Inside King's-Edgehill School

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 18

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Jan 19, 2019 8:32:50 PM

Dear KES Family:

Having spent the last week in Abu Dhabi, I am woefully out of touch with goings on at KES, but I have never been so immersed in the heart and soul of education. As you may know, King's-Edgehill School and its financial partners from the UAE (Mindlink LLC) have applied for and been granted land and license to build and operate a school in Abu Dhabi. Much bigger than the mothership, King's-Edgehill School Abu Dhabi (KESAD) has a capacity of 2,100 students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. We have met with a wide variety of people on this trip, from Canadian Embassy staff to wholesale distributors of school supplies and furniture. It has been a fascinating, invigorating, and reassuring trip.

The UAE may be an ancient land but there are more than a few innovative vertebrae in its cultural spine. A visit to the ultra-modern planned city of Masdar brought us deep into the heart of a city designed to be sustainable (ride share bicycles and Tesla (!) cars, clean energy sources and electric buses, etc.), which hosts forward-thinking businesses who incubate new ideas and attract talented engineers and designers from around the world. MIT has a campus there. One of the think tanks is devoted to creating the best educational environment, programme, and software in the world. We had a tour of a "test school" and were amazed at the research and design and data collection that has gone into answering the simplest of questions: what is the best way to educate children? After 230 years of tradition and teaching, there is an opportunity for King's-Edgehill School to be at the forefront of educational philosophy, program delivery, and leadership in the world. Needless to say, my lack of sleep here in the UAE has as much to do with excitement as it does with jet lag.
Architectural renderings are supposed to be impressive. The recent Ministry of Education approved designs for KESAD are unbelievable. They are gorgeous and functional, and take into account everything from the movement of the sun and the shade cast by the buildings, to the movement of students between classes. Over the last year, I have been afforded input and in a presentation by our UAE architects this week, I was astounded to see that every suggestion and criticism I had communicated previously has been addressed. We are limited by the size of our plot of land, but the maximization of space while remaining elegant is impressive. I can hardly wait to see it built.

The Ministry of Education here has a department of Creativity and Happiness. One of their initiatives this year is dedicated to serving others and raising awareness of the needs of the less fortunate. It is called the Year of Giving. I am sure there are challenges that the government faces which are well beyond my understanding, but I love the idea of having a programme of creativity and happiness. Simply put, no one learns anything if they are not happy. And, quite frankly, childhoods should be filled with joy. Being happy, as I am now, is pretty great too.
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter-- Week 17

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Jan 13, 2019 1:17:22 PM

Dear KES Family:

Every two weeks I meet with a group of dedicated students who make up the Headmaster’s Council. Our sole mission is to make the School better by coming up with positive ideas for improvement and eliminating things that negatively impact the students. Over the years, the Headmaster’s Council has made a significant change. The “slounge” (Student Lounge), the new Cross-Fit room, proper snacks after school and after prep, the Head Girl and Head Boy tie and Executive Council pins. These are all examples of Headmaster’s Council ideas which have become reality.

Not all of our ideas are popular. This year the students suggested that we vary the menu for Tuesday lunch. Traditionally it is “Pizza Day”. Once pizza was eliminated, the complaints were numerous and immediate! Who knew that Pizza Day was an entrenched tradition? So, we have brought it back. Overall, I try not to be the abominable “No-Man” and treat each agenda item thoughtfully. Some suggestions are small but make a big difference – like installing a proper Bluetooth speaker in the fitness room, or switching the sensor from the water dispenser to a simple button (that was huge actually!).

