Valuable resources for schools

At a time when our lives are over-packed with meetings and to-do lists, it is so important to find time to reflect, learn, and connect with like-minded colleagues. A good conference can do this for you, and this week, TABS was a great conference. It is a privilege, actually, that our schools give us the gift of time by sending us to conferences. This year, the TABS conference was one of the best, and I have heard this from many attendees. For starters, it was incredible that a Canadian won the prestigious Ruzicka Award. Congratulations to David Hadden, retired Head of Lakefield College, current Advisor to CAIS, and friend to many. His passion for promoting the benefits of a boarding education is infectious, and we will share his speech in our December newsletter.

In addition to sharing this great moment for Canadian education, the sessions this year were really valuable – not just for boarding schools. I was so overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the Canadians, that I offered to capture their highlights here, and conveniently, I have a Top 12:

“Beyond the Viewbook: Re-envisioning Traditional Marketing” at Mercersburg Academy. Check out their approach to Admissions, with a video on affording tuition, Student ambassador strategy, and videos with students explaining their experience in college. Thanks to Janice from CAIS for this suggestion.

Porter’s Leads at Miss Porter’s School is a 24-hour weekend program that gives girls a chance to experience boarding and a leadership retreat specifically for girls. The program was so instantly popular that they had to cap participation at 50, and they now run it twice per year! Good use of a landing page here too. Thanks to Kathy from TCS for this pick.

“Sex and Cupcakes: Fun, Factual & Student-Centred Sex Education” was a powerful workshop by the folks at The Madeira School. Recommended video: Who are you? Recommended book: S.E.X.. Thanks to Erin at Havergal.

“M&Ms and Paper Bags: Ready to use adviser activities on a budget” was a workshop designed to get students talking about race, class and interpersonal relationships by leaders at Western Reserve and Baylor School. Recommended by David from SMUS.

“What does ‘A Caring Community’ really mean?” Holderness School has a unique approach. Thanks to Andrea at Appleby for this pick!

“Appreciation for diversity: Training activities for student leaders.” Emma Willard School is training students in cultural differences. No link to their website on this program, but check out the coolest Signature Program page here. Natalia from Havergal chose this one.

“Listen for the silent scream: How to respond to cutting” by Chris Thurber, Psychologist & Educator at Exeter Academy. (Chris also contributed to our CAIS Mental Health in Boarding Schools Report.) AND “Step Up, Shout Out, Opt in: Using Peer Education to Educate & Motivate” which is an amazing program at St. Anne’s Belfield. In addition to Kathy’s presentation, I liked these ones!

“It Takes Three to Tango: Transforming the Adviser-Parent-Student Partnership” Wildwood School, Western Reserve and Exeter facilitated this program designed to help you stay ahead of the evolving role of the advisor. Stephen from Appleby recommended this.

“Maps: Educating the individual student through goal setting” is an advisory program at Vermont Academy that stands for My Action Plan for Success. Recommended by Kate at Appleby.

Westtown School’s “Elevating Student Leadership” program was recommended by Todd at Ashbury.

A very big congratulations to all Canadian Presenters, and thank you for being leaders in our boarding community. And if I can be uncharacteristically Canadian for a moment, I heard this comment more than once: “The BEST presentations are by the Canadians!” Here they are:

Mary Gauthier and Jody McLean at UCC – “Return to Learn – Getting back on track after a concussion” is UCC’s protocols for concussions.

Stephen Telling and Andrea Kelly at Appleby – “Student Leadership & Promoting Intercultural Awareness” (Recommended by Caro and Todd from Ashbury)

Marius and Andrea Felix at Brentwood – “A Community Service Opportunity for Boarding Schools”

Brian Murray at RNS and Shelly Frank at Pickering – “From Beijing to Berlin: Helping to create a home away from home”

Andy Olson at Shawnigan and Brent Lee at Brentwood – “Three Boarding Problems Solved by Technology”

Kathy LaBranche at TCS – “Open House & Road Shows – Are they dead or just a little broken? Kathy recommends we watch Ivory Tower too.

Congratulations also to Pete Upham and his team at TABS. You do great work to strengthen our boarding schools, and you have a grateful fan club in Canada.

National Trends in Education

I needed a new outfit to attend the Centenary gala last week in Ottawa and didn’t know what to buy to wear.  Looking for something trendy, I texted my colleague, Sarah Milligan, who advised, “Buy a white jacket to go with your black dress.”  Perfect.

But as I am literally following the saleswoman to go pay for the jacket, two things happen simultaneously – Sarah sends another text to say, “Buy a statement necklace to go with it” – just as the saleswoman asks, “Do you want a statement necklace to go with that?”

Ugh…Too proud to admit that I don’t have a clue what she’s talking about, I say, “Sure!”

The most embarrassing part of this story is that when I proudly reported to Sarah that I bought the necklace and jacket, I called it a “signature necklace”.  She was quick to note that it is called a “statement necklace” and I had no hope of ever being trendy.

Although I cannot keep up with fashion trends, I am obsessed with trends in education, and I am speaking at all of our CAIS partner conferences to share my observations of trends in independent schools around the world.

As we know, some trends resurface.  Yesterday, there was an article in the Globe and Mail entitled, Exams will stop grade inflation, which may reignite an age-old debate about the validity of external standardized tests. I have written about the questionable value of standardized exams, assessment, and grade inflation in the past, so you know I believe that grade inflation is a challenge but one that won’t be solved by standardized exams.

So what is to be done?  Our CAIS schools have to address over 90 Indicators of Effective Practice as part of our whole-school improvement process, including the following:

3.11 – The school’s assessment policies and procedures reflect attention to authentic performance tasks, multiple sources of evidence, educational goals, and individual student learning.

