Category Archives: Academics

Ridley’s Architect: How an Old Boy breathed new life into campus

As we look to our grounds with an eye to expand, we remember that Ridley’s past will always inform its future—and that transformation sends ripples of change, not only across campus, but across time.

In 1919, a young group of architects gathered almost daily at Bloor Street’s Diet Kitchen Tea Room in Toronto, to “complain, plot and dream of a better city.” Fondly referred to as “The Diet Kitchen School of Architecture,” the eclectic group included Ridley’s own Ferdinand ‘Ferdie’ H. Marani ’1912—an up-and-coming architect who would change the cityscape in the years to come.

Ferdie Marani Manulife Building

The son of an instructor at the University of Toronto’s (U of T) School of Architecture, you might say Ferdie came by it honestly. For over fifty years, the Vancouver-born, Toronto-based architect was “amongst the aficionados of the postwar period of Toronto architecture and city building,” known widely for his Neo-Georgian style. The geometric, modular aesthetic became the main architecture of the public realm in the U.K. during the period of the 1920s to 1960s; its influence quickly reached North America and was soon seen popping up everywhere in the form of banks, shops, universities and military buildings.

Ferdie founded a succession of firms credited with the design of hundreds of well-known buildings, from Ottawa’s Bank of Canada, to the Canadian Forces Headquarters in Washington D.C., to Toronto’s famous Medical Arts Building, Sheridan College and the CNE grandstand. And, as you walk the paths of Ridley’s campus, you’ll see evidence of that classic Georgian style everywhere you look. Because Ferdie was not only an Old Boy and a Toronto trailblazer—he was also Ridley’s architect.

Ferdie Marani, c.1909

“I was constantly pestering [Lieutenant-Colonel George Thairs]. I would go into his office one day to ask, ‘When are the uniforms coming,’ then ‘When are the rifles coming,’ then another day, ‘Why not start a Bugle Band?’ and many other questions more ridiculous.”

Ferdie was part of a virtual Ridley dynasty of Maranis that attended the school. His grandfather, J. Herbert Mason was responsible for setting up the Mason Gold Medal, still awarded every year, not only at Ridley, but also at Havergal and UCC. Ferdie, himself, won the medal in 1912. During his time here from 1901 to 1912, he proved to be a dedicated student, “a very fair tackler, and one of the hardest workers on the line” on Ridley’s football team, and a self-proclaimed military enthusiast. He joined the Cadet Corps the day it formed and was a member for six years, becoming Captain the year Ridley competed in the Imperial Cadet Competitions at the Toronto Exhibition.

“I was constantly pestering [Lieutenant-Colonel George Thairs],” Ferdie laughingly admits in his 1924 In Memoriam for the Colonel. “I would go into his office one day to ask, ‘When are the uniforms coming,’ then ‘When are the rifles coming,’ then another day, ‘Why not start a Bugle Band?’ and many other questions more ridiculous.” But his persistence paid off: by 1912, Ridley’s first bugle band was formed, “organized through the hard work and interest of Cadet Captain F.H. Marani.”

Cadet Officers, 1911

Ferdie was studying architecture at U of T when the Great War broke out, and he left school to enlist with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. He became a captain in the Third Battalion of the Toronto Regiment and was posted overseas, wounded in June of 1916. From 1932 to 1936, Ferdie served his country again as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Canada, and then as Group Captain of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Colonel Ferdinand Marani was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his war service in the summer of 1945. 

Throughout his life, Ferdie’s passion for the military remained strong. In 1946, the War Memorial Committee of the Osgoode Law Society approached the architect who had served his country so faithfully, seeking his recommendation for a way in which to honour members who had lost their lives during the Second World War. Ferdie’s suggestion, a moving memorial by leading sculptor Cleeve Horne, still lives in the lower Rotunda of Osgoode Hall.   

Lt_Col_F.H._Marani

Ferdie served his country again as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Canada, and then as Group Captain of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

Though he left campus in 1912, Ferdie never strayed too far from Ridley, and became the Honorary President of the Old Boys Association. His wife, Constance, was also deeply involved in the Ridley community, presenting prizes for Sports Days in the postwar years, and an active member of the then Women’s Guild. Her detailed history of the Guild not only acted as a tribute to its hardworking women—mothers, wives and sisters who were also considered “staunch Old Ridleians”—but served as an important document for the Ridley record. The Guild’s aim, as Mrs. Marani expressed it, was “to help in making Ridley a greater power for good in our country.”

