The 2019 National Leaders Post Conference Call for Workshop Proposals are open until December 7. Apply here.
Reflections from the Road
When I began my new position at CAIS in the late summer, I knew it would be important to articulate my priorities for the first year and create a plan of action. The skills and knowledge that supported me as an independent school principal might not be the same ones that would help me be successful in the position of Executive Director of a national organization. My main priority was to better understand the independent school landscape across Canada as well as trends globally.
My first strategy to achieve this goal was to position myself as a learner. Although I had been part of a CAIS school for a decade, having visited many schools as part of CAIS experiences, I knew that I had a lot to learn about the 94 schools in our association. My second strategy was to build relationships across the CAIS community. As educators, we know that learning is all about relationships. Hence, #CAIStour was born! To date, I have visited 35 schools in 7 provinces. Only 59 schools, 2 provinces and Bermuda and Switzerland to go! If I haven’t gotten to your school yet, I will be coming your way in 2018.
As you can imagine, it is an extraordinary privilege to spend time talking and touring with the leaders in CAIS schools. The three questions that I ask when visiting schools are: What are you excited about? What are your greatest challenges? How can CAIS continue to add value to your school? Early on in this new experience, I have been reminded, repeatedly, about the diversity of our membership. Each region in Canada and each school within each region is truly unique. As an organization, it is vital that CAIS understands and values the distinct context and mission within each school. That said, there are also many similarities across our schools. CAIS schools share a deep commitment to student learning and it shows.
It is clear that school leaders recognize the fact that, in 2018, we are all living in a rapidly changing world. As we see in the Top 12 each week, the exponential growth of technology is impacting all areas of school functioning and catapulting us into the future. As I have visited schools, a few patterns have emerged in the reflections of their leaders:
People are thinking about the social-emotional needs of an increasingly diverse student body. There is a commitment in our schools to have a school composition that is reflective of the communities in which we exist. School leaders are working to create opportunities for greater socio-economic diversity through the building of endowments for financial aid. International students who are coming to our schools through families that have relocated, boarding and homestay programs augment the cultural diversity that already exists in our communities across Canada. Diversity enriches the experiences of all of our students, yet it also comes with challenges. School leaders are grappling with issues of inclusion and ensuring the mental health and wellness of their students.
Facilities for the future are top of mind in the CAIS community. Most of the schools I have visited are either planning a building project, in the midst of construction or have recently completed a new addition to their facility. People are thinking deeply about how the environment impacts learning. School leaders are asking how collaboration, creativity and critical thinking can be better supported through intentionally designed environments. Design labs are no longer a differentiator but a standard aspect of the experience being offered to students in many CAIS schools. There is an acknowledgement that an emphasis on the development of skills in the areas of STEAM is essential for the future and specialized facilities are one way to support this learning.
Finally, people are thinking about financial sustainability: the ability of their school to provide excellent programming that meets the needs of students in an rapidly changing world and remains relevant and viable in the long term. It is acknowledged that many of the factors that impact enrolment, such as demographic, political and economic drivers, are difficult to control. What schools can do is increase their awareness of potential disruptors and embrace a cycle of continual reflection and improvement. School leaders are wrestling with how best to create a staff culture that is characterized by learning. They are looking for ways to build environments that are responsive, nimble and distinctive. If you haven’t yet read the CAIS 2017 Report on Financial Sustainability, you can find it here.
In spite of the diversity across the schools in CAIS, school leaders recognize the importance of opportunities to come together as a CAIS community and share our successes, our challenges and our goals for the future. The reflections noted above are driving some of the Catalytic Conversations that will be happening at the National Leaders Conference in April. We encourage Operational Leaders and Heads of School to be part of the conversation!
CAIS Executive Director