Sleep In

December 19, 2012

I do love the job I have of trying to help build the school and making a difference in students’ and teachers’ lives. It is busy and demanding and I lots of people have acknowledged to me that our school has made progress. Friday morning, the school had a sleep-in. We have had a great fall, and been very busy. Lots of teachers and students were exhausted so an extra hour of sleep seemed a good way to give everyone a little bit of energy and a special perk.

Due to my workout routine, I arrived at school at the normal hour. As I was about to pick up the Globe and enjoy a peaceful few minutes, I thought of my two grandsons who have to be dropped off to their school between 8:05 and 8:15. Normally, this just doesn’t work for me most days because chapel on the Hill always starts at 8:15 sharp. I phoned my daughter, Stephanie, to see if “Papa” could swing by, say hello and take the boys to school. She had no objection and, in fact, kind of encouraged me. When I arrived, there they sat, all smiles, eating their breakfast. All was running according to their morning routine until my arrival threw breakfast into a complete tailspin.

We moved car seats from their car into mine, clicked them into place, got two book bags and loaded them in and somehow got two little guys into the back of my car. Off we went with our usual banter about how, when Papa was a little boy, “there was no fooling around” and their insistence that when their Papa was young, he got into lots of trouble. We got to school, waited in a line up, unclicked them, unpacked the book bags and herded them toward the door. It turns out that traffic in the KV is quite congested at 8:15 in the morning – something of which I was totally unaware. Off I went back to Stephanie’s house, removed the two car seats, transferred them back into mom’s car, reported in to my daughter that the car seats were safely returned and headed back to school. The entire episode took about 40 minutes to have two minutes of squealing after breakfast and a four minute drive.

But it was more than worth it. That sleep-in happened to give me that extra hour to have a special few moments with two kids I love very much and with whom I don’t seem to get to spend very much time. In light of the terrible, awful events that unfolded at about the same time on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, I am reminded again that life can be fragile and fleeting. Every single moment we can have with those who matter most to us is a gift.

Balancing the Grey Cup

November 27, 2012

I went to the Grey Cup game this last weekend. It was a great event and I am glad I did. A friend I taught with before coming to RNS has season Argo tickets had asked me to come to the game with him, and I accepted, many months ago. As the game got closer I was busier and busier and would have cancelled if so much planning had not gone into the trip. Because I had the trip to Toronto planned I was able to close up our Ontario property for the winter and I had a special visit with Elizabeth’s brother who has recently gone into palliative care just north of Toronto.

A lot happened on the weekend and all of it important – seeing my old buddy, closing the water before the winter freeze sets in and seeing a loved family member when things are not good. As well, I stayed with one of my brothers and another brother volunteered to help me with the preparation of the water lines for cold weather. My daughter, Mary, also came north and helped with the job of closing up but she doesn’t do cold work quite so well.

At RNS we constantly reinforce the enduring value of hard work, and it is fair to say that our students, faculty and staff all understand this to be an important part of our school identity. And I believe that persistence and paying attention to the little things is a sure path to growth over the long term. But, in looking after the details, it is important to remember the big picture as well. Hopefully, the sense of community on the Hill is such that we know when it is the right time to set things aside for a short while and put our attention elsewhere – to family and to friends who are sometimes far away.

This past weekend made me realize again that all of us should reflect on how we spend our time, because the busyness of day-to-day life can easily lead us to miss what might be more important. This weekend there was lots happening at school and certainly I could have helped with some things but I know I was doing what I had to be doing. I’ll remember the Grey Cup game for sure but seeing the family is what most of the trip turned out to be about and something I just had to do and something I am now I pleased I did. Hopefully, part of our education here is learning to work hard without losing sight of the big picture – getting that balance right.

A Week of Remembrance

November 10, 2012

What a week. The American election was a fascinating process to observe. And, now, there is a President who has a great opportunity, but also a great challenge, as he tries to be forward thinking and practical for his country, not partisan and ideological. His decisions are vital for his country (and ours) and his legacy.