This week one of the suggestions was to change the examination period so that no one would ever have to write two exams in a single day. Given that we have a wide variety of courses and many students with unique timetables, I knew instantly that this would double the length of the examination period and make it impossibly unwieldy, but the reality is that I like schedules that challenge students. KES is in the business of creating stressful situations, not cushy ones. No one’s schedule is full of two-a-day exams, and some students escape that particular challenge some years, but having the occasional day where one has to write a morning and afternoon exam is good. It forces students to organize their time and their study schedule. It teaches them stamina and gives them valuable experience. Like a hockey tournament with multiple games in a single day, one has to learn how to prepare physically and mentally and emotionally in order to perform well.
Two exams a day is good practice, not just for those students who will take the all-day IB exams in May of their Grade 12 year, but for students going to university. My daughter attended Acadia University and had two exams in one day. She also had exams from 7:00 to 10:00pm on Saturday nights! My son attended Queen’s University and in his last set of graduate exams he had to show up at 7:00am and was not released until 5:00pm that night.

There is a difference between good stress and bad stress, eustress and distress. We will always be compassionate and flexible with students who are in distress. However, the idea of making school “easy” actually undermines a key ingredient of growth and development. School is supposed to be hard. So while I was pleased this week to see Elvis Presley singing on his birthday in the Dining Hall, and open to having music playing from time to time during meals, I have to admit that I said no to changing the examination schedule to make it easier.
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 16

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Jan 4, 2019 4:24:00 PM

Dear KES Family:


Picture yourself playing in North America’s largest high school basketball tournament. University and college scouts are everywhere. It is Day 4 and you are on the floor. KES is down by one point in the second overtime period. There are four seconds left on the clock and you have the ball. A blatant foul sends you to the free throw line. Two shots: sink them both and we win. Miss them both and we lose. Sink one and we tie, forcing a third overtime period.

It is the stuff of sports fantasy, and yet, this is the exact situation Aaliyah Arab-Smith (Grade 11) and our KES Girls’ Prep Basketball Team found themselves in on December 22nd at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Arizona.

Aaliyah took to the line and the referee tossed her the ball. Both benches and every spectator held their breath as Aaliyah took her first shot. After circling the rim, the ball bounced out. Cheers erupted from the opposition stands. The rest of us, hearts beating wildly, watched as Aaliyah prepared herself for her second shot.

Down by one: sink the ball and we go to overtime. Miss it and the game is lost. With practised ease, Aaliyah bounced the ball a few times and then deftly launched it towards the basket. Swish! Everyone leapt to their feet cheering. What a shot to make under that kind of pressure!

I love moments like this. They are transformational. For sports to have educational value, they must act like metaphors – offering us safe opportunities to perform as individuals and as a team in search of a goal. We learn about ourselves and how to communicate and act with others. We learn to adapt and to react to the moment. With good coaching and mentoring, the lessons we learn in sports transcend the athletic arena and play out in real life. We become better people, not just better athletes.

We did not score as many points as our opponents in the final overtime period, but the girls emerged champions nonetheless (in my heart at least!).

Happy 2019 everyone. May it bring you thrilling moments of joy.

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 14

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Dec 8, 2018 8:10:11 AM

Dear KES Family:


A cluster of boys was waiting at the bottom of the stairs before their History exam. From the hushed huddle came a sudden exclamation: “The Treaty of Versailles!? What’s that?” As his friends quickly gave the world’s fastest and most succinct description of the famous peace treaty which ended hostilities between Germany and the allied powers after WWI, I had two quick thoughts. The first was that if I ever needed a perfectly described lesson of an historical event, Noah Szymanis (Grade 10) is the fellow I would choose. His description of the Treaty of Versailles was perfect! My second thought was that I am very happy NOT to be back in Grade 10 writing exams. (Hahaha!) The first set of exams I ever wrote was in Grade 10. Back then I was a jittery mess before every single one. It is a miracle that I passed any of them.

Everyone deals with stress differently. Some students will find a quiet corner and listen to music. Others will cram in isolation, feverishly going over cue cards and notes right to the last second. Some students will quiz each other anticipating questions that might be asked. Still others will congregate in happy social groups and talk about nothing in particular.

