Designing for School Spirit

Today in Chapel, I had the pleasure of sharing with our students our new LCS Terrapin graphic/logo designed by Kevin Limeback. The logo represents, in two-dimensional form, our school mascot—a big-footed, friendly green terrapin who joins us to cheer for our athletic teams and celebrate special events (a generous gift of the Grad Class of 2014). The terrapin pays tribute to the many varieties of turtles that share our lake with us, we love our natural environment—just consider our longstanding cheer and nickname for the school: G-R-O-V-E, Grove! (Named for the beautiful grove of maple trees on campus, tapped every year to produce delicious maple syrup.)

terrapins_logo_banner copy
New LCS Terrapins logo designed by Kevin Limeback

The designer of the LCS Terrapins logo, Kevin Limeback, began his involvement with LCS as Assistant Head of House for Rashleigh, and is now a Teaching Fellow in the Lakefield Educators’ Apprenticeship Program for Grades 9 and 10 science.

Kevin’s passion for teaching stems from his experiences working with youth at summer camp, for 16 summers he fulfilled a variety of roles at Onondaga Camp, and has been volunteering for Camp Oochigeas for the past two summers.

“I loved working in an environment in which youth have the opportunity to build self-esteem, foster friendships, overcome adversity and develop character, and that’s what pushed me to explore a career in teaching.” ~Kevin Limeback

We asked Kevin about his creative inspirations and to describe his experience designing the LCS Terrapins logo. This is what he had to say:

Q: Where do you seek inspiration when it comes to design and the creative process?

“Although I’ve never had any formal training in graphic design, I’ve always had a passion for art (especially cartooning), and developed a fascination with creating digital art with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. As a hobby, I naturally began to incorporate graphic design into my roles in camp and teaching, creating t-shirts, logos and various product designs.

“My brother is, without question, my greatest source of inspiration. I’m still relatively new to the graphic design game, but my brother has been excelling in art his whole life. Whenever I’m working on a project, I pitch ideas to him and trust his feedback. For this project, he helped steer my creative process in the right direction. I’m ecstatic to be contributing to The Grove with this logo, and I hope this project will continue to encourage my creative eye.”

Q: What were your goals when you set out to design the terrapin logo?

“My main goal (and ultimately my largest struggle) was to ensure the terrapin actually looked like a turtle. At first, I experimented with a few versions only focusing on the terrapin’s face, but without a recognizable shell nearby the terrapin looked more dinosaur-like. I also wanted to ensure the terrapin was fierce since turtles aren’t typically known for their aggressive mannerisms. Finally, I really didn’t want people to associate our terrapin with a Ninja Turtle, so I steered clear of making it too human-like and muscular.”

Q: What did you learn from this project? 

“When I took on the project, I was convinced my first idea—the one I had been picturing for weeks—would be the perfect logo. However, no matter how many times I tried to translate my vision into reality, I kept encountering roadblocks. The design process is very much a trial by error and experimentation process, and I learned to push myself to not settle for my first idea.”

Q: What is it that you enjoyed most about the design process?

“Truthfully, I most enjoy the challenge of finding the right look. The “eureka moment” of figuring out which version works best is extremely rewarding after countless attempts.”

Q: What do you hope the LCS Terrapins logo will inspire in others? 

“I took on this project as a chance to contribute to our immense school spirit. It would be a massive honour if the terrapin logo, once printed on team uniforms and clothing, fueled our school’s camaraderie even further.”

On behalf of the LCS community, thank you and congratulations to Kevin.  We so appreciate the investment of your time and creative talents to this fun project, I know I will be proud to wear LCS Terrapins gear while cheering on our teams next year!

Seeking Skill and Excellence Outside our Comfort Zone

For those of you who follow the school’s Youtube channel, you may have noticed this week that I have been officially indoctrinated as one of the pilots of our new video drone. I can’t tell you how excited I was (little did I know how challenging it would be to learn how to fly it)! As adults, we sometimes forget how daunting learning can be. Within our professions we are wired to “know everything” in our field of practice—there is a comfort in knowing a subject or topic really well, to have an “area of expertise” and to stay within it. When you dare to step outside of your comfort zone, and try something new, it can be intimidating.

