Head’s Blog: Vulnerability

2018_2019_JS_House_Activity_Tug_of_War_10As we begin a new school year, I think that most students are excited about an array of opportunities, but a lot are also naturally feeling somewhat vulnerable. A major contradiction of our times is the unintended message of the nuts-and-bolts priorities of the “I generation”. I hear a lot about “I this” and “I that”. Let’s face it, across North America there’s an obsession with the individual and with individual public displays of personal competence and strength. Although there’s nothing wrong with strength, courage and developing into a solid individual, none of our students are able to do it alone, I assure you.

I recently asked high school students to consider how to gently shed some of their fear of appearing vulnerable. In all honesty, we are all vulnerable and need input and help from others most of the time. That’s a fundamental reality of the human condition and learning and working productively.

Students need to stop worrying about developing an impenetrable self-image, both in person or online. To do this they need to consider less focus on “I” or “me” and shift the focus more to “we”. Collaboration with others is a reality of life and a set of key skills to develop. It actually requires practice so that young people can become valued contributors who actually listen better and be genuinely trusted by others.

Despite the powerful cultural messages about having the courage to stand alone and stand apart from the crowd, I’m asking our students to come together more in groups. I have asked them to consider how you will develop their ability to work more effectively with others. Fortunately, they are gaining a lot of practice in the classroom.

All the modern workplace gurus and writers remind us that the ability to work with others is now the key attribute of today’s employees and professional teams, whether you are at a school or a start-up, or a professional, such as a doctor or a teacher. I assure you, our teachers all work in teams – more so than ever before. This is evident in our many dynamic Professional Learning Community (PLC) teams! In working together, they are impressive role models to our students every day.

So, I urge our students to let their relationships flourish and I guarantee them that in due course, they will feel good – more positive and well supported. We all do when we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Head’s Blog: Environmental Engagement

Child_Wading_FloodOur student Green Team volunteers and a handful of other students are LCC’s “eco-warriors” who are active in considering new ways to educate, support, and advocate for our environment. Despite their efforts and a strong commitment from school administration, I am still concerned about awareness and ownership of environmental issues across our broader school community.

I write this as thousands of people in our city are out of their homes due to catastrophic flooding. Two years ago, major floods were called “once-in-a-century floods”. Unfortunately, they happened again. It can be very tough for young people to process the many elements of climate change. Many people, young and old, think they can have little real impact. I believe that none of us should sit on the sidelines; we should all consider how we can play a part in protecting our environment.

LCC has taken a lot of steps in recent years, but we cannot rest on our laurels and should do more. These are some environmental initiatives undertaken at the school:

Between 2005 and 2010, we started a student Green Team, introduced recycling in a systematic way and addressed a number of costly campus infrastructure issues, replacing inefficient furnaces, ventilation systems and energy-wasting lighting. We also constructed Montreal’s most energy efficient arena in 2008, using an efficient ice-making system called ECO CHILL. That building is LEED Silver Certified (highly sustainable standards). In 2009, we made the environment one of the seven key pillars of our school’s Strategic Plan.

After 2010, our Board of Governors adopted and published a Sustainability Commitment, and we have continued to improve our facilities with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind. This was reflected in the renovation of our science wing in summer of 2010 and construction of the LEED Gold Certified Assaly Arts Centre in 2013. It has many sustainable attributes, including geothermal heating. During those years, an active staff Sustainability Committee and an LCC Parent Environmental Committee also worked on promoting sustainability practices in day-to-day school life.

We have replaced washroom taps with automatic units and installed low-flow urinals. We purchase only sustainably-sourced paper, introduced composting in our food service operations and LCC was twice named one of Canada’s Top 100 Green Employers. All along the way, teachers at all levels have considered ways to focus on the teaching and learning about the environment in our curriculum.

Beyond our committed eco-warriors, I still think we can do better by giving environmental education and sustainability a higher profile. In all fairness, many students and adults are not sure what they can do to help, either at school or at home.

Despite Canada’s small population and vast open spaces, we do not have an admirable track record on a host of environmental benchmarks. We are signatories to the 2015 Paris Accord on reducing harmful emissions, yet each Canadian produces 22 tonnes of greenhouse gas per year. That is the highest among all G20 countries and nearly three times the G20 average of eight tonnes per person.

I am pleased that the world has been effectively nudged by the work of many young environmental activists. Notably, 16-year-old Swedish Nobel nominee Greta Thunberg has presented a powerful call-to-action to youth globally. Her message and her passion for this cause are impressive. She reminds all adults that in many ways we have failed this young generation, and now it is time to pull together and act on behalf of Mother Earth.

