When you barf at boarding school

The first time I was sick back in the early days of being married, we lived in a little apartment in Kingston.  And I mean little.  It was the middle of the night, and I called out to Kevin, “Kev!  I’m sick!”  I don’t know what I thought he would do.  Rub my back? Make me soup?  At that moment, you are so sick, you just want someone to do something to make it stop.  Here’s what Kevin did.  He yelled back from bed, “I know. I can hear you.”

I was so startled by that reply – still am! – and as you can imagine, I won’t let him forget that he did nothing to help me or comfort me.  He argued that there was nothing that he could have done, and he was surprised that I felt like I needed to tell him that I was sick when everyone in the building would have known.

Maybe it’s a Mom thing.  There have been times when I have called my Mom, and she has driven from Hamilton to take care of me, even when we lived in Montreal.  Over the years, my brother and I have often relied on her to take care of our sick kids when they need to stay home from school.  If I had called out to my Mom that night, I can assure you that she wouldn’t have stayed in bed and barked back at me.  She would have done something, and it would have been just the right thing. 

That mother instinct clicked in last Tuesday when I got a text from Jacob’s advisor.  He wanted to let me know that Jacob was at the health centre with a headache and upset stomach.  As I sat at my desk, I felt sick.  There I was, three hours from my baby when he needed me most.  So I did what had to be done. I hopped in the car and drove to Lakefield.

I think he was happy to see me.  He hugged me a bit longer than usual, and we had nice talks during the first hour that we drove back that night, before he slept the rest of the way.  I felt like I did the right thing, especially since he was scheduled to take the bus home the next day and all those kids’ parents can thank me for not putting a sick child on the bus with their children.

But guess what?  When I asked him about his experience, and I was hoping that he would tell me that he wished I were there?  That he needed his Mom and it was hard to be away from home?  There was none of that.  He liked that his advisor drove him to the health centre when it is only across campus. He liked that there was a ginger ale by his bed when he arrived.  And he liked that the nurse brought him chicken noodle soup. In fact, his advisor’s wife also made him chicken soup for dinner so he had soup twice.  And his biggest news was that the room at the health centre included his own bathroom and – ready for this? – a  flat screen TV.  As he recounted his day, with his face scrunched against the side of the seat in the car looking at me as I drove, I swear he had a little smile. I was just one in a series of people to care for him that day. 

Once again, I had to let it settle in.  He was sick but he didn’t call me.  He made it through the day and there were other people there for him.  I have to get used to that; in fact, I have to be happy that he is learning independence.  At our recent Heads and Chairs conference, Yong Zhao joked that the purpose of education should be to ensure your children don’t end up in your basement after they graduate.  Boarding school is the best preparation for independent children.

I drove him back to school on Monday. I didn’t have to, I could have put him on the bus, but I realized how much I like that three hour drive and the time together to talk.  I long for that break in the silence when he says something that begins with, “Did I tell you about.”   When we drove onto the campus, and it was dark, he was excited to point to the health centre (and tell me again about the TV) and tell me about the other buildings.  I reminded him about the opening day drop off and how everything was unfamiliar and then I started a sentence and caught myself.  I said, “And now it feels like you’re coming home”.  I choked up a bit at that thought. We looked at each other hard, and he nodded.  Lakefield is his home. 

p.s.  I always get permission from my family before posting. Here is Kevin’s feedback:

I’m glad you wrote the story out so I can clarify some facts: i. I did get out of bed; ii. you had closed and I think locked the bathroom door, which opened in and right on you because the toilet was beside the door; iii. when I said “I know” I was standing outside the bathroom door; knowing you were sick but not being able to do anything for you because of the door; iv. “I know” was intended to convey “I know and I’m here”, but the “I’m here” part was presumed because I was saying it outside the door. Perhaps you should add all this as a footnote.

Glad after spending more of our lives together than apart that we’ve figured this one out.  Your blog is a good thing.

CAIS Summer Leadership Institute 2013

Another year, another heat wave at our CAIS Leadership Institute.  Who ever would have expected that weather in New Brunswick?  Certainly, every local person assured us that they never get this kind of heat.  Never say never…

This summer, we were excited to welcome over 100 participants from 49 schools from 7 provinces.  We offered our second round of Next Step leadership training and their Change Projects will surely have a real impact on participating schools.  We held a first National Forum on Inspiring Excellence and we sold out with 40 participants.  (Stay tuned for all of those resources to be shared in our new members only section of the website this fall.) And, of course, we offered a line-up of strong modules, including a new one on Mental Health.  (Thanks to Derek Logan and his daughter Alyssa for leading this!)

Other highlights of the week for me included the New Leaders Speeches by James Lee and Norman Southward and the Art of Leadership Speeches by Jim Officer and Peter Sturrup.  (These will be posted later this month for everyone to enjoy!)

Does this sound like I’m bragging?  I guess I am!  But I always come home from the LI feeling re-energized and eager to build on the momentum of the week (that is, right after I spend a few days napping!)

