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.

On Moving and Metaphors

On the first day I came to Lakefield, I was on my own. Kevin and the kids were on a canoe trip in Algonquin with Kevin’s brother and his kids – it’s their 12th year taking this trip – so I had to get to my new home alone.

I rented a UHaul van, which should have been all I needed, given that I wasn’t moving furniture.  When I got to the rental place, I was surprised when the guy told me that he had a 10 foot truck for me.

I said, “Really?  Do you really think I need a ten inch truck?”

And he said, “Honey, if you want a ten inch truck, head down the road to Toys R Us.  I’m giving you a ten foot truck.”

He handed me the keys, and when I found the truck in the parking lot, there was another guy rushing me to drive out quickly.

But I just stood there, staring at what looked to me to be a massive truck.  I had never driven anything like this before.  Was no one going to teach me to drive this thing? So I took a photo and texted my sister, who had just moved a few weeks earlier and also rented a truck.

I asked her, “How do I drive this thing?”

She wrote back, that Tony, her fiancé, drove it and he scraped the side along a bunch of parked cars. Her advice was this – “Whatever you do, stay left.”  That was it.

So I got in and started driving.  To be honest, I found the whole experience somewhat amusing and mostly irresponsible.

Part way home, I realized that something was wrong.  There was no rear view mirror.  How was I supposed to go forward, when I couldn’t see what was behind me?  I’m an English teacher, and I was so struck by this metaphor of me driving to my new life, without looking behind. Fortunately, at some point on the drive to Lakefield, I realized that there were two big, long side mirrors, so what I had to do was learn how to see behind me, just through a different indirect, side perspective.

About half an hour from the school, I realized that I was fine driving this truck forward, but I did not think I could back it up down the driveway to my new house.  So I texted Tim Rutherford, our CFO and Associate Head of School.

He wrote back, “When you arrive, park the truck and text me. I will take it from there.”

So here I am at Lakefield College School, with a few weeks behind me now.  I am asking lots of questions, learning to spend my time in new ways, focusing on the future while learning all I can from the past, and relying on others – many others! – in this amazing community.

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p.s.  When I arrived, Tim took this photo of me, which I thought was so thoughtful! Only later did he admit that he took the picture because he was happy to see the “$19.95/day” on the side of the truck!  He was clearly thinking about a different metaphor… so I will add that humour really ensures that we are all enjoying our new adventure together…

p.p.s. I will be updating this blog to the Lakefield branding very soon!  For now, my priority has been getting to know everyone here!  But stay tuned…

Why the LI is powerful

Having attended eight CAIS Leadership Institutes, I am pretty qualified to figure out what made last week’s LI the best one yet. I observed every class at least once, and in some cases, I sat down and participated in discussions. I talked to most people, and asked a lot of questions. Now that I am back and have caught up on my sleep, I have read every feedback form filled out by participants, and this morning, at our Monday Morning Meeting, we discussed the same question – what made this one so good?

My theory might be different from others. What I heard is that the faculty were amazing – they are passionate about their course content and they vary their teaching styles. The speakers were phenomenal, and everyone loved the St. Andrew’s facilities. My team felt that they were better organized and they couldn’t say enough about the SAC team, with particular compliments to Greg Reid for being our On-site Coordinator and to Grace Wyvill for the superb food. Of course, everyone appreciated that Kevin McHenry hosted us at his home.

But what I think made this year’s LI the best one yet, is that we are finally figuring out how to do what our schools know to be true – in order to create powerful learning, you need to establish developmental relationships.

I have recently become acquainted with the work of the Search Institute, and here’s a quick lesson on the developmental relationships framework. There are 20 actions that make a relationship developmental, and you can read all about this on the website, but for now, consider the five categories:

  1. Express care
  2. Challenge growth
  3. Provide support
  4. Share power
  5. Expand possibilities

So how has CAIS worked on developing close connections? Four highlights:

To graduate, participants need ten modules, which means they spend three summers together, learning and living in a boarding environment. There are deep connections among participants and faculty that extend beyond the classroom. (See this year’s grads below).

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Next Step 2016

Our Next Step Program includes a strong faculty, ongoing cohort meetings, mentors, job shadowing, and personalized learning. But a key component of the first summer experience is the “campfire” where they share their Change Projects and give each other positive feedback and ask challenging questions. This year, the conversation lasted until 12:40am.

Our two evenings of speakers included a new component – both the Art of Leadership and the New Leaders speakers stood for a Q and A afterwards. This shifted the evening from a formal presentation to a very authentic connection with the audience. (Watch the speeches here).

Our CAIS team has been working together for a few years, and we know each others’ strengths and how to perform best as a team (and I cannot thank them enough!) I believe we can focus on serving participants to ensure their experience is meaningful and serving our faculty so they can focus on the aspiring leaders.

We know that CAIS schools are exceptional at cultivating relational learning with students;  I believe our CAIS community is doing the same at the Leadership Institute.

p.s. Didn’t get to attend this summer? Watch our slideshow here.

