Have you ever put a tooth in the microwave?

I believe in asking good questions. It is one of the mantras of our family; it was what drove the CAIS accreditation process; it is what I am thinking about today as I attend the EMA Heads Institute; and one of my summer projects is always to think about – and maybe even answer! – a few questions.  Sometimes, figuring out the questions is more important than figuring out the answers.

Here are my summer questions:

What to read?  I am lugging a hard-cover Harvard University Press book around called In Search of Deeper Learning.  With our new strategic plan’s direction of Authentic Learning, I want to understand: how can we ensure LCS is an inspirational learning community that includes mastery, identity and creativity?  Our Leadership Team is also reading Collins’ new book, Turning the Flywheel, and our summer project is to think about our unique flywheel. (Just so you don’t think I am completely work-obsessed, for fun, I grabbed a Louise Penny book).

How can we be even better?  Our school is thriving on several fronts and has achieved two significant firsts:  we were full as of May 1st with great students and we received our largest ever single donation.  This is simultaneously amazing and terrifying and raises more questions:  Why have we experienced some success? What if we can’t continue this trend? And what’s next?  I ask the same questions of myself.  I spend time writing out my key moments of the year – both highs and lows, for the school and for myself – and then I see what happens.  I return to the list over the two months and find this exercise valuable.

How can I think about revenue and our unique value proposition?  At the EMA Heads Institute, we began with some big trends about demographics and the economy.  When leaders who have worked with independent schools for decades say they are worried about the industry, I also worry about sustainability.  I always loved Chris Bart’s explanation of strategy – that there are three things and three things only that you need to think about strategy, and then he only has two:  revenue and unique value.  So how do we sharpen our unique value proposition saw? How do we generate more revenue and what are the creative ways to reinvest in our school?

As for the question posed in the title of this blog, it is not one of my summer questions. Kathleen is working at a camp and never fails to come home with funny stories.  As a family, we always laugh at good kid questions, and this, so far, is my favourite.  But it does remind me of the need to listen to student questions and pose questions back to them.   And then listen.  So here is my final question:

How can we prioritize student voice in our programs?  The pressures on teenagers are growing and we need to learn all we can to support, challenge and inspire them.  (As a Leadership Team, we listened to this podcast about adolescents and well-being: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/when-good-intentions-go-bad/id990149481?i=1000443425082.)  What I really love to do is meet with students and listen to their ideas.  I ask them how can we improve our school and learning. Next year, with our new vision statement, I will also ask how they will make the world a better place.

For now, however, as I head into my holidays, I might also spend some time thinking about what happens if you put a tooth in the microwave…

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Three Hopes for 2019

When I reflect on our first term at the Grove, three specific moments come to mind:

In the fall, one of our grade ten students wanted to express her gratitude for our food.  To be honest, her original motivation was not gratitude but frustration:  she was bothered that so many students complained about food.  She wrote to friends and asked them to share photos of their meals.  She then put together a presentation to remind our community that we are fortunate to have such diverse, healthy, and tasty meals prepared for us. This led her to an idea – she invited our food service team to chapel and thanked them on behalf of our community.

And then the moment happened.  Our students jumped to their feet for a standing ovation for our dining and cleaning staff.

The second moment actually happened numerous times in one week. This fall, our production of Mamma Mia! was beyond amazing.  Our little theatre was bursting with energy and everyone jumped to their feet for a standing ovation at the end of each show.  What I loved most is that people stayed on their feet, singing and dancing during the last couple of numbers.

The third moment – another standing ovation – was a complete surprise.  Our Christmas chapel happens in the evening after students enjoy a formal meal in the dining hall.  At the beginning, I noticed that students seemed restless, and, I was a bit nervous about their ability to behave appropriately for the duration of the service.  Turns out – they were more than respectful.  When Adam Bishop, a member of our Foundation team and a former Head Boy, walked to the front to sing “O Holy Night” accompanied by our pianist, there was a lot of energy in chapel.  I know that Adam is a talented singer, and yet I felt nervous for him – no matter your talent, it takes courage to perform solo in front of hundreds of students.  But he began, and we were enraptured.  At the end, there was a pause.  I sometimes wonder about the appropriateness of clapping during a chapel service, and it was as if the entire chapel was pondering the exact same question.  And just as quickly, the question was answered.  The entire chapel sprang to their feet clapping.  The final song that night – Joy to the World – was the most enthusiastic singing I’ve heard in chapel since my arrival.

