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.

They Grow Up So Fast

Primary Project FairToday I was at the front doors as students and their parents began arriving for our annual Primary Project Fair.  It was wonderful to witness the smiles on the faces – and that was just the parents!  As usual the students put forth their best efforts to create terrific projects that each of them can be proud of, but there was certainly some sense of relief on the part of many parents that this project was over at least for another year, and maybe forever (if they no longer had any children entering grades 1-3 in the future).

As a Dad of a 15 year old and a 17 year old, I can certainly empathize with that feeling among the parents.  I remember looking forward to the end of some project, recital, or experience with my kids.  But this morning also reminded me of a couple of parents that I was fortunate to come across when my kids were younger who shared some advice that has stuck with me (incidentally, you get a lot of advice as a Head, some helpful).  One of these individuals was a KCS parent, who I encountered early in my career at our school who said to me, “Before you know it, they will have grown up, and you’ll look back on these times more fondly than when you were going through them.”  I have to admit, with my daughter about to go off to university in September, that message has come to mind many times during this, her grade 12 year.  There are times this year when I wish we still had grade 13 in Ontario.

The other parent is somebody I have spent quite a lot of time with over the years as a result of my son’s soccer.  One night, we were on the sidelines on a cold and rainy night, and I must have said something that sparked him to turn to me and say, “You only have a few years in your life to do this sort of thing, and when it’s over, you’ll miss doing it.”  You hear a lot of things as a parent involved in minor sports with your kids, much of it not worth repeating.  However, this comment really resonated with me both then and now.  I’m already anticipating feeling like this even though we still have a few summers left of club soccer, and maybe some university soccer afterwards.

It was so good to see so many of our primary parents, grandparents and friends here today to show support for our students.  Your memories of this project may be different than what your children remember, but I am confident you will look back on this time at some point in the future and miss it, at least a little.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Can you come down?

VillageofIslingtonWhen administrators are called and asked to come down to a classroom, some concerning scenarios can come to mind. For all the planning that goes into a day at any school, there’s always an element of unpredictability.

Recently I received one of those calls from a teacher. Without pause I headed down. To my relief, she wanted to share how her recent effort to introduce more student-centered project-based learning (PBL) with her young students was playing out. Her classroom was a busy hive of learning, with children researching different aspects of Islington Village’s history. They were following the research process they’d been learning since grade 2, and discovering fascinating stories that happened on the very ground that they live, play and learn on every day. The greater student choice was part of the responsible risk for this teacher – would the students end up successful, can they handle the freedom, the challenge? These are among the many good questions teachers consider in everything they do. She took the risk to give more freedom than usual, and was so excited to see how they were responding that she asked me to come check it out.

I’ve enjoyed many of those moments with our increased effort to bring project-based learning to KCS. Blog followers already know about the fish project in JK. Our grade 7 science teacher shared his delight at how all of his students are responding to the new Lego robotics challenge they face this term, designing a device that would help in the event of a natural disaster. Our grade 6 to 8 students are embracing the current art challenge to create their showcase piece on ‘celebration’, in any way their hearts and skills take them. Our primary teachers shared their efforts at a recent meeting and it’s clear that they’re all taking steps and seeing promise.

The unpredictability of the school day isn’t always an educator’s favourite part of this profession. Tough things happen and we’re the first responders. Some unpredictability this year has been a real treat, however. The success of PBL, while not unpredictable, was a surprise I didn’t know was coming with that call from a teacher. It’s a surprise that I look forward to our teachers and students, and me, experiencing more and more at KCS.

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