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November 04, 2015

Getting to know Leanne

Fostering Community

What was your favourite pastime as a child?

As a child, I was a voracious reader. I enjoyed nothing more than curling up with a book for hours at a time. In grade 4, my favorite novel was “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle. It was the first book that made me realize how a good story can truly transport the reader. I was mesmerized by the ideas it presented, and for many months kept on the lookout for clues of a parallel universe. As a parent, it was wonderful to share that same book with my daughter, Olivia when she was young.

Life in Whitby

After seventeen years living in the same house in Toronto, Dan, Olivia and I packed up the two dogs and headed east to our new home in Whitby. My mother Shirley joined us to make it a true family adventure. Without doubt, the July 28th move with soaring temperatures was a challenge, but cool fall weather, unpacked boxes, and completed renovations have put that memory far behind us. We are now settled and The Cottage feels like home.

What delights us most is the wonderful sense of community we are discovering through the school. Everyone has been warm and welcoming, providing suggestions for great restaurants, dog parks, hairdressers, farmers’ markets, family doctors – all the things that are hard to find when you’re new. The beautiful parks, the proximity to the lake and the wonderful local shops we are discovering has only added to the enjoyment.

Living at The Cottage, surrounded 24-7 by school activities and residence life is special. It feels like a seamless transition between home and school, and it’s so delightful to visit the boarders after dinner with Hugo and Coco in tow. I hope our presence in The Cottage provides the girls with a comforting sense of security, knowing that we are their extended family while they are far away from home.

My husband Dan is thoroughly enjoying Castle life. He grew up at Trinity College School when it was all-boys’ and almost solely boarding. His father was the school Chaplain and House Master of Bickle House, so Dan knew what he was getting into when I accepted the position as Head of School. He willingly and graciously gave up a 10-minute walk to work from our previous home in mid-town Toronto, and now braves the GO train and subway to his job at TVO at Yonge and Eglinton. To me, that embodies true partnership and support, something he has provided throughout my career.

My mother is making the adjustment to life in Whitby and finding new friends through weekly programs at the Whitby Seniors’ Centre. Olivia is back at Western but visits us on long weekends, and is looking forward to spending time in her new home over the Christmas break. As for Hugo and Coco, our two dogs? Let’s just say that open fields, a school full of friendly faces, and the odd bunny to chase bring them great joy. For them, The Castle is truly a dog’s life!

Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to become an educator?

Growing up in my family, community service was modeled by my parents and strongly encouraged, so in my first year at University, I volunteered as a “homework buddy” at a local community centre. Every Thursday after school, I helped a young boy who was struggling with reading. It was a challenge to find ways to make reading fun, and I had to find creative ways to help us get through the hour without his frustration building. I still remember the day when he managed to read an entire book out loud. The pride on his face and the sense of accomplishment I know he felt was truly magical. I had long thought that teaching would be a worthwhile profession, but the experience of volunteering that year solidified my commitment.

11th Head of Trafalgar Castle?

I am immensely honoured to join Trafalgar Castle School’s long and proud history of educating girls and young women. It is remarkable that I am only the 11th Head of School since 1874. This certainly speaks to Dr. Hare’s remarkable 40 plus years of service as the first Principal of Ontario Ladies’ College and also to the commitment of the Heads who followed. Without doubt, it is humbling to join the ranks of the many dedicated and accomplished Heads who have guided the school over the years.

It is not lost on me that I am only the second female Head of School at Trafalgar. I know the search committee, in looking to fill the role, sought out the best-qualified candidate, regardless of gender. But I am thrilled, not only for myself but for our girls, that Trafalgar once again has a female Head of School at the helm.

I believe strongly that we need to encourage girls never to see gender as a limiting factor, and as someone who benefitted from the mentorship of exceptional women over the course of my career, I know the value of young girls seeing women in leadership roles. In no way do I want to take away from the valued and excellent work of the male Heads who have come before me. In the year 2015, however, I believe our daughters benefit from seeing women modeling the way as they envision possibilities for their own futures. Girls need to see schools, businesses, organizations and countries not only led by women, but led exceptionally well by women. If my leadership helps girls see themselves as present and future leaders, then the mission of our school is strengthened. We truly are preparing girls and young women for the challenges of the world they will face beyond the walls of our beloved Castle if they see our doors of leadership opened wide to women.

Philosophy of Education

I could fill pages and pages with my thoughts about education. On a global level, I believe education to be a universal right for all children. Through education, problems can be solved and lives can be improved. Education allows for opportunity – it allows children to dream of the future and realize that dream.

