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

Advice to Teachers (from an Awesome Teacher)

The month of June can be tough on teachers – everyone is tired, cranky, and ready for a holiday. I was so inspired by the story of one of Jacob’s favourite teachers, Rory Gilfillan, that I asked him to share it:

Last week I was talking an Advisee down from great heights.  She is shy.  She also LOVES history and has a 97 in it.  She desperately wanted to win the History Award.  I don’t teach this course so I have no influence. I wasn’t sure she would get it so I ordered a book on Amazon called Inventing Freedom and then I got a card.  I texted her and told her to meet me under the tent they have put up for grad.  Turns out her Mom was with her. I set out two chairs at the back and made a small speech at the front outlining the short but distinguished pedigree of the Gilfillan History Award for Awesomeness.  I then called her up receive her award.

It’s seriously the best thing I have done in a very long time.

The interesting part of it was how long it took me to figure it out.  Katherine had a 97 in history but a lower mark in Math.  I kept saying, “Why on earth are you stressing about History?  You don’t even need to write the exam and you would still do well.   You really need to be stressed about Math.” And then, after a long back and forth conversation, I worked it out.  She wanted the award.

Quite frankly, I don’t always listen closely enough or hang in long enough to get to the truth.  In this instant I slowed down my usually high frequency operation and hung in two minutes longer.  There I found the truth, and I wanted to celebrate her.  This was a great moment for Katherine but, seriously, an even better moment for me.  I achieved, for about three minutes, what I came in to this profession to do:  I made a difference.

We, as teachers, spend so much time worrying about technology and assessment and making our classes good.  All fine and well but that’s not why I got in to this and it certainly won’t be what I remember when I reach the end of my career. I want to remember this lesson: I need to hang in on conversations in order to be able to hear what matters and then act on it.

I will remember that moment.

The best part is that the student in this story ended up winning the actual award at Saturday’s Closing Ceremony at Lakefield College School.

I wonder about this question – when she thinks back on her graduating year, which moment will be more cherished and memorable?

My guess is the audience of two, and my hope is that more teachers follow the lead of Rory Gilfillan.

 

p.s. I had permission from both Rory and Katherine Petrasek to publish this story.

 

What defines our CAIS culture?

Our CAIS team members talk a lot about culture in our schools. One of our most popular modules at our Leadership Institute is Faculty Culture, lead by Hal Hannaford; we introduced School Culture Focus Groups on this year’s accreditation reviews; and we always include the latest research on culture in our Top 12s.

I like what Angela Duckworth recently had to say about creating culture:

As [Seattle Seahawks head coach] Pete Carroll said to me, ‘it’s not one thing, it’s a million things.’ But there are some themes. One is language. It’s important to have a vocabulary that’s used within that organization, and not to use synonyms. The second is rituals: you can ritualize things like working on your weaknesses — at the Seahawks, they call it ‘Tell the Truth Monday,’ so it becomes a routine. On Mondays, we look at the things we’re doing wrong. Tuesdays we do something different. I think that’s helpful. The third is that in group psychology, you basically create an identity. When people who work in a very strong culture identify themselves, they often use a noun form, such as a West Pointer. Or at KIPP, the charter school, you call yourself a KIPPster — they will actually say out loud — ‘I’m not just a student, I’m a KIPPster.’ When you break down what a culture is, it’s reinforcing an identity of ‘this is who we are. It’s different from the way other people are, but you’re in this group — not their group.’

So at our staff retreat last month, knowing that we would be hiring a new Executive Assistant, (we are so sad to lose Lynne Turnbull but wish her all the best with her move to Europe!), we tried to capture our culture at CAIS. We wanted to be able to say: “This is who we are”.  Here it is:

  • We believe in better. We challenge our schools to be better through PD, accreditation and research; but we also challenge ourselves to be better in everything we do.
  • We are direct with each other. There is high integrity, kindness, and trust, but that only comes from feedback: we praise publicly and criticize privately. There are no surprises on our team. When you work in a virtual office, and even when you don’t, you have to speak up with confidence.
  • We deliver client service beyond expectations. We are a nimble team and everyone works hard to respond to member needs. We love to hear that members are surprised by what we accomplished for them.
  • We listen to our members. Although we also work hard to understand their needs by researching and observing schools, we are at our best when we can say that we heard you say this, so we did that.
  • We believe that everyone supports everyone on our team. We are results-oriented, which means that we prioritize our time according to the needs of the organization at the time. We are a small team, so we all have to pitch in on projects when needed.
  • We are background people. We understand that when you work for a membership association, your job is to make others look good, especially volunteers.
  • We presume good intentions. That’s just a simple rule for us.
  • We play to our strengths. We know each other well and strive for a model that leverages our capacity.
  • We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We work hard but we also laugh and pursue interests beyond our jobs. We know we are a bit quirky, and we like it that way.
  • We are comfortable with the unpredictable. Okay, we try hard to be comfortable with the unpredictable and may have to remind each other of this one! Working as a virtual team can be messy, which is why the previous belief is so important.

Full disclosure: Our strategic advisor suggested we model our approach on Google’s Ten things we know to be true. But at least we didn’t review Google’s until after we worked on our own. I hope your team might do the same!

One last point: The cover of this month’s Harvard Business Review is Managing the 24/7 Workplace, which explores the problems with today’s work environment like ours. We read this with great interest… here’s the conclusion:

BR1606_500What defines our CAIS culture?By valuing all aspects of people’s identities, rewarding work output instead of work time, and taking steps to protect employees’ personal lives, leaders can begin to unravel the ideal-worker myth that has become woven into
the fabric of their organizations. And that will enhance employees’ resilience, their creativity, and their satisfaction on the job.

At a time when people seem to be criticizing the high intensity workplace, our team seems to have it figured out. Always good to have Harvard on your side…