Six Simple Ways to Keep the “Reason for the Season” Spirit Alive at Home

Christmas is supposed to be about “giving.” But in a world full of Black Fridays and consumerism, it often ends up being a season about “getting.”

That’s one of the many reasons why the KCS Parent Network believes so strongly in our annual Reason for the Season campaign. Yes, we want to help out local families by sharing our good fortune with those in need. We also want to teach our kids that empathy, compassion and citizenship are far more important than a new phone or more Lego.

With that in mind, here are six simple things you can do as a family to help keep the Reason for the Season alive at home.

#1. Have a Family Meeting
Giving back should not be just another item on a parent’s to-do list. If you really want the experience to mean something to your child, you must involve them in the conversation. Sit down and talk about how your family wants to help. Finding out what matters in life to you and your kids is the first step to motivating and inspiring the whole family to make a difference.

#2.  Walk (or Drive) Around the Neighbourhood
Our local community is full of shelters, food banks, missions and churches, all of which are home to dozens of programs that help our neighbours each and every day. Take a short road trip and visit a few local charities to see which ones align with your family’s interests and giving goals. If nothing else, showing your child the work that is going on in their own backyard will open their eyes and hearts.

#3. Grab a Second Cart at the Grocery Store
The next time you go grocery shopping, give your kid their own cart and have them choose a selection of healthy and non-perishable food items to donate to a local food bank. Many stores have drop-off bins, but taking the time to deliver your donation in person will make the experience that much more meaningful for your child.

#4. Clean Up the Clutter
Our homes are filled with things we don’t need. You know those hotel soaps and shampoos you brought home and never opened? Put your kids to work by having them pack them up and bring them to Haven on the Queensway. Or get them to gather up those old Eric Carle and Magic Tree House books they never read anymore and take them to the George Hull Centre. You get a cleaner house while they get an exercise in empathy. Win-win!

#5. Pay It Forward
The next time your kids go to the movies, the zoo or the aquarium, have a talk about all those other kids who never get experiences like that. Then buy an extra pass or two and drop them off at a local shelter or charity. If you can encourage your child to pay for the passes themselves out of their own piggy bank fund, so much the better!

#6. Whatever You Do, Do It Together
Making the world a better place isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also a great way to bond as a family. Spending time together serving meals at the Scott Mission. Debating whether to give a goat or a chicken to a family in a developing nation. Playing a board game with seniors at a local retirement home. These are memories that are both deeply meaningful and long-lasting. So take a break from the stress of shopping and help your family re-discover the real Reason for the Season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

– The Parent Network Reason for the Season Team

Visible Learning at KCS

How can we go one step further? And one step further again?

Educating almost 400 students is a job that’s never done. It starts, of course, with the people involved – the students, their parents, our faculty and staff – and an ongoing awareness of their needs. Then the Ministry curriculum is added to provide provincial context and expectations. Our Four Doors to Learning in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship then take us well beyond what the Ministry expects. As the foundation and guiding framework of our entire effort, our Habits of Mind, Body and Action ensure we develop our students to be lifelong learners, equipped to embrace any challenges they face. And so on.

Recent visitors to KCS have seen our most current effort to go one step further in promoting learning at KCS. Our “Visible Learning” exhibit showcases the wide array of learning underway at KCS from PK to grade 8. It includes both finished products and artifacts in process (where the important learning happens). It includes evidence of our Four Doors and all of our Habits. Uniquely, it also includes the Learning Stories of our students and faculty – stories of remarkable moments, challenges overcome, most thought-provoking experiences, and personal expressions of pride. These are the kinds of stories that are normally kept private. Now shared, our whole community is learning more than ever from the experiences of others in our midst.

What is some of the “further learning” stemming from this exhibit?

