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KeeNote is a blog by Anne-Marie Kee that covers topics on education, administration and parenting.

Pat Basset and Google


I heard Pat speak four times last week in Philadelphia, and he was, as usual, a rock star every time.  These are my two favorite stories: 

At the Lamplighter School in Texas, the grade three class runs an Egg Business. They use their own money to create an investment fund, and then they buy chickens. They create a marketing plan, and then sell the eggs.  At the end of the year, there is a big debate: what to do with the profit?  As you can imagine, the class is divided – to give away money to charity (the girls!) or to split the profits (the boys!)…. The classic capitalism vs. socialism debate… in grade three…

Another school’s signature event was the Grade Six Bake Sale.  The students all agree on the product – in this case, it was cupcakes – and then they all agree on the marketing and business plans, including the price.  On the day of the Bake Sale, one student (yes, it was a boy!) bought all of the cupcakes for the agreed upon price, and then he resold them for a higher price.  This created a huge campus-wide debate.  He asked our group:  what side are you on?  And how would you create similar big debates in your school?

Pat challenged all school leaders:  What is your signature event at each grade level?  The one that makes kids excited to get in to the next grade?

His challenge reminded me of a story I heard about Google.  One of my association colleagues told me that Google staff have complained to their children’s school about homework.  Their challenge?

Homework should include working on unsolvable problems.  So Google would probably like seeing kids engaged in the big projects and debates that Pat described. 

I know some of our CAIS schools have signature projects at each grade.  (My daughter’s grade six class at Ridley is engaged in one now!  Her teacher, Mrs. Beatty, told me this morning that the younger students are already excited to get into her grade six class so they can do “the bean market”.)  But I’m not sure how many schools have a homework policy that includes unsolvable problems. 

Anyone care to share their signature projects or unsolvable problems homework policies?  I’m sure that Pat and Google would like to hear from us…


Posted by amkee on Friday March 8, 2013 at 03:01PM
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Are conferences passé?

I am at NAIS in Philadelphia and I got a text from a family friend in Halifax. My daughter wrote this to her:  If you have an idea of what I should be when I grow up then text me back because I need something by tomorrow.

When I spoke with my daughter, she was in tears. I tried to calm her with the classic – you are 11 years old and have a long time to figure this out.  She cried: But I need it for homework today!  So I told her what I did in school – just say you want to be a lawyer.  And that is exactly what she did.

But the point is that when she needed help – and fast! – she texted.  This reflex reminded me of my son before Christmas. He reminded me of his research process to find a new video game.  He texted me:  Well I made a post on Facebook that said “Which games should I get for my Xbox?” Then I took the top 5 and did internet research on them and narrowed it down to the ones that I liked best.

When kids grow up with immediate access to information and people through social media, what is the role of schools?  Sometimes I get worked up thinking about blended learning and how best to incorporate technology into learning in the classroom.  But the fact is, kids are growing up with hand-held devices and can use them with or without schools.

So the answer to how to change is sometimes not to change.  There will always be a real need for face-to-face time together. I would argue that schools need to get better at teaching values of how to get along and how to be kind to each other. (Today we call them 21st century learning skills but many are just good old fashioned values.)

I feel the same way about conferences. I can – and do! – learn from listservs and webinars and internet research.  But I value more the opportunity to join my NAIS colleagues here in Philadelphia.  Since CAIS is part of the International Commission on Accreditation and the Independent School Association Network, I spend a full week engaged in listening and talking with colleagues from all over the world.  This is an international network of smart people who share my passion for accreditation, advocacy, professional development and research.  As CAIS is the only organization in Canada to focus on this combination of programs, this network is critical.  (I am joined by my friend Jan at CIS Ontario too!)

Sometimes I joke that I learn more from the hallway conversations, but it was pretty amazing yesterday to hear Jim Collins and Bob Evans.  And last night at Canada Night, people wanted to talk about them and Daniel Goleman and the other sessions they attended (including one on marriage and Headship by Sue Groesbeck and Hal Hannaford and their spouses!)

I tweeted all about it, but I bet you would agree, that the real value is being here to hear and debate the ideas in person.

Posted by Chris Gaspic on Friday March 1, 2013 at 02:44PM
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The French Choice


When we lived in Montreal, we put Jacob in French school, which meant he didn’t understand a word of what his teacher or classmates said. I wanted Jacob to be bilingual, and I remember being quite cavalier about his full immersion experience.  I thought, “He’s five. It is not like he can ask friends at the park if they understand their teacher at school.  He just thinks that is what school is. He will catch on.”