Below is the speech I gave on the final night at Rothesay Netherwood School before our 21 graduates took the stage.  I hope it gives you a taste of what you missed:

Last year at the closing night of the Leadership Institute, right before I turned things over to the grads, I outlined the Top 10 Things people needed to know about CAIS, and Hal Hannaford said I should tell that story every summer…

He is right, as this is an opportunity for over 100 people to hear about the strategic directions of our national organization.  So tonight I want to move through these quickly before I tell you about what I really want to talk about.

There are four priorities in our new strategic plan – National Standards and Accreditation; Professional Development for Leaders; Research and Resources; and Permanence and Strength.  There are exciting initiatives under each area, including things like our CAIS Top 12, which was implemented in January and has been hugely successful since it is based on our Standards, and it is research that becomes a PD gift to you, designed to save you time and improve you and your school.

What is most important to me this evening is what I am hearing from you, and this is where I want to focus my thoughts this year.  There are three main themes, and I want to ask for your help in each:

1. Women in Leadership – Here are a few key numbers:

–       We are a national association of 93 schools

–       10 women run CAIS co-ed schools

–       The last two hires for girls schools were out of country

–       Of the 16 girls schools in Canada, 4 are run by men. None of the boys schools is run by a woman.

Action Item:  When you see a position advertised, encourage a woman to apply.

2.  Mentors – I am hearing that people are hungry for mentors who have time to invest in them and their schools.

CAIS is implementing a mentorship program that will go to the Board this summer, the Heads and Chairs in October, and be launched in November.  George Rutherford, who was here with us this week taking the Coaching Module, and who will teach the Governance Module in Vancouver this fall, will be overseeing this initiative. 

Action Item:  Look for details this fall and either get involved or give me feedback on how it can meet your needs.

3.  Our Summer LI has been the strongest yet.  On opening night, I introduced Canada’s best faculty, but one member had not yet arrived.  I am pleased to present David Robertson, Head of Shawnigan Lake School, who is here to teach the Next Step Program.  David arrived after midnight, but was up and raring to go for a 7:15am start, which is 3:15 am according to his body time.  Thank you for joining us, David.

Please can we show our appreciation for all of our Summer LI faculty.

What I am hearing is the following:

–       There is huge momentum with CAIS’ leadership programs.

–       Engagement is higher than ever.

–       There is a real focus on making the program really relevant to our jobs and schools.

–       Always great to be with colleagues from all over Canada.

–       There is a more intentional focus on learning. You can feel it.

Ultimately, our goal as a national organization is learning and leadership.  Our goal is to make our schools stronger for our 45,000 students.  As we discussed in our National Forum – if you want to change schools, you change culture. And how do you change culture? You change conversations. 

So I need your help.

If our host, Paul Kitchen, were here, he would say that each year, his job is to make his school a little bit better.  Well, if you know Paul, you know that he would first say that he is a small, poor country school teacher…. But he would also say that the role of the Head is to ensure that you make your school a little bit better every year.  And for those who have been to the campus in the past, you can see that RNS has definitely made great strides under his leadership.  Paul would also say that CAIS – and its accreditation and PD and now its research – plays an important role in that continuous whole school improvement.  It is a partnership.

So my final action item, before we turn it over to our largest graduating class ever, is to encourage you give us your feedback.  Jo-Anne, our new Director of Programs, has spent her time this week listening to your ideas on how to improve our programs.  I also need you to spread the word about your learning here.  Tell others about your experience and – most importantly! – apply your learning to improving your school for your students.

In closing, I believe that our organization is strongest when we work together, in partnership, with our colleagues and friends from across Canada.  And I look forward to another great year. 

p.s.  Check out the PD section of our website for resources and photos.

Independent School Research Summit

Imagine this – it is 8:30pm on the evening before a long weekend.  A woman wearing a business suit, lugging a laptop bag and purse while pulling a suitcase, is skipping stairs up the escalator and sprinting through the Atlanta airport.  Her heart is racing.  She knows that there is not another flight this evening because she has already done that research in the first airport when she knew her first flight was delayed.  She knows that she does not have a moment to spare.  She is desperate to get home because her 12 year old daughter is having a birthday party sleepover with her friends and cousins.

Do you wish this story ends a certain way?  I know I did.  Sadly, last Thursday night, despite my best efforts, I got to my gate six minutes after my connecting flight had shut the doors and so I spent an unexpected night in Atlanta.

Somewhere just after 8:30pm, when I had texted my husband and kids with the update that I wouldn’t be home, I got a text from my colleague Sarah who asked if I made my connecting flight.  With all of her international travel, she knows this scene all too well.  I replied, “PPP.”  This has become our code for rotten news.  It means: Pity Party Please.

The whole concept of living in the moment does not seem to apply at these times.  In fact, travel mishaps are actually some of the most challenging parts of my job – flight delays can leave you in a strange city, late at night, alone, and homesick – how do you snap out of wallowing in that woes me whine?

