Should schools ban cell-phones?

Lately, I just cannot escape this topic. 

In my evening snacks with Houses, students pile into my living room to talk about what is working, what could be improved, and just life in general.  Inevitably, conversation turns to our overly strict cell-phone and wifi policies, and we have a great debate about whose decision it is to control technology.

This year, I am spending a great deal of time meeting with parents, past-parents and alumni, and I’ve had over 25 small group meetings in six countries.  In most conversations, we also end up discussing teens and technology use.  The consensus with adults is easy. They like that we do not allow phones in the dining hall or chapel. They like hearing that many teachers do not allow them in class. They like that we take phones away from grades nine and ten students overnight. They like that we shut off the wifi at night.  They like that we had a speaker in to teach students to be responsible digital citizens (Check out Chris Vollum’s message).  And most of all, they like that we still emphasize relationships; we have always been a community that engages deeply with each other and spends a lot of time outside.

Our teachers also talk about the benefits of less technology at school, and our reasons are sound:  social media has been associated with depression, anxiety, and the fear of missing out; there’s always a concern about cyberbullying and sexting; and we worry about the limited information that teens are exposed to online when we know they need to be challenged by diverse opinions.  Last year, many of us read Jean Twenge’s book called iGen.  She calls children born between 1995 and 2012 the iGen, as they are the first to enter adolescence with smartphones in their hands.  Her research is somewhat alarming:  teens spend about nine hours each day using screens; the average teenagers processes 3,700 texts per month.  Twenge reports that by their own admissions, teens are addicted to their phones.

Now before we adults get too judgmental, a 2016 Common Sense Media Study found that adults spend as much time – or more – with screens as their kids do.

Recently, on Family Day weekend, we made the long trek to Baie-St-Paul so Kevin and the kids could ski at Le Massif.  We like to listen to a podcast called Making Sense by Sam Harris, and the episode we chose was Douglas Rushkoff, who explored the state of the digital economy.

So should schools do more to control technology use?

I tend to favour the belief that we should manage not avoid technology.  I also believe that increasingly, one of our most important jobs is to cultivate our own healthy digital habits and model good use.  (My own kids would say that I have a lot to learn!)

What I know for sure is that we must continue to talk – with teens especially! – about technology use and how to spend our time and how to portray our lives online.

And at the end of each conversation?  Clarify that rule-making on technology use is an adult decision.

 

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Three Hopes for 2019

When I reflect on our first term at the Grove, three specific moments come to mind:

In the fall, one of our grade ten students wanted to express her gratitude for our food.  To be honest, her original motivation was not gratitude but frustration:  she was bothered that so many students complained about food.  She wrote to friends and asked them to share photos of their meals.  She then put together a presentation to remind our community that we are fortunate to have such diverse, healthy, and tasty meals prepared for us. This led her to an idea – she invited our food service team to chapel and thanked them on behalf of our community.

And then the moment happened.  Our students jumped to their feet for a standing ovation for our dining and cleaning staff.

The second moment actually happened numerous times in one week. This fall, our production of Mamma Mia! was beyond amazing.  Our little theatre was bursting with energy and everyone jumped to their feet for a standing ovation at the end of each show.  What I loved most is that people stayed on their feet, singing and dancing during the last couple of numbers.

The third moment – another standing ovation – was a complete surprise.  Our Christmas chapel happens in the evening after students enjoy a formal meal in the dining hall.  At the beginning, I noticed that students seemed restless, and, I was a bit nervous about their ability to behave appropriately for the duration of the service.  Turns out – they were more than respectful.  When Adam Bishop, a member of our Foundation team and a former Head Boy, walked to the front to sing “O Holy Night” accompanied by our pianist, there was a lot of energy in chapel.  I know that Adam is a talented singer, and yet I felt nervous for him – no matter your talent, it takes courage to perform solo in front of hundreds of students.  But he began, and we were enraptured.  At the end, there was a pause.  I sometimes wonder about the appropriateness of clapping during a chapel service, and it was as if the entire chapel was pondering the exact same question.  And just as quickly, the question was answered.  The entire chapel sprang to their feet clapping.  The final song that night – Joy to the World – was the most enthusiastic singing I’ve heard in chapel since my arrival.

Now here’s the thing about standing ovations:  They are spontaneous. They only happen in groups.  They are full of joy.

That combination, to me, is “So Lakefield…”

I hope your year includes moments of spontaneity, community and joy.  I hope you might be able to return for a visit this year, perhaps to experience our theatre, chapel or another event.  And I sincerely hope you’re really lucky, and you get to be part of the transformative experience of a standing ovation at the Grove.

Happy new year!