Now here’s the thing about standing ovations:  They are spontaneous. They only happen in groups.  They are full of joy.

That combination, to me, is “So Lakefield…”

I hope your year includes moments of spontaneity, community and joy.  I hope you might be able to return for a visit this year, perhaps to experience our theatre, chapel or another event.  And I sincerely hope you’re really lucky, and you get to be part of the transformative experience of a standing ovation at the Grove.

Happy new year!

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Highlights from 2018 at Lakefield College School

 

 

 

 

 

Our ‘Lake’ is more Lakefield than ever

We are not sure how many people joined us for Fall Fair 2018.  We outgrew the dining hall and had to move the alumni dinner outside, and even at that we had a waitlist.  Our food service provider told me he made 1300 chicken breasts and had 50 left – only at Lakefield would we use chicken as our metric.  Everyone said it was going to be the largest ever Fall Fair, and it was.  But not just because of the number of people.

On Saturday, we gathered to officially open our waterfront.  We wanted to do something special to celebrate and so we decided – why not throw a party?  We had the usual bake sales and raffles, with alumni from every decade, starting with the 40’s.  We also had children everywhere with bouncy castles, an art fair, and flags.  Our cake was a canoe with cupcake waves – it’s so amazing that I am including a photo below – and one unexpected outcome is that kids cried as they had to wait until after the official ceremony to dig in.  It was a party all right.

And then we gathered at the waterfront and the magic continued.  One of our students, Claire Campbell, worked with one of our teachers, Hugh Dobson, along with a whole crew of others, to organize a Paddle Extravaganza.  Over 80 paddlers canoed 10km of the Trent Severn Waterway – through four lift-locks – in support of the Canadian Canoe Museum.  Before arriving at our dock, they rigged up 41 flags, representing the 40 countries we have at the school, plus one from Curve Lake.  When they got within sight, hundreds of people gathered on our dock.  It was powerful and more than one person had tears in their eyes.  For me, I was full of anxiety about the wind and keeping to our program, but I just had to stop and enjoy the moment.  I relive that feeling every time I hear a story about their paddling experience – when the Turkish brothers made sure that they paddled with their flag; when the group yelled to slow down the American paddlers as they didn’t like the optics of them in the lead; when a staff member described the pride of paddling the canoe that belongs to her grandparents; and when the string quartet and the trumpeters surprised the paddlers by serenading them at the locks.  It was powerful.

And there was more.

Our waterfront is on the shores of Lake Kathchewanooka, and Katchewanooka is an Ojibway word, which directly connects us with our indigenous peoples, who also paddled our lake.  We enjoyed the music of Unity, an a cappella women’s group who perform their own work as well as traditional Indigenous music and began our ceremony with an Anishinaabe elder who acknowledged the land with a blessing and prayer.

Our students performed – we are one of the first schools in Canada to produce Mamma Mia! and we got a sneak peek preview of that show, with our dock as our stage. And we wrapped up the ceremony with a good Canadian song – everyone joined in the singing with our Rock Choir of ‘Ahead by a Century’.

It was a deeply meaningful and symbolic day.

Our new waterfront captures the best of the past – with our iconic boathouse looking spiffier than ever – with the best of the future – with our new dock reaching out into Lake Katchawanooka.  Katchewanooka means lake of many rapids, and typically, rapids are sections of a river where the water moves quickly.  It is the constant flow that ensures nourishment to the environment.  We are inspired by the idea that our lake is a symbol of change.  We began our official opening with our oldest alum – our past – paddling alongside our youngest student – our future.

This year, as we launch our strategic plan, we are working on our current – to maintain a balance of honouring our past and our traditions, but always moving forward with strengthening our strengths, and a genuine openness to always being better.

We know that we want our students to care, connect, and contribute.  We want our students to be known as leaders who demonstrate a responsibility to the environment.  We want our students to be known for their passion, particularly for their community.  When a school like Lakefield, that has been thriving for 139 years, considers its future, the question is not just what needs to change. The question is also what must we preserve.

