Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2020 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize Kevin Cook, Director of Community Engagement and Global Expeditions.
Throughout the last three decades, Kevin Cook has been a mathematics and chemistry teacher, Deputy Director of the Senior School, houseparent, Director of Residence, Director of Community Service and Director of Community Engagement and Global Expeditions – a variety of roles, spanning 29 years.
Kevin joined SMUS in September 1991 as a science teacher. He felt the ethos of SMUS embraced a balanced approach to learning which aligned with his style and values. The following year, Kevin became Deputy Director of the Senior School under Peter Tongue. Kevin recalls a shift towards relationship-building and making sure that people felt supported. “Pete was a great friend and mentor.”
He followed his wife, Kathleen, in the role of Director of Residence and his family moved into boarding. Kevin was responsible for Harvey House and his wife, Kathleen, was with Timmis House.
Kevin’s teaching role morphed into career planning and university advising alongside past school counsellor Jean Ives. He says, “if you’re not in education to help children learn and succeed, and become better citizens of the world, you aren’t in it for the right reasons.”
Mathematics and chemistry have always been important to Kevin in addition to his role coaching rugby. But he really connected with mentoring students and younger staff through experiences that took place outside of the traditional classroom environment. Engaging with and opening the door for people to recognize their abilities was deeply rewarding for him, he says. Kevin explains that when you show a student how to do something you are often just teaching them how to watch you; however, true growth happens when you teach them how to do it themselves. “When the student is empowered to take responsibility for their learning the teacher often becomes ‘redundant’ and lifelong learning is ingrained,” he says.
To expand his own learning and skills, Kevin pursued a Master’s in Organizational Leadership at Columbia University while at SMUS.
Kevin became the Director of Community Service in 2005. In this capacity, he could focus on developing community and service programming. Part of his work involved experiential learning. School service trips overseas started to be intentionally designed to cultivate a deeper appreciation and understanding for students to carry through life.
“In experiential learning theory, you look at how to assess the learning that goes on and establish social and learning metrics.” From this angle, student trips to Nepal, Kenya, India or Tanzania had more structure and intention, but Kevin stressed that you “don’t let the assessment get in the way of the fun.” For example, students would no longer go to a village set on building a school because that’s what the students wanted. Instead, they engaged with the community and learned what was needed.
A few times Kathleen accompanied Kevin on these trips and brought back great stories to the Junior School students, where she is now Assistant Director. Kevin recalls it was amazing when a student who had heard the stories when they were young could embark on the trips later years. In 2015, Kevin’s title evolved into Director of Community Engagement and Global Expeditions.
Over his last years at SMUS, Kevin and fellow retiree Pete McLeod worked out of what they call “the purple palace”, together they helped the team lay many of the foundations for the current experiential education programs at SMUS. Pete had long dubbed Kevin the “Head of the Restart” for his multiple positions at the school. Kevin enjoyed many belly laughs with his friend and will miss those times.
Even after “retiring” at the end of the 2019-20 school year, Kevin did not, in fact, leave SMUS. He stayed on as part of the Restart Team to assist with organizing the return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Once school reopened, he officially retired from SMUS in September.
In retirement, Kevin plans on hiking with his small chocolate Lab, Ziggy, spending more time with family (who all benefited from their time at SMUS) and taking some time for himself. For now, his love of travel, particularly alongside Kathleen, will take a pause. “She’s way better than me in every way—a truly wonderful person. I love spending time with her.”
Kevin continues to explore service, emotional intelligence and experiential education. He sat on the Board for the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) from 2011-2018 and enjoyed collaborating and working with global educators. He finds children have of a natural curiosity and genuinely want to be good people. “Developing service through meaningful engagement via an intentional process is vital to create good global citizens which requires more than just adding on to an already full SMUS experience,” Kevin says.
He shares that when you have an experience, then reflect on it and think about what you might do differently next time, you set a course for learning, improving and further developing. Here’s to more of that.