But at the October parent-teacher interviews, his teacher reported that he didn't speak at school.  This disturbed us and we considered switching to an English school.  Kevin worked at McGill at the time and asked his colleagues in the education department. Their advice was to leave him.  His teacher also advised us not to worry.  She said his language acquisition was progressing normally, especially for boys.

Sure enough, in mid-January his teacher called to say that not only was he speaking French, he was using full sentences.  

So in St Catharines, we were excited to put both kids in the French Catholic board.  Kathleen’s Junior Kindergarten experience was opposite to Jacob.  She came home that first week convinced that she spoke French and would speak a combination of French and English.  Not speaking French is one of my life regrets, and I believe all schools should give the gift of languages to children at a young age. 

Around the world, second – and third! – language acquisition is a priority. In Europe, promotion of language learning is one of the main objectives of a Commission of Education and Training Strategy (ET 2020), and pupils are generally between 6 and 9 years old when they have to start learning a second language.  Singapore views language proficiency as part of its “ambition to ride on the tide of globalization and excel in an era of knowledge-driven economic activities”.  Here at home, according to Margaret Wente, “the demand for French has been soaring out of sight”.

Last week, a vision for the future of public schools in Canada was launched:  Shifting Minds: A Vision and Framework for 21st Century Learning in Canada.  It is exciting and the emphasis on skills and innovation is inspirational.  Reading it made me think that our nimble CAIS schools can be positioned as leaders in this arena.  But there is a second opportunity for CAIS schools as well.  The vision for the public system does not include a focus on languages. I believe that all Canadians should be bilingual, and when I see CAIS schools that develop kids with three languages by age 12, I think there is no excuse for Canadians.

I’m reading Roger Martin’s Playing to Win and his thesis is that “Strategy is a set of choices about winning.”  There are many reasons why the public system cannot be best at languages.  So as I think about the competitive skills needed in the future and the intrinsic value that languages provide people, I have to ask:

Perhaps CAIS schools can provide superior value in this area of second and third languages?


p.s. Check out “Oui, Je parle francais,” a video that explores the benefits of learning French. 


Posted by amkee on Tuesday February 19, 2013 at 03:14PM
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I often hear from members about the value of accreditation, but I don't always get the chance to share the feedback.  It is one thing for me to promote the fact that accreditation is an effective continuous school improvement process, but it is another thing to see others describe it.  So when I saw Bob Snowden's blog, I got pretty excited.... In the past 8 years, I have been on more accreditation reviews than anyone in Canada; in fact, because of our unique model where a CAIS staff is on-site during the visit, I have probably been on more reviews than anyone in the world.  

So this morning, Bob Snowden, Head of SMUS, gave me permission to post his blog here: 

One of our Senior Math teachers, Deanna Catto, just returned from a four-day accreditation visit to another member school of CAIS, the national organization to which we belong, Canadian Accredited Independent Schools. Tomorrow morning, I and our Director of Junior School, Nancy Richards, leave for a similar accreditation visit to a school in Toronto, Bishop Strachan School. SMUS had its last accreditation visit in the fall of 2007, and will be due for another one in the next couple of years. We are strong believers in this process, which involves a thorough self-examination by staff in every sector of the School – including academics, extra-curricular life, finances, athletics, and even Board, Alumni and Parents Association. It is a comprehensive and integrated examination of how effectively we fulfill our Mission in all ways, and it is conducted over four days by a team of about twelve staff and Board members from other Canadian schools, usually with a couple of independent professionals thrown in. No stone is unturned, so to speak.

In explaining the process, I regularly refer to Socrates’ line, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Likewise a school: it is useful to examine what we do and have others participate in the examination to provide an external and unbiased point of view. We want to open ourselves up to the scrutiny of eyes not our own, recognizing that the pursuit of excellence does not end in a destination you arrive at; it is the journey itself, and it never ends. For those who are curious, our last accreditation report was very positive, the visiting team finding a School where the staff engaged in their work in a spirit of continuous improvement. Music to my ears.

When the shoe is on the other foot – that is, when staff members of ours are on accreditation teams to other schools, the benefits are also significant. To go into another independent school and examine its efforts, with the aim of recognizing what works and recommending improvements where we can, does take us out of our focused and intense SMUS bubble and compel us to see how other institutions are grappling with the same purposes we pursue: the challenge of preparing young people for a dynamically changing world. Both exercises – either as the visitor or as the visited – are exercises in humility since you recognize that there is always something that needs improvement or new emphasis. And also in aspiration, since you recognize that seeking the best environment for the current generation of leaders is all about the world of tomorrow.


p.s. I encourage you to follow "Vivat! The Head's Blog":

Posted by amkee on Saturday February 9, 2013 at 02:33PM
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Dick Cherry coached me


Last night, for the second Saturday in a long time, Don Cherry held court in front of millions of Canadians.  Don, as hockey fans among you will know, (and I didn’t until I looked it up) only played one hockey game in the NHL.  But his brother Dick played 149 NHL games, and then he left and became an elementary school principal.  Both Don and Dick coached hockey players, but Dick also coached students and teachers.  