It is the week of Remembrance Day which is as important an event as we have each year. We try to do something that will acknowledge and understand what others have done for us, as well as what we need to be prepared to do in our lives to help the next generation of our world.

This week I was not able to be at RNS for our Remembrance Day Chapel. I was in Toronto for a number of events. One of these was a reception for RNS alumni. Interestingly, for the first time, we had more grads from my tenure as Head of RNS than those from earlier eras. It surprised me and must mean something, I am just not yet sure what.

Wednesday was also my Dad’s 104th birthday, and although he passed away more than 30 years ago, he is still a huge influence in my life. I am particularly nostalgic this year and for no particular reason other than I still miss him and wish I could say ” thanks and I love you” again. Back then dads and sons did not say I love you very often — they showed it all of the time, but words tended to be lived, not spoken.

I have always been a numbers guy, just like my father was. This year marks the point in my life where he has been absent from my life as long as he was with me. For me he will always be 50, or 60, or 70, but he is certainly not 100. His principles have made me a much better principal than I would have been without his guidance. He passed away before I got my present position, but he knew I was going to do something interesting in my life. (He was not as clairvoyant as my mother who, when I was complaining about the Head of School I working for at the time, said, “Paul, someday you will head a school, but until then stop your complaining and get on with it. He has his reasons for what he is doing.”)

I wish some of the lessons my Dad burned on my soul could be broadcast to the world. My father was one of those special Canadians who landed on the D-Day beaches of Normandy. I know, this week in particular, my father would have made sure we understood the essential message that we ensure such a war never happens again. My father never told stories about his experiences during the war, and he was a humble man, but he made sure our family knew we had a responsibility to make sure there was never war, if at all possible, in our lifetimes.

Dad believed in hard work, looking after his family, and being quiet about what you achieve. But, it was important that you give it your all because everyone needed to make a significant difference to the world. He believed we all had to fight through heart break, disappointment and hard times, in order to achieve what was possible for us in the world. This is the lesson I would like to leave our students, and it is certainly the lesson I would pass to President Obama, if I could. What my Dad taught me over 30 years ago I need today, and so does the world, particularly this week.

Two truths I hold

October 16, 2012

Grade 12 Chapel speeches are changing at RNS this year. The old prompt that Grade 12 students were to address, “What RNS has meant to me,” has been beaten to death in our Chapel over the last 15 years. This year we are asking the Class of ’13 to talk about something they believe to be true. It will be a challenge, it will be different, and I look forward to an interesting year of passionate and intriguing talks.

When we made this decision I immediately thought of two topics that I need to talk to the school about.

The first is the Canadian medical system. I am writing this blog from the hospital during the monthly infusion I receive to combat my low natural immunity – for some reason my bone marrow does not produce all the “right” stuff and therefore once a month the wonderful nurses at the Saint John Regional Hospital, as I say, “top me up”. It has been a life changer for me – I am sure without this infusion I would be retired 2 years ago. I had a knee replacement which has allowed me to stop limping and has really given me back my mobility. Both of these procedures are made possible because of our Canadian medical system. I know that the projections going forward make our system unsustainable and we, as Canadians, should work at fixing it. I hope we find the political courage from both politicians and the public to help make it sustainable. We will all be worse off and sorry if we do not.

The second topic I would like to discuss is bullying in boarding schools. I was bullied and humiliated as a school boy. My tormentors back then would have said that it was justified. I knew it was wrong then and I know it is wrong today, and I believe from the bottom of my soul that the denigration of others is simply wrong, and with effort and cultural commitment it can be changed.

Are students bullied at RNS today? I am sure they must be. Does the faculty or administration know of this and not jump in immediately – I believe absolutely not.

Teaching every person in a community to insist that they are treated with dignity and respect is only attainable when every person in the community consciously knows and wants to treat every person with dignity and respect. This takes education, hard, constant lessons taught over and over, and it takes teachers and principals living what they believe: no one is humiliated no matter what the circumstances. We all have to learn these lessons and then live by them.