  1. KCS students learn lots of cool things in cool ways. For young students, there’s much to look forward to. For older students, there is hard-won pride in how far they’ve come.
  2. KCS students also do the hard work of learning the fundamentals (see how proud many are of their efforts and growth!).
  3. Challenges are normal. If you’re feeling alone in yours, know that others have faced and overcome them, just like you will.
  4. Process matters. The work that is imperfect, that needs revision, that has feedback on it, is worthy of display. Embrace the work and imperfection inherent in process.
  5. Teachers are proud of their students when they persist. There is no shame in struggle.
  6. Sharing is inspiring. By sharing your private learning story, and by having your work on display, you are inspiring others to think about it, find affirmation or challenge in it, and consider possibly following your lead. Maybe more students will choose to 3D print for a project? Maybe they’ll give book-writing a try with YAKCS? Maybe song composition for the KCS Sound Library? There are so many possibilities.

Thank you to all the students and faculty for helping make learning more visible at KCS. Your efforts are already inspiring. This exhibit takes that inspiration one step further.

The “Visible Learning at KCS” exhibit continues until Friday, November 24.

The Abilities They Have

“Instead of teaching children to get ‘there,’ why not let them be here? Where is ‘there’ anyway? The world needs more ‘here’ than ‘there’.” – Vince Gowmon

One grade 5 student stopped me in the hall early in the year, explaining she had some things to share. “I’ll walk you to your office,” she began. She explained she wanted to start an environment club for students in grades 1 to 4 (in the works). Oh, and she’s working on two novel series (yes, you read that right.)

You get what you give. What is evident is that we get to learn more about what students can do when we give them space to show us. Here are five inspiring ways we’re learning this lovely lesson at KCS:

  1. Projects have started in many grades and students are coming up with their research questions. Our grade 2 students, after following the Question Formulation Technique, came up with questions that no “grade two” resource can answer. The teachers are now planning to connect with a zoologist so the students’ questions can get the answers they deserve.
  2. Other grades have started their own entirely independent projects. Grade 5 students, for example, have dedicated time to pursue an area of learning chosen by them, with the sole expectation that they share it with their class. One girl recently shared a presentation on a special family celebration, Diwali, with her classmates. Another student is learning how to code. Yet another is organising a food drive.
  3. A boy approached my colleague to say he wanted to lead a project to create a school flag. He has put together his team and already received permission to pursue this from the Head of School (the minute he learned he needed approval, off he went, right to Mr. Logan).
  4. Our grade 7 and 8 students recently learned of their opportunity, through KCS By Design, to join faculty and administrators in making KCS “outstanding,” working side-by-side and following a design thinking process to make a wise and notable difference. There’s no election, no special status and no reward for this work, other than the intrinsic reward of making something better. Twenty-two students opted to join us at our kick-off design thinking workshop next month.
  5. A group of over 30 students from grades 3 to 8 attended our recent Young Authors of KCS (YAKCS) workshop with award-winning author Shane Peacock. This is a unique opportunity for students who so love to write that they’re willing to persist in writing a book. There is no time limit and successful young authors have typically (and understandably) required more than one year. Those who persist to complete a manuscript will have a one-to-one feedback session with Mr. Peacock, where he’ll give them revision tips “author to author.” Students who persist beyond that to create a final product will have it officially published by KCS. To date, KCS students have seven published books sitting in the National Library and Archives Canada.

I was interviewed last week by a grade 3 student for an upcoming Learning Exhibit. Among his questions, he asked what students do that make me proud. How could I explain? They make me proud with every effort they make to do their best, make that best better, share what they know, take risks, and make a difference. You’d be overwhelmed with pride too if you could see the abilities they have. Go ahead, give them space to show you.

The Hero That Could

Every September, KCS students raise money for cancer research by participating in The Terry Fox Run. As I was previewing a Terry Fox video to show my SK students, goosebumps ran down my arm as I had a flashback from the past. I pictured myself sitting at my desk in school, watching Terry Fox arrive in Toronto on television. I knew that it was a big deal because the school’s TV was only brought into the class when something very important was happening!

I would have never thought back then that decades later Terry Fox’s legacy would live on. But here I am talking to my students about Terry’s bravery, kindness and determination. The same conversation I started with my own teacher, Mrs. Shaeffer, thirty-seven years ago.

