My First Year

As I come to the end of my first year as Head of School, many people have asked me to reflect on how it has gone, and I can begin by saying – it has been quite a year.   First, I have tried to catch on to the unique language of Lakefield:  Paper Houses, Gladiator Day, Grove time, Chapel cards, K-Rod, Fort Night, TOD, DSB, and so on.  Special places seem to come with special language.

But when I really think about it, I cannot define this place or how I am experiencing it, without conjuring certain moments.  Some people take photos in those moments, but they are often disappointed that the image doesn’t do it justice.  Artists and writers strive for their lifetimes to capture the emotions of a moment, and the very best succeed.  I will do my best below to capture one of my Lakefield moments – in words and a photo – that captures a moment that defines my year.  Here goes…

It was a warm evening in June, and I wandered down to the waterfront to see if anyone was outside after dinner.  Now, you might think that being a community of teenagers, you would see everyone on their phones.  Not here – the volleyball court was going full-on with an intense game, there was music, and there were students all over the new deck and lawn.  And out on the raft in the water, a group of students stood waving and calling out, “AMK!”.

That was my Lakefield moment.

I felt proud of our students.  In the hours between dinner and study, our students were outside, in the water, on the grass, playing, and having fun.  They were forming the kinds of friendships that only come from these kinds of shared experiences, and they were dealing with the stress of culminating assignments, tests, and exams in such a healthy way, outdoors.  I also felt proud of our staff, who figured out how to adjust to our new waterfront to make this happen.

Most of all, I felt I belonged.  I’m not sure when students started calling me AMK, and they don’t usually address me this way (to my face at least!) but when that group called out to me, I couldn’t help but feel this incredible joy that only comes when you feel part of a strong community.

For over a century, people have tried to find the words to define the Lakefield difference, as I have just done.  My hope is that we never quite manage to define the magic of this place and my larger hope is that our experiences here continue to be so profound that we never stop trying.

I, for one, promise to keep trying in the years to come.

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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.

Where do we lead?

Last week, our Leadership Team, along with members of the Strategy Task Force, the School Board and the Foundation Board, all met for a day long retreat.  We had a great speaker (Tim Fish, Chief Innovation Officer with NAIS, and author of On the Innovation Journey) and a great facilitator (Susan Wright, who already lead our Joint Governance Review process, so she knows our community well).  In addition to the usual small group discussions and yellow sticky notes (Can you do strategy without them these days?!) we completed a pyramid with the base being areas we want to match, the middle being areas we want to differentiate, and the top being area(s) we want to lead.

I just love that question – where do we want to lead?

I am reminded of the story of the famous artist who created a sculpture of a beautiful horse.  Someone asked the sculptor: “How did you create such a beautiful horse?” The sculptor replied: “It was simple… I took away everything that wasn’t a horse.”

As we go through this strategic plan process, I cannot help but think that we are working away at creating a beautiful sculpture as our core is already within us if we keep researching, thinking, talking and listening.

Later on in the week, after listening to another outstanding chapel speech, I wondered if those moments in chapel might be it.

In chapel talks, we give our students permission to be and express themselves.  We have already seen a wide range of topics, and while each follows a bit of a pattern, each is wildly different.  I think Tim Rutherford summed it up best when he commented: all of the speeches were powerful in their own way, just like our students.  (We are fortunate to have a CFO who is also completely student-centred!)

But what makes chapel talks so unique is not just the opportunity for individuals to express feelings, passion, and appreciation for Lakefield and others.  What makes our chapel talks so powerful is that there is a history of authenticity in a caring community.  This kind of acceptance among teenagers is not easy to achieve; but once teens feel it, they feel the freedom to express their most true selves.

One student captured it this way – a lot of the courage I’ve racked up to be able to share my story comes from watching others before me share their stories and emotions.

Creating an emotionally safe place for teenagers, where they can share their most profound experiences and explain what they have learned and how they have grown, is powerful stuff.  Schools with dedicated resources can develop great arts, athletics and academic programs.  What is far more elusive, even with significant investment, is the feeling part.

It is still early days with our strategy process, and we will be doing focus groups and research teams and more analysis of our findings to date, but we are chipping away, and we are excited to discover our very own beautiful horse.

With Gratitude

(Below is the talk I gave in chapel on Tuesday evening).