So, there I was on Tuesday morning, queued up to try, watching the school’s beloved photographer, Simon Spivey, as he deftly flew the new video drone. He made it look effortless as he expertly maneuvered the craft around the trees and guided it safely back to the ground with a soft touch (with four propellers it is surprisingly agile and sensitive!). It was my turn next and while other adults surrounded me, it was as though I was completing a test—could Struan fly the drone and not fly it into a tree?

There I was learning something new…and I was being watched—it was a little scary!

In the end, I flew the drone the length of Lefevre Field and managed to land it without incident. I smiled and made it look like it was no big deal. Inside I was very thankful for not completely embarrassing myself in front of others. Yes, I was laughing, but really I was deeply relieved.

I tell this story as a reminder to all of us who teach. When we ask our students to step outside their comfort zone, take a chance and try something new, it is not always that simple. It takes courage and resiliency. Something many of our students (and staff!) practise every day and others need a little support with. My hope is that, like Simon was for me with the video drone, we all find the support we need to continue learning new things and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with it.

From personal experiences like learning to fly a new drone, to community-wide learning experiences such as understanding our strengths and weaknesses as a school, there are many opportunities for us to grow. LCS will be celebrating such an opportunity  in the coming week when it welcomes the CAIS Accreditation Visiting Committee this Sunday, April 19. Every seven years, LCS participates in the CAIS accreditation review process. CAIS provides the evaluation and accreditation of a school’s overall program and educational environment. Schools are evaluated in terms of their own mission, vision and values and in terms of CAIS’ Standards for Accreditation of Schools.

The school community has been deeply committed, over the past 15 months, to preparing an internal report (evaluation) of our strengths and areas for growth. The process of reviewing LCS through the lens of the 12 CAIS standards was exhaustive. We created 12 teams (one for each standard) comprised of every member of our staff. We engaged board members, alumni, parents and students in feedback sessions.  One of the powerful learnings, for me, was seeing how well members of our staff collaborated in areas that were not necessarily their expertise. It demonstrated a deep love for the school, and desire to ensure LCS is on the right track three years in to our strategic plan Our Way | More Intentionally Lakefield. 

So, we are looking forward to welcoming the seven members of the visiting committee whose work validates the findings in the school’s own report and provides recommendations and suggestions for school improvement.  This is an important part of the school’s commitment to continuous school improvement and learning as an organization. The committee will be at the school until Wednesday, April 22 and we look forward to the learning opportunity it provides and the sense of accomplishment we are certain will accompany their visit.

Leadership, Community and the Individual

We’ve just completed our first weeks back to school after the March break which signifies the beginning of one of our favourite seasons at The Grove. Outside temperatures are on the rise, the maple trees are tapped, the snow is beginning to melt and soon we will all be caught up in sunshine and a frenzy of outdoor springtime activities and celebrations. It’s what we like to call the beginning of “Camp Lakefield.”

For many of us, it’s a time for reflection too. Teachers are looking back on their programs and evaluating the year’s successes; students are considering their plans, regaining a rhythm of school work and diving into major projects; and senior students, especially, are focusing on getting the most out of what remains of their time here—while preparing for their year ahead as graduates.

Leading the Way in School Life

It’s this latter group, the graduating class, who set the tone for community life in a significant way. In their final year, our seniors are challenged to apply what they have discovered about themselves and their leadership style to their school community. Contributing as student Seniors-in-Charge within various departments of the school, and as members of the School Life Class, our seniors are encouraged to test their leadership skills within a safe, real world environment; to make the necessary connections, apply themselves and their ideas, interact, discuss, disagree and learn from their experience, in order to discover who they are developing into as people and as active leaders within the school community.

For those seniors enrolled in the School Life Class, especially, the springtime months at LCS are significant. Led by Pete O’Grady and Vera Wilcox, and a regular part of the curricular program (classes meet three times a week within the class schedule), the School Life Class is responsible for overseeing the design, management and implementation of between 80 and 100 events a year.  Events range from smaller lunchtime or after-school activities, coordinated by four or five students, to larger school-wide, half or full-day events involving 80-member project teams (including support supplied by staff).  With community-building as their focus, students handle all aspects of event planning from project management, venue selection and preparation, risk management, budgets and food coordination, to post-event feedback and debriefs (including “fun-metre” assessments). Springtime at LCS provides the perfect backdrop for activities building up to the final Closing-week roster of events and the School Life Class is busy reflecting on their successes, assessing the mood of the community, and responding accordingly.

