The Journey to Come

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Ernest Hemingway

Here we are, at the start of a new school year. Our teachers have been hard at work planning this year’s journey, much like parents planned the wonderful family holidays we’ve heard about since our students’ return. In the same way that our students will soon be goal-setting for the term, here are the school-wide areas of focus, the ends if you will, that our teachers are working toward:

  1. Living the Mission, with the Habits of Mind, Body and Action; Project-Based Learning; service learning; student leadership; Learning for the Love of It; and more  that support the development of lifelong learners, that I look forward to sharing as the year unfolds
  2. Student Wellness, following up on feedback from students in our Student Voice; faculty and staff-wide professional development (PD) on mental health first aid and faculty PD on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; a review of our Social-Emotional Learning practices; and full launch of our concussion protocol
  3. Technology, with more 1:1 and 1:2 access from grades 3 and up, and increased access to iPads in grades JK to grade 2
  4. Assessment, with the development of a new report card for next school year and the exploration of other new tools to help capture and share the story of our students’ growth
  5. Writing, with the pilot of new tools in multiple grades
  6. Social Studies and French, to align with the new Ministry curriculum in these subjects

Some of our areas of focus are ongoing from previous years. Others are at the start of a multi-year focus.

Much like a good journey, you can’t plan for everything. Surprises likely lurk, as do bumps in the road that will need to be worked around. Ongoing collaboration, flexible and creative thinking, persistence and responsible risks will carry us forward. At KCS, that’s what happens on the journey, and that’s what matters in the end.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Mental Health at KCS

Mental HealthAccording to Children’s Mental Health Ontario, in Canada, one person in three will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime and 70% of those mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence. However, it also notes that mental health crises can be avoided with early intervention and support.  At KCS, we are working hard to help provide some of that support.

When your children return to school on September 3rd all of our teaching staff and many of the non-teaching staff will have been certified in Mental Health First Aid. The rest will become certified as the year progresses.  Just as physical first aid does not make one a health care professional, mental health first aid does not turn the faculty and staff into mental health professionals; however, what it does do is allow us to recognize signs and symptoms of a wide range of mental health concerns so we are better equipped to have a conversation with you about what we are seeing, as well as what some of the possible next steps may be.  But this isn’t all we are doing.

We have been having the conversations about mental health for quite some time – our Encouraging Dialogue Speakers Series over the past three years have focused on mental health concerns in order to better educate our wider school community.  Our Habits of Mind, Body, and Action and the three school rules (Respect, Manners and Try Your Best) help to provide balance, enable resilience, and create a common language that we can use to talk about what our students are experiencing and what they can do to help themselves and each other. Teachers attend weekly divisional meetings where, among many other topics, we discuss concerns that we may have and work together to best help the student(s) in need.  Teachers attend workshops, conferences, take courses, participate in personal learning and reading to strengthen their understanding and awareness, and better their strategies for doing what is best for our students.  Our small class sizes allow us to truly get to know each child, allowing us to recognize when something just doesn’t seem right.  Class meetings are held where students can talk about what is going well, and what concerns they may have.  During Health class and other instructional time, teachers use the Steps to Respect or Second Steps program, along with other resources, to help provide their students with skills in areas such as stress reduction, dealing with disappointment, sharing successes, navigating friendships and positive relationships, dealing with bullying, and negotiation and compromise.

In September of 2013, a new position was established at KCS, Director of Student Life, so that there would be a designated person, a trained counsellor, to address the needs of the students and provide them support and guidance.

You may recall Andrea Fanjoy’s blog about our Student Voice this past spring.  We asked the students to let us know how they perceived the health and wellness at KCS and what we could do to make it better.  We listened, and we have put some of those ideas into action – being physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually healthy makes us mentally healthy as well.

But most importantly, what we are doing about mental health at KCS is talking about it and working to end the stigma.  As Clara Hughes said when promoting Clara’s Big Ride “Let’s turn mental illness into mental wellness”. By having the conversation we are helping to do just that.

Over the pasts few years, schools and businesses across the country have begun to make positive steps towards this goal.  KCS belongs to the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS).  Each year, CAIS holds a conference for Heads and Chairs in October.  One of the speakers at this year’s conference is Eric Windeler, from The Jack Project, who will speaking on the topic of mental health, and explaining why it should be a school’s top priority.

