Daring Greatly

When I was thinking about whether or not to take the job as Head of School and Foundation at Lakefield College School, I reread a quotation that inspired me, from the epigraph of Daring Greatly, which is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

At the time, I wondered if I could start a new job, in a new home, hours from my family.  I wanted to take the opportunity to put everything I had learned from my time at CAIS, when I saw 150+ of the best schools in the world, and to lead a school that our family loved through the experiences of our teenagers, but I felt that it was a huge risk, for many reasons that you can imagine.  Eventually, I realized I was compelled by this opportunity to dare greatly.

Good news so far – I am not sure how long it took, because it felt like love at first sight, but in the past year at Lakefield, I have fallen in love with all things Grove.  Our family feels so good about this decision that it hardly feels like a dare at all.

But now that I have just more than a year under my belt, and now that I have worked with our Leadership Team, board, staff and students, and now that we – as a full community! – have developed our Strategic Directions (stay tuned!), I feel that now is the time that this quotation really comes to life.

In the next few years, we need to make some big choices – for example, what will be our signature programs?  Can we grow our school size while retaining our culture and small-school advantage?  What will be the main elements of our new House Model?  Can we be a school with a rigorous academic program AND a caring community with an experiential, outdoor program?  How can we ensure our school is affordable to great families?

There are so many options for us, and we talk a lot about the fact that not one of them is a bad choice.  As a Leadership Team, we agreed that we will need to have courage to make good decisions and that whatever we choose will require us also to champion the choice for a good 3-5 years.  (We will, however, also do ongoing research and reflection, with the courage to switch gears if something is not effective.)

In other words, when I think about what is needed to strengthen the school, I believe that our Leadership Team will have to dare greatly.  The future of Lakefield, as with the future of all schools both public and independent, will require us to do things differently.  The trick for us at the Grove is to embrace what is new all the while retaining – and possibly strengthening – the best of what we are and have been.

At last night’s alumni reception in Calgary – my first Canadian alumni event and the first of many chances to connect with our global community this year – I loved hearing about everyone’s favourite aspects of Lakefield.  I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know a new part of our community – the experiences and stories of our alumni.  It reminded me of Jacob and Kathleen’s stories, and there were so many similarities with what I am hearing from our current students as I tour the houses in the evenings again this year.

But I had two additional questions.  It was important to me to also ask, what might need to change as well as what must never change.

Finding the right combination will be tricky.  In fact, finding the best way to manage our strategic choices will require our entire community of staff, students, parents and alum to fully embrace this concept of daring greatly.

I sincerely hope you will join me in the arena, so together was can make LCS the very best it can be for past, current and future students.

p.s.  On my flight home from Calgary, I started reading Brene Brown’s new book Dare to Lead.  Yesterday, and I kid you not, it was recommended to me by Mike Arsenault in the morning and given to me by Carol Grant-Watt (the new Head of Strathcona-Tweedsmuir) in the evening.  I was clearly meant to read this book!  And then there it is again in the introduction – Brown includes the Roosevelt quotation in this book too.

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Lakefield College School Alumni Reception, Calgary 2018

 

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.

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.

Frogs and Blogs

You may be surprised by this, but on Saturday, I learned a lot from frogs and blogs.

Saturday we had to do some major cajoling to convince our kids to hike with us at Shorthills Provincial Park.  Once we got there, they came to life, as we hoped, and we hit the trail with a good pace.  Who could resist a walk on a sunny spring day? But when we got to this one bog where the frogs were particularly loud, the kids stopped to explore. Kevin and I were restless to keep moving, but they were in the mud – Jacob went in over the top of his boots and Kathleen just rolled up her pants and waded in.  Reluctantly, I stood watching them hoping this wouldn’t last.  Kevin kept walking.  But then a man caught my attention – just like my kids, he was wading in and then he delivered a frog to his girlfriend.  I had to have a look.  I figured a frog that loud had to be the size of my fist at least.

This “frog guy” (as our family is calling him), captured our attention.  The kids asked non-stop questions.  We learned all about chorus frogs and spring peepers and bullfrogs.  He got right in to the bog and found a snapping turtle – another highlight.  After close to two hours of literally wading in mud and talking frogs, I was sensitive to his time. I told the kids “One more question,” and Frog Guy looked right at the kids and said: “I have a personal policy to answer every question so I don’t mind if you have more than one”.  Seeing as I often remind my kids to ask good questions, I was quite taken with his commitment to taking time to satisfy curiosity.  A true teacher…

I love good questions, and believe in the saying:  be more interested than interesting.  Recognizing that I just don’t have a hope of ever being the latter, I work extra hard at the former.  I know for sure that I do better work and live a fuller life when I ask good questions.

So this month, I am trying to apply this to the online world.  I’ve been writing a blog for almost a year, and I am curious to learn more from what others write about.  I don’t want to just write, I want to read and join the conversations out there. This means asking questions.

When we got home from the hike, I started visiting websites from the bottom of our School Directory (that way I hit four provinces immediately).  I thought I’d hit four or five.  But I also became so lost in what’s interesting in our school’s websites that I read for over two hours. I found myself starting to ask some good questions.