That night provided another reminder of the need to focus on what is good.  And I mean to really train your brain to shift from that unbecoming state and instead think about gratitude.  In Thursday’s case, I had had an amazing day.

A group of educational leaders of national and international organizations met in Ashville, North Carolina this week for an Independent School Research Summit.  It seems that all schools are hungry for research and some schools are in trouble, so there is a sense of urgency for associations to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of collaborative research.  At this time, all of our associations – even the big ones! – recognize this challenge:  we have big questions and small shops.

As those of you who work with me know, I really believe that we can do things better together, so I was grateful to be invited to participate.

In our next news letter, I will give you a summary of the great work underway with my colleagues at NAIS, TABS, NCGS, CASE, NBOA, CSEE, AISAP, SSATB, INDEX.  There is an exciting new initiative, and CAIS is proud to participate in this North American effort to identify possible opportunities for larger-scale research about independent schools.

Our next meeting will be in Washington.  I might drive.  And I will definitely bring the kids with me.

p.s.  Two articles you need to read:

1.  NYT on Tony Wagner (Who will be at our Summer LI along with the CWRA)

2.  The amazing case of Hotchkiss’s international travel legal case

Wowed by CAIS Schools

We are currently running a FAM Tour.  For those who don’t know what that means, (and until two years ago, I didn’t either!) it refers to a group of international agents touring schools to familiarize themselves with our schools and Canada. The majority of our boarding schools, as well as most universities, now pay international agents to find mission-appropriate students.

Gardiner Wilson, a retired diplomat, along with Alyson Robertson, our CAIS Agent Coordinator, are touring ten agents as I write…

This blog is a bit of a cheat, because I am about to share an email sent to our team last night, but I couldn’t do a better job writing about it than Alyson:

“We began at SAC and they rolled out the red carpet for us from start to finish. We arrived to an incredible “Canadian” breakfast – peameal bacon, Ontario apple &​ cinnamon pancakes, a maple syrup fountain (this was my fav), Atlantic smoked Salmon, Ontario pumpkin &​ blueberry muffins, a made to order omelet…and on and on. They had prefects lined up in kilts to present and take us around and they had a bagpipe performance just for us in the chapel.  It was amazing; the agents were truly ‘wowed.’

We then went on to UCC where they had a student ambassador from each of the countries the agents were representing.  So these agents were able to chat with students from their home countries, in their mother tongue, and hear first hand experiences of how they liked being a UCC student. They gave us an incredible lunch of roast beef and salmon, dessert buffet (!!!), speeches, videos, gift bags, etc.  Jim Power was there chatting and mingling with everyone…

It was just the best day. The agents were in awe. They couldn’t believe the campuses, the residences, the facilities and most of all the warm and huge reception they received at each school.  At one point during a video, Gardiner and I turned to each other with tears in our eyes. It sounds dramatic, but it was a dramatic day. I felt very proud to be part of CAIS and associated with these amazing schools. It was a fantastic day. Schools and agents were all very happy.

SAC and UCC have set the bar high for the rest of the schools on the tour! Tomorrow is BSS and Havergal. I’ll keep you posted!”

This morning at 9:41am, she texted me this:

“Amazingness continues at Havergal!!! They have just given each agent a “travel pack” with Starbucks gift cards for their way!”

The agents will tour 18 of our CAIS Boarding Schools across Canada.  Next week, I get to meet them and drive the van to Shawnigan, Brentwood, St George’s, St. Margaret’s, and SMUS.  How fun is that?

Makes me feel proud that we are showing off our country – and our CAIS schools! – to people who can deliver us the top students from around the world.

ps – As I sit in my office preparing for our Heads, Chairs and Business Officers Conference, which begins tonight, I must admit:  Alyson’s note has made me dream of amazing food, especially maple syrup fountains (check out the photo below).

pps – I hope our five BC boarding schools read this blog and feel the pressure to wow us with their food…. no pressure….

Welcome to the New CAIS Heads

For the past three years, we have had a dozen new Heads in our CAIS schools each year.  For anyone interested in future leadership positions, you should note that that’s an annual twelve percent turn over.

Our schools are in good hands with this year’s amazing bunch of leaders. Welcome to the national organization of Canada’s top schools!

This is my third annual listing of new Heads, so this year – to shake things up a bit – I will add that one of the following includes a video introduction….

Check them out:

Ridley College – Ed Kidd

Appleby College – Innes van Nostrand

Brentwood College – Bud Patel

Sacred Heart School of Halifax – Anne Wachter

The Sterling Hall School – Rick Parsons

The Priory School  – Tim Peters

Akiva School – Mia Severen

Somersfield Academy – Peter Harding

The Rosedale Day School – James Lee

Bishops College School – Will Mitchell

Kempenfelt Bay School – Graham Hookey

Lakefield College School – Struan Robertson