When my kids were little, I read somewhere that developing gratitude was important for children’s development.  So the Kee family had a routine before bed – we would sing three songs:  You are my sunshine; Hush Little baby; and the Lord bless you and keep you – and then I would ask them to tell me three things for which they were grateful.  It just became – what are your three things.  As children, they would find it easy to come up with a list, and it often included what they had for dinner that evening, or more likely, what they had for dessert.

As an aside, when Jacob and Kathleen came to Lakefield, I would text them all kinds of questions and they would rarely give me more than a one or two word response.  Early on, I would text – how was your day?  And the most popular response, of course, was…. good.  It would drive me crazy.  Don’t do that to your parents.   Then I got clever, and I would text them and ask – what are your three things?  I am so smart.  I started to get multiple word answers.  I would be grateful if you would send multiple word messages to your parents.  Parents love multiple word texts.

Back to my children, when they were children. There came a day, when I was tired and although I hate to admit it, I was frankly just going through the bed time motions, almost rushing them so I could get on with my evening and go to bed early.   One night, I remember being close to wrapping up the night, when one of them asked me for my three things.

I thought – oh my gosh… I am too tired.  I have had a long day.  I really had nothing to be thankful for.   But there they were, looking right at me, anticipating that I would enjoy this new aspect of our ritual.  I had to come up with something.

And so it began.

As often as possible –  I would love to say every night, but I just sometimes forget – I end my day, before I got to sleep, by thinking of the three things for which I am most grateful.  I wish I could tell you that I can easily think of three things.  But I have realized that it requires work. Not just one thing, but three things can be tough.

Finding three things to be thankful for on any day is important.  When you are grateful, you have no room in your life for self-pity. But here’s the thing – finding three things on a bad day is even more important.  The ups and downs of life can sometimes eclipse an attitude of gratitude – but the more we can focus on gratitude, the happier and healthier we are.   I try to make gratitude a habit or a discipline.  I find it helps me with perspective.

I’m reading this book – I recommend it – it’s on the best seller list this Christmas season.  It is Oprah’s book called The Wisdom of Sundays.  She includes an entire chapter on Gratitude.  (Read two sections – page 152 and 165.)

So whether you practice gratitude in the evening, in the morning, or in the moment you are least grateful, I hope you will take a moment before you leave Lakefield for your holiday and think about the three things you are grateful for.  The German mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said – If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, that will be enough.

That’s my first hope for you.  But there’s more….Feeling gratitude and not expressing gratitude, is like wrapping a Christmas present and not giving it.

The greatest gift is feeling gratitude AND expressing it.  That’s my second hope for you – that sometime this week, you will express gratitude to someone… anyone!  But find that courage deep down and express it.  See how that feels… It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy.  And now, I would like to express my gratitude to you.

Four days per week we spend our time here in chapel, and I am thankful for three things that you do here in chapel.

  1. I love when we sing all together, thanks to our most talented Syd (spelled with a Y) and I love when our choirs sing, with the help of our most talented music teachers. I also love when those of you with special talents sing on your own and/or play musical instruments. I love that you get up in front of your peers, who are not an easy audience by the way, and you sing and play music. We have enjoyed a lot of performances this fall, and I appreciate all of you who share your talents.
  2. You may be surprised by this second one, but I also love our Lakefield approach to Standards. It is not like any other school.  I wish there were not as many standards announcements, but I absolutely believe in the way students deal with discipline and the way students share the stories with each other in chapel.  We are a small community here and stories spread quickly, so I am thankful that we have a system to minimize gossip.  We are respectful of each other in our community, and I really appreciate the time we give to support each other.
  3. And number three – I am thankful for chapel talks. It takes courage to get up here and be vulnerable and speak.  I think it is one of the most valuable traditions of this school.  To have the opportunity to listen to our grads as they share stories of their thoughts and lessons learned, and as they express gratitude for their family and friends… it is becoming a real highlight of my days.

Michael Bernard Beckwith wrote – Begin to notice what you have in your life that you are grateful for and when you look at life through the lens of gratitude, you don’t see as many obstacles or hindrances. You see potential, you see possibilities.  Then you become an open vehicle for more inspiration, more wisdom, more guidance, coming from the spiritual part of your being.

I’m so grateful to be here at Lakefield, and I am grateful to all of you for being here with me.

I hope you enjoy your holiday.  I hope you make time to practice gratitude and express gratitude, especially to those you love.

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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