"Shawnigan is a “yes” place. If you want to do a really cool project or bring in a really cool speaker or go on a really cool field trip, Shawnigan says yes. It’s about pushing all of us as educators to think of really neat things, and 99 percent of the time, the School says yes to them.
I came to Shawnigan in September 1997. I chose to come to Shawnigan because I had experience working at YMCA camps in Ontario and I knew the benefits that come from the boarding environment, from living with the kids. I jumped at the opportunity for what I thought would be a one-year experience.
I was extremely homesick throughout September. I say that to the students all the time: just relax, you’ll get used to it. And from day one, different staff members took me under their wing and kept an eye out for me – it was amazing how all of these longstanding, experienced teachers just wanted to make sure I was OK.
I’ve had a lot of different roles in my time at Shawnigan. I started as Assistant House Director in Groves’ House. In my third year, I became the House Director of Renfrew. One year I was the summer program coordinator. I have coached volleyball, I led search & rescue, and I ran the yearbook for 10 years. I was the musical liaison to an outside director for one year. I was taught how to row by Andrea Stapff and Julie Platt and then I coached rowing for a number of years. I ran Ski Week with Mr. Mayes for several years – one of my favourite things that I have done. In my fifth year, I was asked to take on the role of Registrar at the School, which was like the assistant to the Dean of Academics. I became the Head of Academics 10 years ago and kept teaching along the way. Then Dean of Academics turned into Assistant Head, Academics.
But teaching math, that’s my favourite role – my husband can tell which days I’ve taught, because I come home a different person. I currently teach the honours set of pre-calculus. It’s a group of students who are very bright and learn things very quickly. What I like about that is not that it’s easier for me to teach them, but that they are the ones who push me because they ask questions that I never would have thought of. It’s why I chose this career. It’s what makes me happy. I probably could have stepped out of teaching or into a block that has a lot less prep and demands and rigour. However, I know how much some students struggle with math, and it gives me joy to help them have those “a-ha” moments. It’s also my opportunity to collaborate with colleagues. In my role, I’m the other teachers’ boss, but when I’m in that math building, I’m just a math teacher. Sharing resources and working with that group of colleagues keeps me fresh.
If I wasn’t teaching at Shawnigan, if I was teaching at a day school or a public school, I would go home at the end of the day, and that would be it. But being in a boarding environment, I see the students more fully. I see them singing in Chapel on Saturday. I see them on the squash court. I see them in the House. They become more than just a good math student or a weak math student. I can see the full person. And that’s what Shawnigan lets you do as a teacher. It’s hard work, but you get to know the students on so many levels, and the students get to know us as staff on so many levels too.
I believe that if people are given opportunities along the way to grow, then when they are ready for that big job, they will step into it, and they will be able to do it, regardless of gender. The last step is not nearly as important as all the work we do earlier to build someone up with the right skills so that when both resumes are on the table, the best person gets it. I realize that, being a female leader in this school, I have a role to play. If anything, I have to make sure that I’m supporting the young female staff who come to the School to make sure they have the opportunities that I was afforded along the way.
I’ve always believed in acta non verba (motto of Ripley’s House) – meaning that actions are more important than words. I learned early on that I can earn respect through just doing. Once I had people’s respect I think I felt more comfortable stepping up and saying things. When I say something, I want it to mean something; I don’t want it to just fill the air. That’s how I got my voice and how I use my voice – when I have something to say it adds to the narrative or contradicts something that I know is wrong as opposed to just being filler. I always try to use my voice in a positive way.
I worked for 12 years at the same summer camp that I went to. And then I came here. When I find a place where I feel at home and feel that I have a purpose and can make an impact, I stick with it. I’m not a “Where is the grass greener?” kind of person. Some people are always looking for the next thing. I’m not. I’m looking for what I can do here to keep myself engaged, keep myself excited, keep myself growing. With my current role, I know that it’s time to pass the baton to someone else who can take it to the next level. And I’m excited about this new opportunity.
My new title will be Senior Master, which is something that is not really understood outside of schools. A lot of people are worried about the word “master,” but I’m not, because I actually asked a teenager how she felt about the title and she said, “Well, it just means you’re in charge of a lot of stuff.” A 16-year-old doesn’t see the word master as a male-associated thing anymore. She saw it as you’re just in charge of things. I’ll be taking over the Senior Master role from Rhod Samuel, who took it over from Graham Anderson, but it will look a little different. I am going to be in charge of helping this place run more efficiently. The other title is Executive Director of Organizational Effectiveness, so my role will be to have a global view of everything that’s going on at the School and see what bottlenecks are coming in, where conflict is arising, and figure out ways that we can all work together and communicate better so that this place runs as efficiently and as positively as it can.
I would say that the most impactful thing about working at Shawnigan is the people: it’s the students and the colleagues that I work with who make me want to come to work in the morning, who push me to teach better and lead better and work harder. It’s the people that make this place. Everybody is here for the same reason: we see this place as an opportunity. Whether you’re an adult or a student, Shawnigan is challenging, but it challenges you in a good way. It has challenged me to always be my best, and has given me a community that has pushed me, that has celebrated me, that has supported me. I think it has shaped me a lot like it shapes the students, challenging me to do my best every day and not give up until I do.
If you look at the guest list for my wedding, the fact that so many of them were my colleagues shows the impact this place has had on me since I moved here. The fact that everyone was just so happy for me and that they welcomed my husband into the community was important. I think it speaks to what it means to work here, which is to care about the people, not the job.
What I’m most grateful for at Shawnigan is the opportunities I’ve had along the way to continue to push myself to be a better person. Opportunities to have an impact, which I think I’ve had. Opportunities to work with amazing people, educate amazing students, and interact with amazing families who have chosen this school for their kids.
If Shawnigan doesn’t have an impact on you, you haven’t given it a chance, and you haven’t given it your best."
- From an interview with Ms. Wendy Milne, Assistant Head - Academics.
Thank you, Wendy, for serving our academics program for so many years through the incredible care, dedication, and talent that you have given to the role of Assistant Head – Academics! We are so excited for you to step into the role of Senior Master in September!