Unfortunately I understand and relate to Amanda Todd far better than I wish. But I also know the long term answer: it takes all us to commit to change and point out each other’s behaviour when it is wrong. It will take all of us to make this change. We have to stop yelling at referees, stop calling people who make silly mistakes “stupid” and have patience or to assume good will when people do not behave the way we wish they would.

We have changed society’s thinking about smoking and we can change the bullying examples we condone every day. When we do this, then we will be able to start to stop some of the sorrows of tomorrow that are absolutely preventable if we want bullying to stop.

Being a Learner

October 9, 2012

I need an Academic Coach

Three years ago we began a project at RNS of having “academic coaches” for some students who need a helping hand overcoming some hurdle on their RNS journey.

The assistance needed by the students is as varied as the students in the programme. The principle behind this and all of our school’s programmes is to help every student grow as much as they are possibly able during their time at RNS. It is our responsibility and privilege to provide this opportunity.

I need an academic coach to help me on my technology journey. I get so frustrated that I cannot stay on top of it all. I cannot even get close. I took computer programming at U of T. Of course, using a punch card for each line of code was extremely slow, but it was the latest and greatest in1973. So, I should not be so slow, forgetful and unable to retain today’s ideas tomorrow. I get going on Twitter and then Facebook’s basics disappear. I remember how my blog gets posted, then memory of how I retweet with comment is gone. I love my iPad, and then when I go to use my laptop it is as if I have never touched a PC before.

For me, being a learner is as important as anything I do. Every RNS student has to work hard to grow and learn how to grow. They have to be committed to do this to the very best of their ability. Every faculty member has to embrace the idea that growth is the only way they are going to be the teacher they have to be tomorrow. So growth and working at growth is what we are all about.

I just hope I can find the help I need and the determination to keep at it – it’s fun to grow it just is not easy. (But coding on punch cards was not easy and I am willing to bet I am the only RNS learner who has had this experience.)

Now, if any reader would like to be my Facebook coach, I can sure use the help.

Our Annual Cross Country Run – October 2012

October 9, 2012

Yesterday, as the school ran its annual cross-country race, I was reminded so much of previous falls. The weather was pretty typical for our event – overcast, a little rain, lots of mud. There are thousands of alumni with memories of this annual race.

One of my favourite races, though, is the 1989 race. There was a new Grade 10 student who had not settled into the school very easily, and he later told his mother that the first thing he ever enjoyed at the school was the cross-country run. As he crossed the finish line in the initial wave of Grade 10 students, I said to him, “way to go Luker”. Later he told his mother: “I like running and I like Mr. Kitchen calling me Luker; no one has ever called me that before.”

Our school in 2012 is very different from the one in the fall of 1989, but we are still trying to do the same thing. Embrace every student, create a comfort level so they can belong to our community and offer the right challenge so they are in a position to grow as much as possible.

Yesterday as the students were finishing the race and I was congratulating each of them, one of the Grade 6’s turned to me and asked if I knew everybody’s name. I had to admit that I didn’t yet, but I assured him that I was getting there and would know them all soon. And then, in their inimitable Grade 6 style, each one asked me “do you know my name, do you know my name?” I was pretty pleased that I was able to name everyone in the cluster of tired kids.

Today, Luke is running triathlons and has been nominated for two Emmy Awards for his animation work. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, Tamara, and son, Hunter and in January he and Tamara are going to have their second child. I just wonder how important that cross-country run was and how that bit of encouragement calling him “Luker” contributed to changing his life.

Did I know for certain that congratulating him on that particular day as he challenged himself would make such a difference? Absolutely not. But at RNS, with a myriad of activities, you just never know what it is that students will relate to and help them bond with the community. Each day, across our school community, we seek to create as many of these moments as possible because, sooner or later, the one which makes the difference in the life of a student will come along. We just don’t always know in advance what this moment will look like, and so we keep working hard and waiting patiently.

Yesterday’s run had great participation and everyone made a good effort, and maybe my cheering made a difference for someone.

