What’s the future of independent school education?

I have a daughter, Kathleen who is 13, and a son, Jacob, who is 15; and probably like you, we believe we have raised them the very same way, and yet they are totally different. From a young age, we often said of Kathleen, that we could ship her to China, alone, and she would be just fine. But Jacob was always cautious and never one to jump in to something. When Jacob was four, we enrolled him in this artsy nursery school program. Jacob loved the outdoors, and we liked the emphasis on play, and we thought he really needed that creative and stimulating environment.

Now, I just came back from Washington where I heard Susan Cain, the author of Quiet. And I am so glad that her kind of research now exists, so we can think differently about introverts. If I had read her book back then, when Jacob was four, I might have chosen differently for him. But at the time, my husband and I wanted this lively learning program for him. We loved it there.

So we couldn’t figure out why he was so unhappy. We would see the artwork displayed; nothing by Jacob. At Halloween, he was the only kid who refused to wear a costume. At the Christmas concert, he lay on the stage and the other kids marched and danced over and around him. The highlight was at one point, the teacher tried to pick him up, and he loudly yelled, and it was a moment when it was silent in the auditorium so everyone heard him, “I told you I didn’t want to do this and stop touching me”. That was when all the home video cameras turned away from their child to my son…. And the image went up and down as they laughed. That day, he was the kid who made all parents feel better about their own parenting, because no matter what their child did, he was not THAT child… today the video would go viral.

Soon after that concert, we decided it was time to pull him out of the program. I called the teacher, and even she agreed that it might be time to go. But she said she had one more strategy to try. She said she noticed that he was engaged and happy in activities but seemed to get upset at the transition points – moving to the drama room, or getting ready to go outside. She said she was going to tap him on the shoulder about ten minutes before the transition time, and quietly tell him what was coming next.

And she was right. When Jacob gets into something – some might now call that flow – he doesn’t like to be interrupted. That kid could focus for hours if you let him. Jacob needed to prepare for what was coming. And once he knew it and wasn’t rushed in to something, he settled down and had a great year. I am so thankful for that teacher for thinking deeply about what might be needed for my child to thrive.

Jacob’s feelings at a young age remind me of how I feel when I stop and really think about all that is happening in the world of education: many options, over-stimulating, rapidly changing without knowing where you’re going. A few specifics here –

  • Our CAIS National Parent Motivation Survey revealed that the number one priority for parents is not necessarily academics, but the development of character, morals and value. Our schools do this well, but we can be more intentional.
  • We need to address issues of wellness, particularly as we see a rise in anxiety and mental health challenges.
  • We need to figure out how to cultivate learning in our schools, in a way that is unique and really focuses students on a growth mindset, especially in comparison to what is offered in very good public schools, for free.
  • And perhaps the greatest challenge, we need to figure out how technology can enhance learning, while also ensuring deep relationships, while also finding opportunities to address cost per student, to ensure our model of education remains permanent and strong.

My point is that schools can be very stressful environments for teachers, with all the additional pressures, but also for leaders whose job it is to manage change. And the more we know where we are headed, the more we can tap shoulders along the way.

So I was so pleased that this week, John Chubb, President of NAIS, spoke to over 250 people in three cities, to give us that proverbial tap on the shoulder. A summary of his remarks are included in our December newsletter.

Valuable resources for schools

At a time when our lives are over-packed with meetings and to-do lists, it is so important to find time to reflect, learn, and connect with like-minded colleagues. A good conference can do this for you, and this week, TABS was a great conference. It is a privilege, actually, that our schools give us the gift of time by sending us to conferences. This year, the TABS conference was one of the best, and I have heard this from many attendees. For starters, it was incredible that a Canadian won the prestigious Ruzicka Award. Congratulations to David Hadden, retired Head of Lakefield College, current Advisor to CAIS, and friend to many. His passion for promoting the benefits of a boarding education is infectious, and we will share his speech in our December newsletter.

In addition to sharing this great moment for Canadian education, the sessions this year were really valuable – not just for boarding schools. I was so overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the Canadians, that I offered to capture their highlights here, and conveniently, I have a Top 12:

“Beyond the Viewbook: Re-envisioning Traditional Marketing” at Mercersburg Academy. Check out their approach to Admissions, with a video on affording tuition, Student ambassador strategy, and videos with students explaining their experience in college. Thanks to Janice from CAIS for this suggestion.

Porter’s Leads at Miss Porter’s School is a 24-hour weekend program that gives girls a chance to experience boarding and a leadership retreat specifically for girls. The program was so instantly popular that they had to cap participation at 50, and they now run it twice per year! Good use of a landing page here too. Thanks to Kathy from TCS for this pick.

“Sex and Cupcakes: Fun, Factual & Student-Centred Sex Education” was a powerful workshop by the folks at The Madeira School. Recommended video: Who are you? Recommended book: S.E.X.. Thanks to Erin at Havergal.

“M&Ms and Paper Bags: Ready to use adviser activities on a budget” was a workshop designed to get students talking about race, class and interpersonal relationships by leaders at Western Reserve and Baylor School. Recommended by David from SMUS.

“What does ‘A Caring Community’ really mean?” Holderness School has a unique approach. Thanks to Andrea at Appleby for this pick!

“Appreciation for diversity: Training activities for student leaders.” Emma Willard School is training students in cultural differences. No link to their website on this program, but check out the coolest Signature Program page here. Natalia from Havergal chose this one.

“Listen for the silent scream: How to respond to cutting” by Chris Thurber, Psychologist & Educator at Exeter Academy. (Chris also contributed to our CAIS Mental Health in Boarding Schools Report.) AND “Step Up, Shout Out, Opt in: Using Peer Education to Educate & Motivate” which is an amazing program at St. Anne’s Belfield. In addition to Kathy’s presentation, I liked these ones!

“It Takes Three to Tango: Transforming the Adviser-Parent-Student Partnership” Wildwood School, Western Reserve and Exeter facilitated this program designed to help you stay ahead of the evolving role of the advisor. Stephen from Appleby recommended this.

“Maps: Educating the individual student through goal setting” is an advisory program at Vermont Academy that stands for My Action Plan for Success. Recommended by Kate at Appleby.

Westtown School’s “Elevating Student Leadership” program was recommended by Todd at Ashbury.

A very big congratulations to all Canadian Presenters, and thank you for being leaders in our boarding community. And if I can be uncharacteristically Canadian for a moment, I heard this comment more than once: “The BEST presentations are by the Canadians!” Here they are:

Mary Gauthier and Jody McLean at UCC – “Return to Learn – Getting back on track after a concussion” is UCC’s protocols for concussions.

Stephen Telling and Andrea Kelly at Appleby – “Student Leadership & Promoting Intercultural Awareness” (Recommended by Caro and Todd from Ashbury)

Marius and Andrea Felix at Brentwood – “A Community Service Opportunity for Boarding Schools”

Brian Murray at RNS and Shelly Frank at Pickering – “From Beijing to Berlin: Helping to create a home away from home”

Andy Olson at Shawnigan and Brent Lee at Brentwood – “Three Boarding Problems Solved by Technology”

Kathy LaBranche at TCS – “Open House & Road Shows – Are they dead or just a little broken? Kathy recommends we watch Ivory Tower too.

Congratulations also to Pete Upham and his team at TABS. You do great work to strengthen our boarding schools, and you have a grateful fan club in Canada.