In an effort to raise the bar on environmental issues, LCC recently joined a new Environmental Steering Committee of a few CAIS schools. We are working together to set higher standards and benchmarks and hopefully impact all of our nearly 100 CAIS schools across the county.

I invite all students to sit up, listen and take notice. How do we share ideas for improvement within our school and with other CAIS schools? I asked them to channel their thoughts through our advisory groups, Green Team or Student Council. Most importantly, let’s consider how we translate our ideas into action. This is a whole-school initiative that could have long-term impact.

To paraphrase American writer H. Jackson Brown from his NYT bestseller Life’s Little Instruction Book, 20 years from now our students will be more disappointed by the things that they didn’t do than by the ones they did. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Head’s Blog: Air Conditioning & Energy Consumption

Although this has been a very challenging winter with radical temperature shifts, last summer was the hottest on record in Montreal. Montreal is a city of extremes, shifting from as low as -40°C to +40°C, a major differential and one of the most significant temperature shifts in the world. No wonder our roads are so bumpy with a long cycle of freezing, thawing, and freezing again.

If you harken back to last summer, the extreme heat we had was also experienced across most of North America and Europe, with the hottest spot being in Portugal in July, with temperatures above 45°C. Weather experts expect more of the same next summer.

With extreme heat as an apparent new normal, people need to realize how much energy is expended on air conditioning (AC) in our homes, at work, and in public gathering spaces, such as malls and theatres. But it’s important to also realize that AC is actually heating up our whole planet and scientists predict it could add half a degree to global temperatures by 2050.

As incomes continue to rise in Asia and Latin America, more and more people can now afford AC, which historically has been a luxury in many corners of the world. At current rates, it’s projected that the number of AC units will increase by 250% in the next 30 years. That would mean that all the AC units across the planet would then consume as much energy as all of China does today.

In terms of environmental impact, this would mean 82% more greenhouse gases than we produce now, and half a degree could be added to average global temperatures. Note that heat from AC units in cities can add as much as one degree at night.

According to the Global Economic Forum, 21% of global electricity demand is now being attributed to AC alone. So it’s an area we can and should target for reductions.

One simple way to address this could be to raise so-called comfort zones of AC in homes, restaurants and malls by a few degrees from mid- to high-teens (mid-60s in Fahrenheit) to above 20°c (or mid-70s F), so that the electrically-powered units don’t have to work as hard. I’m sure there are a lot of other innovative ways to cut back on AC energy consumption.

Last November, a new competition was backed by the government of India, with Richard Branson as the spokesperson. The Global Cooling Prize is a prize for innovation in addressing energy costs related to residential cooling technology design. It offers lots of incentives: $3 million in prize money over the next two years. So clearly, it’s a bigger issue than most of us have probably realized until now.

I recently urged our capable senior science students to put on their thinking caps and propose a solution to this mounting global problem. Why not submit an LCC student proposal? The Global Cooling Prize organizers are just waiting to dole out $3 million in prize money! – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Head’s Blog: Appreciate the WOW Moments!

wow-2780576_1280We all live in a digital information and innovation age, and every day we see or consume hundreds, if not thousands, of images and stories through various forms of media. Given that tsunami of information, I sometimes worry that we have all become somewhat immune to wonder and what I like to call WOW moments. That’s when an idea or development stops you in your tracks because it is simply awesome in every respect. Sometimes, we need to stop and think: WOW, that’s truly amazing! That’s happened several times to me in the past few months and I’d like to share a couple of my personal WOW moments.

Seven years ago, Quebecer Maurice Desjardins lost his nose, lips, teeth and upper and lower jaw in a horrible hunting accident after being shot in the face. Consequently, he couldn’t breathe, speak or swallow properly. After healing, he was so disfigured he hid away from the world.

Last fall, all of that changed with Canada’s first successful face transplant. Montreal plastic surgeon Dr. Daniel Borsuk performed the 17-hour procedure with the support of dozens of medical specialists. Desjardins also had prepared for two full years for his face transplant, including many hours with a psychiatrist to prepare for the possibility that his body would reject the face or the reality of taking on a whole new identity with a new face.

Dr. Borsuk and his team also practised for two years. The face is not a single organ, but involves many muscles, nerves, bones and skin. The new face came from a brain-dead man whose blood-type, skin tone and facial measurements closely matched those of Desjardins and whose family gave permission for the donation after his death. And a few months following the face transplant, things seem to be going well.