A New Year

September 24, 2012

The new school year is under way and on the surface things seem to be off and running in great form, but underneath the surface it is hard to know just how things really are for each student, teacher and staff member.

As we develop new relationships and re-establish old ones that are so essential for the RNS community to work, we have to wait. We are working hard to get there and we will. It takes patience and help and suggestions from every parent, student and teacher.

This all became clear to me this week. As most of our school knows I am living off campus to start the school year. Liz and I own a cottage on the St. John River 25-35 minutes away from the school – depending on the ferry schedules. We moved into the cottage over the summer as we wait for our new home to be completed. For us – mostly me – this is quite an adjustment. In 1978 I moved onto the campus at Ridley College and have lived on school campuses ever since other than one year in 1981/82. I moved on to the RNS campus in 1987 and have set my life patterns around this reality. So waking up away from our/my campus or having to go home away from our/my campus is strange and a much more difficult adjustment than I suspected it would be.

Last Friday night I missed the school dance. I have missed school dances before, but never because I wasn’t living on campus. I do not walk the campus as much as I am used to doing; I feel just as much a part of the school; I am as pleased as ever with the school and all that is happening; however, lately I never chat with kids five minutes after leaving the house or just before I head to bed. It is different – strange – and I am not in a groove yet. I am trying to leave the office at the same time as I have for the last 30ish years, but this is just not working for us yet.
The lesson here, though, is everyone has to make adjustments at the beginning of a new year and it is hard. The teachers are trying to teach differently and much of our curriculum has been changed which makes life difficult. Students are adjusting to new houses, new roles and new teachers. We all have to be kind, compassionate, forgiving and thoughtful until we get into that “comfortable groove”.

I look forward to waking up on campus again, but it in the meantime, I am determined to make adjustments and change a little – grow and be a different, better and more complete person when I have the privilege of coming back on campus. It is what we all have to do to make the most of our opportunity at RNS this year.


February 7, 2012

Courage is something we have recently tried to discuss and note to our students. We have built a school community that is respectful and supportive of courage, and we hope our community encourages and prods students into courageous actions. Courage is not always publicly dramatic. There are not always burning buildings from which to save a family or a cat. But, every day people do things that require courage. Currently each of our days begins with a Chapel Speech. Some people are very happy to stand before the school and talk, but not everyone. I would say the majority of our days begin by watching a courageous act. Courageous acts are possible when students are put into comfortable surroundings, where dignity and respect can be guaranteed and when students are not thinking about social consequences or reprisals, but are trying to stretch themselves for the sake of growth and the innate challenge of doing better.

We are blessed to have so many demonstrations of courage in our world. Nelson Mandela, one of my heroes, is largely unknown by the students of today. At 93 years old, he is seldom in the public eye anymore, but I spent many years of my adult life inspired by the courage of that man. There are great things happening around the world and our access to information has made examples of these available to us moment to moment. I would like to believe that this helps us see courage as something possible in all of us, but perhaps it breeds the idea that courage is just momentary.

Personally, I’ve been impacted by a rather dramatic incident of courage. Victoria Jewett’s (2000) and Tom Jewett’s (2007) father was diagnosed with a brain tumor last month. I never knew what, “fighting a courageous battle with cancer,” really meant before this. Even though both of my parents died of cancer close to thirty years ago, I am only now seeing the struggles involved with this. They both parented me through their illnesses and cared desperately that I would be OK in the world without their guidance and support. As it turns out I still look to their guidance regularly because I understood them so well. (On a bit of a humorous note, late in my mother’s life one day after school I visited her in the hospital, I came in complaining about the Headmaster of the school I was working at. My mother, who cut straight to the point, and said clearly, if not a little sharply, “Stop complaining and do as he wants. Someday you too will be a school head and when that happens you will want the teachers to follow your lead.” I remember thinking to myself poor mom has no clue. There is no chance I will ever be a school head. I have laughed at myself often thinking of her foresight and my lack of it.)