Terry’s Marathon of Hope sparked a conversation and raised awareness for a nation about a devastating disease. More than $700 million has been raised in Terry’s name for cancer research since that day he ran into Nathan Phillips Square in 1980. Today, KCS has raised over $250,000 since we started participating in the run 13 years ago. My son aspires to be a teacher one day. It is my hope that he can have the same conversation with his students about Terry Fox, but in his story, he can say that they have found a cure for cancer. All because of the hero that could.

Revisiting: How Schools Learn

Four years ago, I had the pleasure of joining a CAIS accreditation committee at a school in Bermuda. Fuelled by my conviction that the exercise in earning CAIS accreditation was a story worth telling, I wrote the following blog from my hotel room overlooking Hamilton Harbour. This coming Sunday to Wednesday, I’m heading out west to join the committee for another school visit. CAIS and the accreditation process help make KCS and other CAIS schools outstanding places to teach and learn. Here’s how:

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Our website, newsletters and social media channels explain in detail how our students learn. A nod to how our teachers are learning was given in the recent blog ‘Embrace Learning’. There’s one more pocket of learning worth knowing about. A critical part of the value offered by independent schools, it’s a process that would bring untold value to all if this practice could only spread.

I’m rarely away from school. This week, however, I’ve joined a Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Visiting Committee, where six peers from across Canada and I will play a part in one school’s learning. It’s a process required for CAIS accreditation and represents the high bar in demonstrating school-wide commitment to excellence in education. All told, it’s a process that takes about two-and-a-half years and repeats itself every seven.

CAIS has identified 12 Standards which together cover every area of functioning within a school: vision, mission and strategy; learning environment; academics; facility; finance; health and safety; and commitment to school improvement, to name just some of the Standards. Within each Standard, undeniable effective practices are listed. Under effective practices are questions designed to prompt and provoke schools into being accountable for their efforts.

One year prior to the visit such as I’m on, schools mobilise their whole community to collect evidence on their effective practices. The preparation of the Internal Evaluation Report includes feedback from all staff and faculty, parents, students, board members and administration. The document is rarely less than 200 pages and can be hundreds more. Designed to be an exercise in thorough and honest reflection, the report includes not only an account of strengths but also self-identified challenges and next steps. By design, this exercise is about school-wide learning. This process identifies schools which demonstrate an exceptional commitment to learning and makes note of their achieved excellence.

During our official visit, the committee will spend four days meeting with teachers, administrators, parents, board members and students, verifying what’s in the school’s Internal Evaluation Report and asking about any unreported areas of note. When we leave, we’ll be writing up our observations, and include commendations, suggestions and recommendations. Our report then goes to the school, where they will have 18 months in which to respond to the recommendations. It also goes to CAIS for a decision on accreditation.

Two-and-a-half years of every seven spent answering to the profession’s highest standards fuels an undeniable engine for learning. It sets in motion work and learning that fills the interim four-and-a-half years. And by mobilizing the whole community, and bringing in professionals from outside the school, all involved learn and become better able to serve the students in their midst.

Parents with children in CAIS schools can be confident that they have invested in a school which strives for excellence. Wishing all children could be so lucky, parents with children in non-CAIS schools are encouraged to ask the question, “How do their schools learn?” It’s the kind of provocative question that our entire profession should be accountable for answering.

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

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Mr. Logan’s Four Tips for Surviving Back to School

For me, September means three things – the start of the school year, getting into a suit and tie again, and the Leafs training camp.

While I’m not sure what advice I could offer to my long-suffering Leafs (except to sign Sidney Crosby), I do have a few tips for families struggling to make it through what can be a bumpy month back at school.

Tip #1 – Go to Bed!  

I know it can be hard to break the staying-up-late habit that many kids get into over the summer, but nothing sets you up for success at school like a good night’s sleep. Get your bedtime routine started nice and early. If you have a younger child, wind them down with a quiet storybook. And – most importantly – put away all those sleep-disrupting screens at least an hour before bedtime.

Sleep

Tip # 2 – Avoid the Lunch Crunch

Mornings are busy enough as it is. You don’t want to be making sandwiches before you’ve had your first cup of coffee. Make your life easier by packing lunch the night before. Or, if you really feel like promoting independence, have your child make it themselves! It will be a little messy the first few times, but it will save you hundreds of hours in the long run and teach your child some essential life skills.  Or, if it works for your family, consider trying our new hot lunch program, Kidssentials.