The School Life Class tests their leadership skills while organizing between 80 – 100 events a year

“School Life Class has taught students how to work together to create events for the entire school. This involves coordinating with teachers, other student leaders, and encouraging school-wide participation. Mostly, however, it’s about cooperation and enthusiasm; it encourages enduring positivity, kindness and presence. In the class, we come to learn about the intricacies of teams and the challenges and benefits of being young leaders.” ~ Juliet Gardner (Grade 12)

It’s not alway easy to keep the momentum going.  Director of Student Leadership for the last seven years, O’Grady says one of the greatest challenges of the leadership program at LCS and, in particular, the School Life Class, is making a program that is individualized and meets the needs, characteristics and passions of our students.

“We begin with students in Grade 9, by focusing on the basic understanding that positive interactions with others start with the individual.  We encourage students to think about what that means as part of their journey working together and supporting each other, coming to understand their identity as individuals.  Students are encouraged to continue exploring answers to important questions like: how do we relate with each other, seek out and embrace diversity, different perspectives, and recognize the strength within different viewpoints?  This builds, by the time students reach their senior year, into a focus on relationships within a community, and how to lead, but also how to follow at times. One of the keys to ensuring momentum is for students to control their own leadership development, to assume responsibility.  Ultimately, our goal is to nurture ethical and values based leaders.” ~ Pete O’Grady

O’Grady emphasizes how important it is for staff to trust students in their assessments of school life and often, in their prescriptions for solutions.  He recalls how, a few years back, the community was experiencing some divisiveness, and students introduced a community participation project with such positive results.  The  “I Value at LCS…” initiative and installation within the academic block invited students and staff to publicly share what they most treasured about their school community, affirming and celebrating the positive connections that existed for so many and elevating the community’s sense of pride of place.  It helped to recalibrate the community and, for O’Grady, proved how important it was to place faith and trust in our students, demonstrating just how much they cared about their community.

“So many people in this community are committed to making the Grove experience exceptional for everyone.  If you have an idea or want to make something happen, there are people in the community who will help you.  There is really nothing you shouldn’t at least try, because so many of the awesome Grove traditions that we have come to accept now must once have started with just an idea. I think it’s important to never stop looking for ways to make LCS even better for everyone.” ~ Jake Fell (Grade 12)

The Grade 12 School Life Class is one example of many opportunities that exist at LCS to try new things, to succeed and to fail, all while reflecting on and learning through the leadership experience, building confidence and resiliency.  With April on our doorstep, and Camp Lakefield about to explode, our seniors will have their hands full, and as O’Grady says,

“We will be focused on helping our students maintain the spark they came with in September, and seeing it burn just as brilliantly with enthusiasm and initiative, until June—ultimately, leaving proud of their accomplishments and what they’ve shared with their community and with a happy heart, confident of who they are as individuals.”

Finding Inspiration in The Flipped Classroom

Many of our favorite teachers share a common trait, a teaching process characterized by a continuous evolution and refinement of practice stemming from curiosity and feedback and, ultimately, a love of the meaningful connections that can be shared between teacher and student—the “ah-hah!” moment, when a student really gets it.

In her most recent blog post, LCS Chemistry teacher Melissa Rathier recently described her teaching career as, “one big action plan in teaching Chemistry. Question. Reflect. Explore. Test. Re-Test. Repeat.”  She goes on to describe one of the biggest shifts she made in her teaching practice and the questions that inspired her to pursue the “flipped classroom”  and why it was so successful.  It’s a wonderful insight into her craft which I encourage you to read if you have not yet.  Enjoy!