In beginning to focus on our National Research Project, Inspiring Excellence, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of feedback in learning, and additionally, the need for administrators to give meaningful feedback to teachers.  And this is where Dick Cherry comes in….

Dick Cherry coached me to be a better teacher.  Twenty years ago, when I was a student teacher, I had a teaching placement in a JK-8 school in the Kingston area, and Dick Cherry was the Principal.  Like his brother, he was larger than life. (keep in mind that I knew nothing of his NHL hockey career.)  He was playful and exuded passion.  I remember that he played the banjo at the school, and on snowy days when outdoor recess was cancelled, he had the kids square dancing in the gym.  I remember standing at the back of an assembly once and seeing him, when no one else could, sprint down the hall then stop outside the doors, pull himself together and saunter into the gym to address the kids.  It might have been my first glimpse into the behind the scenes life of an administrator.

Once when I was teaching a grade seven class, Dick stood in the doorway watching me.  Later that day, he said something to me like, “You let your feelings show when you get stressed and these kids will eat you alive if you don’t learn to mask your emotions.”  He took me across the hall, to the grade eight classroom, and asked me what I observed.  The class was a bit chaotic – I think it was almost recess – but the kids were engaged and the teacher was in charge.  Dick whispered, “Watch him now.  He is directing them, and telling them off if you listen carefully; but he uses humour and he doesn’t let them get to him.”  

Another time, he stood in the doorway of my classroom right before the end-of-day bell.  As the kids were packing up, Dick got their attention.  He asked my class,  “What did you learn today?”  The kids came to life – clearly they were used to being asked this question.  He listened and bantered about the odd comment, and when the bell rang, the kids left in a buzz.  Then he said to me, “What is the first thing parents ask kids when they see them?  This routine helps them have a fresh answer everyday.”  Lesson learned?  Remind kids – and their parents – of the value of learning.  Other lesson learned?  Much can be learned from watching the pros.

With the proliferation and increased quality of online learning, the future of great teaching will depend on those who are masterful at engaging with and inspiring kids.

What isn’t changing is the need for great administrators – like Dick Cherry – to spend time standing in doors, coaching teachers.

Today, Dick Cherry is 75 years old and still coaching hockey; I wonder if he’d take up the call to coach teachers too?


Posted by amkee on Sunday January 27, 2013 at 12:03PM
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Sans Technology


A few days before I left for New Zealand, a friend suggested I leave my iPhone at home.  What?  Three weeks without email?  For the past seven years, I have always remained in email contact with work, even on vacation.  Three weeks without texting?  Outrageous.  My iPhone rarely leaves my side, even in “off” hours.  (Admit it…you’re out with your family; you’ve promised to be good and give all of your focus to your family, but you sneak in a peek in the restaurant bathroom…I know I am not the only one…Kevin tells me young men text at the urinal…)

So it took me a few days to process this suggestion.  I trust my staff tremendously to handle anything while I’m away, and it is Christmas after all, so everyone is pretty focused on family and friends, so the office would be quiet.  Kevin and the kids thought it was the best idea ever, and everyone I mentioned it to agreed. No iPhone. No laptop. For three weeks.

The first day was hell.  I had made all of the travel arrangements and asked Kevin to print everything before leaving.  He saved the various links to our reservations and said printing was old fashioned. 

Our first snag was at the Toronto airport when he couldn’t find the flight details and they insisted we needed an Australian visa (we didn’t).  Then in Australia we had trouble when he couldn’t access the internet (and the Air Canada website) and had to prove we were leaving New Zealand.  I admit that Kevin got a few ‘I told you so’ looks. Okay… more than a few and a few words as well…

In the first few days, I had technology withdrawal.  There were times when I thought – and dreamt – of work. Rather than send a quick email, I would write things down – silly things like remember to do this or call that person.  During the rest of the trip, at the oddest of times, I would have work things pop into my head, like when I was trying to decide on which brand of Sauvignon Blanc to buy. (I couldn’t believe the mark-downs on good wine at the grocery store – Save $12!  Kim Crawford was often on sale for $8!).  

