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…

CAIS is in the business of asking good questions

This is the season for graduation speeches, and here is another one that I love, by James Ryan, Dean of the Harvard School of Education.  He tells the story of his past speeches – he spoke two years ago on time and last year about sin, so when people asked him what he would speak about at this year’s graduation ceremony, he would reply: That’s a good question. And this became his topic. He lists what he believes are the most important questions, and of the six, my favourite question is this – “Wait. What?”

I have other favourite questions; in fact, I often say CAIS is in the business of asking questions. Now before you ask, “Wait. What?” let me explain.

  1. Accreditation

At CAIS, we spent a lot of time determining the best questions to ask in the Internal Evaluation process, and I am proud that our 2015 Accreditation Guidelines include the most relevant questions that the best schools should be discussing, if they want to remain the best schools in Canada. This spring, we spent considerable time talking about the questions to ask during a CAIS Accreditation visit. We have always said that the role of the Visiting Committee is primarily to validate what was written in the school’s Internal Evaluation Report. But what could be even better? (One of my favourite questions…) Two initiatives:

  1. a) We believe that great schools have great Boards, so we are now including a Board member on the Sunday of every Accreditation visit to make the governance review a true peer-to-peer process.
  2. b) We also believe that great schools focus on culture, so we have introduced a new School Culture Focus Group, led by the CAIS On-site Coordinator, to our review process.
  1. Research

You will not believe the quality of this year’s Research Reports.   We have 15 CAIS leaders conducting research on some of the biggest questions facing our industry. These will be shared this fall, but I want to thank Tammy, Glenn, Chad, Denise, Sarah, Helen, Shailau, Danielle, Mary Anne, Jim, Justin, Garth, Glen, William, and Adrian now for their hard work this year. Honestly? We couldn’t be happier with their progress.

  1. Learning Community

CAIS is a national learning community. Different national groups come together face-to-face only three times per year (Heads and Chairs in October; National Leaders in April; and Aspiring Leaders in July). This means that we are “Online all the time” exploring – again! – the big questions in education. Over 200 people participated in our Spring Governance webinar series and today we are announcing a new one: CAIS Students will lead a panel on how to support LGBTQ+ students. How can schools be better at supporting students’ questions around gender and sexuality? Now that’s a good question.

When we are best at our jobs, we are focused on the best questions. No “Wait. What?” about that.

p.s. Watch Dean James Ryan’s speech called Good Questions here.

Four Secrets Parents Should Know About Private Schools

It happened twice this week. At the bank, I was asked about CAIS and the manager expressed shock about one of the differences between CAIS schools and other private schools. And then in an article in the Toronto Star, I read about the call for private schools to be more regulated. Again, I was reminded that the general public does not realize that there are some real myths about private schools that need to be clarified. So it got me thinking – what are the biggest secrets about private schools? At the moment, I can think of four.

Secret #1 – CAIS schools are not for profit

I think people make an assumption about this one. Maybe it is because the school facilities are incredibly beautiful or maybe it is because some of the alumni become famous or maybe it is because the students are perceived to be from wealthy families. But the fact is, our schools are run as Not for Profits and therefore have governing boards who work incredibly hard to ensure that all of the tuition money goes back to benefit the schools. As an accrediting organization, CAIS is willing to accredit a share capital school, but currently there are no for profit schools in Canada that are CAIS accredited. Parents should know the difference.

Secret #2 – All private schools are not equal

This one drives me nuts. Parents must do their homework on schools to fully understand that private schools should be defined by more than their academic and co-curricular programs. For starters, families should spend time at the school to determine the culture and get to know the students and staff. I believe that culture is everything (and you can register for a Faculty Culture module at our CAIS Summer Leadership Institute here.) But here’s the thing – parents must realize that it is the leadership and finances that define the long-term strength of a school. So how do you find this out? I am biased, but there is only one way for parents to determine the best schools in Canada – verify if the school is CAIS accredited by researching the list of accredited schools in Canada here.