“I have been lucky enough to teach the same courses (Grade 11 & 12 Chemistry) for my entire 15 year career, which may sound like an absolute nightmare, but I have seen it as an opportunity to refine my craft. Intentional reflection has allowed me to develop my courses and increase the quality of delivery with each passing year.  I continually work on understanding the material at the highest level, revise student materials to ensure their quality and try new techniques (cooperative learningPOGIL activities, inquiry-based learning) to improve student learning. My teaching career has been one big ... (read full article)

Inspiring Trust and Learning Through our Shared Stories

The Chapel Talk:  A Time-Honoured Tradition

In my opinion, one of the best traditions at Lakefield College School is the Chapel Talk. Our Grade 12 students are offered the opportunity during their graduating year to address the whole school community in Chapel. They are invited to share their story, often reflecting on their time at LCS—inspirations and challenges, the role the school played in their journey—and where appropriate, offering some advice to the Grade 9 to 11 students. Most of our Grads take advantage of this tradition and many comment on how they have waited for the opportunity since the days when they sat in the back pews of the Chapel in Grade 9.

Chapel Talks at Lakefield College School are a time-honoured tradition

Some of my favourite memories of The Grove are from Chapel Talks—self-reflective and often insightful, we really get to know our students and see how they have developed emotionally during their time at the school. I love their humour, their wit, how they recognise their parents, families and friends and most importantly, the many different ways they express gratitude for their experience—to their teachers, coaches, heads of house, and other staff of the school.

Recently, one of our graduating seniors gave a Chapel Talk that really resonated with me on a personal level. He stood up and talked about how great it was to have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). In fact, he said, you should all wish you had it! I connected to this as I have often thought that I made it through my adolescence as an undiagnosed ADHD boy. I had trouble sitting still, my mind was always racing, making it challenging to focus—school was never easy.

What I loved about his Chapel Talk was the confidence and spirit with which he celebrated his unique qualities and communicated how he was a better person for facing the challenges and learning to overcome them. It was a great Lakefield message for a number of reasons: the Chapel represented a place where he felt safe to share his story and did not worry about being judged and, as a result, we all benefited from the experience he had to share.

It was a wonderful way to start off the day. Thank you E!

Grade 12 Opening Chapel candle-lit ceremony
The Grade 12 Opening Chapel candle-lit ceremony (also a cherished tradition) signifies the beginning of the last year of our students’ high school career.


Hungry, Humble and Nimble – Keys to Future Success

At our board meeting last week, I invited Anne-Marie Kee, Executive Director of Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS), to identify the top ten questions CAIS boards should be considering (see below).  It was a very engaging meeting with Anne-Marie challenging our board to be strategic and always focused on the future.

Ten Strategic Questions CAIS Boards Should Consider:

  1. How can we contain future fee increases and expenses?
  2. How will we assess, cultivate and leverage our word of mouth perceived quality and value
    intentionally and effectively?
  3. How can we deepen the engagement of, and increase the support from, our current and future top donor prospects? Domestically and internationally?
  4. What are the drivers of strength and permanence?
  5. How will we become more intentional about delivering our character related curriculum?
  6. Is our learning program meeting the individual needs of our students (and their parents)?
  7. How can we more effectively assess and report on student success beyond graduation?
  8. How will our students be more broadly involved in arts, athletics, service, leadership and character education programs?
  9. How will we enhance our responsiveness and engagement with our current community of students and parents? How will we KNOW and DELIVER on what our students and their parents want?
  10. How hungry, humble and nimble will we be?

As one might expect, the top three questions are focused on financial planning, admissions/marketing and fundraising. The question that I gravitated towards the most was #10: How hungry, humble and nimble will we be?  This question struck home as it speaks to school improvement and change management. The two are very challenging topics that go hand-in-hand.

Our current strategic plan, Our Way / More Intentionally Lakefield speaks to how we wish to improve the program at LCS for our students in many ways.

“We will intentionally foster 21st-century learning skills and strategies, such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, risk-taking, reflection, imagination, initiative, and global mindedness.

“We will leverage the latest technology and expand our learning to reach across borders and around the globe. We will build ‘Programs of Distinction’ that will be recognized far and wide for their unparalleled student learning experiences.

“We will employ flexible schedules that take advantage of our 24/7 learning environment, allowing us to maximize the potential for individualized and collaborative learning.”

~ Read more of Our Way / More Intentionally Lakefield

The challenge for school leaders is to facilitate and encourage improvement without impacting the positive culture of the school and expectations of staff.  They are the most important aspects of our school that we hope to maintain and protect—our mission and values and how we are able to teach and learn through the positive relationships we create between staff and students.

