  What does our team value?  We have published CAIS values as part of our Strategic Plan, and I love them, but I was focused more on our team’s working values on a daily basis.  I realized that we have a pretty defined culture. I came up with five values pretty easily, and then I made this exercise an agenda item on our staff meeting.  Within minutes, we brainstormed phrases we often use with each other that we believe are representative of our values. Here is a distilled CAIS Team Top Ten List:

1.  Well, not rushed. We say this often to each other and it always inspires us to work harder and get it right. Whether it means searching for another CAIS Top 12 article, or editing the newsletter one more time (ugh!), we use this term to push each other.

2.  We are in the business of asking good questions. We serve independent schools that have independent boards who know their schools best.  So we will never prescribe the “best” way to do anything, but we do challenge schools by asking good questions.  Through our accreditation process, we can contribute to whole school improvement when we ask our schools to answer two sets of questions:  first through the Internal Evaluation, and then through the Visiting Committee on-site questions.

3.  We don’t use adjectivesI thank Bob Snowden for this one, as he used this phrase during the development of our last strategic plan and it stuck with us.  We strive to have a CAIS writing style in all of our communications, and we agree on this rule.  For us, it symbolizes our desire to be authentic and open to judgment. 

4.  Be a budOnly four of us work in the office at Ridley College; the rest of us work from home offices across Canada. But we care about each other and do a lot to support each other professionally and personally.  When I was in Mexico City this week, because Sarah was in Russia and England, she thanked me for being where she would normally be.  The subject of the email was this:  Thanks for being a bud.

5.  That’s sexy.  Yup… I meant to say that.  We use the term when we are brainstorming, and we keep the ideas coming until we land on the best idea. We also use it when we have finally approved the content of a document, and we turn it over to someone for branding… But we also remind ourselves – if you have to tell others you’re sexy, you’re not.  Think about that. 

6.  Big rocks.  We have a lot going on, and so we begin every staff meeting with each person on the team sharing their three biggest projects that the team should know about. Those are the big rocks.  It forces us to stay at the strategic level and not get caught up in too many details.  It also forces us to have the courage to deal with important issues. We use the question – do you know what lives under a big rock?

7.  Idea lampI have this habit of paper clipping pieces of paper with good ideas to my lamp.  So now, whether we schedule time to brainstorm, or we find ourselves excited about an idea, we call it idea lamping.

8.  That’s for the boxWe like to laugh at work.  Similar to the idea lamp, the best jokes end up on little pieces of paper in a box in my drawer.  Sometimes we get out the box and review the funny moments. Here’s one:  Val’s son once stood on a scale at home, looked down at his feet, and said, “Yup. I’m still three years old!”

9.  We serve school leaders.  There is no shortage of good ideas, so we use this phrase as a filter.  If something can be better done by the regional associations, we don’t proceed. If something can be better done by the schools, we move on.  But if we can save time for the leaders of our schools – through research or PD – we will act.  When I worked at LCC, the strategic plan used a similar litmus test:  students come first.

10. We like healthy tension. Our whole team is almost insanely passionate and hard working.  We also think we are right.  So we have developed a culture where candour is not only accepted but expected.