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Highlights from 2018 at Lakefield College School

 

 

 

 

 

Our ‘Lake’ is more Lakefield than ever

We are not sure how many people joined us for Fall Fair 2018.  We outgrew the dining hall and had to move the alumni dinner outside, and even at that we had a waitlist.  Our food service provider told me he made 1300 chicken breasts and had 50 left – only at Lakefield would we use chicken as our metric.  Everyone said it was going to be the largest ever Fall Fair, and it was.  But not just because of the number of people.

On Saturday, we gathered to officially open our waterfront.  We wanted to do something special to celebrate and so we decided – why not throw a party?  We had the usual bake sales and raffles, with alumni from every decade, starting with the 40’s.  We also had children everywhere with bouncy castles, an art fair, and flags.  Our cake was a canoe with cupcake waves – it’s so amazing that I am including a photo below – and one unexpected outcome is that kids cried as they had to wait until after the official ceremony to dig in.  It was a party all right.

And then we gathered at the waterfront and the magic continued.  One of our students, Claire Campbell, worked with one of our teachers, Hugh Dobson, along with a whole crew of others, to organize a Paddle Extravaganza.  Over 80 paddlers canoed 10km of the Trent Severn Waterway – through four lift-locks – in support of the Canadian Canoe Museum.  Before arriving at our dock, they rigged up 41 flags, representing the 40 countries we have at the school, plus one from Curve Lake.  When they got within sight, hundreds of people gathered on our dock.  It was powerful and more than one person had tears in their eyes.  For me, I was full of anxiety about the wind and keeping to our program, but I just had to stop and enjoy the moment.  I relive that feeling every time I hear a story about their paddling experience – when the Turkish brothers made sure that they paddled with their flag; when the group yelled to slow down the American paddlers as they didn’t like the optics of them in the lead; when a staff member described the pride of paddling the canoe that belongs to her grandparents; and when the string quartet and the trumpeters surprised the paddlers by serenading them at the locks.  It was powerful.

And there was more.

Our waterfront is on the shores of Lake Kathchewanooka, and Katchewanooka is an Ojibway word, which directly connects us with our indigenous peoples, who also paddled our lake.  We enjoyed the music of Unity, an a cappella women’s group who perform their own work as well as traditional Indigenous music and began our ceremony with an Anishinaabe elder who acknowledged the land with a blessing and prayer.

Our students performed – we are one of the first schools in Canada to produce Mamma Mia! and we got a sneak peek preview of that show, with our dock as our stage. And we wrapped up the ceremony with a good Canadian song – everyone joined in the singing with our Rock Choir of ‘Ahead by a Century’.

It was a deeply meaningful and symbolic day.

Our new waterfront captures the best of the past – with our iconic boathouse looking spiffier than ever – with the best of the future – with our new dock reaching out into Lake Katchawanooka.  Katchewanooka means lake of many rapids, and typically, rapids are sections of a river where the water moves quickly.  It is the constant flow that ensures nourishment to the environment.  We are inspired by the idea that our lake is a symbol of change.  We began our official opening with our oldest alum – our past – paddling alongside our youngest student – our future.

This year, as we launch our strategic plan, we are working on our current – to maintain a balance of honouring our past and our traditions, but always moving forward with strengthening our strengths, and a genuine openness to always being better.

We know that we want our students to care, connect, and contribute.  We want our students to be known as leaders who demonstrate a responsibility to the environment.  We want our students to be known for their passion, particularly for their community.  When a school like Lakefield, that has been thriving for 139 years, considers its future, the question is not just what needs to change. The question is also what must we preserve.

We have a saying around here – That’s so Lakefield – and there were many moments on Saturday when that was the case. I am grateful that our new waterfront provided us with the chance to celebrate and be reminded of the power of our environment and the strength of our community. unnamed-1

 

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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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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.

Wandering

Since arriving in August, I have done a lot of learning.  I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on, and I have attended countless meetings. But perhaps my most important learning is the one that is hardest to define.

I didn’t set out with this plan to do this, but one day, I had been in a lot of meetings, and I decided that I just needed to get outside.  It was a gorgeous day and students were all over the fields, gym, and waterfront.  It was that afternoon that I first realized that the best way to really come to understand Lakefield College School is to just wander.  And so far, this has been my greatest joy.

I want to share five highlights of lessons learned from wandering:

  1. I have been visiting residences in the evenings for snack times.  This has become a bit of “a thing” – the Rashleigh boys dressed up in their jackets and ties; the Ryder boys, who told me they forgot I was coming so I should just expect a normal evening in the common room, were listening to classical music and reading.  Last week, the boys may have been outdone by the girls of Ondaatje.  When I arrived there, I found them meditating and praying with dim lights and calming music.  I have included a photo below.  When you zoom in on the shrine they were “praying” to, you can see their incredible sense of humour.  What I love about Lakefield is that our students are playful and they laugh.  A lot.
  2. Last Friday night, I wandered down to the bonfire that was organized by the grade 12s. I fell into step with three girls and asked where they were from:  Ghana, Japan, and Sudbury.  Lakefield is a global community, with 363 students from 36 countries and no more than 10% from any one country.  And I believe this experience is critical for developing global citizens.
  3. When I met with the houses, I asked them about their first impressions about the school this year, what they would like to see improved, and what advice they had for me, as a new Head.  I will give you a specific example, but know that this was pretty typical of the kind of responses I got.  One boy said this, “I arrived with one family, the one I was born into; but I will leave Lakefield with another… these guys” and all the boys went AHHHHH and pumped their hearts….What is amazing about Lakefield is the way our students speak so openly, so passionately, about things like love and connection.
  4. At the Grade 12 Opening Chapel, they sang, Land of Hope and Glory.  When they started to sing the song, I thought this is nice…But then they sang louder, and by the final verse and chorus, they just belted it out. Lakefield’s chapel remains the soul of the school, where students carry on certain traditions and start their days as a community.
  5. As I sat after school at the waterfront, in one of our new Muskoka chairs, slightly entertained by Garret Hart having to rescue a couple of windsurfers in his boat, Mike Arsenault joined me, and we had this long conversation.  That man has been teaching here for 36 years, and he is someone who captures, for me, the spirit of this school.  He wrote to me the next day, about our time together:

“For me, one of the things that is so true about this place is that no one hides. We get to see our students, each other, and ourselves as who we are. For me that is magic, and what makes this place so special and compelling. It fosters grace and compassion. We get to see the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between. I often feel the wash of emotions rising to the surface in unexpected circumstances and am surprised at their timing and strength. In those moments when we are most vulnerable, we also get to witness something sacred about ourselves and each other.”

So, whether I wander around different buildings or other parts of our property, I believe the places – and people – create certain feelings, and my suspicion is that these feelings have not changed over time.  For what I am discovering as I wander, is that this is a place about more than classrooms, more than academics; more than sports, arts and community service… Lakefield is a place where we are free to be ourselves, where we laugh, where we find out what makes us most passionate, and where we connect with each other.

So here’s to wandering….

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May there be moments

Everyone advised me to take time off between jobs.  Everyone.  Given that the Kee family is about to embark on major life adventures – with me starting a new job in a new community; Kathleen starting a new school; and Jacob beginning McGill – many people offered advice on how to cope with our upcoming change.  Some said to take a good month off; others advised that the amount of time was not as important as the need to actually get away.   My husband Kevin and I really thought about what our ideal holiday could include, and we decided to totally splurge on a two-week family trip to France.

But when we really thought about what it meant to “take time off,” we decided that in addition to time and place, we actually needed a third criteria:  a complete break from email or anything work-related.  For the first time in years, I didn’t have a professional book with me, and I didn’t have any access to email or social media.

The combination of extended time in a beautiful and interesting place, with no ties to regular life, created what our kids started calling – the dream vacation.  We were trying to be quite mindful of our dream vacation, so we planned our outings (and our food!) each day.  As those of you with teens understand, our kids sometimes could be cynical. Whenever we were faced with our trip not going as planned, like when we were lost or when it poured rain on our bike ride, the kids would lower their voices and snicker, “Dream vacation”.  But every night over dinner, we came to enjoy recounting the day’s adventures, and we focused on describing certain moments – highlights for each of us.  A few of mine include the following:

  • We turned a corner on our bike path along the Loire Valley and suddenly, as we pushed to get up a hill, we realized that we were between two enormous, as-far-as-the-eye-could-see fields of sunflowers. I remember gasping at the beauty.
  • We sat at the Louvre, staring at “Liberty Leading the People,” and Kevin came to life explaining the context. The kids and I marveled that he could recount so much history but also explain it in such a compelling way.  The moment was certainly the inspirational painting, but it was also this chance to be reminded of a strength of personality that we don’t have time to appreciate daily.
  • As we sat under a tree in the rain, we remembered that we had two umbrellas. Kathleen and Kevin sat under one, and Jacob arranged the second without realizing that he had left me completely uncovered. When Kathleen laughed and pointed to me sitting completely in the rain between two umbrellas, Jacob said, “But then my legs would be exposed.”  Almost immediately he was startled by the selfishness of what he had said, and we all laughed.  At other points on the trip, when there was a quiet moment, one of us would whisper, “But then my legs would be exposed,” and we laughed every time.

I guess my point is that a dream vacation includes beauty, inspiration, laughter and joy.  We are so grateful for our experience!  But now that I am back, I realize I want to try to do two things:  I want to seek opportunities for moments on a daily basis, and I want to take time to feel them and relive them.  My hope is that our dream vacation is not limited to two weeks in France.

And as we head into the second month of summer, my hope for you is that you have many moments of beauty, inspiration, laughter, and joy.  More importantly, may you take the time to know – really know and feel! – that you are experiencing a moment, and enjoy that moment too.