We have a saying around here – That’s so Lakefield – and there were many moments on Saturday when that was the case. I am grateful that our new waterfront provided us with the chance to celebrate and be reminded of the power of our environment and the strength of our community. unnamed-1

 

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Expressing Individuality

Last week at The Opinicon, I did one of my favourite things: I spent time watching little children.  (I hope that doesn’t sound too creepy!). As I sat enjoying coffee, I spotted three children, probably around the age of six, heading towards the park.  It was one of those boiling hot July mornings, and two of the kids wore little tank tops, the kind with the spaghetti straps, and shorts. But one wore a long-sleeve – full length – jacket that was yellow, with a couple of red stripes, and when she turned around I saw that the back had big letters: “CHIEF.”  I love that kids express themselves so openly and confidently, knowing what they want and going for it.  Why let a heat wave get in the way of being chief?

The second scene was at the pool.  There was a boy – younger this time, maybe three years old? – who jumped into his parents’ outstretched arms. I watched as he scrambled to get the water out of his eyes and recover a bit, and then he shouted a word familiar to every parent:  “Again”.  I stopped counting the number of times this exact activity occurred.  Every parent has been in this situation – over and over.  I remember the enthusiasm of Jacob and Kathleen in these moments in the pool or in the park or wherever, and I remember struggling to just go with the moment.

Now there was a time when I thought I would be a junior school teacher – I would spend my days laughing and being inspired by their passion and creativity.  That quickly passed.  The requirements of the job – like managing the energy and personalities of 25+ children in one room – made me realize that I was more suited to teaching teenagers.

But the individuality and passion of both children got me thinking – when those kids grow up to be teenagers, they will not express their feelings so openly.  If they have been lucky enough to even discover their passion, they will more likely choose to try to fit in.  It is just that stage of life.  So there’s the fun part of my job.  How do the best high schools create opportunities for teens to be fire chiefs and shout “again”?  Three strategies come to mind.

People:  Teens need inspirational adults – those who pursue their own interests while also proactively engaging them to figure out who they are and what motivates them.  Teens don’t miss a beat; they listen and watch adults carefully, and they sniff out authenticity.  Teens are most drawn to adults who know and can be themselves. The best schools understand this intuitively and invest in attracting, developing and retaining a variety of inspirational adults.

Place:  Teenagers, especially, will take time to explore and connect with their environment.  They might not express this until much later in life, but place matters.  So the best schools invest in inspirational classrooms and spaces, both indoors and out.   Having spent a year at Lakefield, I now understand the expression that the classroom is the third teacher.  We see the benefits of being outdoors every day, and we know that teens thrive when their environment calls them to explore.

Programs:  Teens need choice.  Lots of choice.  They need to pick courses and clubs and activities that they want to try, and if they don’t want to try, they need policies that require them to get involved.  At Lakefield, as in all great schools, students are required to participate in arts and athletics, and they must engage in something every day after classes. We also encourage students to compete and push their limits.

When I recently saw a photo of one of our students winning the Dalglish Art Award, I was reminded that teens can find a way – when people, place and programs align – to express their passions and enthusiasms.  Teens may not express themselves as easily or as frequently as children, but we need to work hard to support them.

And when they do, we should all pay attention.

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That’s so Lakefield

One day this week, as I watched Garret Hart empty maple tree buckets in the rain, I thought – that’s so Lakefield.  And immediately a bunch of other images came to mind:

  • I walked past Ondaatje House one night and saw Jenn Browne working with a student on a university admissions essay. Why was that “so Lakefield”?  It was after 9:00pm and there was a teacher in a common room working with a student.  No big deal. That’s just what happens around here 24/7.
  • It was 9:25pm one night last month, and I was waiting for the Grove house girls to come over for cookies. I went to reception thinking they might come through the school; then I stood in my front hallway, thinking they would come to my front door, and wondering if anyone would show up.  And that’s when I heard a bunch of giggling girls coming through my house. They let themselves in my backdoor.  Of course they did.
  • In the middle of our Dance Showcase, a ring came down and one of our girls performed Cirque du Soleil style maneuvers as part of the dance. I had no idea our students were so talented, but when I mentioned this to an alum, he said, “That’s so Lakefield” (I’m not even kidding).
  • I walked in to Bruce McMahon’s class and they were studying da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (based on the concept of ideal human proportions). He suggested his students should measure him.
  • As I sat in chapel, listening to a chapel talk and facing the student body, I noticed a number of teary eyes, and felt my own eyes welling up. Only the alumni will really understand this one, but tears in chapel is so Lakefield.
  • I walked down the path of our Northcotte Campus to join everyone at our Winter Carnival. Around the corner comes a team of horses pulling a sleigh full of students.  We hire eight teams of horses for this event, and one of our student clubs restores antique sleighs. Now THAT is so Lakefield.
  • In a meeting one day, I looked out on our field, and was surprised to see a whole class out snow-shoeing. No one else thought this was unusual.  As I am learning, this is so Lakefield.

So as I look out my window and see that the ice on the lake has partially melted, and I think about our students coming back for our final term, I wonder how many more “so Lakefield” moments there will be.  I keep hearing that spring is the best time of year around here, and I for one, cannot wait to get started.

 

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Making time for “the moments”

Last Sunday, I woke up to a note from a student I taught at Lower Canada College 15 years ago.  And it made me wonder – what makes a student wake up and write to an old teacher?  What are the moments that stand out, years later?

Ryan was part of a student trip to China that Kevin and I lead one March break, and we got to know his group of friends really well.  You tend to bond when you experience places like the Great Wall and the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (home of the terracotta warriors).  But he didn’t write about our trip.  Ryan was a very good student, and I taught his brother and got to know his parents as well.  But he didn’t write about anything that ever happened during a class.  The truth is, if you had asked me years ago, to identify the student who would write to me out of the blue 15 years later, I am not sure that Ryan would have topped the list.

So why did a former student wake up in February and write to an old teacher?  With his permission, I share it here:

Hi Mrs Kee,

I was thinking about our long-term character flaws you asked us to work on.

Pete was compassion, Dave was chill, I was leadership and Joe was step up. I wonder how we all did on our various projects. I asked Dave and he said he is not much more chill. I think Joe has certainly stepped up as he is going to medical school which is quite a challenge. Not sure about Pete’s compassion (although he did send me a very nice note when he skipped my wedding).

With regards to my trait of leadership, I would have been even more specific and said that I needed to work on assertiveness (an element of leadership).  Sometimes I have the tendency to be too passive instead of grabbing the bull by the horns. I probably have improved since grade 11 though.

Hope you are doing well at the new school. Patti MacDonald sent me your new email address.

If you still want, I can try to organize a reunion (I can take the “lead” on that).

Best,

Ryan

He is writing about a conversation that we had had, along with his group of friends.  It was actually a moment I also remember well, as does Kevin, which is remarkable given all of the students in both of our lives over the years.  This is a conversation that happened for two reasons – we knew each other well and we had opportunity to talk about something meaningful.  Time is key here.

I’m reading the new book by the Heath brothers, The Power of Moments, and they ask a question that I find compelling – what if a teacher could design a lesson that students would remember twenty years later?

Ryan’s letter is a good example of the power of moments.  I’m not sure, however, that moments are easily created.  I would not want curriculums all over the world to include a “life conversation”, thinking you can create a meaningful connection as if there was some kind of superficial magical formula.   The Heath brothers are talking about Disney; I am talking about having the kind of talks you can only have with people who know each other, over time.

For teenagers, what they want – and need! – are adults who get to know them and take the time to challenge their thinking.  In the case of my conversation with Ryan, it was authentic – and clearly turned out to be memorable – because you had people spending time together and actually speaking to one another about real issues that mattered.

We are all busy.  Most of us feel that we are too busy.  But this email is a powerful reminder that we need to slow down, put our phones away, and spend time connecting with each other.  And then for the moments to really be memorable?  We need to connect again and again, so when the chance to have a life conversation happens, we won’t even know it is a life conversation, because it is just what we do.

Thank you, Ryan, for this reminder.

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.