I find the whole concept to be astounding – in a good way – and clearly life-changing for the recipient, with incredible implications for people in the future who may be injured or disfigured in some way. For me, that was a real WOW moment!

Another WOW moment happened for me in December when I watched a segment of the CBS news magazine show 60 Minutes. It profiled Marshall Medoff, an 81-year-old eccentric genius inventor. Inspired by the beauty of his regular visits to a local nature reserve and the constant doom-and-gloom stories about our global environment, Medoff felt compelled to address significant issues harming our natural world. Despite his age and lack of formal science training, Medoff put his personal life on hold and concentrated on finding solutions in a rented garage for some fifteen years. He emerged with piles and piles of papers and hundreds of ideas, many of which he has since patented after seeking support from scientists who helped him move forward.

Three of his ideas are particularly notable and he has managed to receive private funding and turn the ideas into reality. First is the development of a completely plant-based sugar that is not harmful to teeth or the human body. Second is the creation of a kind of plant-based plastic that is fully biodegradable, and third is a fully renewable plant-based fuel that can power vehicles and heat homes. Each of Medoff’s initiatives has the capacity to address major environmental issues that threaten our sensitive global environment. Despite his lack of training, his ideas have developed into reality and the board of his company, XYLECO, is now populated by notable scientists and inventors. Amazing. Another WOW moment!

So I urge you to try and not be too casual about all the news that you absorb today and every day. Seek – and hopefully feel – your own WOW moments in the next several weeks before our spring break. Maybe you’ll be inspired and the next great innovator, just like Marshall Medoff or Dr. Daniel Borsuk. May the force be with you! – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

 

 

Head’s Blog: Healing Art

By LCC Student Sara Graveline '18

Cliff City in Italy, by Sara Graveline ’18

One of my favourite things to do when I have free time is visit museums or art galleries. When I travel, I visit them pretty much everywhere I go, and there’s often a crowd. So why are so many people drawn to art?

I’ve always been impressed by the creativity of gifted artists and the unique perspectives these talented people are able to represent through their work with different mediums – drawing, painting, sculpture and others.

Great artists are actually able to create a wow effect, which forces you to stop, think, and wonder how the artist developed such a different idea or perspective. In addition, artists find special ways to make a statement on social issues or controversial topics.

The fact that art frequently challenges us is very healthy. Think of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, as an example of art that challenges, provokes and engages. It was considered very controversial when it was installed in the early 1980s. Its creator was Maya Lin, a 21-year-old art student at Yale University, and her design was chosen in a national competition that included 1,400 entries. To symbolize the impact of war, she chose to literally cut into the earth. She created a long black granite wall and a journey for the viewer from one end of the wall to the other – an intimate place to see the engraved names of the 58,000 soldiers who lost their lives. Some traditionalists wanted a more “heroic sculpture,” and some initially referred to the wall as an insulting “scar in the earth.” Yet, nearly 40 years later, the abstraction and striking symbolism of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Wall has actually made it one of Washington’s most visited and memorable sites.

Art not only challenges, it also inspires, by evoking a sense of extraordinary beauty. A good example of this would be Monet’s famous Water Lilies or many of the other striking works by the renowned French Impressionist painters.

Here at LCC, I am particularly impressed with the talent of so many emerging artists. Our gifted art teachers consistently bring out the best in our students. I love looking at the art on our walls in the Junior School and up on the third floor of the Assaly Arts Centre. In fact, sometimes I’m left speechless by what our students produce. That has also been the case in recent years when senior art students have held a special vernissage and exhibition in a professional art gallery in downtown Montreal.

I don’t just appreciate art, it also makes me feel better. So I wasn’t surprised to read recently that viewing art is actually good for you. Studies show that slowing down and viewing art is good for both our physical and mental health. It increases two chemicals in our bodies – cortisol and serotonin – hormones that also have a positive effect on us when we exercise. Viewing art can be effective in elevating those hormone levels and diminishing several diseases.

A new pilot project has just begun at the Musée des Beaux Arts here in Montreal, where doctors are prescribing museum visits to help diminish a wide variety of health challenges. These are the first legitimate medical prescriptions of museum visits.

So if and when you’re feeling a little anxious or stressed, sweating it out is not the only way to calm down. Viewing art is also effective personal therapy and helps you to relax and feel more balanced. I hope to see you soon at a local gallery! – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster