Thankful

Around The WorldI spent the majority of my Thanksgiving weekend in Montreal with my son whose soccer team was playing in the Quebec-Ontario Cup. Watching competitive soccer while experiencing the culture and food of La Belle Province — what a great time!  The Ontario victory in the two game series, by a combined score of 4-0, made the chore of getting out of Toronto… on the eastbound 401… on a Friday night… of a long weekend… much more worthwhile.

But what happened on the weekend that made it really special and memorable happened on Saturday night. A number of the dads and coaches and I went out for the evening. During our conversations, I learned that all were newcomers to Canada in the last twenty years: Carlos (Portugal), Danny (Jamaica), David (Guyana), Johnny (Iran), and Mike (Poland). They all left much behind when they immigrated, but did so in the hope of a better future for themselves and their families. Many of their stories sounded much like those my grandparents had when they immigrated from England.

These dads and coaches were all appreciative of the chance to create opportunity for themselves in Canada over the last couple of decades. I was thankful to learn of their stories and to be reminded of what a blessing it is to be Canadian.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Toy Hacking, Tinkering and Other Great Pastimes

GirlBuildsPCSmallRemember the nasty kid next door in the movie, Toy Story? It turns out he was on to something.

There’s something wonderful gaining steam throughout the world. It’s a marriage of the old and new, the practical and whimsical, small-scale pleasure and make-the-world-better possibility. It includes programmable clothing, ‘reconfigured’ toys, books that conduct electricity, and an experience in creation that truly has no bounds. It’s called the Maker Movement, it’s for ordinary folk ages 3 to 103, and it’s an exercise in learning that’s worth learning about.

While adult examples can be pretty sophisticated, here’s an example of how it can work with children. Let’s say a 10-year-old has a stuffed dog. It’s a fine toy and much loved. But let’s say that child has had the chance to play with microcontrollers, LED lights, and sensors. Maybe she’s been introduced to electronics and simple programming languages designed for neophytes of all ages. Maybe she’s witnessed others inventing weird and wonderful contraptions using everything from computer programming, 3D printing, sewing, woodworking, electronics and any number of strategically-chosen odds and ends. That 10-year-old might decide to write some code, set up a microcontroller with LEDs and sensors, upload the code, open up the dog, embed the hardware, stitch him up, and enjoy a dog whose eyes now light up when it’s ‘owner’ picks him up. How’s that for learning?

Thanks to the Maker Movement, this is happening. And we’re taking steps to make it happen at KCS. Anyone wanting to see this in action with children and youth is encouraged to check out MakerKids in West Toronto. To see “big kids” in the Maker Movement, you might want to visit the Toronto Mini Maker Faire at the Toronto Reference Library November 22nd and 23rd.

The Mini Maker Faire is in my calendar. And unleashing the Maker Movement at KCS is on my to-do list. Let the tinkering begin.

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

Nervous for Nothing

Starting a new job is not easy. In fact, it is often nerve-racking. Like those “minor-niner” days in high school, you’re beginning a new chapter in your life, one that you’ve been preparing for, but still feel completely unfamiliar with. A number of thoughts run through your head: “Will I make new friends?” “I hope I don’t get lost!” “Am I going to embarrass myself?”

I have always been a nervous person. In school, when I had to do a presentation, I would shake so much that eventually the notes in my hands would become useless. I can assure you that these feelings didn’t subside as I grew older. All this being said, I’m sure you can imagine the state I was in leading up to my first day at KCS.

I will tell you now that all those nerves were unnecessary.

I was told how great KCS was before I started. This is not surprising as they wanted me to join their community. Imagine my surprise when all those amazing things I had heard turned out to be true and not just a clever ploy to get me to say yes.

Every staff member has been so welcoming and supportive, and they’ve done this in a way that doesn’t emphasize the fact that I’m new. If I didn’t know any better I would think I had been here for a couple years, not a couple weeks. The students, although many of them are not familiar with my face, have been nothing but polite and respectful. I think we all know how impressive this is. We were all students once, and likely ready to test the new/substitute teachers.

I can honestly say looking back at all the jobs that I’ve had that  I have never felt more comfortable, more welcomed, more appreciated, and more excited to wake up in the morning than I have at KCS. This school is special, and I am so excited to be a part of the community!

Diana Bowes
Teacher, Early Learning Program

Recess Duty

Batman and RobynsEarlier this week, I happened to be reading my email around 12:15 p.m. when one of our teachers sent a message to the staff asking for someone to take her outdoor lunch duty as she was not feeling well.  I read the email, checked my calendar to see if I was free, and given that the majority of our teachers would not have a chance to read this in time to help out, I replied that I would do it.  My day, up to this point, consisted of back-to-back meetings so this was definitely an incentive to get outside, enjoy the sunshine and talk with the students.  I was surprised by the reception.