As we make plans for the future, we look forward to our  participation in CAIS’s upcoming 2051 Project, at the Summer Leadership Institute at St. Margaret’s. While LCS has doubled it’s summer entrepreneurial revenue in the past three years, ensuring that we have strength and permanence while seeking innovation for the future is also a top priority of our strategic plan.

The 2051 Project – The Future of Education Incubator
Designing strategy to meet the dual challenge of academic and
business innovation.

Our Vision: Exploring business and academic innovation to ensure independent schools’ strength and permanence.

Our Mission: Create an engaging experience for a diverse group of school leaders to gather best international practices and create a strategy to grapple with the dual challenge of designing innovating academic programs while also managing cost per student. 

~ Read more of The 2051 Project – The Future of Education Incubator

LCS will be sending our CFO, Tim Rutherford, to attend this workshop and join in the conversation. By collaborating with educators and business leaders from across Canada, we hope to identify how we will continue to be hungry, humble and nimble while implementing our strategic plan and ensuring LCS remains like no other.

Transforming boarding school blues in the dead of winter

I had one of those moments yesterday—clear and perfect.  I was skiing down the fresh powdered snow of the slopes at Sir Sam’s watching students whizz by me, snow blowing in their eyes, big grins on their faces. In fact, the whole school was there with me—roughly 400 of us (students and faculty)—working on carving our turns, or snow board grabs (or even just trying to stay on our feet), stopping to enjoy an outdoor barbecue lunch with hot chocolate and hitting the slopes again—together, as a community.  It was Ted Pope Day.  My mind was refreshed, my body relaxed, I was happy.

Lakefield College School students and staff enjoy a day on the slopes at Sir Sam's during Ted Pope day.
Lakefield College School students and staff enjoy a day on the slopes at Sir Sam’s during Ted Pope day.

A fellow Head of School, Adam Pencier (Trafalgar Castle School), recently commented that “January is the toughest time for schools, particularly boarding schools.” He said this in reference to the challenges that come with winter.  As the Head of a small, rural predominantly boarding school located in the heart of cottage country, I have to agree.  January and early February, in particular, can be tough at times.  The days are cold, the nights are long, and our interest in outdoor activity may be less then enthusiastic when temperatures drop below -15ºC.

It’s no coincidence that we host an entire week of special activities, called Spirit Week, in the final week of January and that we plan whole-school events, like Ted Pope Day, to take us out of doors.  From Ted Pope Day, Red and Green day, and K-Rod (‘human’ dog-sled) races, to Winter Carnival at Northcote Campus, intentionally creating opportunities that we can look forward to, embrace and enjoy (especially during the toughest winter months), provides us with some of our favourite memories and experiences.  As a community, and as individuals, we become better connected and have fun.

The days may be cold, but sunny too.  And the evenings are long, but full of fun new experiences. We are not even noticing that it’s -15ºC outside, because we are trying to pull our sled across the finish line first. We are refreshed, relaxed and happy.

While it is the formal responsibility of many of our staff (Assistant Heads of school life and student support, residential teams, advisors, teachers, guidance counsellors) to ensure that the emotional, academic and physical health of our students is nurtured, there are an equal number of informal opportunities, such as those highlighted in Spirit Week, to do the same.  And they are just as important.

“We pride ourselves in being a community that teaches through relationships.  To do that well, we need opportunities to foster those relationships on an informal level as well, beyond more formally structured academic settings. The School Life program, grounded in our missions and values, is very intentional about strengthening the connectivity of our community and interpersonal relationships, to foster student and staff morale to reach the highest level possible, a feeling of contentment that ‘it is good to be here!’”  John Runza, Assistant Head: School Life

Essays included in books like Educating from the Heart and Schools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner lives of students and teachers (both recommended by John), that speak to the value of unstructured time, connecting with nature, and attending to our “inner lives,” reflect ideas worthy of consideration for any boarding and day school program.

Heather Avery, who is leading the way in researching best practices relating to health and wellness programs for schools, agrees.  She believes recent research, suggesting that both mindfulness and physical activity may help in warding off depression and anxiety, are an inspiring basis to inform the school’s initiatives. She cites the work of John Ratey in Spark (2008) and Martin Seligman’s Flourish (2011) as being key texts in this regard.

