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.

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.

 

 

Four Images that Reveal the Future of Education

When I finished high school, I worked at Flaherty Manufacturing Company. Most days, I stood all day at a rivet machine, attaching latches to bright red toolboxes. Some days, I was called downstairs and given gloves, and then my job was to pull these bright green garden hose holders off the paint line. In the beginning, no one spoke to me. What’s worse, the woman on the next machine would growl at me a couple of times a day. I couldn’t figure it out! And then I caught on. There were scheduled breaks and a lunch, but there was also a steady stream of washroom breaks in between. When I eventually discovered that the nod was my queue to go to the bathroom, the growling stopped. I fit in, and thus ended the only challenge to six weeks of pure monotony.

That scenario is not the future, and fortunately, very few Canadian students will ever experience such regimented and dull days. But can we predict anything else with such certainty? When you consider that Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times per year, I would say there is very little that we can predict.

But in the past few months, I have been in Boston, New York, Toronto, and San Francisco, and I have four images that may reveal the future:

IMG_49861.  At Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, I saw my first all-gender washroom, and last month, Toronto District School board announced that every school will install one in the coming years. We have gathered the latest in transgender resources for CAIS schools, and I believe that all schools have work to do to better support today’s students.

How are we ensuring our schools are affirming, safe and inclusive for all students?

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 11.50.00 AM2.  At the Minerva headquarters, I joined a team from SAC and GOA (Global Online Academy) for a presentation on this new university. Their platform ensures that students engage in deep learning with the most intentional feedback system I have ever seen. The program is a combination of online and experiential learning in 7 countries over 4 years, with a tuition of $10,000 per year. In this screenshot, you see how professors can track students’ participation with the colour coding at the top of the screen. This, my friends, is the future of learning.

What blended opportunities can CAIS schools provide to all students?

3.  At RIMG_4928yerson University’s DMZ, the largest community of innovation startups exists in Google’s original office space (check out these cool office photos). DMZ stands for Digital Media Zone and students and entrepreneurs collaborate on projects of their choosing and pitch their ideas to investors.  The future of work is not in a factory where you punch in and out; the future of work does not even guarantee you a weekly income.

How are we developing passion-projects and preparing students for the new reality of unpredictable work?

 

IMG_49314.  From my home, I work with a team of colleagues and volunteers, and we all meet by video conferencing. This last image is a screen shot of our recent Research Committee meeting by zoom. (I love zoom’s recent ad.) When you work from home, you really need to rethink work, time and work-life balance. When I heard Arianna Huffington in New York, I bought our whole CAIS team a copy of Thrive, her book about redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom and wonder.

How are we challenging students to define success as more than money and power so they passionately pursue healthy and meaningful lives, beyond their work?

Now I recognize that it is pretentious to predict the future, and, like a good Canadian, I want to apologize. But it is so exciting to see what’s happening, and I believe our schools have a responsibility to really think deeply about the future of the professional and personal lives of our students.

My hope is that these images – and questions – contribute to the ongoing conversations.

Two things differentiate the best schools in Canada

Last week was a busy travel week, with meetings in five CAIS schools in three provinces. If that cross-Canada perspective doesn’t impress you, consider this – none of the schools were in Ontario. I met with students, staff, leadership teams, and boards, and in every school, I had the chance to build on the work of our 2051 Project.

So what’s new? What impressed me most? Two things:

CAIS Schools are doing even more to differentiate their programs and enhance their unique value

What I saw in my travels was inspirational:

I was struck last week, as is often the case, by the commitment to providing more than the provincial requirements in terms of curricular and co-curricular offerings. But there’s more.

I have been conducting 2051 Student Focus Groups for over a year (See our video here) but last week, I took time to ask students about this idea of “more.” What I heard is that they want less traditional classes and more focus on life-oriented, real skills and experiential learning. And what, specifically, do they mean by “more interesting stuff”? Here’s their list:

  • Home economics – Why can’t schools teach us to prepare healthy food?
  • Finances, mortgages, taxes, and budgets – Everyone needs to learn this, so why don’t schools teach this? And not just in a lower level math class – schools should teach financial acumen to all students.
  • Cars and other opportunities to make and fix things – There’s a difference between “book smart” and other kinds of smart. Students don’t want to be naïve and lacking in hands-on activities that are worth learning.
  • Global issues and market trends – What is happening with Alberta oil and gas? Students may get this in certain classes, but they want to be on top of world events, and they want more debate on current issues.
  • People skills like communication and team work – Why is it considered an added bonus when some great teachers choose to focus on this?
  • Arts – Why can’t high school allow more time to explore more of a variety of activities?
  • Opportunities for personal discovery, character development, and leadership.

The challenge for schools is always time. How do you meet the provincial curriculum, get your students in to the best universities, AND offer more experiential and co-curricular opportunities? Fear not! Students can make this happen too – offer more experiences, especially at younger ages; redesign how we teach the current curriculum; create flexible schedules; and rethink learning opportunities outside of the classroom.

As usual, I ended the week with confirmation of one simple truth:

CAIS Schools ask, listen and act on, the advice of their students.

p.s. Honoured to make the January 22 Photo of the Day at BCS!