Why Middle School Camp Matters

Yesterday afternoon, I had the good fortune of spending an hour with the Faculty Advisors who are accompanying the CAIS Middle School students here at Onondaga Camp. This group of teachers left their busy jobs and families to spend four days in the woods.  And what are they hearing from their students?

– Giving directions is hard, but listening well is even harder

– Leading your peers is tougher than leading those who are younger

– Having time to reflect is important if you want to create good strategy

– It is challenging to be a leader if you do not have a specific title

– The best leaders are not necessary the most charismatic

As I listened, I had to remind myself – these are the comments of 13 and 14 year old students!

Lucky kids to begin the process of discovering their leadership potential at an early age…  lucky adults to be learning with (and from!) students in a beautiful setting… and lucky schools to have these students return ready to take on the world!


Welcome to the New CAIS Heads

A very warm welcome to our new CAIS Heads!

I created some links so you can meet them in (virtual) person:

York House School (BC)Chantal Gionet

St. John’s Kilmarnock (ON)Jeff Aitken

Havergal College (ON)Helen-Kay Davy

Crescent School (ON)Michael Fellin

St. John’s Ravenscourt (MB)Jim Keefe

Solomon Schechter Academy (QC)Steven Erdelyi

TFS – Canada’s International School (ON)Mirna Hafez

Rundle College (AB)Jason Rogers

St. George’s School of Montreal (QC)Sharon Klein

​École Maïmonide (QC)Sydney Benudiz

Calgary Jewish Academy (AB)Wayne Schneider

p.s. In case you keep track, here are links to CAIS Heads who started in the past few years:


Matthews Hall (ON)Ric Anderson

Saltus Grammar School (Bermuda)Claire Charlemagne

West Point Grey Academy (BC)Tam Matthews

Akiva School (QC)Jennifer Fraenkel

United Talmud Torah-Herzliah (QC)Laurence Kutler


Ridley College (ON) – Ed Kidd

Appleby College (ON) – Innes van Nostrand

Brentwood College (BC) – Bud Patel

Sacred Heart School of Halifax (NS) – Anne Wachter

The Sterling Hall School (ON) – Rick Parsons

The Priory School (QC) – Tim Peters

Somersfield Academy (Bermuda) – Peter Harding

The Rosedale Day School (ON) – James Lee

Bishops College School (QC) – Will Mitchell

Kempenfelt Bay School (ON) – Graham Hookey

Lakefield College School (ON) – Struan Robertson


Island Pacific School (BC)Dr. Ted Spear

Lakecrest – St. John’s Independent School (NL)Robert Pittman

Montcrest School (ON)David Thompson

Rosseau Lake College (ON)Lance Postma

Royal St. George’s College (ON)Steve Beatty

St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School (ON)Dorothy Byers

The Country Day School (ON)John Liggett

The Study (QC) Nancy Sweer

The York School (ON)Conor Jones


Balmoral Hall (MB)Joanne Kamins

Hillfield Strathallan (ON)Marc Ayotte

Holy Trinity School (ON)Barry Hughes

Lycee Louis Pasteur School (AB)Herve Gagliardi

Queen Margaret’s School (BC) Wilma Jamieson

St Clement’s School (ON)Martha Perry

St George’s School (BC) – Tom Matthews

St Margaret’s School (BC) – Cathy Thornicroft

Trafalgar Castle School (ON) – Adam de Pencier

Choosing great teachers

At the Independent Schools Association Network (ISAnet) meetings this week in Montreal, Roger Martin gave an outstanding presentation on the need to stop strategic planning. He argues that to win, a company must choose to do some things and not others. He put it this way – if the opposite decision is stupid, then it isn’t a choice. For example, a company claims to choose to focus strategically on customer service; but would any company not choose to focus on customer service? That would be stupid, so that’s not a choice. Strategy is all about making choices.

What are the most critical choices for independent schools? If you agree that great schools have great teachers, then recruiting great teachers is the most important choice we make. We are living in a time when there are many more teachers than jobs, so how do we get it right?

At the NAIS Commission on Accreditation meetings this week, I sat between two American Heads who compared notes on how they make that choice. First, they agreed that they must participate in the hiring process. Both of these Heads interview all candidates in the final stage. I find this investment of time extraordinary considering all of the demands on Heads’ time, like running a multi-million dollar business, fundraising, and knowing all students personally. Couldn’t department heads and HR directors manage the process? But both also agreed that the Head’s role is not so much to ask questions, but to deliver three important messages:

i. Great teachers are kid magnets.

It is not enough for teachers to have knowledge expertise and to motivate students. It is not even enough to know their students and share their passion! The best teachers have that added quality that is tough to articulate. One Head called it “kid magnet,” and I’ve used the term “Pied Piper;” but whatever the phrase, great teachers attract kids to them and learning.

ii. Great teachers live the culture.