“In Flourish, Seligman, the founder of positive psychology and a major contributor to the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Resiliency Program, makes a strong case that positive education programs, which cultivate skills and habits such as optimism, gratitude, and positive emotion ‘offer an antidote to the runaway incidence of depression, a way to increase life satisfaction, and an aid to better learning and more creative thinking’ (2011, 80).” Heather Avery, Assistant Head: Student Support

Lakefield College School, with its emphasis on building relationships and its beautiful natural campus, is already a school that enacts positive education.  Our staff reinforce strengths, connect with students, and encourage activity and fitness. Positive education is not a new direction for us, but a more intentional adherence to the path we already follow in education.

Throughout the winter and spring terms, Heather will be working to gather input and feedback from parents, students, and faculty about the features of a wellness program they would like to see and could support.

In the meantime, we look forward to Winter Carnival next week—and more of those clear and perfect moments—as we continue to embrace and enjoy the opportunities that allow us to connect, relax and be happy.


Cohorting with LCS Ninjas

Creative new PD opportunities for teachers

“The original idea of the web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information. The idea was that by writing something together, and as people worked on it, they could iron out misunderstanding.” ~ Tim Berners-Lee

To think that in 2003, when Lee (inventor of the world wide web) made this comment, we were only at the cusp of experiencing some of the most fundamental changes in how we use web resources (changes most of our students now at LCS take for granted as a way of life).  Today, teachers and students are working together in creative new ways with a whole new generation of web tools that allow participants to distribute, share, co-create and rework new ideas.

Every new idea has its pioneers, early adopters curious to explore the possibilities.  A perfect example of this are the individuals responsible for Cohort21: Rethinking Learning for the 21st Century, co-founded in 2012 by Justin Medved (Director of Instructional Innovation at the York School) and Garth Nicholls (Director, Teaching and Learning at Bayview Glen), and supported by the Conference of Independent Schools. Cohort21 is a yearlong professional development experience designed for educators across Ontario committed to exploring new paths for sharing and teaching with educational technology and web tools, while redefining the way they pursue professional development opportunities at the same time.

“The synergy created by sharing among like minded educators has been the single most inspiring and useful professional development I have done.  The connections (both to people and technology) made through Cohort21 are lasting and continue to move my learning ahead years later.” Su Armstrong, Curriculum Leader: Sciences (Cohort21 participant 2012/13)

French teacher and LCS Technology Integrator, Derek Doucet, first participated in Cohort21 in 2012/13 and is now one of the Cohort’s facilitators, coordinating online and in-person events for teachers within the Ontario Conference of Independence Schools group.  His enthusiasm around promoting the benefits of collaborating in this way is spreading as more LCS teachers come onboard.  He explains,

 “Bringing the Cohort 21 Toolkit of Twitter, Google+ and Diigo to help empower teachers to explore self-directed professional development, combined with our #LCSlearns Ninja Program on Twitter, has provided a collaborative and personalized PD experience that wasn’t available to staff before.”

This year, 14 LCS faculty are involved in the #LCSlearns Ninja Program  (a concept fashioned after Garth Nicholls’ Ninja program for Bayview Glen and the Google Ninjas program designed to assist in mastering Google apps for educators).

Sixteen LCS faculty are involved with the Professional Learning Community (a group of teachers at LCS that meet to support each other in their professional learning and use of integrated IT tools).

About his own teaching, Derek says that his greatest learning as a Cohort participant thus far has been around “approaches relating to creating plans that are student centered and open for student voice and choice as well as methods for using edtech to improve the learning of students in class, encouraging them to reflect more deeply about how they learn.”

Science teacher Tim Rollwagen, who works closely with Derek as a Cohort21 Coach says, he “is very excited to see the LCS community coming online through Twitter and the #LCSlearns Ninja Program” adding, “the conversations that I have with the Cohort crew and the teachers here have been so valuable.”

“It has made me think about my teaching in a whole new way.  How I tackle implementing Edtech into the classroom while exploring new techniques and pedagogy to increase student engagement and learning.”

Tim is also excited about the benefits to his students as he begins implementing a project-based learning journey with his Grade 12 biology class which encourages them to personalize their projects, set goals and reflect daily using some new edtech tools.

