It was a miracle of good luck and a triumph of good will. The factors that contributed to the overwhelming success of the Annual Conference of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition, hosted by Selwyn House School June 24-29 in Montreal, are too many to count.
The weather was perfect, the logistics ran smoothly, the speakers and entertainers were stellar, and the evening celebrations will not soon be forgotten. The chemistry among the 650 visiting delegates—from 170 schools in 10 countries—and their Selwyn House hosts generated a camaraderie that lasted all week long and can still be felt today.
“You created a legendary conference,” said Amy Ahart, Chief Operating Officer of IBSC, a 24-year-old world organization that “strives to understand boys’ learning and development through research, and seeks to improve practice, opportunity and outcomes for boys around the world.” The IBSC holds a conference each year at a member school. The 2018 conference was in Gold Coast, Australia; the 2020 one will be in Barcelona, Spain.
The Montreal conference was organized around the theme of “Boys and the Arts, Great Minds, Big Hearts.” But the topics of the workshops enlarged on the theme to include many discussions of what mental wellness is, and how to instil it in boys.
“This conference was all heart, and will be one for the record books!” Ms. Ahart continued. “You were true to Selwyn House School, and it made the conference a smashing success. The focus on boys and the arts was not only a hit with delegates, but...was the inspiration and driver for every element of the conference. Your staff and boys made SHS proud. They were wonderful ambassadors for the school, took wonderful care of the delegates, and clearly were proud to show off your school and to share in this important event.”
The job of planning and running the conference fell to an ad hoc committee of Selwyn House staff members and volunteers, few of whom had any experience running an event of this size and scope. The success of the conference was a testament to the power of teamwork.
This was the first IBSC conference held at a small, inner-city school. All the workshops and many of the social events were held at the school. The plenary sessions and major presentations were held in the main conference room of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel on René-Levesque Blvd. downtown; the final party was held at the Windsor Ballroom on Peel St. Shuttling delegates from one venue to another was a major challenge, but everything worked out beautifully.
From the beginning, Selwyn House Dean of Students Minna Shulman was the obvious choice to chair the SHS organizing committee; she has sat on the board of directors of IBSC since 2011 and has attended seven of the organization’s worldwide conferences.
But, halfway through the organizing process, on Jan. 17, she was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to her liver. She was scheduled for major surgery only weeks before the conference. Some of the Selwyn House organizers must have wondered if the whole project would have to be abandoned.
But Minna was undeterred. She re-scheduled her surgery to accommodate the conference and continued to chair the committee from home between sessions of strong chemotherapy. Selwyn House Head of Elementary School Kathy Funamoto stepped in to act as Minna’s in-school proxy while maintaining her own workload as ES Head. Everyone put their shoulder to the wheel and, somehow, it worked.
“The conference actually helped me deal with my cancer,” Minna says now. And the crisis of leadership “made people come together.”
Fitting, then, that Minna was chosen to receive the annual Hawley-Jarvis Award at the conference for her contribution to the IBSC. (See video online.)
Once the conference got rolling, the week of dizzying activity played out flawlessly. The workshops at the school dug deep into the important issues in boys’ schools today. The plenary speakers at the Queen E. tackled the personal issues of mental wellness head-on, not shying away from their own tales of challenges met.
The contribution of recent graduates of Selwyn House to the program at the Queen E. left visiting delegates gobsmacked. The artistic and emotional maturity shown by the Old Boys was the strongest message delivered all week. Delegates said that watching these young men demonstrate such composure, power of communication and mastery of their various arts, drove home the message of the conference.
On Wednesday night, the entire conference community experienced “The Art of a Party,” planned and executed by Headmaster Hal Hannaford. With 11 musical acts playing in various locations throughout the school, delegates were served a smorgasbord of artistic celebration, culminating in a full-audience sing-along of “Mustang Sally.”
Friday night’s wrap-up party at the Windsor Ballroom was a “Nuit blanche” affair, with participatory music and dancing that included a flash mob of IBSC delegates.
Saturday morning’s session wrapped up with an engrossing presentation from Headmaster Hal Hannaford and his wife, Susan Doherty; and the delegates dispersed until next year, when the annual IBSC conference will be hosted by Viaro Global School in Barcelona.