Eventually, my mind relaxed.  We had some long drives, when the radio didn’t work and we got bored of our four CDs and there was no hook up to iTunes.  For the first time in a long while, I would have hours of nothingness.  The kids had their iPhones so they were preoccupied in the back seat, which left us to long conversations or sometimes hours of uninterrupted sheep watching.  (New Zealand is home to 4 million people and 40 million sheep.)  I would get the kids to unplug too, and more than once, Kathleen fell asleep with her head out the window.

When I got home and looked through my journal, I realized that the ideas that came to me when I was not thinking about work – when I was totally preoccupied with vacationing – were actually some of my best ideas.  That first week back, I had a renewed energy for work and our team came up with some of our best ideas ever.  (We are pretty excited about our new CAIS Top 12).

How often do we let our minds relax? How long does it take for a mind to really let go and wander?  Is it different for kids?  How did we become so enrapt in our Smart Phones, that we forget how to take a break?

I’ve been talking to and emailing others about this idea, and so far, my favorite response comes from Graham Hookey, Head of Kempenfelt Bay, who wrote: 

“As society and schools have become technology 'mad', I do believe we have crossed a line of moderation and may be conducting the largest social and educational experiment ever on our children, with little insight into how it might turn out…If you haven't yet read Nicholas Carr's, The Shallows, it will offer some sobering thoughts in the moments when your phone and computer are shut off!”

I’ve ordered the book.


Posted by amkee on Monday January 21, 2013 at 12:07PM
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Just jump


As I stood on the rocks above the Pelorus River, I froze.  I knew my family was becoming a bit impatient with me, and I could hear them yelling at me, “Just jump!”

I had watched as other adults and kids – including my own – had made the jump from the rocks to the river.  It was safe and everyone who jumped was hooting and hollering.  But I also knew the water was cold and the rocks were pretty high.  In short, I was afraid.  At the time I had a couple of thoughts – one was that I wanted my daughter to see that I could do whatever she could do; the other was that I wanted to overcome my fear.  Okay… to be honest, I also had a very pathetic thought – I actually thought of one of the sayings on the lululemon bags: do one thing a day that scares you.

So I jumped.

Maybe some of you are into big risk activities or fast sports, but I am not.  Truth is, I am a chicken.  But this experience made me feel so good that I did it again.

In total, I did four jumps during our three week trip to New Zealand – off a sailboat in Abel Tasman National Park, another off of Split Apple Rock, and yes, I did the jump of all jumps:  I bungy jumped 43 metres from the Kawarau Bridge, the same spot where A.J. Hackett created the first commercial public bungy.  Each time I was terrified – especially the last one, knowing that I would dip my head first into the Kawarau River before bouncing back up – but each time, afterwards, I have never felt such a rush.

Now that I am back to work, back to day-to-day non-vacation reality, I have been thinking about taking risks – the fear and also the confidence and the rush.  It sounds cliché, but I felt alive in those moments, and I want those feelings again.

Can I get that in my day-to-day life at work? 

Today, on my first day back after 23 days on the other side of the world, I feel a bit like standing on a rock about to jump. Other than hundreds of emails and the usual projects, here is what I see when I look at jumping back into work:

  • Our new national research project on Excellence in Learning
  • Our Summer LI includes a new program for Heads, a second round of the Next Step Program, and a new Forum for Academic Leaders
  • Our Strategic Planning process begins with a survey this month.

At this point, these projects don’t have clear outcomes or any guarantee of success; plus, they will require a lot of hard work…. Come to think of it, my vacation jumps were easier! 

But the fact is, I know that these projects will involve many people across the country and will ultimately contribute to strengthening our CAIS schools.  The fear is about getting started. 

So I need to think about what I learned on my vacation:  jumping feels good and the after-jump feeling is even better. 

So here I go…


Happy new year.


Posted by amkee on Monday January 7, 2013 at 03:17PM
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Online shopping and schooling


When I got to the cash at Michaels Craft Store to pay for a new doll bed for my niece, the clerk asked if I wanted to be on their email list.  I replied no, a little too quickly and a lot too self-righteously.  I hate that stuff. 

Then she told me the price of the bed, and it was a good 50% cheaper than the ticket price.  Assuming she made an error, I tried to correct her.

“Well, if you were on the email list, you would get a 50% off coupon. But I gave the discount to you anyway.”

Now I felt guilty.  I thanked her profusely, hoping she didn’t catch my earlier smugness.

I really dislike the whole email and online shopping world, but I am a sucker for a good deal.  So do I continue to ride my high horse and refuse to enter the online shopping world? 

