What Silence Can Teach Us

img_0570It has been a busy few weeks here at Mentor College with the introduction to of Edsby to students and parents. Instructions have been shared with students, parents have been notified of this new program via email, teachers have been posting on their pages and many other forms of communication are taking place between students, parents, teachers and principals.
Prior to Thanksgiving, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Outdoor Education Centre with 2 of High School’s leadership classes. We were able to avoid the rain and that presented an opportunity that I have not had in a very long time. Following our campfire on Saturday evening some students noticed the starry night sky above. They asked if we could all lie down on the grass volleyball court and watch the stars.

As we lay on the field a hush fell over the group. Chatter turned to complete quiet and for twenty minutes, 37 seventeen-year olds remained speechless, literally and metaphorically. The only sounds were the oohs and ahhs when a shooting star (or 4) streaked by. I lay there waiting for the silence to be broken by a giggle that I knew would erupt into laughter. It did not happen. Eventually the air became a little too cool and we moved into the OEC to warm up. As we walked back Ms. Higgs and I overheard students state they had never heard the world so quiet.
There are not enough moments like these in our lives. Our fast paced world has almost taken over our daily lives. It is difficult to escape the notifications from our devices or even the hum of electricity. If you have the opportunity in the near future I would highly suggest taking some complete quiet time like this for yourself. Consider it a restart of sorts.

Another more impressive moment was seeing maturity in action. These students knew the significance of what they were doing, when they were doing it. We are very good at appreciating memorable moments after the fact, but to recognize value in the moment and then fully embrace it was impressive to say the least.

Finally, as an educator I believe in the power of experiential learning. Whether it is an overseas trip to India or Iceland, running a school event like our annual Fashion and Art shows or simply sitting quietly under the stars, experience is a powerful teacher. At Mentor College we are proud to offer numerous clubs, organizations, teams and events that create these opportunities for students to share in and learn from. As you browse through your Edsby pages you will see the wide variety of opportunities that your student can take part in. Please encourage your child to engage in some of these in order to have the best possible school year.

Aneil Panchal
Assistant Vice-Principal
High School Division

Standing Up

bystanderLike many of you, I was glued to my TV on Tuesday night watching the baseball wild card game between the Blue Jays and Orioles. And while the game itself was fascinating (and the right team won!), I have been just as interested in watching the “Beercangate” controversy unfold.

Just in case you haven’t been following the story, an almost-full can of beer was thrown from the outfield stands at an Oriole outfielder as he was making a catch. In the 48 hours since, police and amateur online detectives have been trying to unlock the mystery of “who threw it?” After one day without solid leads, police released the photo of a “person of interest”, a name soon followed and the world went berserk from Mississauga to Maryland and beyond.

What I cannot understand is how the culprit was not caught within 10 seconds of the incident. I have been to many sports games, concerts and other stadium events and I am pretty sure that I would be able to identify the beer chucker. I might know who in my section purchased a can, who was acting rowdy enough to endanger a player and mostly, I think I would notice anyone who took a huge wind-up to launch a projectile from that distance. I think I could do this for a few people either side or for a number of rows in front of me…maybe 10-15 persons or so. Everyone in that section was looking at the play; there must be at least a dozen people who saw it happen and could identify the person. The health of a baseball player and the reputation of Blue Jay fans are in question so why has no-one stepped up and pointed a finger? And if I was in the same position, would I have the integrity to do so myself?

I am wondering if this is the part of the challenge that schools have with anti-bullying strategies. I think our kids are WAY more likely to point out wrong-doings (publicly or anonymously) than we are because they have grown up with the message (at our school and previous ones) that wrong is wrong and that if you see something that shouldn’t be happening, you should tell an adult you trust. The kids get it but maybe parents (sorry, but the people in that section look to be parent-aged, not kids) aren’t quite there yet. How many of you remember being in a classroom after some sort shenanigans had taken place and heard the teacher say before storming out of the class “Nobody leaves this room until they confess!”? How effective was that? We sat there are argued with each other until one of our classmates falsely admitted (or was “pressured” into) their guilt.

Your kids will tell you that the real culprits are the people nearby who saw it happen and know who it was but didn’t say anything. It will be interesting to see if this “person of interest” is an innocent bystander or not. As our kids have been trained to recognize, the “innocent bystander” cannot be innocent while standing by, only when they stand up.

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School

Device Advice

takeiOn Monday, Mr. Philbrook (the co-founder and Executive Director of our schools) directed the principals to an opinion piece from last Saturday’s Globe and Mail. It was written by two University of Toronto political science professors who decided this year that they were banning all electronic devices from both lectures and discussion labs.

