About Anne-Marie Kee

Executive Director CAIS

On teaching goodness

With the drama in American politics and the Quebec mosque shooting tragedy this week, I find myself searching for goodness, and last night I think I found it.

I attended a production at Ashbury College by Dandelion Dance, featuring a diverse group of girls telling their stories through dance. These young women bravely took on important and very personal issues, and the whole experience of watching them was moving. But there was something else about the performance that was special. I don’t think any one of them was ever dancing alone on stage; this was never about a singular performance. I found myself watching their stories, but I was equally drawn to the non-dancing girls, as they stood along the sides, watching and smiling. They seemed genuinely supportive of each other. That vulnerability in teenage girls as they danced, combined with the open display of support by their peers, was profound.

I needed last night. I needed to see that the world is still full of joy, generosity, hope, and beauty. I know that life is not that simple, but I was reminded last night that it can be.

Can it be this simple for schools?

We have a responsibility to teach subjects. I know there is concern about the extent to which tackling world events should take precedence over “covering the curriculum”, but good teachers find that balance.

We are also getting better at teaching skills like creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.  We help students discover their passions and give them real-world opportunities to learn.

We are also focusing – very appropriately – on teaching mindfulness and wellness. As we think about all of the problems in our world, we need to engage our students in big conversations, and we must be mindful of their anxiety and help them to remain optimistic.

My hope is that we continue to take seriously our responsibility to teach goodness. Our CAIS schools are special communities where students learn and realize their full potential with innovative programs. But they are also loving communities where good teachers inspire students to listen, accept differences, build trust, and celebrate others.

It is that simple.

Who is shaping the future of education?

Between zoom meetings and school visits, I have been in conversations with over 40 school leaders this month – and it is only January 21st! Here are some highlights:

  • CAIS Boarding schools want to better understand the impact of a new President in America on high school student school choice. Will more students choose Canada? (In case there was any doubt, we think the answer is a resounding yes!)
  • Martin Jones, Principal of the Middle School at Mulgrave, was very kind to give me a tutorial on their pilot project on Live Time Assessment. He and Craig Davis were so motivated by John Hattie’s work on the 195 influences on student achievement, and the particular finding of the powerful influence of feedback on enhancing student achievement, that they are eliminating traditional report cards and moving to a system of continuous reporting. Their faculty is highly motivated and their parent body is hugely supportive. I admit – I am fascinated by this initiative, and Craig Davis will be leading two Catalytic Conversations at the National Leaders Conference (NLC). (See below for more links to this research).
  • Small schools leaders discussed the unique value proposition of small schools – relationships, opportunities to support learning, nimble environment to implement change quickly, student leadership, strong sense of community – and they want to explore creative opportunities for collaboration.
  • K-8 school leaders are passionate about the value-add of an independent school education that begins at age four. They are interested in finding more research to support the benefits of an early investment in education.
  • Erin Corbett, Head of River Valley in Calgary, introduced me to a new app called Seesaw, which is a student driven digital portfolio that enables easy parent communication. I was very excited to learn from a lovely student (see below) and when I shared my enthusiasm with the NLC Program Committee, I learned that a number of CAIS schools are piloting this and other apps like Sesame and FreshGrade. Again, more on this at the NLC.
  • When I met with the boards and leadership teams of Elmwood, Southridge and St John’s, I was inspired by their commitment to continuous improvement. Like all CAIS schools, they are already excellent, and yet they invest time in learning about international trends and research, and debating their choices.
  • This week, when I walked in to the office of Rob Lake, Head of Collingwood, he handed me a copy of The World Economic Forum White Paper, (included in yesterday’s Top 12) and told me about his commitment to inviting every parent – and they have over 1000 students! – to his home for dinner this year. I was moved by his dedication to knowing his community and developing relationships.
  • When I met with Carol Grant-Watt, Head of West Island College, and when I spoke with Conor Jones, Head of York School, they explained how they supported a fellow CAIS school in their time of need. I cannot emphasize enough that they were not bragging; they just wanted me to know about our powerfully caring community in CAIS.
  • The Catalytic Conversation facilitators and I met this week to prepare for the NLC, and I was reminded that the scope of initiatives happening in our schools in all areas of program and operations is impressive. Get to Montreal in April to engage with these leaders, and you too will see their leadership in action. One word for them – wow.