Secret #3 – CAIS students outperform others at university

I hope this is the assumption of most, but no one other than CAIS has the actual data that tracks university success. CAIS did an eight year study that tracked CAIS students in university and the results from over 60,000 marks should be known by everyone searching for a school. From our research, we learned the following: CAIS students consistently receive A and B grades in almost three quarters of the courses they take (73%), and CAIS students outperform the class averages in their university courses (where this data is available) in every subject area. What I like best about CAIS schools is this – they complete this research so that they can improve their programs, not so that they can market the findings. The humility of CAIS schools is remarkable.

Secret #4 – CAIS schools are more affordable than you think

This is one of the boarding school myths that we “busted,” but this secret applies to all CAIS schools because CAIS schools offer generous amounts of financial assistance to families across Canada every year. Parents should research the bursaries and scholarships available in CAIS schools here, and they should not be shy about asking about the process. For example, in 2013-2014, 6411 students attending 84 of our CAIS schools received financial aid totaling $59.3 million. That’s quite the secret.

I know that the CAIS community knows this stuff. I just wish everyone else did too.

The extraordinary commitment of CAIS leaders

So there I stood at St. Margaret’s School, on the pathway between the dining room and the junior school building. I was happy to chat with people as they walked past me. This was day three of our CAIS Summer LI and people seemed settled in and comfortable. I had toured all of the LI module classes that day, and the engagement was high. The entire campus was buzzing with discussions of faculty culture, governance, leadership, accreditation, and brain research. As I walked around, I got this feeling that everyone had known each other for years and were working toward a common purpose with energy.

On that pathway at that moment, I had this proud feeling that I had had a few other times since arriving in Victoria – isn’t it amazing that over 150 CAIS leaders are here during their summer holidays?

And that’s when it hit me – it was almost 7:00pm on a Saturday night.

There it is. There’s the difference between CAIS schools and other schools. At that moment, over 150 CAIS leaders were actually going to learn from 7:00 – 9:00pm. And yet no one complained. Not a one.

Our Leadership Institute is one of my favourite events every year. I actually feel overwhelmed when I think that all of the participants could be wrapping up their year at school or getting some of that organizational and reflective work done. Better yet, they could be doing what the thousands of teachers across Canada are doing in early July – vacationing!

So when I think about the many great memories from this year’s Summer LI, and I think about the outstanding programs, including The 2051 Project, I want to hold on to this one image of people walking to class on the Saturday night. I cannot remember who it was that I stopped, but I asked, “Is there any place you’d rather be – in the entire world – other than right here, right now?”

The response?

“Absolutely no where!”

Makes me proud to be associated with such incredible professionals who are committed, passionate, caring, learners who go hard at improving their capacity for our students, even on a Saturday night in July.

p.s. Thanks to Cathy Thornicroft and the St Margaret’s team for being such gracious hosts.

p.p.s. Check out www.cais.ca for the slideshow, speech videos, and 2051 resources.

Learn to Learn

This week at Rothesay Netherwood in New Brunswick, I was honoured to speak at the Learn2Learn Conference. When I was prepping for the address, I realized that some of my happiest moments in my career came during my ten years in the classroom.

For starters, kids make me laugh. They’re just so authentic. Once in a school, the Principal sent me off on a tour with a grade one boy, who told me he was excited to show me his favourite part of the school. Now I knew there was a brand new gym, so I expected to see that. But in a classroom, he explained that this was the place. He lead me to a bookshelf, where he got down on his hands and knees and asked me to do the same. You should know I was wearing a business suit, with a skirt, so this was a bit of a commitment. But I was intrigued. I asked, “What am I looking for?” His eyes bulged, and he whispered: a mouse trap.