As you wander the grounds, you’ll find Ferdie’s trademark Georgian style dotted becomingly across our lush campus: he led his firms in designing the Lower School (Alumni Hall) in 1926, remodelled the Upper School (School House) in 1930, and completed Merritt House in 1932, merging it into the quiet impressiveness of the older buildings. The distinctive Marriott Gates went up in 1934, their arch an ornamental wrought-iron over-throw, with the shield of Ridley’s Coat-of-Arms as the centre-piece, topped by a bishop’s mitre.

In the late-thirties, Ridley turned to Ferdie to design a new gymnasium, later named for the Iggulden family, in response to an urgent need for indoor playing space. Built of red brick with white stone facings, the 1939 build was as good as that of any on the continent—and it quite literally revolutionized the school. Ridley enriched its athletic offerings beyond the traditional trio of football, hockey and cricket, giving way to a wider opportunity to represent the school and develop different talents; the impressive space also had all the bells and whistles needed to revive drama. A decade later, The Schmon Infirmary and Memorial Great Hall both rose up under Ferdie’s watch.

  • Memorial Chapel, 1926
  • Merritt House
  • Cadet Corps, 1907
  • Lower School
  • Iggulden Gymnasium

By the 1960s, nearly twenty years of discussion about expanding the Memorial Chapel turned to action. Due to space limitations, the Lower School had worshipped separately from the Upper School since the 1930s, and an extension was needed that would be built in absolute harmony with the rest of the structure. Naturally, the job was turned over to Ferdie, who had, coincidentally, trained at Sproatt & Rolph, the Chapel’s original architects. The seamless expansion was completed in time for the Old Boys Weekend of 1964.

Over the years, Ferdie’s firms won multiple awards, including an Honorable Mention at the 1948 London Olympics in the Architectural Design category, and one of the first Massey Silver Medals for Architecture in 1950. He was elected as Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, became a Full Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy, chairman of the Ontario Association of Architects and a member of the Governing Council of the Ontario College of Art, serving two terms as Chair—OCAD now has an award given in his name.

Ferdie Marani was part of an old age of architecture that’s now gone, “a time in which the mayor phones up Ferdie or Ron Dick and says, ‘We need a courthouse, University Avenue, OAA fees, okay, good, click.’” notes Bob Goyeche, a current principle at the firm Ferdie once founded. “That era changed.” The firm still stands, though it has since shuffled partners, now less Georgian and more concept-driven and elite. However, that’s one of the most amazing things about architecture: Ferdie’s unmistakeable prints are all over this country, its cities and its suburbs, and all across this campus.

And, as we now look to our grounds with an eye to expand and improve, to breathe new life into the Iggulden Gymnasium Ferdie Marani designed nearly eighty years ago, it’s a good moment to remember that Ridley’s past will always inform its future—and that the transformation of the gym and surrounding buildings will send ripples of positive change, not only across our campus, but across time.  

To learn more about The Campaign for Ridley, as well as plans for a reimagined campus, visit us online.

This article was printed in the winter issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 5

Keep Moving!

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“If you eat, sleep and move well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work [or school] and give more to your community.”  — Tom Rath, from Eat Move Sleep

This powerful advice is even more important today than when it was written—and more challenging when much of our day is spent inside, sitting and often in front of a screen.

So, what can you do?

  1. Ensure you and your child(ren) spend time each day outside, preferably in nature. There is a strong connection between time spent in nature and a reduction in negative emotions. Need some ideas? Here are 31 classic outdoor games for you and your family to play.
  2. Be sure each member of your household gets up and moves at least once per hour. It’s a great opportunity to get a glass of water (another important aspect of well-being!), check in with others (remember, relationships are important!), and reduce the risk of many long term health concerns. Here are some simple stretches to try during your day.
  3. Speak with your child(ren) about screen time. Its forms are definitely not all created equal. We’re now using screens in so many different ways: to communicate, create, work, and explore. It’s still important to have a balance of screen and unplugged time. Keep in mind, however, given how important relationships are for well-being, screen time spent communicating with others needs to be considered. Talk to your child(ren) to better understand how they’re using their screens, and determine together a reasonable amount of daily screen time.

And please remember, parents, eating, sleeping and moving is not just for children. Look after yourselves, too!

REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 12th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Cultivating Optimism.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

“The Pandemic Gave Me My Teenage Daughter Back” — by Katrina Onstad, for Chatelaine magazine

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 4

Focus on Your Strengths

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” — L.R. Knost

This quote is a reminder to us all that we will get through the “awful” and that life will be “amazing” again. One way we’re encouraging students to get through life’s challenges—in addition to its more “ordinary…mundane…and routine” parts—is to use their strengths. Beginning in Grade 3, each and every Ridley student learns about the VIA Character Strengths. Classes talk about identifying both character and performance strengths, and how to use them, not only to succeed, but to flourish.

Ridley College became a Visible Wellbeing School after spending two years working closely with Dr. Lea Waters. Her research-based book, The Strength Switch, focuses on the need for parents and educators to focus on children’s strengths in order to build resilience, optimism, and achievement. There is no more important time than now to focus on our strengths.

So, what can you do?

  1. Discuss your child’s strengths with them. Reference the VIA Character strengths survey (for more information, check out these videos), and also discuss the strengths you see in them every day. Remind them how important it is that they know and use them.
  2. Reference their strengths every day. One great activity that can be done around the dinner table is “Three Good Things,” which helps children reflect on what went well that day, why it went well and which strengths they or others used.
  3. Choose a daily activity to do together. (Here are 101 from which to choose.) Talk about the strengths you used to complete these activities, and discuss how knowing and using their own strengths will help them during this challenging time.

And please remember, parents, you are using your own strengths to navigate these challenging times! Recognize all that you are doing—and please be kind to yourself.


REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you next Tuesday, April 28th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Nurturing Social Relationships.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 3

The Importance of Relationships

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

This is a short week at Ridley, but another week of adjustments — and enhancements — for us all. To support our important work of ensuring students feel connected to the Ridley community, we’ve incorporated division-wide Assembly in Upper School, weekly Advisory times, class meetings in Lower School, and school-wide opportunities for student check-ins with teachers and Heads of House. Ridley, at its core, is built on relationships. We want to continue to maintain and grow these, knowing that they are a vital part of flourishing lives.

With relationships in mind, I share my current top five resources to support parents and introduce opportunities for them to build relationships and learn remotely with Ridley.

Top Five Resources for Parents:

  1. 7 Guiding Principles for Parents Teaching at Home (article)
  2. How to Turn your Home into a school without Losing your Sanity (comic)
  3. Who do I choose to be during COVID-19? (infographic)
  4. Get Through This: Self-Care for Parents (1 hr recorded ZOOM webinar)
  5. Coronavirus: A Book for Children (book)

In addition, we look forward to launching our Flourishing for Parents virtual connections next week. Please join us for learning and community!

Opportunities for Parents for the week of April 13th

Tuesday Tips with Hanna Kidd & Sue Easton:  8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. This week’s topic is Time Management. How can you support your child in achieving during this challenging time? Let us share some tips to support our Ridley family!

Thursday Sip and Chat: 8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. Join us with a coffee or tea for a chat and a break from the day. We need to stay in touch!

Coming Next Week: We’ll be sharing daily activities and practices to support your whole family in flourishing during these challenging times.

Be well and Happy Easter!

Off The Grid: Sandy Rasmussen ’07

Abstractionist, Sandy Rasmussen is proving to the art world that his has staying power.

“The grid started out as a pattern resembling my mom’s tablecloth,” Sandy laughs. “We would have dinner outside, and she’d put a tablecloth on the counter and tell us not to make a mess. I’d wonder, why have it? But that tension, that feeling of do not spill anything—I love that.”

Abstractionist and Old Ridleian, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Rasmussen ’07 always knew he would work in the arts. His grandfather, an artist and set designer at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), encouraged Sandy from a young age, and his time at Ridley was largely spent hanging around the art department, fascinated by stories of the abstract expressionists who broke visual traditions and found new ways to communicate.

Rasmussen's exhibition at the Christopher Cutts gallery

From his mother’s tablecloth, to the famous grids of Agnes Martin, to the linoleum tile floors of the gas station in which he used to paint, the Niagara-based artist is looking to explore that tension, earning kudos from critics at his recent show at the Christopher Cutts gallery for his “riveting works” and “delectable passages of paint that almost shimmer.”

“The act of putting on paint impasto like I do is kind of a bold statement. What mark do I make now? Do I touch the canvas with that colour? What if I do this? It’s totally subversive,” he concludes. “I’m going to do what I want.”

After graduating from Ridley, the St. Catharines native left to study at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, but soon realized he was looking for a different kind of experience. “As much as art can seem welcoming and nurturing, it can also be a towering history of knowledge that you may not possess,” he admits. “It’s a steep hill.” The following year, Sandy headed east to take Sociology at St. Francis Xavier University—but he didn’t leave art far behind. “I started seeing parallels between the things we were discussing in class and in art,” he says, looking back. And, a year into his degree, painting pulled him home.