DSC_0271

Tip # 3 – Dress for Success

Get your child in the habit of laying out tomorrow’s clothes before going to bed. This prevents those last-minute scrambles for clean shirts or missing socks. It also helps kids take more ownership over their belongings and routines – a practice that will help them find success both at home and at school.  I even try to figure out what tie I will wear with what shirt and suit the night before!

Dress for Success

Tip # 4 – Be Kind to Yourself

This is an exceptionally busy time of year for parents, which means mistakes will be made and stress levels will rise. Don’t beat yourself up over missed homework or uniform mishaps. Unwind with some unstructured downtime as a family. Take a breath. Get some takeout for dinner. Relax. Because take it from me – before you know it you’ll be dropping them off at university, as I did with my youngest last month. So enjoy the ride.

Be Kind

Have a great year!

Mr. Logan

A Request

This past Saturday, I went to see the 15-year-old son of a friend play in a competitive soccer game in Oakville. The teams were first and second in the league, and the result would go a long way in determining the eventual league champion. Sadly, the circumstances helped fuel the spectators on the sidelines; I’ve seen it far too many times before. It wasn’t newsworthy, just disappointing and far too common.  I’m not sure what it is about minor league sports (or even parking lots) that can bring out some of the most unwelcome behaviour amongst adults.

Standing on a soccer field was part of my life for a dozen years as my son played soccer at a variety of different levels:  House League, competitive and for the high school he attended.  There were some real highs and lows throughout those years: making teams, getting cut from teams; seeing boys injured; going to tournaments; team get-togethers; winning League/Ontario Cup/National championships, etc.  I even helped manage the team for a couple of years until my knowledge of the beautiful game was not enough to enable the boys to improve their skills. Coaching was fun, but it’s sometimes harder to coach fourteen boys than it is to run an elementary school of almost 400 students (your greatest supporters and critics are standing only metres away watching your every move). In fact, it was liberating to find some outstanding people to coach my son Brandon not only about soccer, but about life.  By the time he turned 10, I moved to the role of full-time taxi driver and sideline supporter.

I enjoyed being a soccer parent. Our car rides to and from games, practices and tournaments, were a part of my life for over a decade.  When it ended last October, partially because Brandon was on hiatus from an injury, and partly because he had his own driver’s licence when he returned, I had mixed emotions.  This summer as I drove by kids playing soccer, I often found myself reminiscing about those times with him.  Those years seem to have gone by in a flash. But I quickly remembered how much you can do when you are not spending three to four hours a night five to six days a week driving to and from soccer fields across the province.

On Saturday, I was reminded what I didn’t like about being a soccer Dad:  the behaviour that you witness from some of the “fans” at the game. Shocking, juvenile, absurd or ridiculous are words that immediately jump to mind. The cheering and supportive comments were too often interspersed with continual criticism of the referees and comments about the players on the other team, who are still 15-year-old boys.  Right in front of me during the second half of the game, two moms got into it.  They called each other names, threatened each other and accused each other of things like sticking out their tongues at each other.  I thought, “Things still haven’t changed.”  The players, who were nearby, were smirking and smiling at such ludicrous behaviour by the adults even though they were in the midst of a hard-fought, competitive game.

Late this summer, my son learned that he had made the McMaster Men’s soccer team. Although he has yet to dress for a game, he trains with the team and is awaiting the opportunity to show his coaches his skills during a game situation. For now, during home games, he is in the press box with some other teammates. I’ve been attending the Mac home games since before the Labour Day weekend. While I like to think I’m social, I’m not too keen to listen to the spectators sitting near me while I watch the game, so I’ve started to watch the game while listening to various podcasts or music. Listening to Metallica with good headphones tends to drown out the unwanted noise.

On Sunday night, my wife and I were in Hamilton for a comedy show and we took Brandon out to dinner. I was recounting for him what happened on the sideline on Saturday in Oakville. After I finished, he shook his head and said, “It’s the same at university, Dad. You don’t hear it because of your headphones. My teammates and I watch the game and laugh at the commentary. It really hasn’t changed since I was 7 years old.”