As our schools wrestle with the future of online education, I think we face a similar dilemma.  We know that our current model of small classroom size and fancy facilities is expensive and that online learning is good for kids who need to learn how to access good information and be prepared for an increasingly digital world.  But how do you ensure deep learning from cold technology?  And what will the new learning model look like?  Can schools afford to not ask these questions?

I wish I had an answer.  (So stop reading this blog here if you think there is a simple solution.)  But there are two things I know for sure:

  1. We need to invest in exploring how to embed technology with the best of what is happening in the best classrooms today.  No excuses. We need minds focusing on what the future of education will look like.  CAIS is prepared to take a lead in this process.  Stay tuned for our strategic plan.  Our community will be asked to contribute to a survey in the new year.
  2. We need to continue to do what we do well and be better than ever.  I believe our schools need to invest in relationships with our current students and families.  At the TABS conference last week, I heard time and again the need to personalize our communications.  What is our proactive strategy to challenge and support every student in our schools?   And how does that in turn become a strategic retention program?

The future for education will, of course, lie in a blend of high technology and high personal touch. Just as I was motivated to be open to online shopping by a kind clerk who looked at me, took pity, and gave me a break, I believe our students will also need to see the whites of the eyes of their teachers and trust them to guide and inspire them towards fulfilling and purposeful lives.

The two-pronged approach will ensure our CAIS schools remain leaders in shaping the future of education. 


Posted by amkee on Tuesday December 11, 2012 at 05:55PM
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A First


Today is a big day for CAIS. 

At this moment, there are 23 people, from six provinces, in three schools in three different provinces, participating on accreditation reviews.  Think about that for a moment.

I’ve been working at the national level for eight years, and it excites me to know that this has never been done before.  In fact, we are going to set a second record this year, by completing 18 reviews in one year!  (Just by way of context, the most we have done in the past is 11).  

But it gets better.  As these visits are happening, I am sitting at my desk in St Catharines.  I will go home to my kids tonight and might even cook dinner (yes Kevin, you read that correctly….but I said ‘might’).   Call me selfish, but this is a really big deal for someone who is away more than home during this busy season.

If that is not exciting enough, it gets even better.  One of our strategic priorities is that our organizational model is to be “financially responsible, nimble and adaptive to an ever-changing world.”  We want our organizational model to be efficient while ensuring that our “leadership is strong.”  

Today, we have three Accreditation Coordinators – Elaine Danson, David Hadden, and Guy McLean – leading the three reviews in Winnipeg, Belleville and Halifax.  This strategic use of retired Heads in this kind of leadership role is incredibly powerful.  The schools will no doubt benefit from this additional expertise.  The three of them are no strangers to CAIS; they probably have – combined – about 100 years in CAIS schools.  (I said combined.)  How is that for a statistic?!!

Makes me feel really proud of our national organization. I might even make a celebratory dinner tonight and say a little toast….


Posted by amkee on Wednesday November 28, 2012 at 10:25AM
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Be a good parent


When I taught English and my students struggled with a topic, I would advise them to write about something that’s on their mind….something they care about. I have had one of the most powerful experiences of my life and have thought of nothing else since.

On Friday my grandfather was rushed to hospital and by evening, I joined my aunts, uncle, and cousins, as well as my brother and my Dad around his bedside for the Sacrament of the Sick. The priest commented on the number of family members and the fact that we knew the right responses to the prayers. I wondered how many people are as fortunate?  My Pa is 95.5 – he had nine kids, 12 grandkids, and 6 great-grandkids - so we all knew he had lived a great and long life. 

As my brother and I said our goodbyes, he offered us advice.  Of all the things he could have said at that point in the hospital, he said this:  Be a good parent.

It was tough to understand him but that message was clear.

Now before I continue, I should add that when Kevin and I brought our kids to say their good-byes the next morning, he was sitting up in bed and greeted us with a twinkle in his eye.  He looked at Kathleen’s track pants and asked what “Aeropostal” meant.

His words have had impact and have me thinking.  What does it mean to be a good parent?  

There’s no shortage of advice out there.  Right now three books come to mind:

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.

Teach Your Children Well by Madeline Levine.

Mindset by Carol Dweck.

I’m especially struck by Dweck’s good advice – to praise process not outcome.

To my knowledge, my grandfather didn’t read many parenting books.  But he drew on a deep well of wisdom and faith – and with nine kids in his small World War II bungalow, he got a lot of practice.  Thankfully, he has bounced back.  We’re enjoying the bonus time we have left together, and more opportunities to enjoy his company and reflect on that which is most important.


Posted by amkee on Tuesday November 13, 2012 at 09:05AM
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