What they say matters. Let’s pay attention.

At yesterday’s opening ceremony for the CAIS Student Leadership Conference at ECS, I had the opportunity to offer a few remarks. Instead of waxing poetic about my ideas, I decided to read some of the comments that I have heard from my 2051 Student Focus Groups across Canada. (I shared some of these trends in our recent newsletter, if you want to read about them.)

I took a chance, with the guidance and approval of Kathy Nikidis, who did something similar in her opening remarks, and I asked the students in the audience to tweet their best advice on schools of the future, using the #project2051 hashtag.

Here is what I got last night – directly tweeted!

  1. Schools of the future should offer activities that enable students to experience real life work and enhance the transition.
  2. Schools should customize learning to individuals. General learning makes workers. Individuality makes leaders.
  3. Don’t pressure us into fields we don’t like, instruct us about gender equality and sexuality + better sex ed education
  4. Classes that educate us about issues both in our community and globally. Classes that inspire us to help
  5. Bring back home economics, we need to learn to cook and other basic household tasks
  6. Schools should prepare students for their future careers. Simply asking “what do you want to be?” does not suffice
  7. Prepare us for the real world!!! Like taxes and mortgages, no one’s going to ask us how to graph a quadratic equation for a job
  8. Teach us real world applications. We need to be more informed about what’s going on around us.
  9. Students should be encouraged to enter non-science fields and end the stigma of non-science programs
  10. Focus more on adventures than academics
  11. Starbucks in school cafeterias
  12. Give the students more lessons about how to handle things in the real world and how to do practical every day tasks
  13. Purple uniforms
  14. Talk about sexuality and gender equality.
  15. Focus on internal and characteristic development. Let teens learn about psychology to better the understanding of brain

Clearly they range from the silly to the profound, and it was an entertaining moment to watch the audience share ideas then hover over their phones to tweet their feedback. Last night’s comments were very similar to the feedback in the past week at Rothesay Netherwood on Friday, St Clement’s on Monday, and UTT-Hertzliah and Lower Canada College on Wednesday. (Yes it has been a busy week of travel!)

I promised our students that every bit of feedback will be included in the final report that will be shared in July at the Leadership Institute, in October at the Heads and Chairs Conference and in April at the National Conference.

Here is the amazing thing – when we look at the research about what our schools should be doing, we see that there is great alignment between that and our students’ comments. So if I were to wax poetic, I would offer this: time to ask the advice of our students – who will be our future parents! – and get their ideas about the future into today’s strategic plans.

2051 Focus Group at UTT-Hertzliah, April 29, 2015


2051 Focus Group at Rothesay Netherwood, April 24, 2015


When a dog barks in Toronto, does anybody hear?

I want to say that yesterday was unusual, but I find that every day at CAIS is full of surprises so in that regard, yesterday was typical. But there was a big announcement in our office yesterday, and the circumstances surrounding it confirmed that our team can handle the change.

Our team meets regularly by videoconference to update each other on projects. Three members of our team work from home so we find it valuable to connect this way, and because I travel so much, I sometimes join these conversations from places away from the office. We work productively, and we laugh as if we were in a room together.

This week was very typical in terms of time actually in the office. I was on an accreditation team and then speaking at a conference, so I was only in the office once all week. On a personal note, I have a dog, Ginny, who is quite fond of me (and vice versa) so I sometimes bring her to our office, especially if I haven’t seen her for a while. She spends her day at my side, mostly asleep at my feet, and the team tells me that they also like having Ginny around.

Our IT guy, Grant, was having an atypical day. He was only in for the morning meeting, so he also brought his dog to the office. This has happened occasionally in the past, and although it may seem odd to have two dogs in one six room office, the dogs mostly ignore each other.

So there we were in our meeting – five of us huddled around one desk with three others on the screen. (We were missing Val, who was at a meeting in Chicago learning how to incorporate survey data into the accreditation process.)

I had an announcement. My husband, Kevin, has accepted a job as Dean of Arts at the University of Ottawa. My plan, as I had already discussed with my board chair, is to move our family to Ottawa, run the office virtually, and come to St Catharines at least twice per month. I wanted to get everyone’s reaction.

Grant summarized it well: we are already a great example of how a dispersed office can collaborate productively and not much will change with a move of your home.

Janice noted: I am home right now, but if this call was last week, I would have joined you from Kazakhstan and you wouldn’t have known the difference. Maybe this is a fake wall and I am actually on vacation right now!

We agreed that we are a results-driven and motivated group, and we are in very regular contact with each other regardless of where we are.

And that’s when Janice’s dog barked in Toronto. It was a faint bark that wouldn’t have interrupted our conversation, except that the two dogs in St Catharines jumped up and started barking in our office. We all laughed…. The timing was perfect proof that a virtual office can mean close connections.

The Critical Role of the Arts Everyday

What I realized this week is that the best moments of my own K-12 school years all involved one thing – music. In elementary school, my principal played the guitar, and we would gather on the stairway leading to the gym and sing. In high school, I was in three musicals as well as the orchestra, but my favourite times were singing and dancing for the Christmas shows we created for our local seniors residence. I also think about singing at special events at the cathedral in Hamilton and the incredible sound up in the choir loft. I wish I could capture the feeling – the rush! – of belting out Chicago’s You’re the Inspiration. If I close my eyes, I can picture our choir director standing up from the piano and clapping with arms wide open.

I had that similar rush this week at Collingwood School. I arrived at the brand new senior school and Rodger Wright gave me a running tour. The incredible front foyer had kids everywhere – including 60 Aussies who were visiting for a rugby tour! – and a totem pole carved by the same artist who created one for the Olympics; kids played basketball in the triple gym; dancers rehearsed in the studio; the music room has big windows, which is inspirational for the 200+ students in the orchestra; each of the classrooms is different, with moveable furniture. I saw engaged kids and adults everywhere, alone and in groups large and small. Great energy in a great facility.

About ten minutes before we were to start the 2051 Student Focus Group, after literally running through the school, we entered the choir room. The choir was prepping for a day at Kiwanis and packing up, but the director got their attention, called a girl to the piano, and convinced the rest to do what they were not prepared to do – sing one more tune.

Soon I was surrounded by Bridge Over Troubled Water. The students moved into groups. Rodger sang along. The director called out, “You can’t help but clap!” and I felt I was living an episode of Glee. Only it was better. These weren’t actors; these were kids who got to squeeze in a beautiful song before 8:28 in the morning, before they rushed off to their day.

And I have to say…. for me? It was pure, deep joy. I could feel it, but more importantly, I could see it in the students.

In my job, I don’t get these opportunities regularly. Not many people do! So I was envious when I told my focus group about my morning. They were clearly proud, but they also surprised me with their reaction. One girl summed it up: “That’s a day in the life of Collingwood.”

I don’t mean for this to be a Collingwood advertisement! The fact is this – the arts are alive and thriving in all CAIS schools. I happened to be in Vancouver this week so I can report on Collingwood, but I also saw an inspirational Film Festival assembly at Crofton House and the grand piano at the front entrance at St George’s. Last week, I watched the award winning robotics program at Crescent; the art work at Albert College, and the new blended learning opportunities at Greenwood. Every CAIS school – and I mean every! – celebrates the arts, and I am proud that our CAIS kids are inspired by that energy.

When I read about the deficits facing our public school systems, I imagine that morale must be low with that kind of stress. I don’t know how they will balance the books, but I do hope this: preserve the arts so we can ensure that students experience creativity, the sense of community that comes from a shared accomplishment, and the pure joy that comes from both. We owe this to our students.