If you have any questions on this topic, please come in and speak to us.  For further information and additional reading please see the following websites.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life

The Face of Celebration

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The year is over. Our students are gone. Soon, the banner for our year-end art exhibit ‘Celebration’ will be taken down from the front of the school.

But the celebrating hasn’t stopped for me.

We have plenty to celebrate this year: our 25th anniversary; amalgamation with St. Georges Nursery School; the addition of 14 terrific new colleagues; and big inroads on our plan to establish a high school. These are achievements worthy of celebration, but right now they aren’t what come to mind.

Working on final report cards immerses me in the faces and stories of our students. This celebration has a face, many faces in fact. It has one for every student, and one for every teacher standing by their side. I’m celebrating:

  • the SK students who started the year unable to read, and who ended it reading in front of the school at our final assembly
  • all the students who made huge gains in their reading skills thanks to their teachers and our new efforts with Direct Instruction
  • the new students who started the year struggling in various skills or lacking in confidence, now working alongside their peers ready for their next grade, head held high
  • the dozens of students who chose to seize challenges like the Caribou Mathematics Competition because they welcomed the chance to be pushed to their intellectual limits
  • all the students who work their hardest in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship, day in and day out
  • two students who persisted in writing a book with our YAKCS program, and will have them published over the summer
  • the students who took their first steps in leadership this year, and the many other dozens who have used their leadership skills to make KCS and the world a better place
  • the students who tried out for sports they’d never played before, and the students who had the courage to perform for the first time ever at Wake Up With the Arts this year
  • those who earned banners; ribbons; public-speaking, science and math awards; Four Doors Awards; and year-end trophies
  • those who didn’t win, who weren’t chosen for a team, who struggled with schoolwork or with a friendship, and who faced each day anew, ready to try again, and seeing things get better and better as a result
  • and all those who acted with empathy, who held the door for others, who heartily welcomed visitors and who made evident their enthusiasm for life and learning at KCS.

There sure is a lot to celebrate this year. What’s most worth celebrating are our students and all they’ve been through, and grown from, thanks to their efforts and those of their teachers. Their work isn’t done, of course, nor is ours. But parents, when you receive your child’s report card in the mail, try to imagine how much your child has embraced learning, thought flexibly, created, shared what they know, persisted, made a difference and more. Think about their full story. Then look at their face, and celebrate.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

What Our Students Had to Say

“Can we get more bugs in the playground?” – JK student

Student VoiceAbout five years ago KCS introduced a way to invite all students into strategic faculty conversations. Taking place usually once a year, a significant area of focus for the school is chosen and feedback is sought from faculty, staff and all students on that topic, with particular attention on how KCS can improve. In the past, topics discussed in every class have included homework, extra-curriculars, the House System and student leadership. This year’s topic is wellness in all its forms: physical, social, emotional, mental and intellectual. In addition to what comes out of class discussions, Student Voice includes a focus group for interested students in grades 6 to 8 who want to discuss the topic in more detail with senior administrators and teachers.

This year’s discussions focused on four questions:

  1. What are the signs of health/wellness at KCS?
  2. What are signs of ill health/unwellness at KCS?
  3. What does KCS do to promote wellness?
  4. What could KCS do to better promote wellness?

Our students had 23 pages worth of things to say. The results of Student Voice have now been shared with all staff and students in grades 6 to 8 and will be used to inform leadership efforts at KCS among faculty and students.

Our youngest students are still three years old. When asked about what they do to make others feel good, answers included cuddling, sharing and “rubbing their friend’s back if they’re unhappy”. Empathy and wellness go hand-in-hand.

Collectively, the students could describe wellness in great detail. They know that eating and sleeping well, getting along, dealing well with conflict and embracing learning are part of being well. But life doesn’t always work that way and they were equally able to describe what it means to be unwell at KCS, and shared examples such as not getting along with others, times when others weren’t kind or respectful, times when they ate unhealthy food and stress around homework and exams.

The students appreciate the many things KCS does to promote wellness, identifying caring teachers, time to be active, ‘I Messages’, class meetings, special events, having fun, effective teaching, the Habits and dozens of other efforts that make a positive difference.