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CAIS Summer Leadership Institute Faculty and Graduates 2016

 

 

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…

 

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.

Calgary CAIS Schools Step Up

Last week, I got two notes – one email and one as part of a package in the mail. They were different notes, but they are both from remarkable women. In both cases, the notes were inspirational, and I have to share them.

On Thursday, in the mail, I got this note from Carol Grant-Watt, Head of West Island College in Calgary:

Anne-Marie,

Thank you for the opportunity to host the CAIS National Student Leadership Conference. The experience was life changing and I am so proud of our students and staff. Please accept this signed book from our keynote speaker as a small token of appreciation from John Davidson and myself.

Perhaps you can see why this package surprised me. Carol runs a conference for CAIS students across the country. She invests her time and energy to make the event a success – and it was a huge success! – and this is all on top of everything else that her job as Head of School demands. Think about this – she does all the work for CAIS, then she sends a thank you gift to me. I was just so moved by this generosity and thoughtfulness. Now, thanks to her, I am looking forward to reading A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout.

Last Sunday, I got this note from Erin Corbett, Head of River Valley School, also in Calgary:

Hi Anne-Marie,

I thought you may be interested to know that RVS is accepting students that are now being evacuated to Calgary from Fort McMurray. We have two enrolled for next week and are planning on more families coming to us for support. As a school that was devastated by the flooding in 2013 and were shown immense generosity, I am so pleased that we can do something to help these families.

It was an incredible day, really. I spent the early morning putting together some pieces and reaching out to people to offer RVS support for the students who have been evacuated from Fort Mac. I then spent the remainder of the morning listening to Chief Wilton Littlechild & Deputy Minister Dr Jane Martin discuss the Truth & Reconciliation Committee and a school’s responsibilities in moving forward.

I am very proud to do this work. I just wanted to share that with someone, and thought of you.

 

Erin is amazing to find a way to support students at a challenging time in their lives. I cannot imagine what those families are feeling, but I bet they feel the love from the River Valley community at a time when they need it most. Again, here is a Head of School who is already busy with her regular responsibilities, who then takes on even more to help her school help others.

So on a Monday afternoon, I find myself thinking about these two women who made the time to step up. I feel proud to know them and to be a part of our CAIS community, where leaders like Carol and Erin have the courage to step up. But I also feel humbled and even a bit nervous. I want to focus on this question – how can I step up?

Thanks to Carol for texting me this video from the Leadership Conference:

The Importance of Connections

It has been two weeks since the first ever CAIS National Leaders Conference, and I am long overdue in reflecting on this event. Since then, I have been on two reviews in two countries, but I have a morning now in Brazil to think about three things: 

What worked – The CAIS team did a post-conference meeting to figure this out, as we believe we can learn as much from success as failure, if you take the time to reflect. We decided that our Program Committee, chaired by Tam Matthews, really knew the needs of their groups and developed a bold agenda that covered the most significant challenges both in education and the business of schools, while also creating opportunities for leadership development and cross-function learning.

My biggest take-away was confirmation of support for a diverse group of leaders to learn together. One of my favourite feedback stories was a Head who told me that his Junior School Director told him that his Business Officer was asking good questions about their blended learning strategy in the cab ride to the airport. I love that they were both in the room to hear Heather Staker! I also appreciated Heather’s theory that the kind of change needed in our schools will require different kinds of teams – I see that our leadership teams are grappling with the need to prioritize pace and principles as they manage change. I am so happy that we all gathered to work on this opportunity together.

What can be improved – Lots! We learned from the experience of running a big conference, and we are eager to get feedback from the evaluation (Complete the survey here). In particular, we are keen to understand if forcing diversity – as we did with the Catalytic Conversations – was worth the effort, and we have a long list of how to manage 400 people through four days. We also know we can do more to show appreciation for our sponsors and we believe we can always improve communication.

Gratitude – As I sit and reflect on the conference, I am most struck by a deep appreciation of people.

  • For my team, and their crazy support of the vision for this event to be a success and their absolutely ludicrous devotion to putting in the hours to make the largest CAIS event possible.
  • For the Program Committee, for trying something new and encouraging others to do the same. We all know that change is not easy, but our schools must be in the business of change – we are a community of learners after all – so I am so grateful for their leadership.
  • For the Heads and Chairs and the CAIS Board, for having the courage to examine the PD landscape and develop a new vision.
  • For the 400+ people who came to Vancouver to share their concerns, ideas, and dreams for the future of independent education in Canada.

I always try to remember actual moments – the exact place, time, and feelings – and mine will be a moment on the Sunday morning. Tam Matthews was welcoming everyone and Rodger Wright came up behind me and whispered, “Look around this room.” The seats were full and I felt this incredible energy that I wish I could bottle up and save. If I try to articulate it, that moment was a reminder that CAIS colleagues were willing to spend their weekend coming together to try something new, because they are so passionate to learn with others who share their passion for the future of education.

My wise mentor reminds me often that “Gratitude equals joy”.  Makes me happy to think about how lucky I am to connect with CAIS leaders everyday.