My daughter started thinking about Halloween over a month ago. She and her friends love to plan costumes and where to trick or treat, and we went through one box of chocolate bars in early October. I get their excitement, but I also think it can be a bit out of control.
I remember when I was a kid asking my Mom what I should be for Halloween. It was all the talk at school, and I remember stressing about it. My Mom was at her desk working at the time, and I remember her looking up at me and saying, “The world is much bigger than you.” Now I usually knew better than to disturb my Mom when she was working – with four kids, plus foster kids, plus working on her Masters degree and volunteering, all while working full time – my siblings and I learned the art of picking the best moments to ask for something. But with Halloween on the horizon, I must have been completely absorbed. I was shocked that she didn’t care. When I think back to that exchange now, I realize it was one of those moments when I was startled out of childhood – didn't everyone think about costumes in September?
Now I am just like my Mom. So in September, when Kathleen asked if I would buy her a Halloween costume, I said no. She probably predicted that, so she waited at least a week before returning to the subject. She told me that she really wanted to be Winnie the Pooh, and she found the best costume. She looked at me with a smile and paused – she is also mastering the art of manipulating Mom – and then she let it drop: It only costs 160 dollars. “Only”.
My reaction was similar to my Mom’s. I told her that that price was outrageous and gave her a $20 limit. Was I turning into a grump?
Kathleen decided to be duct tape. I found that amusing – really? Duct tape? Two nights ago she wrapped a t-shirt in duct tape and was quite pleased with the start. It did look pretty cool. But before bed, she realized that she couldn’t take off her duct tape shirt….
Last night she bought more duct tape, and we brainstormed bottoms. For the record, I suggested she create a skirt, to manage some practical considerations. But I didn’t push it, and she disappeared with her friend to create her costume. At dinner time, she made a grand entrance into the kitchen and held a pose – there she was, neck to toes, completely wrapped in duct tape. Pretty impressive. And she was quite impressed with herself.
Then the real fun began. She had to sit down for dinner. Not comfortable. Ten minutes later, she had to pee… We all giggled. When she told me that she would have to cut her tights along with the duct tape, she said, “I promise to sew them and wear them again!”
“Okay,” I said, “But you have to wear those sewn up tights again, in public.”
When I think back on my Mom’s lack of interest in my Halloween costume, I think she gave me a gift. I made my own costumes, often with my friends. One year, we spent hours unraveling red yarn to make Raggedy Ann and Andy wigs; another year we all sewed circles together and went as a bag of M and Ms.
My Mom actually gave me the best gift ever by refusing to enter into my kid world and taking control. Sometimes in stepping back, and giving kids the chance to plan and create on their own, independent from adults, we can let kids be kids….we can let them create their own magic.
I hope I can do the same for my daughter.
ps – I asked Kathleen if I could blog about this story, and she said to call it, ‘Mom is always right’
pps - Jacob wore regular clothes to school but he taped playing cards on one sleeve and chocolate bars on the other. He called himself ‘Trick or Treat’.
on Wednesday October 31, 2012 at 10:37AM
I am tempted to write about last week’s conference on ‘Strategy and Sustainability’ – I have heard from many people that it was valuable and some have even said it was the best gathering ever. But a blog is not a newsletter, so I will include the updates on our website.
I also want to write about the value of accreditation – our third review of the year started this afternoon, and I have enjoyed reading the email exchanges between the Visiting Committee members before and after the visits. But rather than blog about them, I am going to include those in the November newsletter.
I really want to describe the tour with the ten agents in 18 of our boarding schools – they said things like, “I used to send students to the UK but now I will encourage them to choose Canada first” and “I had no idea that CAIS schools were so amazing.” I had a great time with them, especially when we got to fly in a float plane from Vancouver to Shawnigan Lake, and I mean we landed on the dock of Shawnigan. But I will include a photo and link to social media for those updates.
Why not write about three great happenings with CAIS? Because Sarah Milligan often reminds me that a blog is not a newsletter. It is supposed to be a personal online diary, and she doesn’t want me to bore anyone with CAIS updates. Communications should be appropriate to the medium.
