Where do Middle School Students Learn Best?

At our upcoming Heads and Chairs Meeting in Ottawa, our theme is Place, Pedagogy and Purpose, and we will have an Architects Panel. This question will be part of our conversation.

But for now, I have reason to believe they learn best outdoors. Last week, over 100 Middle School Students from CAIS schools across the country gathered at Camp Onondaga. This year, our program focused on significant youth issues:

  • Bullying
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Social Media and Identity
  • Student Mental Health
  • Aboriginal Education

We were intentional about mixing the groups by province, and we gave them plenty of time to engage in conversations in the great outdoors. The photos tell the best story, but here’s some of the feedback as well:

– Students had many opportunities to meaningfully connect with their peers. Almost instantly, students developed friendships with students across Canada. Between their cabin groups, passport groups, and the time spent doing the camp activities, students were constantly having fun with new faces.

– The presenters told me that they were impressed with how engaged the students were during the sessions and the number of insightful questions. It shows that our students are not only capable, but passionate about solving big issues.

– My quietest student said she felt that the staff and students made it really easy for her to step out of her shell and talk to people from different schools.

– My students found the camp extremely valuable for improving their leadership skills. All of the girls were happy to learn that there are many different types of leaders (something they did not realize)

– My students noted that the workshops were fantastic and loved how the social media workshop did not focus on the dangers of having a profile but how they could use their social media accounts to promote leadership.

– The Gender Identity workshop was very valuable. My students were inspired by the speaker and think Gender Identity is an extremely important topic for kids their age. One of the initiatives they would like to start at our school is a Gender Identity workshop for their peers.

Huge thanks to Philip Lloyd, our CAIS Program Committee, our workshop presenters, the Onondaga staff, and the CAIS faculty advisors. Most of all, thanks to our CAIS students for their passion, energy, and ideas. May you go on to change the world.

How do you stay motivated?

Last week, I met with my colleagues from 40+ independent school associations. We focused on the big challenges facing our schools – governance, student safety, insurance, globalism, and diversity to name a few – as well as challenges facing our associations – duplication of services, disruption, and strategies to enhance member value. Other than one session when we were inspired by Jason Dorland (who spoke at our NLC last year) it was pretty heavy stuff.

But the learning was powerful, and it got me thinking about a few of our recent CAIS projects – we are:

  • Launching our new Governance Guide and a series of strategies to support good governance in our schools
  • Engaging the Business Professionals in our annual Benchmarking that is now online; we are also considering a Captive Insurance program
  • Preparing a Culture of Philanthropy Webinar series
  • Developing a CAIS Orientation package to provide new leaders who join one of our CAIS schools with an overview of our mission, applicable resources, and how to connect with their national network
  • Continuing the 2051 Project conversations to ensure our schools are moving beyond talking about innovation (there’s no shortage of good ideas!) so they are actually engaging in the messiness of change.
  • Enhancing our CAIS accreditation so we have an even more efficient and meaningful process for whole school improvement
  • Touring international agents in our boarding schools as part of this year’s CAIS Fam Tour.

This weekend, when I took some time to stop and think about what motivates me, I realized that I am motivated by four things:

  1. School improvement work – I find it compelling to think deeply about what we can do better together as a group of independent schools.
  2. My team – I am really motivated by my team and their unrelenting focus on strategies that can support our passionate school leaders. I have to work hard to keep up with them, and I love that feeling!
  3. My colleagues – When I stop and reflect, I realized I am motivated by my time with colleagues. Last week in San Diego, when I was not in meetings and presentations, I had some time to connect with other association leaders. I was reminded of the value of time to connect with people who walk your walk. It is important to me to have time to talk through challenges and opportunities in non-structured ways. I appreciate my ISAnet colleagues who woke up early to run and bike.
  4. Taking time to reflect – When life gets busy, as it inevitably does in our world, especially in September, I find it helpful to remind myself of what makes me tick. I need to make time to reflect on how I spend my time. That’s good motivation for me.

And you?


The two biggest differences a teacher can make in September

Dear Teachers,

The buzz word of the day is personalized, and I follow the debates carefully. In August, McKinsey and Company wrote about how to scale personalized learning; this week, One Schoolhouse claimed to be the “first independent school with personalized student courses.” We all use the word, and at the very least, we all seem to agree that however you define it, you should articulate your vision for teaching and learning, and then you should live it. (Our updated CAIS Accreditation Guidelines includes this requirement: Through an ongoing consultative process, the school has published a definition of excellence in teaching and learning that encompasses current research.)

I am also excited by the way technology can enhance personalized learning. This week alone, I have had seven meetings with my colleague Claudia Daggett, President of ISACS, as well as NEASC/CIE Heads from around the world. A conference call is one thing, but meeting by Zoom allows us to see each other and thus create a deeper connection. This summer, when I had the chance to explore the work of the Global Online Academy’s Teacher Institute, I was inspired by their intentional focus on how to build community with students in an online environment.

But here’s the thing – while I care about research, technology, resources, and course content, and I care that you have learned about the latest in teaching and learning, including your definition of personalized learning, I mostly care about one thing and one thing only.

I care about my children and I care that you know, and I mean really know, my children. So as I think about personalized learning and what really matters to me, whether it is face-to-face or virtual, I think about two of the most important things you can do this month.

Number One: Get to know your students.

When I visited TCS last month, I was impressed that they asked all new students to share a one minute video about themselves. The faculty watched them in their opening meetings and the students will also get to see them. This is such a demonstration of a commitment to knowing students, and I was inspired by their intentionality. I know that TCS, like all CAIS schools, will continue to be intentional about knowing their students. To me, this means challenging and supporting them, sharing stories, and laughing together, in a way that you can only do when you know each other. Deep learning follows from there. It is the connection between teachers and students that is the most important differentiator between good and great schools.

Number Two: Connect with your students’ parents.

When I dropped off Jacob at LCS this week, I was struck by one thing. Hugging. Jacob hugged his friends, but also his housemaster, teachers and staff members. And so did I. The LCS community, like all of our CAIS schools, is so good about reaching out to parents. I didn’t hug the new residence don, Elliott, because I just met him, but I loved that as I pulled out, he yelled across the road: “Bye Anne-Marie and nice to meet you!” If he is the hugging type, I will hug him next time I see him.

My hope? Connect with me. It doesn’t have to be a long letter or phone call, but please
know that I want to be part of my child’s day-to-img_6754day, because all he gives me is a “good”. For example, I was sent a photo of Jacob as he was leaving for his four-day trip to Algonquin Park; I know this is a trendy marketing strategy, but I also know it made my day.

I appreciate that you have a zillion things to think about and do in September, and I thank you in advance for considering my request. Believe me when I say, it will make a huge difference.

Thank you, and have a great year.

Welcome to our new CAIS Heads

We are very excited to introduce you to the newest members of CAIS:

And welcome back to our colleagues:

We are thrilled to have such incredible leaders in our independent schools, and we wish them a warm welcome to our learning community.

Happy September everyone!