But teaching also allows you to connect with people in profound ways. I remember one of my students at Lower Canada College in Montreal. I taught her English, and I was also her advisor, which meant that for three years, I ate snack and lunch with her and ten other students. Needless to say, I knew those kids well. I remember being quite nervous for one parent teacher interview. My student’s mother was quite ill, and in fact, she passed away during the school year. So there I was telling talking about writing skills and reading comprehension. She listened, then said, “You know, Mrs. Kee, I think of you, in my daughter’s life, as an angel.” I was shocked. That’s a powerful responsibility.

So this week, in preparation for The 2051 Project and Summer LI, I find myself thinking about a few things: we know that the key to any successful school is its teachers. Hands down, nothing is as important, and I heard that time and time again – from students! – in my 2051 Student Focus groups this year. We know from our CAIS National Parent Motivation Survey that parents want teachers to develop students’ character, morals and values. But what do we know from the perspective of teachers? What is their best advice about the future of education?

I asked teachers on Monday about their best advice to future teachers, and asked them to tweet them to me using #project2051. Here they are, 15 direct tweets from teachers:

  1. Develop relationships with students in order to facilitate risk taking & passion.
  1. Get to know your students on a personal level – it is more than just a classroom relationship.
  1. Ability to write, speak, read well. Digital literacy. Be adaptable.
  1. It’s student centered, failure ok, voice and choice.
  1. Never lose the need to teach generosity in the forest of technology
  1. Get to know your students well and everything else will follow.
  1. Top priority for today’s students? – a Growth mindset.
  1. Take risks and encourage your students to be risk takers as well!
  1. Teaching responsibility and independence.
  1. Make learning real, so students can relate to it.
  1. Priority for my students and children is global citizenship.
  1. Develop confident, lifelong learners.
  1. Prepare your students for jobs that do not yet exist.
  1. Build relationships with your students.
  1. Understand how they learn best.

Based on this list? I’d say our future students will be in good hands.

p.s. Congratulations to Tammy Earle for organizing a great conference.

p.p.s. Safe travels to the CAIS Summer Leadership Institute participants!

What they say matters. Let’s pay attention.

At yesterday’s opening ceremony for the CAIS Student Leadership Conference at ECS, I had the opportunity to offer a few remarks. Instead of waxing poetic about my ideas, I decided to read some of the comments that I have heard from my 2051 Student Focus Groups across Canada. (I shared some of these trends in our recent newsletter, if you want to read about them.)

I took a chance, with the guidance and approval of Kathy Nikidis, who did something similar in her opening remarks, and I asked the students in the audience to tweet their best advice on schools of the future, using the #project2051 hashtag.

Here is what I got last night – directly tweeted!

  1. Schools of the future should offer activities that enable students to experience real life work and enhance the transition.
  2. Schools should customize learning to individuals. General learning makes workers. Individuality makes leaders.
  3. Don’t pressure us into fields we don’t like, instruct us about gender equality and sexuality + better sex ed education
  4. Classes that educate us about issues both in our community and globally. Classes that inspire us to help
  5. Bring back home economics, we need to learn to cook and other basic household tasks
  6. Schools should prepare students for their future careers. Simply asking “what do you want to be?” does not suffice
  7. Prepare us for the real world!!! Like taxes and mortgages, no one’s going to ask us how to graph a quadratic equation for a job
  8. Teach us real world applications. We need to be more informed about what’s going on around us.
  9. Students should be encouraged to enter non-science fields and end the stigma of non-science programs
  10. Focus more on adventures than academics
  11. Starbucks in school cafeterias
  12. Give the students more lessons about how to handle things in the real world and how to do practical every day tasks
  13. Purple uniforms
  14. Talk about sexuality and gender equality.
  15. Focus on internal and characteristic development. Let teens learn about psychology to better the understanding of brain

Clearly they range from the silly to the profound, and it was an entertaining moment to watch the audience share ideas then hover over their phones to tweet their feedback. Last night’s comments were very similar to the feedback in the past week at Rothesay Netherwood on Friday, St Clement’s on Monday, and UTT-Hertzliah and Lower Canada College on Wednesday. (Yes it has been a busy week of travel!)