Their reasons were varied. First, they had observed that many of their students were using their devices for non-educational purposes like watching TV shows, using social media, playing solitaire or even taking part in online betting. Not only were they not able to grasp the material but they were a distraction to those around them. The second reason was from their experience in speaking with alumni who took the course prior to the advent (or to be more correct, the permitted use) of electronic devices. Comprehension of the course material, discussions with fellow students, asking questions of the prof and putting the material into coherent essays and examinations came only from paying full attention during the lectures. From this, the professors note that “like many innovations, ours is a rediscovery.”

Mentor College/TEAM School students would do well in their course. Upon leaving us, our graduates have been exposed to an appropriate use of technology in the classroom. We continue to believe that students learn and retain more information when they take the notes themselves (even with an internet-disabled laptop) and we value the give-and-take of opinions expressed in class from fully listening and participating. What the professors do not mention is the students who take the opportunity to disengage from the lesson by jumping on the internet are at the same time showing the instructor that he or she is not worthy of the respect of their position. How does it work in the “real world” during a staff meeting if employees are checking their text messages or seeing how they are doing in the hockey pool? I would be interested to hear from both employees and employers about that so feel free to send me a message. Email is (ironically) fine but if you want to be new-fashioned, I will even take your phone call. Just don’t expect to leave a voicemail; we have been “rediscovering” for over 30 years that people would much rather speak to a human being when they call our school!

Note: Here is the piece in its entirety.

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

Why Mentor/TEAM? A Little Push…A Little Pull, Say Our Parents

new-schoolI am often asked why our schools are so popular or “Why should I send my child to Mentor/TEAM?”. I do have a standard answer but as I took part in the MTPA’s “Meet and Greet” coffee mornings this week, I thought it would be interesting to re-direct the question to all the parents who are new to the Mentor/TEAM community so I asked, “Why us?”.

The answers varied but as I learn every time this question is posed, there is always a “push” and a “pull” involved. The “push” is something that isn’t working with the previous educational experience. It can be anything from philosophical (eg: Montessori-based learning) to personal (eg: conflict with a peer, teacher or principal) to practical (eg: school goes to Grade 5 so we need a new school) to geographical (eg: just moved to the area).

The “pull” is obviously something that fixes the problem by coming to Mentor/TEAM. Our traditional teaching model and code of conduct for students and staff is attractive to many of those who need a change but I am most impressed with the way new families express their surprise at how quickly the students adapt to their new surroundings. There is a poster at TEAM School we made a few years ago from parent and student comments that summarizes this. Comments like “He used to dread going to school but now he is the first one in the car every morning” and “I love recess now; I have friends!” show not only that our new students are adaptable and capable but that our returning students are just as willing to make the first weeks at school great ones for everyone as well. I always say that by “Meet the Teacher Night” (next week), I cannot tell which students are new to the school because they have already settled in to their new school comfortably. And if you see me there (I am usually “guarding” the cookies in the gym), please introduce yourself and share your “first month of school” story!

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

Close Encounters of the Alumni Kind

img_0699When I was a student, I would see my teachers outside of school quite a bit. The fact that I was from a small town with one mall and two grocery stores was the main reason; there were relatively few places to go so you were bound to see people you knew. During my first summer of university, I would frequently serve former teachers when they were looking to cool off as I was the proprietor of the “Tin Roof Ice Cream Hut” and also worked part-time at the Brewers’ Retail.

I have enjoyed several alumni encounters and heard of others recently. Myna was my waitress at a local restaurant (earning money to pay off student loans accrued while getting her MBA). Virginia popped into the school today to tell us that she is the head coach of the U of T cheerleading team. I congratulated Shahir on his new gig as a co-host of the CBC show “The Goods” when he tweeted a photo of himself with Peter Mansbridge (who was a part of our school for a few hours as a participant in our “Speaker Series”. While I was umpiring this summer, I re-connected with alumni-turned-slopitch-players Shawn (now a lawyer) and Mitch (who at 28 years old is the senior staff member of an online app company with almost 100 employees!).

It wasn’t just me; three of our high school teacher had this happen to them as well. Mrs. McRae enjoyed a night with some members of the high school Class of 2006 in August, Mrs. Zorec ran into the three Paterson sisters at a restaurant in Niagara and Mr. Miller, while participating in a Tough Mudder race on the weekend, found himself being helped over a wall obstacle by his former student/wrestler, Gianni.

In each case, the former students remember their time with us fondly and always ask about their “old” teachers. We encourage them to return to the schools for a visit and in some cases, they stay for more than a quick chat. The teachers in the photo (Ms. Towey, Ms. Benak and Ms. Brownridge) are just the latest in a growing list (nine) of former students who now work here!

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School