So what do I blog about on this rainy Sunday afternoon? Sometimes I get carried away with work and need to focus on other things – so here are a few other things in my life:
Two weeks ago, right before the conference, agent tour and reviews, Kevin and I went on a four-day road trip with two other couples. That’s six adults in one car for ten hours each way. I was reminded that I should take time to do something crazy… even when life is busy – maybe especially when life is busy.
We went to Charlottesville Virginia. In the downtown area is an outdoor mall with a chalkboard wall with two words at the top: Practice thinking. I loved it. Then we went off to Blenheim, the winery that Dave Matthews started. Not only is he an amazing musician – we blasted his music for most of the trip – but he is creative. My favorite lines from ‘You and Me’ are still in my head: 'When the kids are old enough, we’re gonna to teach them to fly.' Sometimes we need to go on a search for what is beautiful.
Our friend Lisa, who inspired our little trip, is about to go through another round of chemo. Her cancer has spread to her lungs and liver, and yet she is the most positive person I have ever met. We talked and laughed – and sang – all weekend.
That’s what I feel like writing in my online diary. Thank goodness I blog because I would hate to spend my afternoon doing work…
on Sunday October 28, 2012 at 08:21PM
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....
on Wednesday October 17, 2012 at 12:48PM
Our CAIS Senior School Leadership Camp has been such a success - it is run by students for students - and schools across Canada take turns hosting it. But a number of years ago, people started talking about a real gap in leadership opportunities for students in grade 7 and 8 and CAIS created a Middle School Leadership Camp.
So after considerable planning, here I am at Onondaga Camp with over 100 kids from CAIS schools across Canada, and I am finding it hard to write about how exciting it feels to see this camp come to life. A group of campers told me they have been looking forward to this since the summer; I heard one girl on the high ropes course yell that she has never done something so exciting in her life; I watched as one girl hung on to the high swing, not letting go, as her peers shouted their encouragement: "You can do it!" and "Just go for it!"; I watched the students write down their passions then talk about them - with enthusiasm - at breakfast! These are kids that are gearing up to change the world…I can see it!
I try to write blogs each week, but today I am stumped. How do you write about the importance of these kinds of learnings? How do you describe the excitement I am seeing radiating from these students, especially when you know that they will remember this opportunity for years to come, and likely far more than the lessons learned in a classroom?
Someone wisely once said, "A picture is worth a thousand words"…. So here goes…
Sometimes we forget what contributes most to raising great kids. But when you see it - the joy and the mixed emotions running around - and you think about how this will impact them, you can't help but be reminded of the importance of these national opportunities, and I am gratified that CAIS has made this possible.
Thank you to Mark Hord and his team - including the Onondaga staff - for making the first CAIS Middle School Leadership Camp such a great success.
on Thursday September 27, 2012 at 05:20PM
My daughter came home from her first week of school and reported that, “Mr. Kidd said ‘Hello Kathleen.’”
Of all the things that she could report to me – from birthday party invitations to cross-country running – she reported that the Headmaster said hello. She must not have been satisfied that I was suitably impressed for she emphasized one point to me as if I hadn’t understood, “By NAME.”
We know from research that ‘personal attention to students’ is the number one reason that parents choose to send their children to independent schools and I see CAIS schools working hard to know all students. Last week alone, I saw Heads in action in Toronto, Bermuda, Mill Bay and Duncan and there was a common theme.
Jim Power (UCC) let me run a CAIS Finance meeting in his office – time spent out and about is time well spent.
Ted Staunton (Saltus) not only greeted students by name; in many cases, he exchanged quick conversations about co-curricular involvement, siblings, and holidays.
Peter Harding (Somersfield) says he drops whatever he is doing and greets families during drop off every morning. He said that it may seem superficial, but it is a way to get to know the community, the families appreciate the greeting and he likes helping out with backpacks and car doors.
Bud Patel (Brentwood) said he interviewed staff, parents and students in his first month at the school and heard over and over – however you spend the rest of your day, be with the students during morning cookie break. So he’s there.