Since arriving at KCS 18 years ago, I’ve watched and coached a lot of sports. Because games and meets are most often held during the school day, not all of our parents are able to attend. But those that are able to make it to a basketball game, swim meet or soccer tournament, have demonstrated year after year respect for all the athletes who are competing, the coaches who are doing their best on the sidelines and also to the referees (who are often young students). Our coaches appreciate that, as do our athletes. The other schools that we visit take notice and comment positively to our coaches about the behaviour of our fans. Let’s work together to maintain this record as a school. Then maybe we can figure out how to translate this to the minor sports fields, gyms, and arenas throughout the province. Go Cougars!

A Great Year to Come, By Design

I make no secret of my enthusiasm for what happens at KCS, and what’s happening in the profession. I have an exciting vantage point, in the midst of determined teachers and students as they embrace learning, within a profession that is evolving in notable inspiring ways. The evolution I witness daily isn’t always smooth – “messy” is the word often used in professional dialogue. Like the work of a sculptor, through (responsible) mess, beautiful things emerge.

Last week, all KCS faculty were introduced to design thinking. Blog readers may recall that we introduced design thinking two years ago in the form of a unique model of student-staff collaborative leadership, called KCS By Design. This initial experience with design thinking made clear that it was worth adopting school-wide.

While design thinking has origins in the late 1960s, it has gained increasing attention since the turn of the century for contributing to remarkable innovation, both in the corporate world and in addressing some of the world’s most challenging social issues. One remarkable article published by the Harvard Business Review shares how design thinking helped create a middle class in Peru. Impressive indeed! In schools, design thinking not only equips educators with a problem-solving tool, it equally develops in students mature critical and creative thinking skills, and so much more.

Design thinking insists on certain mindsets. Based on the work of the international driver of design thinking, IDEO, here are the mindsets shared with faculty last week:

Creative confidence
Make it (Bias for Action)
Learn from Failing
Empathy
Embrace Ambiguity
Optimism (love the problem!)
Iterate, iterate, iterate (small actions, big change)

Fuelled with those mindsets, design thinking requires a disciplined multi-step process. Also based on the work of IDEO, here is the process we’re following:

What is the design challenge?

  • What problems are you aware of that need fixing?
  • What challenges are you aware of that are worth addressing?
  • What opportunities have occurred to you that are worth pursuing?

What do you need to know?

  • Who is affected?
  • What are their perspectives?
  • What research can inform you?
  • What can you learn from others’ experiences?

What ideas address your design challenge?

  • What can you think of?
  • Which are win-win for all?
  • Get feedback from a larger group

Act

  • Pilot at a small scale
  • Reflect and iterate
  • Expand to address the challenge

Annette Diefenthaler’s TEDX talk ‘Teachers as Designers’ was part of last week’s introduction. This was followed by a creative brainstorming exercise that was rooted in KCS survey results and research. The design challenge for all was to find new ways to do better in various areas.

Most gratifying were the comments from faculty that “this is how we’ve done things for years – now we have a name for it.” What was also gratifying was to see the buzz among faculty. Optimistic bias for action was fuelled.

The world has complex problems. So does education. As all schools, so does KCS. Equipping all faculty with the mindsets and tools of design thinking is one big reason for my excitement as we begin this new school year. Mindfully embracing challenges is how we’ve gotten better year after year. And it’s why we can confidently look forward to a great year to come.

Symbolic Monarch Migration

Symbolic Monarch Butterflies Have Arrived From Mexico

My first sighting of the season for a monarch butterfly happened just last week as it was fluttering through our outdoor classroom. Only the butterflies born in August make it to Mexico to winter in the cool oyamel forests. It takes several generations by the time we see the great grandchildren of those August butterflies return to Canada.

Every October, my Science is Fun club for grades 1-3, become involved with an intriguing educational website called Journey North. Our young club members take up the challenge to become ambassadors for the monarch butterfly, which is now a threatened species. This project is made possible through a program called Symbolic Monarch Migration. This year, 17 students from Term 1 worked together to make a beautiful, folder-size butterfly as well as individual life-size butterflies. A package was mailed in October containing the class butterfly, 17 little butterflies, a photo of our school and outdoor classroom, and a loot bag containing mostly stickers for a Mexican student showing appreciation for taking care of our paper butterflies over the winter. The timing of the mailing was crucial as it needed to coincide with the real migration of monarchs to Mexico.

Butterfly

Throughout the year, progress reports from Journey North were available about the location of migrating monarchs heading south in the enabling winds, how they fared in the oyamel forests, and then tracking of the new generations as they headed northward again in the spring. We discovered that a Mexican school near the sanctuary called Lazaro Cardenas Elementary received our class butterfly to take care of it for the winter. There were several posted pictures of the Mexican students including one in particular of a girl proudly holding our beautiful KCS butterfly. She was delighted to have received a Canadian butterfly to care for over the winter months.

Butterfly Mexico

In April, we received further notice that the migration northward had begun, both real and symbolic. All the paper butterflies that were sent to Mexico were leaving the surrounding schools and would find a new destination. Our beautiful club butterfly was reported to have migrated to a school in Chattanooga, Tennessee and in late May, we received a class butterfly from a Grade four class from Candler Elementary, North Carolina, along with a letter in Spanish from a Mexican student.

Butterfly 1

The children of Mexico promise to take care of the oyamel forests and hope that we continue to provide the nectar from flowers and milkweed plants that the monarchs need for survival. It is indeed an international effort to protect the monarchs, and our students are very proud to be “citizen scientists” as they engage in our KCS Habits to take an active role in taking care of our environment.

Each of our Science Club students received a life-size, decorated butterfly that also “migrated” from Mexico. These originated from a variety of places: Mexico, Germany, Hawaii and assorted States. A couple of our KCS individual butterflies have been reported to the website having landed in Rhode Island and North Carolina. We are hopeful that more butterflies will be reported.

The Symbolic Monarch Migration is a very rewarding project for both myself and the students in so many ways. I get just as excited as they do in the spring, if not more, when those butterflies make their way northward again. It is on my personal bucket list to try tagging monarchs in August. Meanwhile, the Science Club asks that you let the milkweed thrive in your gardens or plant some if you don’t have any. We are grateful to know that SKs will be supporting the efforts by creating a pollinator-themed planter in our new KCS Garden Project with zinnias, wildflowers and a butterfly bush; a wonderful collaboration to help our struggling, delicate monarchs.

Sharon Freeman RECE, SK teacher

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

“Mother Earth will make you strong, if you give her love and care.” – John Denver

You may have noticed some striking wooden planters freshly built in the front yard of the school; it seems that spring has finally sprung and construction for the brand new KCS Teaching Gardens is well underway.  Over the past several months, Ms. Tenebaum has graciously led an initiative with Mrs. Mosun and Ms. Russo to bring an exciting opportunity for outdoor education to our blossoming school community.  Special thanks to our Annual Giving supporters and Plant World for their generous contributions.

KCS has enlisted the help of a master gardener, Alexis Yanaky, to design the gardens in tandem with the Early Learning Program, the Primary Division, and some of the Junior/Intermediate learning buddies.  They have carefully curated the soils, and each section of the garden is planned around a theme:  the PK/JK Harvest Garden, the SK Butterfly/Pollinator Garden, the Grade 1 Love Garden, the Grade 2 Diversity Garden, and the Grade 3 Indigenous Garden. All of the gardens are sure to yield plenty of food, flowers, and fun!

Following the continuing successes of our Outdoor Classroom, it is no doubt that these special gardens will be a popular space for authentic outside learning experiences.  While our students tend to the soils together, they will naturally learn about healthy living & eating, environmental sustainability, community growth, and so much more.

A grade one student said, “We’re going to plant lots of different flowers and we’re going to learn about unity and how to share stuff and be thankful.”

Our KCS Teaching Gardens will produce more than fresh roses, kale, and gourds- we will cultivate rich opportunities for learning.  It is already clear that the harvest will be bountiful!