Some may think of independent schools as demanding places to work, as the expectations are higher. But great teachers love the unique components that make our schools special. One Head noted: We are an Episcopal school and we go to chapel everyday. If you don’t want to be part of a community like this, then this isn’t the place for you. The other Head put it this way: We need teachers who support our community. I don’t want to have to ask anyone to come to assembly. Our teachers want to be there.

iii. Great teachers want to reinvent school

Education is changing and great independent schools want to be leaders in that change process. So great teachers need to have a growth-mindset. One Head put it this way: We need teachers who are open to trying new things and creating a school that is not like the one they attended.

Both Heads make a choice to invest their time in choosing teachers. I wish I could capture their passion as they described the importance of this decision and how they approach it. I could tell – they are great Heads who run great schools and they don’t want anyone less than great to get in their way! Two words come to mind when I think about their whole hiring process: lucky kids.

p.s. Thanks to Dave Monaco, Head of Parish Episcopal School in Dallas and David Mahler from The Out-of-Door Academy in Florida for their inspiration.

Letter to my children’s teachers: First and foremost: A Mom

Dear Teacher,

You may know that I am also an educator, and in my job, I follow trends and research. So I care about online and blended learning and the promise of its ability to enhance teaching and learning. I know about the focus on resilience and about teaching more experience-based and relevant skills. I value metrics like standardized test scores and university success; and I even care about facilities and governance. I care about schools – and students in particular! – so everything matters, even the number of students per class.

But here’s the thing. As I sit and think about the year ahead and my own children, I have a slightly different set of priorities. I don’t care about these things nearly as much as I care about one thing: my children’s teachers. And I don’t actually care if there are 12 students in the room or 30 – I really don’t! – and I know that research shows that I am not alone for when asked to choose between a great teacher with a big class and a not-so-great teacher with a small class, everyone chooses the great teacher.

Whatever the trend in education, there is one constant: great schools have great teachers.

Great teachers get to know their students. Really know them. I want you to know Jacob and Kathleen. I worry about this because both of them work hard and they both like to blend in with the other kids so neither will be on your radar at first. They are those good kids that sometimes get lost in the middle. I hope you take the time to know their individual traits. Like all kids, even those raised in the same home, mine are different. Jacob will ask for help so getting to know him will be easier. I hope you will have patience with his questions, and I hope you will push him to work more independently. But I also hope you come to love his questions, as this is something we really value, and we believe it is one of his greatest strengths. Kathleen, on the other hand, will avoid asking questions in class, and she catches on quickly to concepts. Her strength is that she is social, so she can be trickier to know. I hope you call on her to draw her out, and I hope you ask her questions to stretch her thinking. It takes time to get to know the quirks of different students, and great teachers invest in relationships. Great teachers know that it is the connection with their students that is the most important link to their effective learning.

Great teachers also share their passions. Like Jacob and Kathleen, you are probably quirky. We all are! I hope you have the courage to show your real self to the class. If you love a particular subject, and I hope you do have a passion for the curriculum, please share that love with them. And if you have a love for something beyond the curriculum, please share that with them too. Be yourself. Tell them what you’re reading, what you’re interested in, what you think about. I want them to see that you are inspired, so then they will be inspired by you. I want them to feel your excitement. Great teachers make connections with their students by actually seeking out and reacting to their suggestions and opinions, by being open and honest and authentic with them, by being passionate about their own interests and what they believe in, by believing and having faith in them, by investing in them in a personal way. A tall order! Please take care of yourself so you can keep going to school each day with energy to be a role model for learning to them. They deserve it… and so do you.

I want to end with one of my favourite reflections about the impact of great teachers on young people, which comes from Ken Dryden’s book In School. After visiting countless schools, he recounts:

I’d ask kids about their school, why in some courses they did well and in others they didn’t. I’d ask them, as I came to ask adults as well, if they had a favourite teacher. And I found that everybody has one. Usually a classroom teacher, sometimes a parent or coach. And when answering, it always started by saying, “He was funny” or “She had lots of energy” – then they would always end up at the same place – “She treated me like a real person”; “He cared about me”; “She noticed if I had a bad day, or a good day…if I was away…” Then they’d become passionate. One after another, they would say the same thing. Never a word about how well a teacher knew History or Calculus. Never a word about curriculum or computers. It was all about “relationships” and “respect”. Something personal. If a teacher tries to understand me, treats me like a person, I want to be around them. I want to do things for them. I want to learn. I try harder. In everybody’s head – young, old, rich, poor – the same image of the good teacher. The same understanding of when good learning and good teaching happen. And moment to moment, day to day – as they talk, connect, understand each other – that is what is happening when there is effective learning. Good teachers, as you know, teach subjects, but first and foremost, they teach kids.

Have a great year,