2019 IBSC Annual Conference
Selwyn House School
Montréal, Québec, Canada
June 26 - 29
On Wednesday, June 26, 2019, IBSC Board Chair Tom Batty welcomed 611 delegates from 10 countries to our global gathering of leading boys’ educators—the 2019 IBSC Annual Conference. Selwyn House School (Canada) hosted our devoted crowd at its campus and at Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Exploring the theme Boys and the Arts: Great Minds, Big Hearts, 136 delegates came from across Canada with hundreds more from around the globe—including 176 delegates attending their first IBSC Annual Conference!
Throughout the four days of the conference, attendees focused on mental wellness and expressed themselves in ways that pushed them outside their everyday lives. People sang, danced, painted, and learned new instruments. Making new friends from opposite sides of the globe, we discovered how much we share in common despite our differences. Even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed delegates by video to the gathering.
Batty, who is also principal at Scotch College (Australia), introduced opening session speaker Adam Cox. A clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and educational consultant, Cox shared expert insight and advice on the emotional and cognitive development of boys. He challenged us to think deeply, to ask ourselves: “What can I do to connect with the boys in a deep conversation? Be relevant, be truthful, be emotionally generous, be able to withstand disaffection, boredom or rejection.”
As we pondered these thoughts, award-winning jazz vocalist Molly Johnson and her jazz ensemble took the stage. Johnson spoke from the heart about her sons’ experiences in boys’ schools and let us hear and feel the impact of embracing music and the arts to give boys a creative way to learn about themselves and express who they truly are. In a moment of true improvisation, the young drummer courageously stepped up to the microphone to talk about music’s impact on his personal development. We witnessed firsthand the beauty of taking risks on stage, with music, in a group—a performance that had people dancing in the aisles and seats, with a melody lingering long after the musicians exited the stage.
With so much to think about and feel, the celebration of boys moved from the hotel to the school for the Welcome Reception. Boys’ educators shared their challenges and successes while sampling some of Canada’s finest cuisine and listening to a wide variety of musical genres performed live by local musicians. The exuberant attendees even set out to break a record with the most people on stage singing Mustang Sally! Rather than simply asking boys to take risks, these adults pushed themselves outside ordinary comfort zones to perform and use music and the arts to fuel their emotional well-being.
Thursday started with the presentation of the 2019 IBSC Hawley-Jarvis Award. Selwyn House School Dean of Students Minna Shulman brought tears to our eyes and attendees to their feet in a thunderous standing ovation as she inspired us with her heartfelt words. “Our hearts and own endless love are our schools’ greatest resources, and we all know that our students respond to our genuine care and concern with open hearts, growing empathy and compassion.”
As we care for and educate boys, stress expert Sonia Lupien led an eye-opening session on how we adults and our students respond to stress. Knowing the physiological responses and environmental triggers enables us to help boys cope with it better. Lupien taught the four characteristics of stress: Novelty, Unpredictability, Threat to Ego, Sense of Low Control. Just remember the NUTS acronym. To reduce stress remember to breathe (singing even better), move (consider dancing), and laugh.
After a quick break, Jamaican-Canadian rapper, poet, composer, and cancer survivor Jonathan Emile voiced his story—and what a voice he has. This Selwyn House Old Boy captivated the packed ballroom with this personal story and his mesmerizing voice. He even engaged the hundreds of attendees in song. Emile dispelled the myth of art and music being feminine and showed us how he uses music to overcome major life challenges—including cancer. “Music allows you to tap into the human experience. It can give listeners a perspective they would have never even considered. I used music to communicate—to reconcile my past, cope with my present, and express my hopes for an uncertain future.” Wow.
With so much to consider, attendees drove over to the Selwyn House campus for lunch and more than 80 workshops led by expert colleagues. All presented opportunities to engage in deep thought and discussion with likeminded peers, to brainstorm solutions to common issues we face each day. At the end of Thursday, the IBSC action researchers presented their cutting-edge research conducted at boys’ schools worldwide. The customized research, data, and insights improve best practice for boys around the globe.
After a free evening Thursday to explore the magnificent city of Montréal, we regrouped Friday morning to interact in more workshops. In the afternoon, we watched an amazing live theater production of The Autism Monologues. Using a diverse range of voices and personal stories, the cast expressed the experiences of people with autism. It definitely pushed us outside of comfort zones and helped us see what others go through—offering a window into serving boys better. The performance so captivated the hearts and minds of our audience that you could hear a pin drop.
Psychiatrist Ned Hallowell shared his personal story professional expertise on how we can help boys beat the odds. Having successfully managed both ADHD and dyslexia himself, as well as overcoming a less than ideal family life as a child, Hallowell implored us to accept “disabilities” as gifts. “The truth is what leads to a great life are the attitudes you develop in school: optimism, self-esteem... and everyone can achieve them.” He challenged us to believe in boys, help them see they can do something they think is impossible; give them “the love of the game”—to try again despite failure. Give this gift to your students through the power of connection. The boys who seem the hardest to reach are the ones in need of connection the most.
In this spirit of building connection, we walked across the park to the Windsor Ballroom for a special Friday evening reception, Nuit en Blanc. What a sight to witness hundreds of boys’ educators from disparate backgrounds celebrating together, wearing white to demonstrate new ideas and connection.
During out final morning together in Montréal, we heard a true story of resilience and mental wellness. Selwyn House School Headmaster Hal Hannaford and his wife Susan Doherty, author and volunteer, went to a place of amazing vulnerability, telling their personal story of illness, wellness, resilience, and survival. Even those who knew and worked with Hannaford for years learned something new about the couple and all they have worked so hard to achieve. Everyone who heard their story will forever feel changed by their bravery and courage and remember to embrace mental wellness rather than stigmatize mental illness.
And finally, Academy-award nominated writer, director, and producer Jean-Marc Vallée closed the conference with inside stories of his work and its impact. While everyone can recognize the pinnacle of his success, let’s focus on how the arts gave him a vehicle of expression.
Though it was sad to leave this amazing group of attendees from around the world, we said au revoir, until we meet again, and hasta luego—we cannot wait to continue our shared learning at the 2020 IBSC Annual Conference hosted by Viaró Global School in Barcelona, Spain, July 8 – 11. See you there when we explore the theme Connecting the Dots: Boys, Communities, and the Future.