About Anne-Marie Kee

Head of School and CEO of Foundation at Lakefield College School

This is the season of gift-giving

When our children were in kindergarten and grade one, they were standing at the bus stop and my husband, Kevin, overheard this conversation:

Jacob – The kids at school are saying that Santa is not real.

Kathleen – What?

Jacob – The kids at school are saying that Santa is not real. It’s our parents.

Kathleen – Jacob, do you really think our parents fly all over the world on a sleigh, giving gifts to other kids?

And that was the end of it.  He was convinced, and we were humbled.  Our children just could not imagine that their parents could be that generous at gift-giving.

Since I have arrived, four months ago, I have seen that gift-giving happens at Lakefield College School.

For example, this week, we heard our first chapel talk.  There are two gifts embedded in this tradition. The first is that teenagers stand in front of 350+ people and express gratitude for their friends and family. I asked Niko to share his speech with me, as I am pretty sentimental about firsts, and he will forever be my first chapel speech as Head of School.  With his permission, I want to share a couple of sections of his chapel talk.

Niko said this:

Nanna, there is not one negative bone in your body; you are the most optimistic, happy, and joyful person in the world. I aspire to have those same characteristics, which at the moment I do not.

The second gift within our traditional chapel speeches is that students give advice to their peers.  Niko said this:

I’ve experienced more in my time here at Lakefield than in my entire life. Lakefield is what you make it to be, and that’s what makes it so special. Basketball has been a huge part my journey at Lakefield. Times when I’m stressed and I have a lot of work or when I just don’t feel like me, I’ll just go and shoot hoops and that will make me feel better or distract me from whatever is bothering me.  For the people that haven’t found that something, this is the perfect place to find it. Lakefield gives each of us an opportunity to find that thing.  We have the facilities, the community, and the resources to find that something that helps you. That is what makes Lakefield so special.

There is a real gift in every single chapel speech when teens express this kind of passion – and vulnerability! – in front of hundreds of others teens.  I can assure you – it is very powerful to sit in chapel in those moments, as our students listen.

There is also the gift of sharing talents.  Our Grove Society Christmas Gathering is a perfect example of how our community develops passions – we get to enjoy our orchestra, choirs, creative writing, and additional expressions of passions like global initiatives and environmental stewardship. We have had an incredible fall with our Remembrance Day ceremony and our Damn Yankees musical, which are two of the best performances in the country.  There is talent at Lakefield College School – and it is reciprocal. Our faculty teach our students to bring out the best in themselves; and I hear our faculty talk about how much they learn from our students.  Gift-giving is a gift that gives twice, and there is a lot of generosity in our community.

We are also blessed to be part of a broader community. Lakefield is not just a school with teachers, staff and students. The power of this place is that parents and alumni are also actively involved. When I look around at the decorations right now in chapel, and I can see the care that went in to every decision – the maple syrup, the skis, the snow shoes, and the terrapin (I am waiting for the honey bee to arrive).  We are fortunate to have a community that shares the responsibility of caring for and celebrating our students.

Finally, I want to leave you with a thought about the real power of gift-giving.

I believe that our staff are exceptional.  They work hard and long hours.  They are passionate about their subject and the art of teaching and learning. But there is something more. I felt it as a parent, when my children were here, particularly when they went through some tough times and their teachers, Heads of House and frankly all of the adults that surrounded them, supported them.

Nelson Mandela once said – It never hurts to see the good in someone. They often act the better because of it.

I believe our staff and teachers see the best in our students and go above and beyond to support them to be the best people they can be.

Now that I have lived here for four months, I have to say that I now better understand the expression that Lakefield College is a feeling. Some have called it Grovey and I think that is a perfect word because no one knows what it means. But there is a feeling here that is created because of the relationships between students and between students and staff. I also cannot define that feeling, but whatever it is, it is the gift of this school and being part of this community. And I am grateful to be a small part of it.

So in this season of gift-giving, may you give the gift of sharing your gratitude for others – and expressing it!