Fat Chance

“The act of putting on paint impasto like I do is kind of a bold statement. What mark do I make now? Do I touch the canvas with that colour? It’s totally subversive. I’m going to do what I want.”

Sandy came back, borrowed $500 from his dad for supplies, and got to work. He sold pieces and secured commissions. He travelled home to paint on weekends and school breaks. He immersed himself in art history. After graduation, Sandy started painting full-time in his parents’ garage, then rented out space at an old rural gas station before spending two tough years working in a cold, dim-lit barn out in Jordan Station—an experience which he says hardened him as an artist.

He now paints in a light-filled barn not far from campus, the rustic surroundings informing his work in pleasant, unexpected ways. And a barn is likely the best place for him to spread out. For Sandy, painting is a sport—and he likes to play large, whether he’s physically stretching across a wide expanse of canvas or stretching out an idea twenty feet. He points to influential artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Bradford and Joe Bradley, artists whose physicality enters their work.

“The thing I loved most about basketball was doing layups during warmup, feeling hyped and excited,” he explains, looking back to his days on the Ridley team. “And with big paintings I get that same shiver down the back of my neck; I’m anxious to get going.”

You can see that energetic sprawl across Samosas, the 8-by 24-foot abstract which now hangs at Brock University. Sandy donated the painting to brothers Taylor ’07 and Clark ’09 Robertson in memory of their parents and sister, Joe, Anita and Laura ’11, who were tragically killed in a plane crash the summer of 2018. Their loss was felt across the Niagara Region; the warm-hearted Robertsons were known widely as philanthropists and community leaders, and they were generous supporters of both Ridley and Brock.

Sandy speaks at the unveiling of Samosas at Brock University. Image courtesy of Brock News.

“When I heard the news, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. It was always theirs.”

The family was very familiar with Samosas, having admired its progression at the gas station where Sandy painted, and then rolled out on his barn floor mere days before the accident. “They’d seen it so many times,” Sandy recalls. “When I heard the news, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. It was always theirs.” Taylor and Clark chose to display the painting in Market Hall, now a permanent memorial at the university where Anita volunteered and whose Board of Trustees Joe had served on for nearly a decade.

“I had nearly exhausted the look by the time I got to the right side of that canvas,” Sandy smiles. “It was like finishing a marathon.” If you see it, you’ll see why. Standing in front of that painting is like going on a contemplative journey; its pathways and rivulets thread across the wide expanse, and you can’t help but follow—all the way off the canvas edge. Samosas was unveiled at Brock this past April. 

Sandy’s paintings often slip to matters of time and nostalgia, his large-scale abstractions christened with playful names like Fresh Fresh (a nod to the woman who makes his favourite samosas), Horse Play (a sweet response to his late grandmother’s living room warnings), or Fat Chance (the gamble that is all art, really—and the piece that kicked off his Toronto show).

Alexander Rasmussen

“My paintings have their own timeline, their own journey,” he explains. “And I just have to trust that, because chances are what you’re working on right now will have a small and fleeting impact.”

His work incorporates memory, but he’s also conscious of it as a deliberate reflection of the present, with the occasional happy accident of an unplanned gesture, the quick scoot of a brush in an unexpected way. “My paintings have their own timeline, their own journey,” he explains thoughtfully. “And I just have to trust that, I suppose, because chances are what you’re working on right now will have a small and fleeting impact. To get an ego about a particular piece—that’s not going to last.”

But as time goes on, Sandy’s proving to the art world that his has staying power. “Rasmussen is already some way on his journey into figuring out those techniques that give his paintings the desired emotional content,” noted Toronto critics this past spring. “He is definitely onto something.”

As for the up-and-coming artist? “There’s no turning back,” he says resolutely. And there may be some delicious irony in that statement, as Sandy’s paintings often capture a textured and abstract past, even as his brush keeps going.


This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.

Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 2

Support for Parents

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

This past Thursday, our community embarked on a new adventure through Ridley Remote Learning, or R2L. The initial response from students, teachers and parents was resoundingly positive. Every member of the community was excited to reconnect, share their experiences and emotions, and begin to bring some normalcy back into their lives through the addition of regular learning and new opportunities to connect. We know that Ridley is built on relationships; these will help us get through these challenging times.

But how best to thrive when we are surrounded by change? Please consider these five inspirational statements about change—along with some resources to help support you and the Ridley community.

  1. Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.

How can you create the space in your home for your child(ren) to create or do something to support or inspire others?

Recommended Resources:

Corona: Artist Illustrates the Matterhorn

Charitable apps and websites

Kid-staffed Newspaper

2. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

How can you model or support learning during and beyond R2L?

Recommended Resources:

Building Growth mindset in children

Virtual Marine Biology Camp – free for kids

The Top 100 Documentaries we can use to change the world

3. Embrace change. Emerge positive.

How can you ensure that your child(ren) uses their identified VIA character strengths to stay positive? (If you haven’t read Dr. Lea Waters’ Strength Switch, now is a great time!)

Recommended Resources:

101 Strength-based Actions to Connect, from a Safe Distance

Ideapod: Complaining properly

How School closures can strengthen your family

4. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

How can you ensure there is still fun and challenge in your child(ren)’s day?

Recommended Resources:

Games to play collaboratively online

ESF Breakfast of champion challenge

Poem: Gone Viral

5. Change is a process, not an event.

How can you ensure your family builds practices to endure this change process?

Recommended Resources:

Sleep Better, Do Better (infographic)

Science-backed strategies to build resilience

A Simple Exercise to stay calm in the face of Coronavirus uncertainty

Our lives have changed. But is our response to those changes—both as individuals and as a community—that will ensure we continue to flourish.

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 1

Keeping Your Well-Being in Focus

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

The Ridley community is moving into uncharted territory, with new Remote Learning for students, and most of us either practicing physical distancing or in isolation—even quarantine—wherever we are in the world. Though this may be a time of uncertainty and change, our well-being doesn’t need to suffer. It may take more conscious, deliberate work than usual but, in keeping with Ridley’s vision to inspire flourishing lives (as defined by PERMA-V: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement, and vitality), each of us can benefit from incorporating the following five behaviours into our days—until we see each other again.

1. Connect with others.

Whether you’re spending time with those you live with, be it to share a meal or complete that jigsaw puzzle, or you’re reaching out via video call to family and friends, or playing a shared game of online Scrabble, connecting is important. We are practicing physical distancing, not social distancing, since we know that relationships are vital to support our well-being.

Recommended Resources:

Discover well-being videos on Facebook’s ESF Discovery College.

Got gamers in the house? Common-Sense Media features family-friendly games and other helpful resources.

New in The Guardian, Dr. Lea Waters shares videos to support families who are in isolation.

Balloons at Pep Rally

2. Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Day.

Mindfulness helps children become more self-aware. Knowing how they are feeling during this unsettling time not only promotes conversation but helps them nurture self-compassion. Mindfulness also helps students learn self-management and develop important decision-making skills. These skills support us in being present and engaged in our new reality—and ready to participate in learning and living activities.

Recommended Resources: 

Greater Good in Education offers well-being resources for both adults and children.

Clear your head with Headspace — a free site which features a variety of meditation practices.

GoZen includes family-friendly videos and activities to support anxiety, resilience and more.

Celebration of the Arts

3. Seek beauty to savour and appreciate.

Immersing ourselves in art, music or nature—be it inside, outside or virtually—boosts our positive emotions. By exploring the resources available to us, we learn where our interests lie, which in turn increases our engagement and helps give us a sense of control over our new situation.

Recommended Resources:

Google Arts and Culture is a virtual treasure trove, providing visitors with tours of hot spots, street art, museums, and more.

Listen up! NPR offers this comprehensive list of live concerts to enjoy from the comfort of your own home.

Go on your own ‘home safari’ via webcams from your favourite zoo. Learn more in this handy guide from The New York Times.

4. Get physical.

We all know that exercise helps with our physical health, but it is also one of the best ways to build positive emotions, decrease anxiety and stress, and support healthy sleep. Exercising outside while practicing physical distancing is a great way to get the benefits of being in nature while moving our bodies. But if that isn’t possible, there are many ways to get physical while keeping indoors.

Recommended Resources:

Get moving with one of these active apps highlighted by Common Sense Media.

Your kids are sure to love these movement and mindfulness videos from Go Noodle.

Stretch it out with classes from YogaDownload.com — the perfect size for any space.

Cross Country Run

5. Find your purpose.

Every human benefits from a feeling of achievement—often connected to what we believe is our purpose in life. For students practicing physical distancing, it may at times feel like academic work provides their sole sense of purpose. It is important that they know they make a difference in the lives of others, within their families, communities and beyond. For inspiration, consider some of these resources.

Recommended Resources:

Reach out via one of these great ideas from Random Acts of Kindness — be sure to check out their kindness calendar!

From practicing gratitude to building optimism, Positive Psychology is offering great resources and activities you’ll want to try.

Keep it close to home with Operation Warm — a website highlighting online volunteer opportunities.

We’ll be sharing more resources in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please remember that as part of the Ridley community, you’re only an email away! Feel free to reach out for support and to learn more.

CHAPEL TALK: THANKS-GIVING

Written by Head of Upper School, Michele Bett

With our Thanksgiving break rapidly approaching, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect upon why we should give thanks. In this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” in the words of English poet John Keats, ripened fruits and swollen gourds signal that the wondrous bounty of mother nature’s harvest has arrived. And yes, we have much for which to give thanks.

We give thanks that at Ridley:

our teachers have high expectations of their students;

our students come to school ready to be stretched and challenged;

our teachers support and scaffold curiosity in their classrooms daily;

our students are inherently curious and motivated learners;

our teachers arrange their learning opportunities, carving out space for imagination, wonder and reflection; and

our students flourish when they find passion and relevance in their studies.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk writes on the power of gratefulness. He encourages us to see each new day as a gift where the only appropriate response is gratitude. He urges us to open our hearts to all our blessings.

It is quite radical to see each new day as a gift. If you were caught thanking the sun for rising each morning, people might wonder about your sanity. Normal people don’t go around being grateful all the time. But why not?

I believe that it behooves us to show respect for – and be grateful to – nature, other people, and the past.

We have all stood transfixed and filled with awe in the presence of nature’s marvels – Niagara Falls is an obvious and near-by example. At moments like that, it is not hard to feel a sense of gratitude and to think to ourselves, “what a wonderful world!” The feeling is probably like that of a child playing in the garden. The difference is that, unlike us, the child does not need a raging cascade to get her attention. Here is how John Keats’ older contemporary William Wordsworth put it:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

The poet goes on to say that this time is gone: “The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” And yet, despite our obliviousness and routine and normalcy, nature does not stop being the miracle that it is. As a later 19th century English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins put it: “And for all this, nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Even in this time of climate change and global warming, an appreciation for the blessings of life on this earth is still the right way to respond. In fact, I wonder if things might be different on our planet if more people felt more grateful to nature.

At Ridley, we frequently emphasize the importance of thanking each other as often as we can. By doing so, we are recognizing the worth and significance of other people. It turns out that admitting the reality of what is outside ourselves is a necessary step toward well-being. Furthermore, by thanking others, we are acknowledging the other’s presence as a gift. We are saying to the other: “You have given me something that I did not deserve; you have been to me more than a friend.” What almost inevitably comes next is: “I will do the same for you when I can. I will try to be a gift to you.” It is a virtuous circle that fosters and celebrates loving relationships.

Being thankful for the past might seem somewhat strange, even suspicious; some of us might feel much more inclined to reject the past in our struggle for a better world. But human civilizations and cultures throughout all time have universally honoured those who have lived and died in earlier times. Similarly, our society commemorates heroes and martyrs and wise people who have done or said things that remain meaningful to us today. One of those we remember is Martin Frobisher, who in 1578 arrived in Canada and held a formal ceremony in which he gave thanks for surviving the long voyage from England. (Some 43 years later, the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts and did something similar.) This nation began by opening its heart in gratitude to the blessings of life.

And that’s why I am so grateful to be part of a community that has opened its heart to all its blessings. Every student in our community is a blessing, and regardless of their academic trajectory, they are cared for and valued. They are loved.

As in so many of my chapel talks and conversations with parents and students it is the character strength of love that I find myself returning to so often. Love, it seems, underpins nearly everything we do at Ridley.

In the gospels, God tells who we are, and we know that it can be the hardest thing in the world for us to receive love, especially the love of God. Whether you are a Christian, Moslem, Jew, Buddhist, non-believer, let’s be united in the idea that love is the strongest thing in the world, and to receive it demands that we begin by loving ourselves.

Unlike the bees in Keats’ ode to “Autumn,” we know that these warm October days will cease, but giving thanks at Ridley is not limited to the season of thanksgiving. At Ridley, we practice gratitude daily, all year round. May I wish all our families at Ridley a Thanksgiving break filled with joy, appreciation and, of course, much love.

Fresh Year, Fresh Start: How Ridley helps students forge their own paths

Written by Head of Upper School, Michele Bett

A new school year is just around the corner, and it is holding out hands full of promise. It is time for another fresh start, time to discover the wealth of untapped potential among our magnificent community of learners. Who can say what great new friendships will be forged in the Houses of Ridley College, what tests of courage, commitment, and collaboration will be faced on our sports fields, or what giant steps will be taken on the path of success?