What does that look like in a school setting? I believe that strong supports alongside high expectations foster success for all learners. I want every child to see learning as joyful discovery. I also want them to be challenged to the point of failure – not so that they give up, but in order to learn what it means to persevere. I want our girls to know what it feels like to hit the wall, to find the tenacity to try again, and to experience that moment of sheer elation and pride when the thing they found impossible to do, suddenly becomes possible. This type of learning needs to take place in a supportive environment where failure (the first time or even the second time) is not equated with shame but with intellectual risk-taking, discovery and the opportunity to problem solve. It needs to take place in a setting where teachers and friends provide encouragement when needed, give guidance and expert advice when necessary, and cheer loudly when success is finally achieved. In this way, education becomes the training ground for success throughout life.

Single-Sex Education?

I am proud to say that my daughter Olivia is a graduate of an all-girls’ school. She is now in third year at Western University in the Ivey School of Business, preparing to enter an industry where men still outnumber women in senior executive roles. It would never occur to Olivia that she (and the other young women in her program) couldn’t or shouldn’t be at the boardroom table. Her confidence, her sense of self-assurance and her belief that she deserves to have her opinion heard are, I believe, the result of her all-girls’ education.

When girls learn alongside girls, every opportunity is open to them. There is never any question that the President of the Student Council or the Robotics team captain or the lead in the school play will be a girl. It is never in doubt that a girl will be the one to solve the toughest calculus problem ever encountered by the class. And those inevitable adolescent moments of self-deprecating giggles and self-conscious angst when boy-girl dynamics disrupt the learning simply don’t happen in the classroom. In an all-girls’ setting, girls lead; they discover their abilities and come to believe that a world of opportunity awaits them.

I am sometimes asked if I think a co-ed setting doesn’t better prepare girls to deal with boys. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. In allowing our girls a safe and supportive environment in which to grow, they find their voice, are encouraged to take risks, and develop the necessary skills to tackle whatever the future brings.

Heading off to university, our girls will have already flexed their cognitive and leadership muscles enough to know how to handle a lecture-hall filled with boys.

They will have a voice and be prepared to use it. Absolutely, they’ll experience a period of adjustment – that’s the case for anyone heading off to first-year university – but the strength of the foundation laid by an all-girls’ education will get them through. I believe that’s the gift we give our daughters when we invest in educating them in an environment where girls can thrive.

Three things that might surprise people?

Fact #1: We moved frequently when I was growing up and I attended eleven different schools. As a very shy child, it was difficult to move so often, but the experience helped me learn to be adaptable and more outgoing.

Fact #2: In my twenties, I moved to a small town in Germany knowing only a few words in German. Daily communication was suddenly very hard and quite intimidating. Buying bread at the corner bakery, asking for directions to the bank, trying to order a pot of tea with extra milk in a café – it all felt like a monumental task. Fortunately, I’m good at languages and quickly picked up a working knowledge of German. I think my experience living abroad makes me particularly sensitive to the challenges faced by our international students when they first arrive at The Castle. They are brave and intrepid young girls who do double duty at school as they learn a new language and experience a new culture.

Fact #3: I’m very bad at directions. That won’t surprise anyone who knows me or anyone who’s driven with me (or anyone who watched me fly the drone). Spatial relationships are definitely not my strength but I make up for it with a good sense of humour and my trusted GPS. (I’d like to personally thank Mr. Price and Mr. Huxter for rescuing the drone following its “unscheduled landing”).

What do I do for fun? What makes me laugh?

When I have time to relax, I love to read and am an avid crossword fan. I enjoy playing the piano but confess that I don’t make the time to play as often as I would like. I love to travel, and take great enjoyment in carefully planning family trips that include a good dose of local culture and history. My family still recalls the trip to Boston when I made them hike the entire Freedom Trail in 35-degree heat.

I love to laugh and have a particular appreciation for smart, political satire. It still saddens me that Jon Stewart is off the air. Growing up, Monty Python was a mainstay, alongside Fawlty Towers and other British shows. I fondly remember my parents listening to recordings of Bob Newhart, and to this day, his Arthur Doubleday routine still sends me into fits of laughter. If you’ve never listened to it, I highly recommend you do.

After 66 days, what excites you?

I just returned from Camp Kilcoo and am proud to say I survived the Polar Bear Dip and my first Air Band competition. The energy, the enthusiasm and school spirit were simply contagious. There is so much to be excited about in my new role.

Everywhere I look, I find a pervasive “can-do” attitude and spirit of innovation that is rare, particularly at larger schools with more bureaucracy. The easy and willing collaboration between teachers, the relaxed but respectful relationship between students and staff, the wonderful support from parents and alumnae – I am simply impressed by everything I see.

When I think about the future of the Castle, the possibilities are truly endless. My job will be to harness this incredible energy and enthusiasm into the future while honouring and preserving the history and traditions of the past.

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