The trick is to find that sweet spot of emotional readiness. One has to be alert and ‘psyched up’ to perform at an optimum level, but if one is too anxious and stressed one will literally get ‘psyched out’ and performance will decrease. It is as true for academics as it is for athletes. The trick is to be confident and focused under pressure. Be it a free throw in basketball in front of a big crowd, or a three foot putt for birdie in golf, or serving for the match in tennis, we will choke if we let the pressure of the situation get to us.

Learning how to manage the stress of exams is as important as learning the material required. The sooner we figure out successful strategies for ourselves, the better we will be for all the demanding pressure situations we will face in life. Of course, knowing the material beforehand (like the Treaty of Versailles) will certainly help.

Sincerely,
Joe Seagram,

This week in Photos

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -Week 13

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Dec 1, 2018 11:03:03 AM

Dear KES Family:


There is a connection between our Remembrance Day observances and this Sunday’s Advent Service of Lessons and Carols. After the First World War ended on November 11th one hundred years ago, the initial joy of peace was replaced by the haunting and horrific memories of the war. The bigger questions about life and our existence surfaced. Is humanity really no better than this? Amidst so much darkness and despair, and after so much cruelty and death, where is the light and beauty of life? Thus, one hundred years ago, scant weeks after the end of WWI, the church created the Advent Service of Lessons and Carols to remind returning soldiers and families alike that there is goodness in the world. It is a service which tells a story of hope and new life. It is a service which asks us to fill our lungs and participate in the beauty of song.

Reading silently on one’s own is much different than reading out loud. On Sunday, most of the Lessons will be read by students. It is daunting to stand alone and read out loud in front of one’s schoolmates and their families as well as the entire faculty. Reading the older syntax and vocabulary of Scripture is a rare challenge. Adding to the task is that many of our readers on Sunday do not include English as a first language. I find this aspect of the Service as moving as the words contained in the Lessons themselves. My heart goes out to those who participate.

My heart went out to Grade 7 student Lucas Martin this week. On Thursday, he read in Chapel. He had a long passage describing Jesus expelling the merchants and money changers from the Temple. There were some big and unfamiliar words in the Lesson. I was impressed by his clear and confident reading voice. However, I was even more impressed when he would stop and quietly ask Reverend Curry how to pronounce some of the words. In 33 years of attending morning Chapel, I have seen students gamely tackle and mangle some of the Bible’s greatest stories. When Lucas demonstrated the confidence and presence of mind to simply ask how to pronounce something (it took no time at all as Reverend Curry was sitting right beside the podium) I could not help but smile. It was a brilliant moment and added to the story instead of detracting from it.

Sincerely,

Joe Seagram

 This week in photos

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 12

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Nov 26, 2018 6:43:25 AM

Dear KES Family:

Last week, I attended my son’s graduation ceremony from Queen’s University in Ontario. In his address to the assembled graduates, the Chancellor spoke about how “the best things in life are not things”. As we are entering the Christmas season, I thought he might focus his comments on the shortcomings of today’s materialistic world. Instead, he emphasized the importance of friendship and memories.

As I watched last night’s performance of Mamma Mia! I was struck by the truth of his words – not just in terms of the action of the play, but in terms of the experience of being in the play. Life can certainly be a mess sometimes. Whether in high school, university, or on a small Greek Island in the Mediterranean, challenges and triumphs greet us at every turn. For Donna (beautifully portrayed by Joanna Bond) it is clear that her two best friends Tanya and Rosie (played perfectly by Grace Gallant and Ella Brown) kept her afloat. They create joy and humour out of situations fraught with angst and self-doubt. Part of what allows Donna to succeed as a single mother and the owner/manager of her Greek Taverna is the strength of the memories she has with her friends. Their reunion during the action of the play is wonderfully entertaining and funny. However, it is also clear that the best things in the lives of the characters are not material things. It is their friendships and the memories they share and create together that really matter.

I am the world’s biggest cheer leader for KES, and thus, I lose some credibility when it comes to reviewing a play. That being said, I woke up at 2:00am this morning with the joyous chorus of Mamma Mia! running through my head. I love this show! A part of me is quite envious of the students who are in the cast and crew. The friendships and memories they are creating will last a lifetime. For them, quite literally, this production is unforgettable. And maybe that is the whole point. For me it is a few hours of laughter and admiration. For those who are involved, for those who have struggled to learn lines, to balance school work and to manage the choreography, Mamma Mia! is one of the best things in life.

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 11

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Nov 17, 2018 10:11:35 PM

Dear KES Family:

I have not counted the names of our Alumni who have fallen in battle. I have not counted the wars in which they fought. It seems disrespectful to reduce the Remembrance Day Honour Roll to a number, to a comparative and relative value. What can a person offer that has greater value than their own life?

During our ceremony on campus, I struggled to read the names on our Honour Roll. Half of my brain is working on pronouncing the names clearly and correctly, while the other half is intensely aware of and distracted by the emotion attached to the name of each soldier who has perished. And so it was with tremendous pride on Sunday when, after spending many hours in the bitterly cold winds that blew, our students honoured those soldiers’ memories with one last and unscripted action. After RSM Sophie Fraser dismissed the Corps, not a single student ran off to seek warmth and shelter. Instead, the 254 King’s-Edgehill School Cadet Corps crowded forward to place their poppies at the cenotaph. It was a remarkable and heartwarming moment. Parents stood waiting, cameras at the ready, while their children took a moment to remember those who had fallen. Blue lips, blotchy knees, and frozen fingers forgotten, students of all ages and all nations paid respectful tribute.

So much has been said in recent years about the softness and egocentricity of this generation. This week I marvelled at our children’s grit and their empathetic appreciation of the moment. Well done, everyone.
Sincerely,

Joe Seagram

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmasters Weekly Newsletter -- Week 10

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Nov 10, 2018 9:04:52 AM

Dear KES Family:

There is a glorious scene in Tom Hanks’ film Castaway when, after having crashed and stranded on a desert island, he is able to get a fire started. He jumps up, arms raised, and shouts, “I have made fire!” His triumphant shout demonstrates the relief and power he felt. The fire represents life and warmth and light in the darkness. “Making fire” is empowering. It feels good.

I saw that same joy this week when watching our students learning how to make fire using flint and steel. It is a survival skill taught in cadets by one of our Science teachers, Eric Kershaw. In a safe clearing in the School woods, he showed students how to gather tinder, birch bark, dry twigs and larger sticks. He showed them how to start with the smallest of fuel at the bottom and how to feed a flame from the top with larger sticks once the fire started. He showed them the balance of air, fuel and heat that are necessary to keep a flame going and growing. Hearing him and Alex Arki (Class of 2019) discuss the physical principles of radiant heat versus convection, how heat rises and creates its own internal current, was a perfect example of practical learning.

When a spark flies off the flint and steel and creates a small flame, there is an instant ‘Tom Hanks’ moment of elation. Losing the flame is almost sad. Not being able to create one in the first place is unbearably frustrating. Few things are worse than striking and striking and seeing the sparks fly but nevertheless producing nothing. There is technique involved, of course, but somehow the students who were able to master it seemed endowed with a magical ability.

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 9

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Nov 3, 2018 9:56:58 AM

Dear KES Family:


I think it is the Holiday Inn which has the marketing tag line: The best surprise is no surprise. When it is a good surprise though (like a chocolate on your pillow) one’s heart cannot help but do a little happy dance. The last week has been full of happy surprises.

Inspired by Linus Mulherin and hosted by the Prefects and Mr. MacLean, Monday night’s Haunted House in the Athletic Centre was sensational. Imagine yourself being greeted by a psychiatric nurse (Joanna Bond) and being led through a tour of an asylum by a team of schizophrenic orderlies and lunatic inmates in the dark recesses and underbelly of the Athletic Centre. One change room had been transformed into an operating theatre. Between flashes of strobe lighting one was assaulted by the screams of the poor patient (Rayannah Hwang) and the hideous cackles of her surgeons. My spine shivers with the memories.

I should never be surprised again by the thought and effort our food services put into the feasts we enjoy, but Tuesday’s Halloween spread quite literally ‘takes the cake’. I took photos to share with you which you can see below. How much fun it is for everyone when the kitchen staff are all dressed up and the Dining Hall has been transformed into a festival of ghoulish and gastronomic delights!

Our dance troupe became a flash mob during Tuesday night’s dance, jumping on stage and performing an original zombie inspired interpretive dance. I was happily surprised to see everyone on stage, including faculty member and dance coach, Ms. Cummings.

Also surprising has been the number of guests joining our evening training sessions for Mount Kilimanjaro. I would not have thought anyone would want to join us but we have had Brisnel and Righo, Montse and Lindsay, Eva and Andrea, Linus and Mr. Dietrich (just to name a few). The boot camp sessions are lung busting, leg burning workouts, but we are getting more and more students out every night. Most nights we have 20 to 30 participants!

The Girls’ Hockey Team is raising money for, and awareness of, Breast Cancer with a Pink in the Rink event. (They play at 5:00pm on Saturday night in Brooklyn.) The last I checked they raised almost $1,000 yesterday through their bake sale and dress down day. Wow!

One of this week’s happy surprises was to learn that not only will we be able to dress almost the entire School in Cadet Reds (see the photo below of everyone assembled on the Field of Payne!), but that our Colour Party and Honour Guard opened the Canadian National University Rugby Championships at Acadia last night. Our RSM Sophie Fraser was in command and she had the packed stadium silent (5,000 people) and at attention for the opening ceremonies! It was a proud moment for all our alumni, students and staff present.

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 8

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Oct 27, 2018 11:56:03 AM

Dear KES Family:


The faculty meets briefly every morning at break to share in a cup of coffee, some light conversation, and announcements. We may bring up a student issue or performance but more likely those conversations are held on Wednesday afternoons when we all get together for that express purpose. As we went through our individual student concerns this week, one of our teachers related a student response regarding an assignment that was not completed. I may not have the wording exactly correct but the response was a polite, “I am sorry I don’t have it done but to do so would have required an effort that would compromise my wellness.”

Ten years ago this kind of student excuse would have produced peals of laughter. “Wellness” would not have even been considered a proper word, let alone a state of being to protect. This week my own, and the faculty’s reaction, was subdued and thoughtful. After all, we try and take wellness seriously here. There was not one of us in the room who has not, at some point, so been overwhelmed with life’s obligations that we knew any more work would compromise our wellness. Normally, we would say we were too busy to finish, or we were too tired to get our work done. However, wellness describes a balance between physical and emotional and mental health. I would never want it to be an easy excuse, but the reality is that there are times in our lives when we simply have to say “enough” or “Stop, I cannot do anymore”.

To paraphrase Robert Frost, we all “…have promises to keep, And miles to go before we sleep.” Sometimes the woods are invitingly “lovely, dark, and deep” and all we want to do is rest and sleep and forget our labours. There are times when, if we don’t rest, we won’t ever have the energy to finish the journey and fulfill our promises. Part of a good education is discovering what you can do and what is simply too much. Part of a good education is gaining an appreciation for one’s limits, and learning how to maintain balance in one’s life. I love teenagers to achieve more than they ever thought possible, but I also recognize that our “Be More” philosophy creates a “Do More” environment. Sometimes more is too much.

Good coaches and teachers demand a lot from their athletes and pupils. It was Robert Browning who wrote that “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp”. I agree. Sometimes, though, we need to have a firmer grip on reality, take a break, and gather our strength for the rest of the climb. It is a skill to know when.

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

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