What can we do better? These ideas were interesting and will lead to numerous discussions among faculty and senior students. Some are too tricky to act on anytime soon: a turfed field, a roof patio, a swimming pool and a cafeteria among others. But many can and surely will be done. We actually have a plan in place to get more bugs in the playground – we look forward to announcing that one. It was nice to see that our grade 8s would like more and earlier opportunities to play with their grade 1 and 2 buddies. The students had interesting ideas for changes in the timetable. One idea was to have a shorter day, while another was to have a longer day! A number suggested vending machines with healthy food. The bathrooms and water fountains also got special mention, as did more time outside.

Twenty-three pages is a testament to how much students have to say. We’re listening, and we look forward to working with student leaders to bring more wellness to KCS, bugs and all.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Summertime online?

tablet device at beachIt’s June and the summer holidays are just around the corner! There will be plenty of fun times, and definitely plenty of free time for families and friends. For many of our children, free time means going online (i.e. gaming, socializing). Thus, it’s a good time to revisit with your child the expectations of being online over the summer months.

10 online topics to cover:

  1. Many children play online games whether via their gaming console, tablet, or smartphone. Know what your child’s favourite games are (are they age-appropriate?) and who they play with.
  2. Set time limits for the duration your child is allowed to be online. How early in the day are they allowed to be online? How late?  Is there a balance between online and offline activities?
  3. Children are starting to enter the social media world at a younger age. Know if your child uses social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Kik, etc…) Ask them to teach you about it if you are new to any of these sites.
  4. How about the new fad of socializing via ‘anonymous questions and answers’ apps? (i.e. Ask.fm, Spring.me, Wut, etc…) An earlier KCS blog broached this topic. Is your child using these? Know who they are following and how they are using these apps. They can be a wonderful source for socializing or a means for hurt and abuse.
  5. Your child may have a number of online ‘friends’ or ‘followers’.  But what happens when someone ‘unfriends’ your child? Be prepared for mood swings, rejection and sadness. Comfort, listen and talk to your child about friendships, peer pressure and relationships.
  6. Has your child checked their privacy and security settings of their various online accounts lately? Be sure that they set these to ‘friends only’ and allow only people they know and trust to be their ‘friend’.
  7. What type of passwords does your child use online? Be sure it is alphanumeric and doesn’t contain their first name or last name.
  8. What are the consequences if any of your expectations are not met? Follow through on these consequences if need be; your child needs to understand when the line has been crossed.
  9. Are online activities a part of daily dinner conversations? Having this set as a routine will provide a safe and comforting environment for your child to communicate all the great (and not so great) things that happen online. Have a handful of responses your child can use if they come across inappropriate sites or behaviours online.
  10. Kids love taking photos. Many post these online as well. Cruise through the photos stored on your child’s device to see what exists and could possibly end up online.

Finally, as digital natives your child will innately explore the online world. It is filled with wonderful opportunities and hazy, grey ones too. As effective role models we can teach them to keep out of the questionable areas and enjoy a safe summer!

Stacy Marcynuk
Director of IT, Curriculum

Further Reading:
http://www.safekids.com/family-contract-for-smartphone-use/
http://www.safekids.com/family-contract-for-online-safety/
http://www.protectkids.com/parentsafety/pledge.htm
http://parentingteens.about.com/library/specials/nnetsafe.htm
http://www.carolinaparent.com/articlemain.php?Technology-Contracts-Help-Keep-Kids-Safe-Online-3866

When Islington History Came to Life

Learning like this is priceless.

Thanks to local artists, the Islington BIA and many generous others, Islington Village showcases local history in 26 murals throughout the community.  With exquisite detail, they give a realistic image of life long ago. But it takes more than that to make history come to life. For that, it takes an inquiring mind, some time and vivid imagination. Recently those all came together in our grade 3 classes at Kingsway College School.

These young students were given the task of choosing one of the murals, researching it and preparing a poster to tell the story captured in the mural in their own words. It seemed that this was an opportunity many were waiting for. No ordinary project, this one had heightened meaning for them thanks to the murals they’ve seen throughout their childhood. They learned about what happened on the ground on which they live, play and go to school. With personal fervour, some went beyond the murals to pursue further research on the War of 1812, World War II, Hurricane Hazel, multiculturalism and more – topics that are well outside of the grade 3 curriculum. Many also joined their families on a guided walk through the village. This was the first time our grade 3s studied the murals but its success has already sparked a desire to expand the effort next year.