Victoria’s and Tom’s dad is doing well today, but he has talked realistically and calmly to his kids. He has shown his siblings courage and dignity in very difficult circumstances. He is the example of living with courage that we hope we all can be if we face tough circumstances. He has given me renewed respect for my parents and shown all those around him what real courage is.

Outdoor skating at RNS

February 6, 2012

This last weekend we were able to open our new outdoor skating rink. The idea for this came from our understanding that we have to continue to improve the recreational facilities our students have available to them. I am hoping that by hook or by crook tennis courts are going to be our next addition. The pond, however, was ready for skating this weekend, finally. Finally because: the digging of the pond was slower than we expected; the filling took longer than we realized it would, and the weather did not cooperate quite as well as we thought it would in the middle of January – is there such a thing as a normal January anymore?

After checking with the Rothesay Fire Department to confirm the thickness of ice needed on a pond to safely skate – just part of taking part in an old fashioned activity in 2012- we were ready to skate.

It is, though, the Saturday of the February long weekend, and there are no students on campus looking for adventure. Despite this, I could not resist the idea of using the almost smooth ice to test the new addition to the campus.

I was able to round up two grandsons, one daughter, four RNS staff members and five faculty kids to join me for this inaugural skate. It was great, as you can see from the picture, and there was plenty of fun and lots of rosy cheeks.

It was funny to hear the comments of some of the youngest skaters. They were pretty sure that real skating takes place in an indoor arena with Zamboni polished ice. It was great example to me of another 21st century moment – similar to me asking a kid about emailing – of course we don’t use email; we text.

I know there are lots of kids who have never skated outside before and have no idea what frozen toes are, what a puck in the shin at -5C feels like, or what it is like to have a frost bitten ear. But now there are going to be generations of students again who will be able to reminisce about skating outside while at RNS.

It will take a while, but soon the boys of Mackay will be “flooding the rink” as they did for years before the 1997 renovation of the Memorial Arena. It is nice to be able to see some special and unique traditions return to the campus while still having the indoor ice so that our 6 RNS hockey teams can enjoy the competition and development that Zamboni ice offers.

I look forward to lots more days of skating under the open sky on the school campus.

An Alumni Evening in Calgary

February 3, 2012

On Wednesday night RNS had an alumni reception in Calgary. The turn-out was great and it was a lovely time for both Elizabeth and me. What was particularly special at this event was the presence of four students who, in their time at Rothesay, had a particularly tough time of it. But there they were coming to an alumni function ready to share and to keep their association with the school strong.

Everyone has potential, both as a leader and and as a contributor in our society. We all, though, have to hang in and keep growing until that moment when we can blossom. If we all keep growing and expanding our horizons, eventually we will find our strengths and our place to contribute. It is hard to be young. It is hard to not find one’s path early, and it is frustrating to see others of the same age move on to what we perceive as the next level while we have not yet got there.

Society is trained to think of eight years of elementary school, four years of high school and a four year undergraduate degree as the norm. That pattern fits so few and more and more we are seeing through those time lines as an anarchism of another age. Changing the 8-4-4 pattern is being more and more regarded as sensible, rather than a judgement of inadequacy or failure.

In Calgary we met a wide variety of alumni. One is doing a masters in international business with the help of a big scholarship, and is planning on combining this with a law degree. Another was invited back to be the guest speaker at his Community College’s commencement last spring, and one owns her own small business in Calgary and is doing well at it.

Meeting with these alumni is the very purpose of these trips I make. They are validation of our belief that we have great students in our school, great families in our community, and that immersing a student in a caring community like RNS can have a long lasting, positive impact on a person. We are here to help all of our students find themselves, regardless of how easy or difficult that journey may be. We are here to push, sometimes when kids want to lie down and give up. We are also here to support by talking, forgiving, caring and helping students when times appear too difficult.

Every student has the responsibility to grow as much as they can, but the school has the responsibility to make the atmosphere as right as possible for every student.

Thank you to all who came to our events last week for your example, your determination, and your growth. I could not be more proud of you. I look forward to continuing our alumni visits and to listening to your stories. They help us to keep moving forward, and they inspire us to keep getting better as a school.