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.

The Secret Sauce of Great Schools

As we think about our new strategic plan here at Lakefield College School, we are engaging in professional development that is focused on our future.  All of us – staff and faculty – will aim to get off campus for one day to consider three questions:

  • What are the skills that students will need in the future?
  • How is the world changing?
  • How might LCS need to change?

We are in search of innovative practices; we will travel in teams that are cross-divisional; and our mandate is to talk about the future of our school.  Other than that, we are free to go wherever!  More on this another time.

Meanwhile, we are also doing additional reading, and I am interested in the following at the moment:

  • New research from the Sutton Trust, a British foundation focused on social mobility, finds that 88% of young people, 94% of employers, and 97% of teachers say life skills, such as confidence and motivation to tackle problems, interpersonal skills and resilience, are as or more important than academic qualifications. New research is finally supporting what educators have long known to be true: Students need more than just academics to succeed.
  • The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business:  Donna Orem from NAIS wrote an article about this book, and my favourite point is this:  due primarily to advances in technology and a near equivalent number of people in all age bands, age will no longer be a major shaper of attitudes and behaviors. Rather, people will be defined by their connections in communities.
  • Lifelong Kindergarten: To thrive in today’s fast-changing world, people of all ages must learn to think and act creatively —and the best way to do that is by focusing more on imagining, creating, playing, sharing, and reflecting, just as children do in traditional kindergartens.
  • Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: Strategy must ask the questions: who do we want to be? What are we great at? What will we be uniquely advantaged at doing?

But here’s the thing that I really want to think about:

When I was first appointed to be Head of School and Foundation, I got a letter in the mail from Mr Kim Krenz, a former Head of Science at Lakefield College School.  He was a good writer, and it was kind of him to write, plus I was intrigued that he was writing from a nursing home, so I wrote him back.  Since August, we have been exchanging letters regularly about teaching and Lakefield and life. I should add that he is 97 years old, and his nurse, Melissa Zubrickas, is a Lakefield grad.

They visited me recently, and I was quite moved by their passion for this school. Later that day, Melissa emailed me:  “I am 27 and Kim is 97, a 70 year difference; so it is quite amazing how LCS brings people together.”

No kidding it is amazing!

So while I want us to visit innovative places and read the latest research on the future of education, I hope that we take the time to think about what really matters.  To me, what has to be our focus – no matter what! – is people.  There is an abundance of theory on what is best for students and schools and what needs to change, but the secret sauce of great schools will always come down to connecting great staff and great students.

Here’s to my 97 year old pen pal who reminded me of the power of connections.

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