Ah, but what do I mean by “success”? What do we at Ridley think we are trying to achieve? I would like to explore – and perhaps clarify – what success looks like from a Ridley College perspective, and to suggest a way for you parents to help.

Sir Ken Robinson’s highly regarded book, Finding Your Element: How to discover your talents and passions and transform your life, might be a good place to begin our exploration. Robinson says that one’s “element” is the convergence of natural talents and personal passions, and that finding one’s element is the most important quest that any of us can have. Finding your element is the quest to find yourself.

This quest involves both an outward and inward journey. The outward journey is the discovery of the opportunities the world can offer. The inward journey includes unlocking a student’s academic aptitude and accepting one’s unique purpose. 

Speaking of purpose, I have been impressed by Richard Leider’s recently published The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better. In this book, the author says that to live with purpose is to actively live one’s values. Purpose is our essence and what makes each of us so special. When we get up in the morning ready to contribute to the world, we are living with purpose, living with meaning. Living like this is not just living – it is living well.

Research suggests that having a purpose requires an aim outside ourselves. Naming our purpose helps satisfy our need to matter and feel worthy. Through a Ridley College lens, we can see three important messages for our students:

  • They are part of something bigger than themselves;
  • They are committing to live a life of service; 
  • They are going to transform a world that needs them.

So when we talk about steps on the path of success, we are saying that the quest for each of us at Ridley is to find our element, our passion, and our purpose. Once we identify these, we need to learn how to live these values every day.

We believe that advisors, housemasters, teachers and coaches can all provide invaluable assistance to students on this quest because authentic learning and discovery thrive in a kind and caring community.

I think that high school is the right time for young people to begin thinking about these things. Students confront a bewildering range of choices and must make decisions all the time, but the most important of these decisions have to do with their own identity and integrity. 

I am reminded of a poem that many of you will be familiar with by American poet Robert Frost, called “The Road Not Taken.” In it, the speaker is walking through the woods, comes upon a fork in the path ahead and wonders which way to go. It is not always easy to know which road leads to success, to one’s purpose. As Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once said, you cannot connect the dots going forward; you can only connect the dots looking back. In other words, despite our best-laid plans, we can never know the future. It is only when we look back on those choices, those experiences, those seemingly chance encounters, that we can discern a direction.

So it is in the poem. The speaker finally chooses one of the roads, recognizing he will never know what he has missed by not choosing the other, but concluding that his choice has “made all the difference” in his life. The Grateful Dead sang a similar sentiment: 

There is a road, no simple highway

Between the dawn and the dark of night,

And if you go, no one may follow,

That path is for your steps alone.

As their popular song suggests, this path, this quest for one’s element, passion and purpose is exclusive, singular, “for your steps alone.” This year, each of us at Ridley will make choices that help to define us as unique individuals and to name that purpose that drives us forward. There is always some risk in making a choice, since we cannot know exactly where it will lead us, but when we look back one day we will be able to connect those dots, to see how our life’s path has led us to become who we are.

Given the various quests of the members of our community and the many pathways that lie ahead of us, perhaps you will understand when I write how delighted I am by the wonderful adventure that awaits us this year. But I also mentioned that there is a way that you could help. Of course, as parents you know your children in ways we never can, but there is one area on which to focus that I think could be valuable. 

Lea Waters, the developer of the Visible Well-Being program (which as some of you know has been adopted by Ridley College), has recently published a study that investigates the relationship between what she calls “strength-based parenting” and educational outcomes. 

A strength-based approach to parenting is one in which parents encourage their children to recognize and use their own character strengths. These strengths may include humour, kindness, self-control, persistence and so on. Waters accepts that emotional warmth and appropriate control are important aspects of parenting, but suggests that awareness and acknowledgement by parents of their child’s strengths helps support the healthy development of the child’s character and personality. 

Furthermore, Waters’ work shows how promoting a young person’s character strengths fosters academic achievement. She found that strength-based parenting not only influences a child’s well-being but also positively affects academic outcomes. Surely, it is good to know that Ridley’s emphasis on our students’ visible well-being has benefits both in and outside the classroom. Universities in Canada and beyond are still interested in student grades, and I believe that our educational priorities, along with your support, provide the best possible environment for young people to flourish academically, socially and personally.