May you give the gift of sharing your talents.

May you give the incredible gift of listening to one another.

And, throughout this entire holiday season and beyond, may you give the gift of seeing the best in others.

Our culture and hot chocolate

Yesterday, I think I experienced the LCS culture.

It was after lunch, and I was taking down a bunch of green stuff that was used by students to decorate my house (See photo below. Actually, this is another example of our culture – students on their spare decorated my house and, surprisingly, my office.) I called to a group of boys to get their help with stuff that was up beyond my reach.  Turns out, they were killing time before their final soccer game, and we chatted about their season and the fact that it was a cold day for soccer.

I had an idea.  Wouldn’t it be fun to make the boys some hot chocolate?  But there were many problems with this concept.  For starters, the game started in less than 30 minutes.  The other minor difficulty was that I actually had no hot chocolate or stuff to make this idea happen for 20 boys.  So I texted a few people then hopped in the car to buy chocolate mix.

And then the magic started. I ran into a bunch of dons and Rachel Cazabon who offered to buy everything from Tim Hortons. “They do this,” she assured me. By the time I got home, she texted to say that they actually don’t do this, but she could get me some cups and she would meet me in the dining hall so we could make it happen there.  I pulled in to my driveway and there was Derek Doucet with two pots. “We are an Outdoor Ed school. We can make this on burners outside of Runza’s house”.

And then it continued. I walked across the field and Rachel was already outside heating the water. Derek drove to the OE kitchen to get cups and bins and more hot chocolate mix. Vicky Boomgaardt and Garret Hart showed up, with their kids, and helped. And then the crowd began to gather. Heather and Adam Ross, Pete Andras, Carrie and Rory Gilfillan, Erica Chellew – and their kids! – were all hanging around. (There may have been a couple of campus kids who had a third cup!) There were other staff members around too – Darren Mossman, Sue Armstrong, D’Arcy McDonell, and of course Ian Armstrong was running the tournament and Darren Moffat and Danielle Labrosse were coaching. Jim McGowan and Vera Wilcox chatted as they drove along the road… I am sure I am missing others, but my point is that it was a Saturday afternoon and there was our community watching the game, sharing a few laughs, and just hanging out.

After the game, we ladled out three pots of hot chocolate to both teams and whoever else was around. Everyone chipped in and at the end of it all, there was no trace of anything hot chocolate related.

Someone wise once said, “the more acute the experience, the harder it is to define”. Not sure if I will ever be able to “define” the Lakefield culture. But I do know one thing. Yesterday, a happy part of it, for me, was about hot chocolate and all it entailed.

p.s. Thanks to Simon Spivey for also showing up and capturing the game and our culture!

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Hot Chocolate at Lakefield College School

The Secret Sauce of Great Schools

As we think about our new strategic plan here at Lakefield College School, we are engaging in professional development that is focused on our future.  All of us – staff and faculty – will aim to get off campus for one day to consider three questions:

  • What are the skills that students will need in the future?
  • How is the world changing?
  • How might LCS need to change?

We are in search of innovative practices; we will travel in teams that are cross-divisional; and our mandate is to talk about the future of our school.  Other than that, we are free to go wherever!  More on this another time.

Meanwhile, we are also doing additional reading, and I am interested in the following at the moment:

  • New research from the Sutton Trust, a British foundation focused on social mobility, finds that 88% of young people, 94% of employers, and 97% of teachers say life skills, such as confidence and motivation to tackle problems, interpersonal skills and resilience, are as or more important than academic qualifications. New research is finally supporting what educators have long known to be true: Students need more than just academics to succeed.
  • The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business:  Donna Orem from NAIS wrote an article about this book, and my favourite point is this:  due primarily to advances in technology and a near equivalent number of people in all age bands, age will no longer be a major shaper of attitudes and behaviors. Rather, people will be defined by their connections in communities.
  • Lifelong Kindergarten: To thrive in today’s fast-changing world, people of all ages must learn to think and act creatively —and the best way to do that is by focusing more on imagining, creating, playing, sharing, and reflecting, just as children do in traditional kindergartens.
  • Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: Strategy must ask the questions: who do we want to be? What are we great at? What will we be uniquely advantaged at doing?

But here’s the thing that I really want to think about:

When I was first appointed to be Head of School and Foundation, I got a letter in the mail from Mr Kim Krenz, a former Head of Science at Lakefield College School.  He was a good writer, and it was kind of him to write, plus I was intrigued that he was writing from a nursing home, so I wrote him back.  Since August, we have been exchanging letters regularly about teaching and Lakefield and life. I should add that he is 97 years old, and his nurse, Melissa Zubrickas, is a Lakefield grad.

They visited me recently, and I was quite moved by their passion for this school. Later that day, Melissa emailed me:  “I am 27 and Kim is 97, a 70 year difference; so it is quite amazing how LCS brings people together.”

No kidding it is amazing!

So while I want us to visit innovative places and read the latest research on the future of education, I hope that we take the time to think about what really matters.  To me, what has to be our focus – no matter what! – is people.  There is an abundance of theory on what is best for students and schools and what needs to change, but the secret sauce of great schools will always come down to connecting great staff and great students.

Here’s to my 97 year old pen pal who reminded me of the power of connections.

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Wandering

Since arriving in August, I have done a lot of learning.  I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on, and I have attended countless meetings. But perhaps my most important learning is the one that is hardest to define.

I didn’t set out with this plan to do this, but one day, I had been in a lot of meetings, and I decided that I just needed to get outside.  It was a gorgeous day and students were all over the fields, gym, and waterfront.  It was that afternoon that I first realized that the best way to really come to understand Lakefield College School is to just wander.  And so far, this has been my greatest joy.

I want to share five highlights of lessons learned from wandering:

  1. I have been visiting residences in the evenings for snack times.  This has become a bit of “a thing” – the Rashleigh boys dressed up in their jackets and ties; the Ryder boys, who told me they forgot I was coming so I should just expect a normal evening in the common room, were listening to classical music and reading.  Last week, the boys may have been outdone by the girls of Ondaatje.  When I arrived there, I found them meditating and praying with dim lights and calming music.  I have included a photo below.  When you zoom in on the shrine they were “praying” to, you can see their incredible sense of humour.  What I love about Lakefield is that our students are playful and they laugh.  A lot.
  2. Last Friday night, I wandered down to the bonfire that was organized by the grade 12s. I fell into step with three girls and asked where they were from:  Ghana, Japan, and Sudbury.  Lakefield is a global community, with 363 students from 36 countries and no more than 10% from any one country.  And I believe this experience is critical for developing global citizens.
  3. When I met with the houses, I asked them about their first impressions about the school this year, what they would like to see improved, and what advice they had for me, as a new Head.  I will give you a specific example, but know that this was pretty typical of the kind of responses I got.  One boy said this, “I arrived with one family, the one I was born into; but I will leave Lakefield with another… these guys” and all the boys went AHHHHH and pumped their hearts….What is amazing about Lakefield is the way our students speak so openly, so passionately, about things like love and connection.
  4. At the Grade 12 Opening Chapel, they sang, Land of Hope and Glory.  When they started to sing the song, I thought this is nice…But then they sang louder, and by the final verse and chorus, they just belted it out. Lakefield’s chapel remains the soul of the school, where students carry on certain traditions and start their days as a community.
  5. As I sat after school at the waterfront, in one of our new Muskoka chairs, slightly entertained by Garret Hart having to rescue a couple of windsurfers in his boat, Mike Arsenault joined me, and we had this long conversation.  That man has been teaching here for 36 years, and he is someone who captures, for me, the spirit of this school.  He wrote to me the next day, about our time together:

“For me, one of the things that is so true about this place is that no one hides. We get to see our students, each other, and ourselves as who we are. For me that is magic, and what makes this place so special and compelling. It fosters grace and compassion. We get to see the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between. I often feel the wash of emotions rising to the surface in unexpected circumstances and am surprised at their timing and strength. In those moments when we are most vulnerable, we also get to witness something sacred about ourselves and each other.”

So, whether I wander around different buildings or other parts of our property, I believe the places – and people – create certain feelings, and my suspicion is that these feelings have not changed over time.  For what I am discovering as I wander, is that this is a place about more than classrooms, more than academics; more than sports, arts and community service… Lakefield is a place where we are free to be ourselves, where we laugh, where we find out what makes us most passionate, and where we connect with each other.

So here’s to wandering….

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On Moving and Metaphors

On the first day I came to Lakefield, I was on my own. Kevin and the kids were on a canoe trip in Algonquin with Kevin’s brother and his kids – it’s their 12th year taking this trip – so I had to get to my new home alone.

I rented a UHaul van, which should have been all I needed, given that I wasn’t moving furniture.  When I got to the rental place, I was surprised when the guy told me that he had a 10 foot truck for me.

I said, “Really?  Do you really think I need a ten inch truck?”

And he said, “Honey, if you want a ten inch truck, head down the road to Toys R Us.  I’m giving you a ten foot truck.”

He handed me the keys, and when I found the truck in the parking lot, there was another guy rushing me to drive out quickly.

But I just stood there, staring at what looked to me to be a massive truck.  I had never driven anything like this before.  Was no one going to teach me to drive this thing? So I took a photo and texted my sister, who had just moved a few weeks earlier and also rented a truck.

I asked her, “How do I drive this thing?”

She wrote back, that Tony, her fiancé, drove it and he scraped the side along a bunch of parked cars. Her advice was this – “Whatever you do, stay left.”  That was it.

So I got in and started driving.  To be honest, I found the whole experience somewhat amusing and mostly irresponsible.

Part way home, I realized that something was wrong.  There was no rear view mirror.  How was I supposed to go forward, when I couldn’t see what was behind me?  I’m an English teacher, and I was so struck by this metaphor of me driving to my new life, without looking behind. Fortunately, at some point on the drive to Lakefield, I realized that there were two big, long side mirrors, so what I had to do was learn how to see behind me, just through a different indirect, side perspective.

About half an hour from the school, I realized that I was fine driving this truck forward, but I did not think I could back it up down the driveway to my new house.  So I texted Tim Rutherford, our CFO and Associate Head of School.

He wrote back, “When you arrive, park the truck and text me. I will take it from there.”

So here I am at Lakefield College School, with a few weeks behind me now.  I am asking lots of questions, learning to spend my time in new ways, focusing on the future while learning all I can from the past, and relying on others – many others! – in this amazing community.

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p.s.  When I arrived, Tim took this photo of me, which I thought was so thoughtful! Only later did he admit that he took the picture because he was happy to see the “$19.95/day” on the side of the truck!  He was clearly thinking about a different metaphor… so I will add that humour really ensures that we are all enjoying our new adventure together…

p.p.s. I will be updating this blog to the Lakefield branding very soon!  For now, my priority has been getting to know everyone here!  But stay tuned…

May there be moments

Everyone advised me to take time off between jobs.  Everyone.  Given that the Kee family is about to embark on major life adventures – with me starting a new job in a new community; Kathleen starting a new school; and Jacob beginning McGill – many people offered advice on how to cope with our upcoming change.  Some said to take a good month off; others advised that the amount of time was not as important as the need to actually get away.   My husband Kevin and I really thought about what our ideal holiday could include, and we decided to totally splurge on a two-week family trip to France.

But when we really thought about what it meant to “take time off,” we decided that in addition to time and place, we actually needed a third criteria:  a complete break from email or anything work-related.  For the first time in years, I didn’t have a professional book with me, and I didn’t have any access to email or social media.

The combination of extended time in a beautiful and interesting place, with no ties to regular life, created what our kids started calling – the dream vacation.  We were trying to be quite mindful of our dream vacation, so we planned our outings (and our food!) each day.  As those of you with teens understand, our kids sometimes could be cynical. Whenever we were faced with our trip not going as planned, like when we were lost or when it poured rain on our bike ride, the kids would lower their voices and snicker, “Dream vacation”.  But every night over dinner, we came to enjoy recounting the day’s adventures, and we focused on describing certain moments – highlights for each of us.  A few of mine include the following:

  • We turned a corner on our bike path along the Loire Valley and suddenly, as we pushed to get up a hill, we realized that we were between two enormous, as-far-as-the-eye-could-see fields of sunflowers. I remember gasping at the beauty.
  • We sat at the Louvre, staring at “Liberty Leading the People,” and Kevin came to life explaining the context. The kids and I marveled that he could recount so much history but also explain it in such a compelling way.  The moment was certainly the inspirational painting, but it was also this chance to be reminded of a strength of personality that we don’t have time to appreciate daily.
  • As we sat under a tree in the rain, we remembered that we had two umbrellas. Kathleen and Kevin sat under one, and Jacob arranged the second without realizing that he had left me completely uncovered. When Kathleen laughed and pointed to me sitting completely in the rain between two umbrellas, Jacob said, “But then my legs would be exposed.”  Almost immediately he was startled by the selfishness of what he had said, and we all laughed.  At other points on the trip, when there was a quiet moment, one of us would whisper, “But then my legs would be exposed,” and we laughed every time.

I guess my point is that a dream vacation includes beauty, inspiration, laughter and joy.  We are so grateful for our experience!  But now that I am back, I realize I want to try to do two things:  I want to seek opportunities for moments on a daily basis, and I want to take time to feel them and relive them.  My hope is that our dream vacation is not limited to two weeks in France.

And as we head into the second month of summer, my hope for you is that you have many moments of beauty, inspiration, laughter, and joy.  More importantly, may you take the time to know – really know and feel! – that you are experiencing a moment, and enjoy that moment too.

Transitions

Today I am between two great jobs – CAIS and Lakefield College School – and I am about to head off for a holiday of a lifetime.  But before I sign off from CAIS for good, and begin writing from my new position, I wanted to write a few thoughts to the members of our national organization.

As I said in my newsletter, I have two messages.

First – thank you. At CAIS, we always say that an association is like a gym membership – you only get what you put into it. Over the years, I have had to make many – MANY! – calls so that we could make things happen, and I have appreciated your investment of time to bring ideas to life. I get teased about how much everyone dreads the call or email from me, so I just want to say that I try not to take it personally!

I have been truly blessed by incredible leadership at the board level, by intelligent people who want to give their energy to our mission of whole school improvement and our vision to shape the future of education. A special thank you to my Chairs, all of whom have put in long hours behind the scenes: Tom Hockin, Jeff Paikin, Rob Cruickshank, and Peter Jewett.

Finally, the biggest of thanks goes to the CAIS team. Something magical happens when you put a group of passionate, hard-working, smart and good people together… in our case, they are all of that and more. I have learned so much from them and will miss each of them.

I also want to say this – keep going. Our CAIS schools are filled with teachers who pour their hearts and souls into their jobs. Our schools are filled with students who will go on to change the world – I have no doubt about that! So our schools really need leaders, who will manage all of the day-to-day stress of schools, but who will also spend time thinking about how to make their schools even better.

The real challenge of the future of independent schools is that good is not good enough…we can never rest on our laurels. No matter how great our schools are – and CAIS schools are great schools! – we must strive to get even better…our students deserve our best and ongoing efforts.

In closing, the genuine commitment to improvement of our entire CAIS community has been a driver for me over the years. I look forward to maintaining my ties in my new role at Lakefield, and once I get my head above water, I promise to take the phone calls and give back, the way you have taught me to do.

For now – happy summer!

image1On a hike in Twillingate after our amazing CAIS Summer Leadership Institute…shooing away the mosquitoes…marvelling at the icebergs….and looking to the future…