So, in answer to my initial question, in the title of this blog?

Without a doubt, our CAIS schools are full of leaders who are more committed than ever to learning and creating powerful opportunities to challenge and support students. Thanks for a great start to 2017.

Read more about the most powerful influences on student learning:

Teachers make a differenceimg_7847

Influences on Student Learning

Visible Learning summary

Visible Learning powerpoint

Alina Blunston is a Grade 3 student at River Valley School in Calgary.

 

Top Reads of 2016

What are the topics that defined independent school education in 2016? I scoured our CAIS Top 12 articles to find those that met two criteria – most important (to me) and most read (by you) – and I have organized them by our CAIS National Standards.

#1 Vision, Mission, Values and Strategy

I love predictions, and so do you…. Here are Deloitte’s predictions for the year ahead (2017).

#2 Co-Curriculum and the Learning Environment

We are all focusing more on helping students cope with the challenging issues they face today, and almost every strategic plan includes wellness. I am a fan of Lisa Damour, author of the New York Times bestseller Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. Read the book or read excerpts here.

#3 Academic Program

The popularity of this article should come as no surprise, as all CAIS schools are obsessed with providing the school experience possible. I love this finding from this popular Atlantic article: if high schools want to prepare students for college, they should focus less on specific content and more on critical thinking, reasoning, and teamwork.

#4 School Leadership

Here is a case of the title really saying all there is to say – The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around a Failing School. Who doesn’t want to read this Harvard Business Review article?

#5 Human Resources

Our new CAIS Accreditation Guidelines include a new Indicator on School Culture:

Policies and practices are in place to ensure that teachers and staff work collaboratively and actively to pursue positive, respectful, and appropriate relationships with their students and with other adults in the school community.

I could write a lot about why, but culture is definitely a priority for all schools. Hal Hannaford (Selwyn House) teaches a module at our CAIS Leadership Institute, and Jason Rogers (Rundle) is going to join him at our Summer LI at King’s Edgehill in July.

Here’s the culture article pick: The #1 Factor That Determines A Toxic or Thriving School Culture

#6 School and Community

Here’s a favourite topic for all educators – today’s parents. Robert Evans and Michael Thompson wrote about Parents Who Bully The School in this NAIS article, and perhaps somewhat unfortunately, this proved to be a popular choice with our CAIS readership.

#7 Enrolment Management

We have come a long way – thanks in part to the work of The Enrolment Management Association – in understanding that effective enrolment management includes recruitment, marketing, retention, and financial strategies. This popular article resonated with our CAIS community, probably because we work hard to be authentic and engaging with prospective families.

#8 Governance

The most important publication of 2016 was our CAIS Governance Guide…. Obviously! But this list of seven rules for board members’ fundraising is another popular – and super quick! – read.

#9 Finance

Truth time – the most read article was this one about the bbq test, and it is somewhat along the same lines as this more substantial McKinsey one: Are today’s CFOs ready for tomorrow’s demands on finance?

#10 Physical Plant, Health and Safety

There is a notable increase in, and sophistication toward, the approach to risk management in our schools, and I am proud that CAIS Schools take student safe-guarding so seriously.

#11 School Improvement

The most popular article was this one: These ten ideas are each getting $10M to Change High School.

If these kinds of ideas inspire you – and I hope they do! – join our National Engagement Forum hosted by SMUS and SAC. (Warning: No cash prize.)

#12 Boarding

2016 will be famous as the year that Trump was elected. What will be the impact on Canadian enrolment? Read:  College in Canada? Trump Effect. Alarm Bells in China. Is it safe?

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Happy New Year! The Kees on Brooklyn Bridge, New Year’s Eve, 2016.

Leonard Cohen and one of my best teaching moments

Teaching poetry to teenagers can be tough. I don’t remember where I got the idea from, but I used to focus on one poet a month and start each class by reading one poem. I actually read each one two times so the students had time to think about and write down their favourite line. This practice made poetry so accessible – everyone can choose one thing that they liked!