Since I was “officially” on duty, and not just wandering around the field as I do a couple of times a week (especially when the weather has been as great as it has been this week!), I felt it was important that I put on one of our orange vests – or as I call it, my “orange cape”. Our teachers wear these at recess so that they are easily identifiable to the students.  I want to point out, it clashed with my red tie and candy cane striped socks (gift from the in-laws), but I did it anyway.  I now have a better understanding of the fashion faux pas each of our teachers are required to make while on duty.

My assignment was near the play structure, so for most of the time, I was surrounded by grades 1-3 students.  I had the following interactions:

  • One girl in grade 2 asked me if I was on duty.  When I said yes she responded, “Do you know what to do?” A short time later this was followed by yet another girl asking if I knew what to do on duty. I said yes and explained that I was once a grade 7/8 teacher at KCS.  Her response, after a pause and a really puzzled look, was “Really?”
  • Two girls ran over to me giggling and asked, “Mr. Logan, can you keep a secret?”  I told them no.  Of course this didn’t matter as one of them told me that she really likes one of our grade 8 boys and is lucky enough to have him as her lunch time supervisor.  I had no response, except to let her parents know so that we could share a laugh.
  • Another student looked at me from the monkey bar platform, and told me, in a tiny voice, that she couldn’t climb across all the bars but she was going to try.  By the end of recess she had managed to hang from the bar and swing herself back to the platform.  She was quite proud and told me so as we were walking up the hill to go back into the school.
  • I watched a girl in grade 3 spend her entire recess swinging across the bars, the rings and everywhere else she could find so that she was not touching the ground.  This was the same student who took a tumble last week, which produced a goose egg on her forehead that she would sport in a wedding party on the weekend.  The goose egg is almost gone, the wedding went well, and this little girl was not afraid to get “back up on the horse” after her misadventure.  A lesson adults would do well to remember.
  • I also observed a boy who ended up with some sand in his eye as well as a grade 2 girl who showed me the scab on her hands at least four times.
  • I found a Batman umbrella owned by a grade 2 boy and decided we could get a great photo when we returned inside.  The photo that accompanies this blog should be captioned, Batman and Robyns.  You can probably guess why.

The surprises continued when I arrived back inside the school, this time from the teachers.  “How was your duty?” (at least eight or nine times) …  “When I read your response to the email, I thought it was a mistake.”…  “I thought it was joke.”…   “Are you going to do this again?”

I look forward to dawning the “orange cape” again at a future recess.  It sort of made me feel like Superman.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Math at KCS

MathYou’ve likely already noticed that math is a hot topic in mainstream media these days. While newsrooms haven’t always been following the subject, we have.

Monitoring the profession from a global perspective, and debating strengths and limitations of our current practice, are part of the day-to-day work at KCS. This determination to do our best for every student over the years has led to a number of initiatives, such as:

  • Constantly growing collection of tools for differentiating instruction in the classroom, so all students can learn what they need at the level that’s right for them
  • Introduction of math workshops (small-group dedicated instruction) in grades 6 to 8
  • Introduction of JUMP Math in grades 2 to 5, where we think it’s the best fit
  • Introduction of the online math program Math Help Services in grades 7 and 8, where we think it’s the best fit
  • The use of Khan Academy to help support differentiated instruction
  • Widespread participation in the Brock University Caribou Math Challenge
  • The use of the University of Waterloo Math Problem of the Week in multiple grades for rigorous problem-solving
  • Introduction of computer programming with Visual Basic through our electives program, a language that requires significant use of advanced math

These are on top of our longstanding commitment to ensuring students master their basic math facts; avoiding the use of calculators except when appropriate and in the oldest grades; having ample experience with problem-solving; and enjoying generous use of concrete materials in their youngest years.

In the Family Satisfaction survey, a number of parents asked about our math program, in particular math in our older grades. I’m happy to report that our Canadian Achievement Test scores from last year are the best ever in the school’s history, with our senior students on average achieving in the 91st percentile across Canada in math concepts, and the 93rd percentile in computation and estimation. In fact, from grades 3 to 7, the grades that undertake the CAT test, the average percentiles were all at their highest ever, ranging from the 84th to the 94th percentile. We regularly hear from alumni and their parents that our students do very well in grade 9. Any feedback to the contrary is explored to determine what, if anything, can be done better.

Our math teachers have worked tirelessly over the years to help every student master what they need to know. For students who can’t get enough math, we won’t stop looking for more to give. For students who find math a relatively daunting challenge? Attentive teachers, with multiple tools, some being online, is great news for them too. And when news media have moved on to other issues, we’ll still be learning, debating and improving what we do.

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

Can They Feel Their Brain Growing?

HeadandArrowssmallIt’s a tough habit to break. In a school full of students who impress in myriad ways, it’s hard not to hand out generous amounts of praise.

What’s the harm? Plenty. This recent article by Sal Khan “The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart” is a worthy reminder to tread carefully with praise. The possibilities are endless if we do.

(Parents and students wanting to stretch their brains might enjoy checking out Khan Academy and their large library of brief, instruction videos on a whole array of topics.)

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

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.