11.4 – The school engages in ongoing development, review and evaluation of its program, including tracking the level of success of its graduates.

Our accreditation process is not trendy. CAIS schools scrutinize their procedures and their results over time and work hard to ensure that student learning is the debate, not just marks.  Maybe, if the university application process would consider more than marks in their admissions process, we might be able to move on to more important educational debates?

I, for one, would love to see the conversation shift towards an examination about what is worthy of teaching and learning in our changing world or the challenges facing students.  In the past week alone, we have seen The Atlantic release an article about The Confidence Gap , the NYT issue an article about Raising a Moral Child, and CBC’s story called Class of 2014: Generation Screwed, about the soaring costs of university tuition.

At CAIS, we are focused on these kinds of trends and more.  At the moment, we are thinking deeply about issues of mental health, online learning, enrolment management, and the unique value proposition for each of our schools.  How do we decide which trend is worthy of more research?  We are driven by our CAIS values – student-centred, leadership, excellence, collaboration, relevance,  national and global perspective – and we continuously debate what is best for students.

In short, we watch the trends, but we act on values.

In memory of Jack Windeler

I was driving into Toronto on my way to a meeting when my daughter called, crying because her backpack was missing.  Turns out, while we were sleeping, someone broke into our car, grabbed her backpack, emptied it on our neighbour’s lawn, and from our garage, stole some beer to put into the backpack and took off on my son’s bike. She was inconsolable and as I hung up the phone and walked into Jim Power’s office, (who, for those of you who don’t know, is the Head of Toronto’s Upper Canada College).  I had to stop, take a breath and refocus. My heart went out to my poor daughter’s tears as she, in her nine year-old innocence, was forced to come face-to-face with the cruelty of human beings and the selfishness that governed some people’s behaviour.  I knew this would be a tough lesson in life for her and that it would be important that she respond not in anger, but in empathy for people whose lives are so miserable and misguided, that they would think it’s okay to steal and ruin other people’s property.  I’d have a mothering challenge when I got home that night.

So I was prepared to be somewhat distracted throughout my meeting at UCC.  But the person I was meeting with made me stop ruminating on my domestic travails.

Eric Windeler is the father of Jack who died of suicide last March during his first year at university.  Since then, his family has learned that Jack suffered from mental illness and they have worked tirelessly to understand more about mental illness and suicide. Their journey has helped countless other parents and educators to be more aware of the potential for this kind of tragedy in their own lives.

Eric explained:

“We have learned  first hand how invisible mental illness can be. It is hard, at first, to understand clearly that mental health is another illness that can kill, just like like heart disease or cancer. Gradually, we have accepted that symptoms of mental illness are no more under the control of the sufferer than are the symptoms of a ‘physical’ illness. In the case of mental illness, the brain is the organ that is ill. In some cases, so ill, that the painful symptoms can include an overwhelming and all-consuming desire to end your life – in order to stop the pain.

We have also learned a lot about suicide. Sadly it is the second leading killer of youth next to accidents of all kinds. Further, it is generally accepted that the stats on suicide are understated, likely greatly understated. This is for many reasons – not the least of which is the stigma and pain associated with admitting a family member took this decision. We have also learned about the societal discrimination that is borne by the sufferers … only 30% will even seek help due to the associated embarrassment, stigma and discrimination. We have heard first hand from numerous current and former sufferers who have told us their personal story of how hard it is to ask for help, and the difficulty that exists to even get help from the system as it is today. We know that only as the stigma around mental illness and suicide disappears will there be proper support for people suffering these forms of illness.”

Suicide has been growing among teens.  In a recent survey of 15,000 grade 7 to 12 students in British Columbia, 34% knew of someone who had attempted or died by suicide; 16% had seriously considered suicide; 14% had made a suicide plan; 7% had made an attempt and 2% had required medical attention due to an attempt.  Some look to the immediate triggers such as bullying which can cause the depression that might lead to suicide.  There are many other possible triggers, but the underlying mental health of the individual is what we as parents and educators must be sensitive to so that the right kind of intervention can take place and a child can be protected as he or she heals from this horrible illness.  It’s too easy to say that the miasma of adolescence and young adulthood with all the dramas and hormones and confusion that we experienced at that age, is simply a phase to be got through.  Sometimes, it isn’t.  Sometimes, it’s much more than that.

SEAL Canada examines health and safety in a school environment as part of its accreditation process and has attempted to put in place standards that will help schools identify and manage potential problems that could lead to the endangering of a student’s wellbeing.  That includes bullying and other activities that might imperil a student.  We also encourage teachers and staff to receive training in identifying and dealing with behavioural problems that could lead to more serious outcomes.

After talking with Mr. Windeler, I feel even more strongly about emphasizing this aspect of accreditation and raising awareness about these issues that as he says, can be so invisible on the surface, and so utterly tragic if not discovered.

I don’t know if the people who broke into our garage and took our things are anything more than rotten kids, or if maybe they suffer too.  Maybe they’ve been bullied at school or abused at home.  Maybe they are acting out of some source of pain that they simply don’t know how to express. That would be the discussion I’d  have with my daughter that  night. After I’d held her in my arms for a very long time.

“In Memory of Jack Windeler” is a video produced this summer to get the story out to all youth and parents.  It was shown at Queen’s University this summer as part of their training program for residence dons and orientation leaders: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1w9j8jTG_Q

Jack’s passing is a tragic story, but it’s also an important story that we all can learn something from.  I encourage you to spend 8 minutes watching the video.

You can be sure that you will forget all else as  you watch.

P.S.  The story was also featured in a CBC interview on Sept. 10th. See it at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BspADBymhfo

Mental Health First Aid provides excellent training for school counsellors and dons: http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.ca/Pages/default.aspx