Once we spent an entire class on Margaret Atwood’s poem ‘It is dangerous to read newspapers’.   Something in that poem struck a chord that morning, and I had to make the call as to whether to push on to whatever we were supposed to do that day, or to let the conversation flow. I chose the latter, and now as I think back to best moments in the classroom, I wish I had done that more often.

I tried to focus on Canadians, but I had to share one of my favourites, Billy Collins, who was the Poet Laureate of the United States at the time. His poem ‘On turning ten” became a very popular assignment where students wrote about what they used to think as a child, and what they think now that they are getting older. I thought we were so high tech back then, since the students included photos of themselves as children with their poems. The glimpse into their childhood and their exploration of lessons learned made for incredible projects.

But my favourite moment was thanks to Leonard Cohen. Because he was also a Montrealer, we felt a certain loyalty and connection, and when one of my students brought in his parents’ CD, we had fun listening to our daily poems. My favourite Cohen line is from ‘Anthem”: there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.   But it wasn’t that poem, or ‘Suzanne’ or ‘Bird on the Wire’ or even the now popular ‘Hallelujah’ that became legendary in my class, it was one of his poems that never made it to song.

On the day we first read ‘For Anne,’ we talked about Cohen’s ability to conjure a powerful feeling in very few words. Truth be told, I think the class was mostly impressed that it was short and yet still considered a poem. So we memorized it.

Another day, months later, we were interrupted by a visitor, a very important person. I was honoured that my class made the tour, and knew that the pressure was on… we had to perform. I explained that we start each class with a poem, and on a whim, I asked if someone would like to recite one. It was already an inside joke, since we all knew there was only one poem that anyone could recite. But it became a funnier moment when one boy, in particular, raised his hand.

Every class has this student, the unpredictable one who is more likely to crack a joke than recite a poem. So I smiled and paused, trying to decide if I should take the risk. Would I find myself hours later, in the Headmaster’s office, listening to him express disappointment, as I had embarrassed the school in front of our distinguished guest? All eyes turned in the direction of my gaze. No one moved, and yet the room was bursting with the hope – and anxiety! – that he would be the chosen one. What would he do?

I nodded, and he stood, as the students were trained to do, and buttoned his jacket. He looked like the portrait of academic excellence.  And then he recited:

With Annie gone,

whose eyes to compare

with the morning sun?

Not that I did compare,

But I do compare

Now that she’s gone.

All eyes remained on him as he delivered it perfectly and sat down to rapturous applause.

As a teacher, there are moments of pure joy in the classroom, and that was one of them.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen.

p.s. Watch the NFB’s film, Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen, here.

p.p.s. I just found my old work with the National Film Board called Canadian Poet a Day.

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Leonard Cohen in concert, December 2012.

The Great Canadian Curriculum Debate

We are bringing together the academic leaders from all of our CAIS schools, and organizing something called The Great Canadian Curriculum Debate on Tuesday April 11 at 8:30am in Montreal.  This is the final morning of our National Leaders Conference.

Our panel will explore what is best for Canada, our schools and our students.

In Canada, a provincial curriculum is required in all schools, including independent schools, whether they receive provincial funding or not.  We also have schools choosing other curriculums in addition to the provincial requirements – IB, AP, Reggio Emilia, and Montessori. When it comes to university admissions, we see that universities accept the IB diploma from high schools all over the world, except from Canadian high schools.

Should we consider truly independent independent schools, from a curriculum perspective? What do other countries do? Which is ideal?  If one of the provinces has the “best” curriculum, could we do more to share nationally?  Our vision for CAIS is shaping the future of education, and more and more I am hearing that we cannot do this while we are bound by provincial requirements.  Can there be a new national vision?  Of interest in terms of university admissions, would universities accept students who didn’t have the provincial diploma, for example?  I asked an education lawyer, and he said he does not think anyone is bound by law to only accept provincial diplomas, so what would it look like if independent schools offered their own diplomas? Or could CAIS offer a diploma?

