Thursday, December 24, 2009

Time Travel

The next few days promise to be refreshingly weird. I have turned in my laptop and cell phone and my bags are packed for my boxing day departure to Canberra. As Santa knows all too well the trip from Canada to Oz takes about 24 hours and the pesky international date line provides an additional one day kick in the forward direction which means that I will arrive in Australia sometime on Monday December 28th. Given my lack of communication with the outside world and the time vortex into which I will be falling, my existence on December 27th, 2009 will be dubious at best.

I have just returned from the bank, where I provided the teller with a hearty Holiday laugh by asking for a few Australian dollars for my wallet, just in case I arrive in the land down under and my cheerful Canadian disposition is not enough to secure lifes essentials. When he said "Did you order the currency in advance?"; I knew it was a bad sign. Two minutes and a thousand keystrokes later he informed me that there was not a single Australian Dollar in my hometown - after all "it's not a popular currency" - ouch! Oh well, penny less it is!

So I'm all geared up; to my welcoming party at the Canberra airport, I'd like to apologize in advance for the 2 day no shower program on which I am about to undertake. I see that the weather forecast in Canberra promises 29 degrees Celsius and sunny for my arrival, sweet.

Talk again soon,


Friday, December 18, 2009


Today is my last day at the Montessori Country School, a school I have called home for the past 6.5 years. A couple of days ago I attended the Peace Celebration at our Milton Campus. Milton holds a special place in my heart, as I founded the classroom 3 years ago. Every time I attend the Milton school, memories flood over me - each piece of material that we ordered, every staff member that we interviewed, and every family that we met at an open house bring back thoughts of days gone by. But the Peace Celebration this year was different because what I observed was not the pieces but the whole picture. I was struck by the relationships that had formed; friendships between the children, staff and parents, and I realized that these relationships would last for a lifetime. I imagined children growing up together, parents helping each other navigate through the hectic days with young families and staff supporting each other through their teaching careers. The relationships are the legacy.

I'm sure that the staff in Canberra must be wondering who this guys is that's travelling across the ocean merely to change initials from MCS to CMS (eerie). I wish I had the self awareness to answer the question - maybe Marisa, Rosalie, Joanne, Jo, Joan or Nina could comment. This process of saying goodbye over the past 3 months has led me to the awkward and strange revelation that my main talent demonstrated over the past decade has been "Matchmaker" - who knew! still I've been called worse.

To MCS I say "so long" to CMS I say "see you soon".


Friday, December 11, 2009


I attended a lecture by David Kahn this past Monday. He was brought in by a group of parents that are interested in starting a Montessori High School in the Toronto area. The school intends to follow the farm model, much like those in Cleveland and Sydney.

I love David's concept of flow; meaning that state of being where time slips by un-noticed and we feel that we are in our element. David believes that it occurs when challenges meet skills. School's therefore should be "Flow Machines"; environments where flow is naturally occurring - I agree.

He claims that the farm is an ideal setting for adolescents, one in which challenges are present and flow can be fostered. Sorry David this is where you've lost me - I worked for 3 weeks on a farm when I was 19 and no flow was created. I was hired for $4 / hour (2 of which was subsidized by the government). The farmer hired me and another chap for a grand to total of $32 per day - and after the first week my friend was fired (lack of productivity) and I was alone in the sun drenched fields hoeing cabbage. The second week the farmer imported 3 Jamaican workers who apparently would work for less than $16/ day and I knew my days were numbered. My favourite part of the experience was bringing my three new Caribbean friends to the electronics store to buy portable stereos - we then brought one out to the field and I must say listening to Bob Marley in the Cabbage fields and singing tunes was as close to flow as I ever achieved.

Soon, the allure of the golf course was too great and my career in the agricultural sector came to a close. I imagine David would tell me "Jack - it's not about the farm, it's about having a self contained natural environment where adolescents can experience real work and apply all of their, mathematics, economics, poetry, art...." there a driving range?


Sunday, December 6, 2009

What came first...Schools or Tests?

What if schools did not test their students? Anarchy? Apocalypse? Surely.

The fundamental assumption that all education relies upon is that students need to be tested. The argument goes something like this - what if you were flying over the Alps in an airplane, wouldn't you want to know that the pilot had aced his final flying test? Yes, without question. However I would also want to be assured that the pilot wasn't 6 years old.

You see, in Ontario, Grade 1 consists of 1300 outcomes that must be demonstrated over the course of 200 school days. I'm not sure on which day they simulate the flight over the Alps but I have no doubt its in there somewhere. From Grade 1 onward students get into the rhythm of study, test, forget, study, test, forget...and by the end of High School students feel that school is no more that a set of tests to be navigated through. What an insane waste of 16,800 hours of persons life.

Don't get me wrong, I like tests they're fun. But they are not synonymous with education. School should exist to allow students to explore, create and grow up. No one should have to worry about their GPA in Grade 3. I believe that the overuse of tests is a convenient way for unimaginative school leaders to artificially motivate students to study and memorize outdated, mostly irrelevant data.

Every 10 years in every modernized jurisdiction, curriculum is redesigned. It is largely a make work project for educational bureaucrats awoken by the results of some arbitrary standardized test whose results have hit the media. The redesign may or may not be needed and the intention may be sound but the result is always more outcomes, more accountability and more testing.

I say let's try something different, let's simply prepare environments that ensures that every 60 minutes spent at school comes with an hour of discovery. 16,400 hours later we might be surprised at the outcome.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Scribbly Gum

What do you suppose goes on in the Gum Nut classroom? Shall I take a guess at the meaning of Acacia, Banksia, Casuarina and Dryandra...constellations? shampoos?. So long as one puts the word gum at the end of a phrase in Australia it seems to instantly ooze authenticity. Can I go to a restaurant and order cherry gum pie and will I be asked to pay with penny gums?

These are the big questions as I head to my new school. Please be patient with me Canberra.

Principal Jack "Gum" Rice

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hello World

You know...

A man knows when he has shovelled his last scoop of snow. For me it happened last April, with my car stuck in the middle of the road only meters from my house and me digging out from the remnants of yet another Canadian spring time snow shower. The die was cast and my plan came to fruition this fall when I accepted the Principal's position at the Canberra Montessori School.

I have been ordered to report to Australia on January 1, 2010 (or thereabouts) and once I arrive I intend to watch the weather reports from Barrie, Ontario with particular giddiness.

My new school in Canberra presents a great opportunity, and despite my hatred of all things white, fluffy and cold - I will remain a staunch Canadian while nevertheless embracing my new home.

I hope this blog contains a little bit of Canada, a lot about Australia and enough about my experience as the Head of the Canberra Montessori School.

For those that are interested - enjoy the journey.