Wilma Jamieson (Queen Margaret’s) ended the leadership team meeting – almost mid sentence – so we could all head out to the pool to watch the cardboard box boat races.
I am proud to report that in our CAIS schools, leaders value time with students and they know them.
We can take a lesson from real estate: A friend wrote to tell us that the house that we bought in Montreal for $179,000 in 2000 and sold for $379,000 in 2005 is now on the market for $700,000. Ouch. Meanwhile, our St Catharines home has stayed about the same. The lesson? Location. Location. Location.
I asked Ted Staunton, who is running his fourth CAIS school successfully, about some of the secrets of his success. The lesson? Visibility. Visibility. Visibility.
on Tuesday September 25, 2012 at 08:59AM
I woke up the other morning in Maine and before getting out of bed, I noticed something different – a big American flag was waving outside my third floor hotel room window. Out on the balcony I saw that the flag was flying at half-mast and it came to me – it was September 11th. I wondered, even though Canadians share this day of mourning, how many flags in Canada were flying at half-mast?
I was in Maine to attend four days of meetings with my colleagues from the NAIS International Commission on Accreditation and the Independent Schools Association Network (ISANet). Our associations serve hundreds of thousands of students in schools in over 100 countries. We offer services ranging from communications, research, and accreditation, to advocacy, research, and professional development. We are different associations, in various parts of the world, representing fiercely independent independent schools.
And yet we share a passion for excellent schools and for learning.
In Maine, I was reminded – yet again! – that all schools are facing similar challenges – in terms of marketing, we discussed declining enrollment, increasing requests for financial aid, and fundraising; and in terms of programs, we talked about innovation, technology, and personalization. It was comforting to know that others ask similar questions of value and priorities and strategy.
But these meetings also make me a bit tense; I lose any sense of comfort I previously felt about the work of CAIS, and instead I feel this slight panic that we are behind every other association. Ever feel that?
And yet I kind of like that off-balance feeling. It makes me crave better. I find myself taking constant notes of every idea, strategy and even good quotation. (Interested in my favorite quote? Jon Moser said, “Branding is what people say about you behind your back”).
Not only do I take notes, I email them. To my staff. Guess how that goes over. This week’s “Idea” emails included things like: “See NYSAIS’ Guidelines.” “See PNAIS’ new Indicator.” “Let’s connect with VAIS about surveys.” “Check out the AISNE website.” “Watch for Pat Bassett’s next blog on crowd sourcing.” The joke is that they hate when I go away to conferences and meetings. Sarah once threatened to cut off my ability to connect when I go away. But you know what? I believe that she – and the rest of them – actually likes the new ideas.
Our team loves different opinions; in fact, we thrive in an environment where we challenge each other. It is not always easy, but in the end – virtually always! – it gets better.
So here’s the thing. My visit to Maine gave me time with colleagues who share similar experiences and values, but who are diverse in their experiences, thinking and approaches to solutions and who also have the courage to challenge ideas.
Seeking out diversity is a great reminder to all of us in the independent school community who are in danger of working in isolation – a broad and collaborative network makes us all better.
Here is the value of a national organization that is further strengthened by an international organization.
p.s. Here are three ideas worth checking out:
Order the new NAIS Trend Book. (Stay tuned for a CAIS 2012 Trends Presentation at the AGM)
Check out Andrea Syverson’s Brand About. (See how CAIS is implementing her advice to tell your story to a real audience)
Watch for Finalsite Social, a private social learning platform (and CAIS will be piloting it this fall)
on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 09:20AM
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….
A couple of blog posts ago, I reflected on the benefits of camp after reading Michael Thompson’s new book, Homesick and Happy. Its theme is the importance of children needing to be away from their parents at camp to help them to grow.
Now that my kids have returned from Onondaga Camp and I have been able to reflect on their experience, I realize – more than ever! – the significance of Thompson’s book. But I have found myself thinking too about the importance of individualized attention to both the camper and the parent. We know from research that personal attention to students is often the number one reason that parents choose an independent school and students flourish in this environment.
So with summer drawing to a close, I thought that the letter below might remind us of the many specific ways that we can give kids the individualized attention they need, and deserve.