I promised our students that every bit of feedback will be included in the final report that will be shared in July at the Leadership Institute, in October at the Heads and Chairs Conference and in April at the National Conference.

Here is the amazing thing – when we look at the research about what our schools should be doing, we see that there is great alignment between that and our students’ comments. So if I were to wax poetic, I would offer this: time to ask the advice of our students – who will be our future parents! – and get their ideas about the future into today’s strategic plans.

2051 Focus Group at UTT-Hertzliah, April 29, 2015

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2051 Focus Group at Rothesay Netherwood, April 24, 2015

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You want grit? Two simple words.

I want my kids to be resilient, and I have a new year’s strategy that I think will work. It is not based on research, but I am currently testing it, and I will share the results. It is not a strategy that parents should necessarily endorse whole-heartedly, but I hope they do, and I hope that some schools will also experiment with it in certain situations. I tested it two nights ago, and so far, I am convinced that I have the solution.

Here is the scenario. On Sunday morning, Jacob packed for his return to boarding school. I did all of his laundry the day before, and Kevin found all of his ski gear, but we didn’t do the usual scrutinizing of his packing as we were a bit preoccupied (We were also packing up after babysitting our two year old niece for three nights). The good news is that Jacob didn’t ask for help, and we were pleased with his initiative (another skill worthy of development in teens). To be honest, I didn’t even ask if he had everything; I was just happy that we were all out the door on time for a big family brunch.

So when the text came through that night at 9:05, when he was back in his room, I had a moment of motherhood guilt. He wrote: “So far I have forgotten my new pillow, face wash and winter boots.”

I couldn’t believe it. How could he not have his boots in January? I felt responsible. I also wanted to shake my head and judge us both, but mostly I worried for him (Note: it will be -31 in Lakefield today). I read his text to Kevin, and we agreed we would courier them the next day.

But then I had a pause. Professionally, I say that my job is to ask good questions. What if I did the same as a parent? Rather than jump to his rescue, what if I just asked questions? So I wrote the following: “Your winter boots?? What will you do?”

Now please do not judge me. I know a boy needs his boots. I was willing – still am! – to mail his boots to him. But how is he going to learn from his mistakes?

Every educational resource these days is asking that similar question; the trend is to call it grit. The latest – New Pedagogies for Deep Learning – is something I read over the holidays as background reading for our 2051 Project, and Fullan also identifies the need for schools to develop children with more grit. This is all good. Kids do need grit. I think Angela Duckworth said it first, then Paul Tough and Alfie Kohn were quick to agree, but noted that most current strategies – other than Carol Dweck’s mindset – aren’t working. So how do we teach grit? (And no, I don’t believe it is by letting kids freeze their feet, walking in snow.)

Here is my theory. If you want to teach grit? Follow these two simple words of advice. Now I could present complicated strategies for parents to pause and think of the bigger vision of what we want for our children. I could recommend that we reflect on our own critical learning moments in our lives and think about who solved the problem. (Research shows that we learn life’s most important lessons when our parents are not around (and I would hazard a guess that teachers weren’t involved either!)) So here it is, the two most powerful words of advice that parents can follow in 2015: back off.

So far, Jacob is proving me right. His reply made me realize that there’s hope for him.

Jacob: I have my suede boots but I might borrow.

Mom: Okay. You can survive without your pillow but you need boots. Let me know if I can help.

Jacob: Well I don’t think you can.

The next night I got this text from Jacob: “Played hockey today.”

I wanted to ask about boots… I am really curious to know what he is wearing!   But I also know that playing shinny is his favourite thing to do at Lakefield, and I was just so happy that he texted to share that with me. I have to assume that he made it to and from the rink with something on his feet, and he has figured it out just fine.

So my new year’s resolution for 2015? Back off.   This is new terrain for me; clearly, no room for cold feet along the way.