The role of curriculum is also changing. Enormous time and resources are focused on developing curriculum and ensuring its effectiveness. But we know that the teacher is the key. Meanwhile personalization and technology are upending schools. So as we shift toward a more personalized model of education in our technology driven world, what is the value of curriculum? How will a set curriculum contribute to developing well-rounded people, who want to pursue their individual passions and make a difference in the world? And when you have the confidence to allow your teachers and students to thrive in this innovative environment, how will assessment and university admissions change?

We believe that Canada needs more innovation and leadership from our K-12 schools, and we are excited to invite leaders to the table to help shape the path forward for our schools and our students.

To join our CAIS National Leaders Conference, you must be in an academic leadership position.  To register, click here.

p.s. One of my CAIS Board Members, Michaele Robertson, suggested we have a look at this http://www.nzcer.org.nz/sites/all/libraries/games/.  It is New Zealand’s way of puzzling through the same question.

 

Ten Reasons why CAIS Schools are Leading the Future of Education

Last week, we held our annual meeting with all CAIS Heads and Chairs, and our theme was Place, Pedagogy and Purpose.  Rather than try to tell you why I came away from that meeting full of inspiration about our schools, let me show you the theme in action in the CAIS schools I visited this month.

CAIS Schools are inspirational learning places

  1. img_6913Rundle College in Calgary has a new facility including a spectacular dining hall for their junior students.  When I say that the future of facilities is glass – you can see the impact of glass in this room with the ability to bring the outdoors in.  Very inspirational for those children to sit in round tables and enjoy their lunch.

 

img_69642.  The theme of dining halls and glass continues to Crofton House.  When I was there, I caught the choir rehearsing. Listening to those girls singing made my day! Crofton has also invested in their food services, so the choice of healthy interesting meals is also noteworthy.

 

 

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3.  One more place that uses glass to create a beautiful space is found at Mulgrave.  When I visited earlier this month, I was blown away by their new facility and how they use space to display student artwork. Our accreditation team arrived early and walked in to the sound of children singing – again, cannot tell you how amazing it is that our schools celebrate the arts!

 

CAIS Schools are passionate about pedagogy

img_69794.  At Mulgrave, their new facility includes creative learning spaces, including private study rooms.  In a world that is so busy and highly collaborative, I was inspired to see some students search for this kind of space to enjoy quiet study.

 

 

 

img_69765.  We know that the best learning happens when children have teachers who inspire them, share their passions, challenge them and listen to them, and provide regular valuable feedback on learning. I always ask to meet those teachers whom students tell me are their favourites.  Sometimes those teachers are pretty quirky!  Check out the door to one of the classrooms I saw this month – who wouldn’t be inspired by this character!

 

 

 

 

img_71756.  Learning happens everywhere.  Meadowridge has invested in their outdoor spaces that are just as creative as their indoor spaces. The accreditation team this week just had to wander into the bushes to learn about this piece of artwork.

 

 

 

 

 

CAIS Schools live their purpose deeply and with authenticity

7.  img_7095First and foremost, our CAIS schools put the needs of children first. Students are known at our schools, and teachers work hard to understand them as individuals.  CAIS schools are passionate about students.  CAIS teachers know that their influence extends beyond the academic curriculum.  At our Heads and Chairs Conference, we heard from Dr. Mark Miliron who reminded us of our greater purpose in education.

 

 

 

 

8.  img_6899Our CAIS schools are passionate about the arts and about learning.  Take a look at this Wonder Wall at Rundle and the description of how the teachers inspired their students to Be Curious.

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9.  img_6953Our CAIS schools have made a firm commitment to being Canadian.  What does that mean?  It means they celebrate diversity, history and culture.  It means that they offer Financial Assistance to ensure great students can attend, regardless of socio-economic status.  Last week, I attended an Old Boys Summit at Upper Canada College, where they have raised over $50 million to ensure a more diverse student body.

 

 

 

 

10. img_7161All CAIS schools partner with parents, and our CAIS boarding schools go the extra mile to connect with parents of students who live where they learn.

Last week, my son’s advisor sent me this photo of Jacob playing soccer.  He is a boarding student at Lakefield, and I miss him a lot!  So I feel so good when one of his teachers contacts me to show me what he is doing.  I know this is cheating – to show off my own son! – but I really see that all CAIS schools take this kind of personalized communication seriously.

 

 

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.