Dear Duncan and Alyson,
I have been meaning to write to you since my kids returned from camp. I want you to know how much I value Onondaga Camp. As I wrote in my blog a couple of weeks ago when I read Homesick and Happy, I am a big believer in kids going to sleep-away camp. But this summer I was so impressed with your leadership and your individualized contributions to my kids’ experience, that I want to thank you. Here are some of the things I value most:
Thank you for greeting them by name. They both told me you remembered them from last year. They returned home to us full of stories and laughter….about wakeboarding and water trampolines and the other campers, but you addressing them by name also made the report. Funny how that personal attention is a detail yet makes such a difference.
Alyson, thank you for hugging them. Thank you also for sending me emails with photos. Ask my family and colleagues – I was so excited to hear from you and always forwarded the photos.
Duncan, thank you for chicken burgers. Yes, chicken burgers! Both kids said a highlight of the summer was “the food.” You may recall that Jacob wrote you a letter asking for chicken burgers to be reintroduced, and you wrote him back. He told me that you listened, and is there anything more important to a teenager?
Please pass on our thanks to your outstanding staff. Both kids adored their counselors. They told us they were “nice” and “fun” and obviously they inspired our kids who were proud to achieve different levels in their activities. They also loved their paper plate awards. How amazing that each kid is individually and authentically honoured.
Thank you for the phone call home when Kathleen had an ear infection – whoever called left us a zillion numbers and times to call. Same thing happened when Kathleen got a rope burn from tubing two years ago. We were so reassured that we never returned the calls – we just knew Kathleen was in good hands. She seemed to get more attention than even we would have given her!
We loved the phone call updates during their first week – how reassuring! – and we read and reread the cards from the counselors afterwards. I appreciate all of the time your staff takes to connect with us and our kids. What impressed me most was that the cards were so specific to my kids – no cutting and pasting with your staff.
I know you give this kind of attention to each of your campers, and there are hundreds of parents who feel the way I do. Our friends admitted to us that when they forgot some of their daughter’s stuff in the cabin, it was delivered TO THEIR DOOR STEP IN ANCASTER. Really? You are a cabin-floor-to-the-city-door service…thanks for going WAY above and beyond with your personal attention to every family.
Now that they’re home, Kathleen drives us a bit crazy with her hand clapping and singing, and Jacob is still slightly obsessed about not getting his gold badge in cross-bow, but when I really stop and think about it, would I want them any other way?
Your kids are still young, so maybe you don’t yet know what a gift it is to have someone other than family give your children special care.
Onondaga Camp is amazing because of your leadership – your personalized attention to individual children and parents – and we cannot thank you enough.
Anne-Marie and Kevin
PS – Can’t wait to experience camp myself this fall when our CAIS Middle School students are there. See you then.
on Monday August 20, 2012 at 09:32PM
I sometimes worry that my daughter lacks ambition…. That she should think more often about her future…. She is a smart and outgoing girl who will do well in life, so just imagine what she could do if she just worked a little bit harder and aimed a little bit higher.
I confess that this is one of my tensions – I want the best for her. But what does best mean? I want her to be happy, but I also want her to be successful later in life. I think that in order to be successful, there are some things she could start doing now. So with this in mind, I will share my conversation with her this week.
Over dinner, the kids asked if they could do an out of school activity this year. They know that Kevin and I can be somewhat anti-evening activity – we believe that kids need down time with their families in the evening – but I was pleased with their ambition. I suggested that they find something that combined their passion and excellence. Kathleen confidently stated that she wanted to take gymnastics lessons. Now, my Kathleen is neither passionate nor excellent at gymnastics. So, again, thinking I was being helpful, I suggested that she consider something else. I went so far as to tell her that it is a competitive world and she should really be thinking about something that she could excel at. My daughter got teary eyed, so Kevin and I skillfully switched subjects.
After dinner, alone with Kathleen, I quietly said, “I noticed that you seemed to get a bit sad during that conversation at dinner.” To that, she looked me straight in the eyes and, again, confidently, stated, “I just want to have fun!”