Projects aren’t new to these young students. Fun learning isn’t new to them either. What made this project special were the murals that we so fortunately have right in our community, and the opportunity to delve into the local story behind them.

At Kingsway College School, there are numerous ‘Habits’ that we aim to establish in our students. One of those Habits is ‘Share What You Know’. The murals of Islington are a powerful example of the value of ‘sharing what one knows’. In the wake of this project our students have equally ‘shown what they know’ by sharing their posters in the school and through social media. Some other great Habits were wonderfully evident thanks to this mural project: ‘Embrace Learning’, ‘Respond with Awe and Appreciation’, ‘Think Creatively’ and ‘Persist’.

That’s learning that’s priceless.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy

Wake Up to Something Wonderful

Wake up with the ARTSTen days ago was our last Wake Up With the Arts (WUWA) for 2013-14. My parents arrived later the same day for their first visit in a year. They’ve now left, and though I’m just finding the time to write now, this blog has been on my mind since last Thursday. It’s a story I simply have to tell.

Wake Up With the Arts is the brainchild of our arts department and rooted in the desire to open up more showcase and performance opportunities, particularly of a kind that have less pressure and demand than the Christmas, closing and other special concerts of the year. About once a month from 8:00 to 8:30, around a dozen performances are shared by students from JK to grade 8, student artwork is on display on our three gallery walls and many bulletin boards, and coffee and muffins are on offer in the foyer. With only rare exceptions for the youngest students, teachers have no role in organizing these performances. The expectation is that they’re the initiative of the student(s) who sign up. Solo vocal, piano, violin, guitar, percussion, brass and woodwind performances tend to make up the majority of the mix. Students also organize duets, ensembles and multi-grade groupings in any of the performing arts, including dance and drama. Parents, nannies, teachers and fellow schoolmates gather in the foyer to enjoy and cheer on the performers before rushing off for the rest of their day.

That alone is wonderful enough, but there’s more.

  • For numerous young children, this is the first occasion when they’re willing to perform in front of a group. At this most recent WUWA, I learned that one of our new students in grade 3 would perform a solo guitar piece for the first time. He had seen a previous WUWA and saw that other students perform even when new to their instrument and even when they made mistakes. He saw that the audience loved the performance regardless. He told his Mom that if those students can do it, he could do it too.
  • At a WUWA last year, a student in grade 2 decided to improvise a piano piece for her performance. I wasn’t there to hear the piece but I was thrilled to hear that her courageous artistic spirit had a place to be showcased at KCS.
  • A different time a group of grade ones rounded up their grade 8 buddies to sing Christmas carols together.
  • Some of the music is familiar, while some are originals composed by the students.
  • One of our grade 4 boys has frequently showcased his exceptional hiphop dance moves – an inspiring example to get more young men dancing.
  • Another boy in grade three has twice sung for us a cappella, and most recently he led the whole audience in “thinking of a happy thought” and invited us to join him in the chorus of the hit “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

It’s no secret that children have tremendous capacity and often outright ability in the arts. It’s not always easy to showcase them enough. And it’s rare that all students have a regular opportunity to “share what they know”, just for the love of it and their willingness to take a risk. Polished or not, every performance makes a difference. It tells future performers “If I can do it, so can you”. It has all in the audience beaming with delight and bursting with pride. And it reminds all in attendance of how wonderful the world can be, and a school can be, if we make time to see what students want to share.

Come if you can next year. There’s no better way to Wake Up.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

JKs Look for Spring in High Park

We can all agree that this past winter was brutal and seemingly endless.  Generally speaking, spring has never been more anticipated and welcomed than this year.  Where does winter end and spring begin?

We had timely discussions in our JK classrooms, prior to the official date, so we would recognize spring when it arrived.  We read kid-friendly books with promises of better things to come. We printed spring words using our best HWT (Handwriting Without Tears) letters.  We drew hopeful pictures of spring in the brightest colours we could find.  We took a few pictures in the playground with our iPads of even the slightest hint that spring was around the corner: receding snow banks, patches of ice from the previous day’s melt, and stubborn hedge buds reluctant to unfurl.  Spring just wasn’t coming to us fast enough!

We decided to go on a field trip looking for spring.  High Park was close and pretty expansive with its alluring variety of habitats: the wetland, the woodland, and the endangered black oak savannah. Surely we would find spring there! Following a lovely warm spell of sunny weather, snow had fallen on the weekend prior to our trip: one last blast of that relentless polar vortex.  Our unfortunate traffic delay on the Humber Bridge, due to road work, hinted that we were definitely getting closer to spring!