In closing, I want to offer a warm welcome as we embark on our exciting, collective journey of discovery this year. Ridley’s faculty and administration are dedicated to helping each of our students discover their element, passion and purpose, and to thrive in every area of school life. This year will provide many challenges for us all – but challenges are simply stepping-stones to growth when we love what we do. 

Author and speaker Simon Sinek famously said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” One of our most important tasks as educators – and parents – is to help your children, our students, find their passion by discovering what they truly love.

Promoting Antifragility in Education

Written by Head of Upper School, Michele Bett

In 2008, the New York writer Lenore Skenazy found herself at the centre of a media storm, but she probably only had herself to blame. She had published an article in the New York Sunnewspaper and then had been interviewed on national television, all in the effort to explain her seemingly novel approach to parenting. The results were not quite what she anticipated, for before long she was widely decried as “America’s Worst Mom.”

What was Skenazy’s offense? She had let her 9-year old son ride the New York subway by himself. Her son had wanted to do this for some time, so she took him to a downtown Metro station and then gave him a ticket, a map, some money, and clear instructions how to get home. Forty-five minutes later, right on time, he reached his house, delighted with his experience. His happy mother wrote about it in the newspaper. But after hearing the story, the country was shocked.

Mr Kidd, our Headmaster, and several Ridley administrators learned more of Leonore Skenazy’s fall from grace at the International Positive Psychology Conference in Melbourne, Australia last month, where one of  the keynote speakers was Jonathan Haidt, author of several books including his most recent The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.Along with other educators, researchers, psychologists, counselors and academics from across the world, we learned  more about the new word at the conference: “antifragility.”

The concept of antifragility is not really new; in fact, it is very common in the field of health care and in our understanding of the human immune system. The idea is that some things, like china teacups, are naturally fragile; others, like plastic teacups, are naturally resilient; but still others, and especially complex systems like human beings, are antifragile: they requirestressors and challenges to learn, adapt, and grow.

According to Haidt, understanding about antifragility is important to educators and parents. Children need to develop their own interests, learn how to make decisions and solve problems, cultivate their ability to regulate their emotions, and discover how to get along with others and experience joy. Over-scheduled children surrounded by risk-averse adults are less likely to acquire these important life skills.

As it happens, trying to eliminate all risks from children’s lives might even be dangerous. There may be a psychological analog to the hygiene hypothesis proposed to explain the dramatic recent increase in allergies. In other words, by codling our children and over-protecting them we may be denying them the real opportunity to learn from their mistakes. 

At the Positive Psychology Conference in Melbourne, Haidt explained  that positive child development thrives under conditions of unsupervised free play, autonomy, risk, and even failure. Short-term stress is not to be avoided – it is essential for proper growth. Negative experiences provide rapid learning and strengthening. Those young people who are prepared for the failures they will encounter in life will have gained the resilience and mental fortitude to succeed. This is summed up in the saying: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

Haidt claimed that the generation born at the beginning of the 21stcentury might well be the loneliest ever because so many children spend so much time indoors. They may be digitally connected, but this electronic connectivity does not nurture authentic and enduring relationships. When children go outside, climb trees, play with friends, swim lakes and enjoy nature, they are augmenting their well-being. Haidt’s advice to parents is to get your children out of their bedrooms or they may  just end up living in your basements!

Of course, giving children opportunities to participate in activities like hockey camp, basketball practice and piano lessons is important; but Haidt wants us also to give children the freedom to develop their curiosity, exercise their creativity and just marvel at the wonderful world around them. He wants us to give our children the precious gift of un-sanitised, un-structured time that will nurture their imagination and wonder.

Lenore Skenazy responded to her own negative experiences with America’s media by starting a blog called Free-Range Kidsand a non-profit called Let Grow, where she calls out over-protectionism and offers advice for parents wanting to raise healthy, happy children. A lot of parents today, Skenazy says, “ see no difference between letting their kids walk to school and letting them walk through a firing range”. Any risk is seen as too much risk. But, as she points out, we parents have to realise that the greatest risk of all just might be trying to raise a child who never encounters choice or independence. 

Our long summer break  is not quite over, and there’s still opportunity for us to cultivate our very own free range Ridleians. Although high attainment is certainly one of the elements that account for success at Ridley College, there’s more. At Ridley, we celebrate and emphasise positive emotions, engagement, relationships, and meaning in addition to grades and exam results. Under the leadership of Mr Kidd, Ridley’s central mission has been to help young people to discover what it takes to lead a flourishing life, not just in this community but also beyond our gates. Our aim is to prepare all our children for the road.