National Trends – Part Two

On Thursday, I presented at the inaugural CAIS IT Conference, which was spear-headed and co-hosted by BSS and UCC in Toronto. Over 65 people attended from seven provinces, and there was a palpable energy in the room that opening night.

I always get a little bit nervous before speaking, which I happen to think is healthy. But when I was introduced to the speaker who was scheduled to speak after me, I got really nervous. He was from the Horizon Report and was releasing a sneak preview into future trends. Here is what was going through my head – what if I give my presentation on National Trends and they are not aligned with his presentation on Trends? Maybe I should ask to speak after him, so I can adjust my presentation as he presents, just in case?

I had that imposter feeling; I figured that today is the day that it will be revealed that I am not qualified to do my job. Worse than that, the confirmation that I have no knowledge of trends will be public, in front of this lively audience. Maybe you saw this month’s issue of The Atlantic, which featured this exact topic? The Confidence Gap resonated with me. Even after ten years and over 150 independent schools in nine countries, I still worry that I don’t know enough.

But what could I do? My opening slide was on the board and someone was hooking up the microphone. I had to launch into my presentation and be held to public scrutiny.

During the break between the two presentations, he approached me. Here it comes, I thought. But he was smiling, and said three words: You nailed it. He actually said that he wished he had gone first since he preferred some of my slides.

Now as I write this, I struggle with the other typically female challenge – I think I am bragging and I don’t want to show off. But you know what? I will brag for a moment, because I want to give credit for nailing the National Trends. I happen to surround myself with really smart and passionate leaders who work hard at understanding trends. At the moment, Kevin McHenry is chairing the Online Learning Steering Committee review; David Hadden is researching financial sustainability to present next week to the Business Officers; Sarah Daigneau and Janice Crampton are researching enrolment management trends to present to the Admissions Professionals next month; and Suzanne Heft is researching trends in governance and advancement for this month’s Governance Bulletin.

The fact is, together we nailed it, and together we are serving our schools by sifting through everything that is happening out there, and narrowing in on what will have most impact on our current – and future! – students.

p.s. I believe that brand is what others say about you, so here are a few twitter comments in support of the IT Conference:

Charles Fowler, IT Director at Royal St George’s College, Toronto:

  • Spooky alignment between ‪@AMKeeCAIS and K-12 Horiz Rpt on threats to trad. school model from online and blended learning

Jason Rogers, incoming Head of Rundle College, Calgary:

Martha Perry, Head of St. Clement’s, Toronto:

  • Listening to ‪@AMKeeCAIS at ‪#CAISit14 shift in education with emphasis on character, moral and values now at the forefront.
  • Think about the following re: tech: potential, personalization and people


National Trends in Education

I needed a new outfit to attend the Centenary gala last week in Ottawa and didn’t know what to buy to wear.  Looking for something trendy, I texted my colleague, Sarah Milligan, who advised, “Buy a white jacket to go with your black dress.”  Perfect.

But as I am literally following the saleswoman to go pay for the jacket, two things happen simultaneously – Sarah sends another text to say, “Buy a statement necklace to go with it” – just as the saleswoman asks, “Do you want a statement necklace to go with that?”

Ugh…Too proud to admit that I don’t have a clue what she’s talking about, I say, “Sure!”

The most embarrassing part of this story is that when I proudly reported to Sarah that I bought the necklace and jacket, I called it a “signature necklace”.  She was quick to note that it is called a “statement necklace” and I had no hope of ever being trendy.

Although I cannot keep up with fashion trends, I am obsessed with trends in education, and I am speaking at all of our CAIS partner conferences to share my observations of trends in independent schools around the world.

As we know, some trends resurface.  Yesterday, there was an article in the Globe and Mail entitled, Exams will stop grade inflation, which may reignite an age-old debate about the validity of external standardized tests. I have written about the questionable value of standardized exams, assessment, and grade inflation in the past, so you know I believe that grade inflation is a challenge but one that won’t be solved by standardized exams.

So what is to be done?  Our CAIS schools have to address over 90 Indicators of Effective Practice as part of our whole-school improvement process, including the following:

3.11 – The school’s assessment policies and procedures reflect attention to authentic performance tasks, multiple sources of evidence, educational goals, and individual student learning.

11.4 – The school engages in ongoing development, review and evaluation of its program, including tracking the level of success of its graduates.

Our accreditation process is not trendy. CAIS schools scrutinize their procedures and their results over time and work hard to ensure that student learning is the debate, not just marks.  Maybe, if the university application process would consider more than marks in their admissions process, we might be able to move on to more important educational debates?

I, for one, would love to see the conversation shift towards an examination about what is worthy of teaching and learning in our changing world or the challenges facing students.  In the past week alone, we have seen The Atlantic release an article about The Confidence Gap , the NYT issue an article about Raising a Moral Child, and CBC’s story called Class of 2014: Generation Screwed, about the soaring costs of university tuition.

At CAIS, we are focused on these kinds of trends and more.  At the moment, we are thinking deeply about issues of mental health, online learning, enrolment management, and the unique value proposition for each of our schools.  How do we decide which trend is worthy of more research?  We are driven by our CAIS values – student-centred, leadership, excellence, collaboration, relevance,  national and global perspective – and we continuously debate what is best for students.

In short, we watch the trends, but we act on values.

When Technology Connects North to South

I’m writing from a flight from Iqaluit to Ottawa after having spent two days as part of the Connected North launch with CISCO Canada. As you may know, most of the Arctic does not currently have the luxury of adequate or reliable bandwidth. I was quite surprised to not have cellular capabilities at all, except for the wifi at the hotel, which was spotty and slow, and I found myself really thinking about how this impacts learning, when teachers cannot access some of the amazing resources available online.

Lack of technology is just one of many serious challenges to education in the North: Fetal alcohol syndrome, suicide, addiction, and mental health rates are high. Only about 25% of students graduate from high school. To be quite blunt – I was pretty shocked that this was my country. The challenges are complex and motivation to change seems to be deteriorating. And yet, in my two days, I met with many amazing educators who go above and beyond in their efforts to support students, in terms of both academic and non-cognitive skill development. They are passionate about kids and learning, and they are working hard at solutions.

On my first night, I had dinner with one of these amazing educators named Caryn who teaches grade six at Aqsarnit Middle School. She came to life telling me stories about her students and their involvement in the Connected North Project. I happen to have a passion for passionate teaching, so I had to see her in action and meet her students.

Thanks to CISCO’s videoconferencing, I watched a “tour” of a museum in Pennsylvania as the students leaned in to see the artifacts on the screen and ask their questions. The next day, in Caryn’s grade six class, I watched as two classes exchanged traditions – the Aqsarnit students performed throat singing then the Alberta students from Busby School presented their “Busby alphabet” (inspired by the Prairie Alphabet, the class found images and words to show how they lived).

Following the videoconferencing exchange, I asked Caryn’s class: “What do you like about the Connected Classroom project?” One boy in the back blurted out, “Everything!” and the class nodded as if he had captured the only answer to my question. So I asked for all students to give me at least one benefit, and thanks to two volunteer note-takers, I can capture their exact thoughts here:

“Learning new things”

“Creating connections”

“Interacting with students”

“Seeing different people”

“Meeting professionals/Talking to pros”

“Telling others about our way of life”

“Learning about other people”

“Hearing stories”

“Real life conversations, no acting like on tv”

If I could sum it up, they want to talk to more students their age. The Vice Principal put it this way, “They get excited about the experts, but they really like meeting kids.”

I explained that I am in the business of making schools even better. So when I asked for their advice on how the Connected North project could improve, they came to life: the students wanted 3D (!!) and to exchange packages with students, like “things that represent Iqaluit” or photos, or their chocolate chip pancakes that they make for their community breakfasts. One girl suggested, “Could we actually meet the other students in person?” Once again, they want to deepen relationships.

So what’s next?

CAIS has three schools – in Ontario, Alberta and BC – lined up to partner with three schools in the North through the videoconferencing. CISCO has generously donated the equipment and expertise necessary to create the partnerships. Our teachers will collaborate on how to maximize the technology for learning, and the plan is to extend the program eventually to more schools. My hope?

The technology is the tool that will enable relationships: between teachers so they can plan curriculum together and share in professional development; between classes so they can swap stories and ideas; and now, having seen Caryn’s class in action, between students: to connect two different groups of students so they can have unscripted conversations

Caryn’s hope? In addition to the learning and relationship building, she is hoping that the schools can share successes and challenges. And what is one of her greatest needs? New books. There is no library at the school. One day, she asked how many students remember a parent reading to them, only one hand went up. (Remember, this is Canada. This is three hours by flight away from Ottawa.)

The woman spear-heading this project is Willa Black, a VP at CISCO. She has been up North many times and has more energy than most. As we said goodbye at the airport last night, I asked her what she wanted most from this project: I want to see transformational impact.

In my humble opinion, CISCO is really on to something here, and they have a great group of partners who are collaborating and viewing this project as a long-term investment. CAIS is new to this initiative, and our contribution is to provide partner schools. As we all know, technology in schools is only effective when in the hands of great teachers, so I am excited to introduce our CAIS community to the educators and students I met in Iqaluit this week.

Last week, I blogged about the need for students to gain an authentic experience on international service trips. Connected North is an opportunity for reciprocal benefits for students within our own country. Here is technology at use to deepen relationships between the North and South – as a national organization? That makes me proud.

IMG_1995 IMG_1991