Our two JK classes, along with teachers and parent supervisors, were greeted by two knowledgeable and captivating guides, Katrina and Mallory, who invited us into the intriguing High Park Nature Centre for the first part of our tour.  Our students impressed them with their first-hand knowledge of spring during our lively discussion, book reading, and introduction to the resident critters: turtle, lizard, and snake. Our students carefully created seed balls by rolling together mud and seeds for our outdoor planting activity: our contribution for the upcoming Earth Day and for the restoration of the rare black oak savannah.

Once outdoors again, in winter jackets and snow pants, our students hurled their seed balls into an open grassland. They were encouraged to undertake a sensory exploration while engaged in a nature hike into the woodland.  We captured signs of spring with the iPads: tufts of green grass emerging from the leaf piles, footprints in the mud, and buds on branches. We heard the songs of many birds calling for mates and announcing their readiness to start building nests.  Our keen guiders kept reaching into their educational pouches, bringing out soft replicas of the elusive birds, and coaxing their proper songs with gentle tummy squeezes. We captured images of the trees through bark rubbings, and we hugged a few trees.

It was over too quickly! Both the children and adults agreed that it was an amazing field trip.  The bus ride home seemed a little quieter, but no one fell asleep! There were so many images dancing in our heads, luring us to come back again.

Yes, we found spring, but we still want MORE!

On a personal note, I have experienced High Park as a wonderful place for families to spend quality time together.  There is nothing more humbling than hand-feeding tiny tame chickadees at the south end of the park. It is not unusual for a butterfly to land on you as you stroll through the beautiful gardens. The chipmunks along the pathways love to gather snacks thrown for them.  There are great playgrounds, opportunity for many sports, a small zoo, a pioneer museum, and many special events. What a great place for all family members to slow down, take a mental break, get one with nature, and engage in fun physical activities! I highly recommend High Park as a place to visit frequently.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
JK Teacher

It Works! (Question and Be Curious, But How? – Part II)

Question and be CuriousI thought it would!

A few months ago I wrote about the book Make Just One Change and the methodology it shared for teaching how to come up with good questions. For all the value of questioning, it seemed to me that the profession was pretty barren on direct methods for teaching this skill. Instead, some students seem to come by questioning naturally, and others pick it up as they mature, or not. Of course, students are exposed to lots of questions at school, and they’re regularly invited to come up with questions. Despite this, my gut was telling me we could accomplish more.

Then I read about the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). Immersing students in question-asking, it also offers the benefit of learning from one’s peers, it releases students from the threat of judgment, and it includes informed reflection, so students would start developing not only the habit of asking questions, but also the habit of asking increasingly effective ones. The method struck me as straightforward and destined to work. I had to try it out, and our grade 6 teachers were willing to let me. Their students were about to start their culminating social studies assignment and they needed questions to begin. Enter the QFT.

The Question Focus (or QFocus) was ‘Canadians Making the World Better’. The process began with a ‘question frenzy’, where groups of 3-4 students, one also being the ‘recorder’, came up with questions based on the QFocus. Rules of engagement were shared before the 7-minute frenzy: ask as many questions as you can; do not stop to answer, judge or discuss; write every question as it’s stated; and any statements were to be turned into questions. The recorder typed the questions in the class Edmodo newsfeed, thereby allowing all students to eventually see the questions of the whole class when the exercise was done.

The frenzy was followed by a brief exercise in open and closed-ended questions; a discussion on the students’ current purpose in asking questions (their QFocus and their assignment); and then an exercise in choosing and justifying their top three questions from the many others they came up with earlier.

The end result? Better questions than the teacher had seen students come up with in past years. They were mature questions that even caused concern in some parents who thought they were too hard (until they learned they came from their children). The students were welcome to change their questions if they felt they needed to, but instead most chose to stick with them, and by doing so ended up writing longer and better assignments than required.

Good questions are at the heart of great learning. At KCS we’ve seen over and over again that students are capable of more than most would expect, if we only persist in finding how to unlock it. We’ll be adding QFT to our list of tools for unlocking potential in students. And this will be one area of education where I no longer have that nagging feeling that we don’t do enough.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.