So I read with interest the New York Times review of Madeline Levine’s new book Teach your Children Well, published July 24th, which concluded with the following:
“After all, as Levine notes, the inconvenient truth remains that not every child can be shaped and accelerated into Harvard material. But all kids can have their spirits broken, depression induced and anxiety stoked by too much stress, too little downtime and too much attention given to external factors that make them look good to an audience of appraising eyes but leave them feeling rotten inside.”
In her book, Levine criticizes parents for “cultivating competitive greatness” and has a clear message - that, essentially, everything today’s parents think they’re doing right is actually wrong. She believes that parents must behave differently.
I’m not sure why I feel this need to push my daughter, and I still want to find ways to encourage her to aim higher. But I think Levine is really on to something, and I am guilty.
So I am happy to report that, thanks to my daughter, I am rethinking what it means to be a success. And I am even happier to report that Kathleen will be enrolled in gymnastics this fall.
on Friday August 3, 2012 at 03:26PM
During Sunday afternoon’s thunder storm, I sat on our front porch reading. As I sat, I remembered thunder storms as a kid and heading out to our front porch, even at night. Sometimes our neighbours would sit out front too, and we would catch up. I remember our next door neighbor once tossing over snacks to us – their snacks were always better than ours. Sometimes it would just be us kids with my parents. When I think of my sweetest memories as a child, time on our front porch is up there, particularly during thunder storms.
But if I had to think of my “sweetest” childhood memory, it wouldn’t involve my parents. The first one that came to mind was riding on the back of a motorcycle when I was 16 on an exchange in Switzerland; another was swimming across a lake, knowing there were snapping turtles; another was at camp using a magnifying glass and the sun to burn my initials in a piece of wood.
These memories mean that I am part of the 80% of adults who say that their parents weren’t part of their “sweetest” childhood memory, according to Michael Thompson, in his newest book, Homesick and Happy. How time away from parents can help a child grow. Thompson has asked thousands of parents about “the sweetest memory of childhood” and the same four or five elements are always present: away from adult supervision, out-of-doors, with friends, facing a challenge and doing something a bit risky.
In his book, he explores some of the big questions that parents ask: When and how do we learn to let go? Any why is it so important that we do? He believes that parents need to step aside, ask other adults to take over, and even to send children away in order to help them become “loving, productive, moral, and independent young adults.” He writes that when kids accomplish something separate from their parents, the kids own that accomplishment.
So I put down my book to write. When do we let our kids go? That one feels easy. Kevin and I believe in giving our kids independence, and maybe we can be criticized for letting them go too early. When our kids were nine years old, they flew alone to visit family friends. By alone I mean that we paid an extra $100 to have an Air Canada employee accompany them. But people thought we were crazy. This summer, at age 13, Jacob flew out to Calgary for the third time and we had the option to pay the extra 100 bucks, or not. (Apparently Air Canada thinks my child is an adult??!!) Those of you who know me, will know my decision: we opted not to pay.
The day before the flight, Jacob clued in to the fact that he would have to get from security to the gate alone. He got a bit teary, and I was honestly a bit surprised by his anxiety. After all, we have flown a lot, and I have made a point of putting the kids in charge of navigating the airport. As a bit of a throw-away comment, I said, “Jacob, I believe you can get to the gate on your own.” He quickly turned to face me – that clearly got his attention – and he said, “thank you.” It was as if that little comment was a turning point for him.
Joanne Kates wrote an article about homesick kids at camp in last week’s Globe and one of her tips was this:
“Project 100-per-cent confidence in your child’s ability to rise to this challenge. That helps him believe in his own ability to be on his own. Believing he can do it gets him halfway there.”
Kates’ tip worked for Jacob, and when I got a text from our friends that Jacob arrived safely, I thought of the fact that we let Jacob go so that he owned the accomplishment of travelling by himself.
Hopefully he feels this is a “sweet” memory and doesn't feel the need to climb on a motorcycle any time soon… and when he does? I will be looking to Thompson and Kates for some “letting go” tips….
on Monday July 23, 2012 at 12:40PM