As a way to help keep you up to speed on what some of our schools are talking about online, here are excerpts from five Heads who have blogged this month. May you also have the curiosity of a child who can hang out with frogs….

The Power Point, Jim Power’s blog, “A Not So Secret Secret”

Psssst. I hope this isn’t really a secret. But there may be some confusion about this, so I thought I’d try to clarify things a bit.

It has to do with admissions, and the not so secret secret is: UCC recruits students. That’s right. We do. We recruit.

It’s more obvious when it comes to boarding admissions, in part because there just aren’t that many families who can plunk down 50 K to cover the cost of one year’s schooling. As a result, we need to actively look for boys, boys who are bright, ambitious, and able to contribute to co-curriculars.

Vivat, Bob Snowden’s blog:  “April”

In a memorable piece of irony, the poet T.S. Eliot called April the “cruellest month”. Eliot was fond of literary allusion, quoting, or as he put it, “stealing” phrases from writers who had gone before him. In this instance, Eliot is contradicting quite knowingly another, much earlier poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, who in his famous line finds the showers of April “sweet”. I tend to side with Chaucer, and although I can see what Eliot was driving at – that the budding of life in the dormant earth should remind us as much of death as of life – my own response to spring, including this particular spring, is a rosier one. We have had a week when days of rain and sun alternated in emphatic succession, and it is the earth’s possibilities that win the poetry prize.

Head Lines, Stuart Grainger’s blog:  “Surpassing Expectations”

So, as I understand it, blogs are best if you speak authentically to what has recently peaked your interest, engaged your mind or spirit, or has inspired you. Then it was certainly no surprise to me that I was intuitively drawn to my blog topic this week. And also, no surprise, that this blog topic has become an annual tradition as it is based on an annual tradition. Make sense?

Headways, Adam de Pencier’s blog:  “Hear ye hear ye; head’s book club”

Head’s book club is coming to a school near you soon.

In fact pencil in the following date and time: Monday, June 6 from 8:15 to 10:00am in the cottage.

I invite anyone (anyone that is who doesn’t need to be in a Trafalgar classroom) to join us having read:  Why Gender Matters. The idea is to have a conversation about a subject of interest whether we are parents, teachers, or administrators.  Signing up for the book club is simple: contact Sarah Harries-Taylor at harriestaylors@castle-ed.com who will ensure a copy of the book is ordered–at a reduced school price–and ready in plenty of time for June 6th.   We’ll see how it goes and if there is sufficient interest we’ll perhaps plan a few of these for next year, potentially around a given theme or topic.

Perry Perspective, Martha Perry’s blog:  “Voluntarily involved”

The Oxford Dictionary provides the following definition for voluntary: “Having free will, depending on the exercise of will, not subject to or done or brought about by compulsion.” One might argue that the concept of volunteerism has changed over time for the better. With the mandated volunteer hours in high schools across the province, and the additional hours expected by many independent schools, one could argue that volunteerism is placed in the forefront of our students’ minds. It is certainly the reasoning behind the implementation of this program.

But I would argue that what is just as important in sustaining the desire of our girls to give back to communities beyond their years in high school is the need to model the importance of ‘voluntary’ as a key component of volunteering.

Thanks to Jim, Bob, Stuart, Adam and Martha, my goal to read our school blogs became not a task on my always lengthy to-do list, but a pure pleasure. I hope to revisit these sites and check out others, and, of course, add to the conversations. Maybe I’ll even pose some good questions…

P.S.  I couldn’t resist this one – Hal doesn’t blog, but Selwyn’s website does include a Head’s photo section that similarly tells a story:

Hal Hannaford Photos

P.P.S.  Social media poses a new set of risks for our schools.  Check out the Ontario College of Teachers Guidelines for Social Media.

Trying for two way

So I have been diligently blogging every week for about two months now. Pressing “post” is always a nerve-wracking moment, and learning how to connect with this tool has been a great exercise for me in new media. I am finding in my everyday life inspiration for this writing activity; while reading the paper, driving, listening to the radio, or talking to people in our community about the national organization, I constantly make notes that say “blog” in my notebook. But, as someone who is always seeking to use my time effectively, I admit, sometimes I wonder if this blogging is time well spent?

I did some investigating. Google Analytics tells me that hundreds of people are reading the blog, which is scary and exciting. There is no way my mom and dada can click on the site that often, right? And other people in our community are successful bloggers – our recent Social Media Survey reports that my blogging routine is similar to approximately half of the Heads in our schools. So I’m doing the right thing. But I also know that I set out to engage others through blogging, and I was supposed to be entering an on-line educational conversation.  By most definitions, conversation is two-way.  And so I look at the number of comments I have received and see that there is a resounding one.  Although many people email me about the blog, so far, only one person has braved the world of comments – God bless Barb Smith.

Today we posted the Social Media Survey Report, and we are hoping that our schools find it useful as they too begin to navigate the world of social media.  Dawn Levy, from Lower Canada College, was the lead researcher and collaborated with Finalsite to produce the report.  I happen to think the findings are very interesting and that the recommendations and resources, in particular, are super helpful to schools.

But what do you think?

ps – here’s the link to the survey:

http://www.seal.edu/page.cfm?p=575