Chemistry teacher Melissa Rathier agrees about the power of collaborating through the Cohort and is surprised by some of her discoveries.

“I have been most surprised by the power of Twitter as a resource to me. In a short time I have discovered rich resources and great ideas for my own classroom. I have also been inspired to try new tools. I was in a place where I didn’t know where to begin with some areas of technology. Cohort21 has broken down barriers for me that I had in my own learning and has given me the confidence to explore, try and even fail.”

Blogging about her teaching experiences (see Breaking through the Glass Ceiling  and Flipped Classroom 2.0) is one of the methods the Cohort encourages to share the benefits of professional learning in practise.

English teacher Brent Hurley is also deeply immersed in the possibilities that online and other educational technologies can provide.  He also works closely with Derek and Tim as a Cohort Coach and Technology Integrator at LCS.  For him, the benefits of these new ways of learning and sharing should always be weighed against the greater context of our role as teachers.  As he says,

 “Our pedagogy (the fundamental core of who we are as LCS educators) must be rooted in the relationships we build between teachers and students. Our approach to pedagogy must be to leverage technology in order to foster more resilient critical thinkers who are best prepared to engage with a global community.”






Lessons from “A Teenager’s View on Social Media”

I recently came across this post A Teenager’s View on Social Media and it made me think about how quickly technology is changing and how far ahead (in what a different space) young people are. The post contains the personal views of an “actual teen” (his words), a 19 year-old student in the U.S. commenting on the apps teenagers use and don’t use. The young man admittedly writes (in his follow up post) that his views are based on personal opinion “to provide a different view based on [his] life in this ‘highly coveted’ age bracket.” I found his perspective interesting both as an educator and father for many reasons and have shared my observations below.

Meeting our students where they are

My first thought to the blog post was a question: How do we meet (communicate with) our students where they are? While I recognize that it is not considered “social media” (the author makes no reference to it in his post), email continues to be our school’s number one communication tool amongst staff (as it is in many universities and businesses today). We continue to use it to communicate with our students and get frustrated when they don’t respond for days. As a result, many of our faculty and residential staff have switched to texting our students and this is much more effective. Some have also started to “tweet” our students and continue to look for alternative methods for communicating.  Never-the-less, among our staff (me included), email is our mode of communication.

My second observation relates to the young man’s comments about Facebook, an “awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave,” he says, when referring to its waning popularity with teens. What does this say about the speed at which technology is changing if Facebook is already ‘on the outs’ with teenagers? At LCS we use Facebook to connect with our alumni and families to share details about upcoming events and life at the school. Our online community continues to grow and, so far, it is an effective way of staying connected to each other and our alumni “from cradle to grave.” How long before this changes?


My third observation relates to his comments around the popularity of a newer app called Yik Yak. As a school, we do have experience with Yik Yak. This year we discovered some students using Yik Yak to spread hateful messages because of its ability to post anonymously. Once alerted, we encouraged staff to download Yik Yak to their smartphones and let our students know that we were also using it. Knowing their audience had changed, an anonymous response came back: “who took the fun out of Yik Yak?”  While the availability of apps like Yik Yak elicited poor decision making from some of our students, it also opened up the opportunity to share an important lesson about the appropriate use of technology—there is a teachable moment everyday. (Through the process, we also learned about having a “geo-fence” put around the school to block Yik Yak from working).

My final observation includes the following, while Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat and Twitter are all familiar tools to me, the apps mentioned at the bottom of his post are, for the most part, unknown. If this is what our students are in to, how do we share their enthusiasm and excitement? More importantly, how do we communicate with our students?

Learning through relationships is a two-way street

I suppose the answer is clear, ‘learning through relationships’ is a two-way street. At LCS, we have the opportunity to create space for our students to share what they know and are excited about, both inside and outside of the classroom. Enrichment periods like Grove Time are a perfect example. Imagine a session led by our students on social media trends, their relevance and uses? Would this be popular for students to lead? As staff, would we be courageous enough to attend? It is sometimes difficult, as an adult, to admit. Although, I can say from being a parent that I learn from my 13 year-old son on a daily basis how to maximize the use of my iPhone. We have great students at LCS. I think they would be excited to lead a digital/social media workshop for teachers and we could learn so much from them.

The bottom line is that learning never stops. We are all lifelong learners. Seeing teaching go both ways, between students and teachers and teachers and students, is exciting. As educators, it can continue to open ourselves up to meeting students ‘where they are’ not only in learning, but with an understanding of the tools they are excited about using, perhaps we can engage them in learning at an even deeper level.

Learning how to be a better learner

As educators we are always looking for quality feedback from our students and parents on their learning experience. What are the big “take aways” that our graduates carry forward with them as they pursue new endeavours, whether it is a gap year involving travel and service or a competitive program at university or college?

Coming off the heels of our last post on the value and benefits of reading, I was so pleased to read the following words by Jesse Sarkis ’13, now in his second year as a photography student at Ryerson University in Toronto. He describes some of the “big take aways” related to his learning experiences in Advanced Placement (AP) and other English classes at Lakefield College School.  His words reflect well the confident, curious and critical thinker that he is. They are also beautifully aligned with the key 21st Century Learning goals we strive to meet as a school. Great feedback for us, and a positive indicator that we are on the right track.

Jesse Sarkis ’13 (fourth from left) with his peers in his final year at Lakefield College School

From Jesse Sarkis ’13

As a student at Lakefield College School, English class was one of my favourites. Reading and writing helped me to be a stronger critical thinker, to be more empathetic and to be both a better writer and speaker.

Thanks in no small part to my English classes at LCS, I submitted a successful letter of application and essay to a competitive university program and was accepted.

Despite loving English as a subject, I never realized just how much my classes were teaching me at the time. In university, my program’s classes are primarily technical and require little writing, but the benefits of being able to express through writing what I am doing conceptually is invaluable: regarding my work I am more confident, clear and precise.

When I started reading academic and theoretical books to supplement my technical classes in school, it was easy for me to switch back into ‘active reader’ mode and take to the books with a pencil, organizing the information I needed to better understand and think critically about its ideas. I wasn’t daunted – as many of my classmates were – by writing the two art history papers assigned in first year. I wasn’t worried about how I would ‘do.’ Instead, I was excited to do the research because I was confident in my skills and judgement thanks to Mr. McGowan’s Writer’s Craft class and Ms. Brown’s Grade 11 AP Language and Grade 12 AP Literature classes.

They taught me processes to effectively read, research and communicate. They taught me to love academic reading, researching and writing, and to be unafraid of any text no matter how complicated, poorly written, or dense.

Learning about literature can help a reader with any kind of text. As a reader I appreciate writing not only for what is expressed within it, but how it is expressed. AP Preparatory English classes helped me understand what I liked about the ‘how.’ Our rhetorical analysis of speeches and essays in class was especially helpful. So were our timed essay assignments designed to prepare us for the AP exams.

Even though, in class, I often found the close readings, Harkness table discussions, or ‘reading-alouds’ tedious and frustrating, what they taught me went beyond the texts and skills we were immediately focusing on. I remember Mr. McGowan telling me after Grade 12 Writer’s Craft class one day, after I had been particularly frustrated, that being dissatisfied with your environment isn’t always a bad thing – that frustration can lead to positive changes if you examine and act upon it. He encouraged me to write a supplement to my final Writer’s Craft assignment (which contained angry and weak writing) on Socrates’ thoughts that the unexamined life was not worth living. Despite never finishing the piece, I considered the advice it had to offer a lot.

By becoming frustrated with the processes of learning and grading in class, and reflecting upon it, I learned how to be a better learner.

The bulk of my experiential learning experiences at LCS helped me, more than anything else, to become a more conscious person. Life is experiential learning. As a boarding and day school, LCS creates a positive community environment for healthy, active, social, and engaged living. This promotes a 24/7 learning experience that never stops and can be consciously tapped into whenever you wish – in mind, body, and spirit. This is what I learned from English classes at LCS: The medium and format of class is like many other things in life – it’s not perfect and it could create some frustrating expectations.Having an open approach to learning that is reflective and moves beyond format and content is valuable. Staying open to learning as a continuous or ‘lifelong’ process helps me to learn from everything that is happening in the classroom, not just the topic being discussed.