My Blue is Happy

My sister says that blue is sad, like a lonely song, but my blue is happy like my favourite jeans and a splash in the pool on a hot day.

This is the opening line in the book My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young. A lyrical ode to colours and the unique way we as individuals perceive them.

We have been working hard with the JKs this year to help them recognize the many different emotions they experience throughout the day. We want to teach them to recognize when they are feeling happy, sad, frustrated, worried, calm or silly. We want to teach them that it is okay to have these feelings, and give them the resources and strategies to help regulate them.

It was on a day like any other that we decided to read, My Blue is Happy. As I sat there reading, I didn’t know how much it would mean to the JKs sitting, listening so quietly on the carpet, or to be honest how much it would affect me.

We live in a world that is so rich with colour I think sometimes we forget to appreciate it. Eventually each colour seems to bleed into the next, and before you know it when you think of colour you think of them as society has inadvertently taught you to: “I’m green with envy”, “I feel blue”, “I’m so angry I see red!” and so on. When you really think about it, it is actually quite sad.

So, when the story was finished we asked our students to close their eyes and think of a colour and how it makes them feel. The next day we read the story again and afterwards put on quiet music, and put out white paper and watercolour paints. We asked them to explore with the colours, and to think about how they felt with each colour they used.

Afterwards one student told me “blue makes me feel like an ocean; calm and relaxed”. Another told me that green makes them feel brave. Each student saw these colours in a way completely unique to them.

My hope for my students is that they never stop appreciating the beauty that is around them, and that they never stop seeing these colours in the way that is meaningful to them.

It was later that day as I sat in the hall waiting for one of my students to wash their hands that I found myself staring out the window, watching the snow falling and thought:

My white is peaceful, like slowly falling snow and clouds floating across the sky.

I encourage you to close your eyes now and think of a colour. Do you have one? Good! Now tell me, how does it make you feel?

Grade 4 Students Enjoy Very Dramatic Literacy Workshops!

What happens when you combine classic literature with a touch of creativity, dramatic arts and technology?  Kingsway College School’s Grade 4 classes answered this question with an exciting activity that brought our reading program to life.  Building on the elements of literacy in action, learning by doing and taking responsible risks, the Grade 4 students participated in one of two fantastic workshops facilitated by The Directors Cut and the Stratford Student Player’s Festival.

The Directors Cut and The Wizard of Oz

The Directors Cut is a teacher-designed, full day workshop that engages students in collaborative, hands-on, digital/media literacy.  Technology-based, the key goal of this workshop is to promote 21st century communication skills in a fun and interactive way. Under the guidance of Ms. Dulmage and Ms. Holyck, the first group of Grade 4s researched, planned and created a graphic novel style presentation using scenes from The Wizard of Oz.

The students teamed up to define each character’s traits, then captured the plot’s twists and turns using a professional style storyboard. Their collaboration and problem solving also included organizing costumes and carefully plotting out camera angles using the drama style of tableaux.  The critical challenge that defined each group’s task was to communicate the mood of a particular scene using only still images and no dialogue.  Some excellent scenes were captured as the tableaus were exported using iMovie and then transformed into rich graphic presentations complete with transitions, sounds, voice overs and awesome special effects.  As the students shared their artistic creations, it was great to watch Dorothy, Toto and her three companions come to life travelling along the Yellow Brick Road.

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The Stratford Student Player’s Festival and Midsummer Night’s Dream

Meanwhile, a second group of students travelled to Stratford, Ontario to participate in the Stratford Student Player’s Festival Teaching Shakespeare. Based on an inspiring professional development summer workshop, Ms. Pollett-Boyle and Madame Barchuk looked forward to having the Grade 4 students learn about Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream via an interactive stage performance. In addition to reading the play together, the group investigated the life and times of William Shakespeare and discussed key literary devices, vocabulary and a student-friendly version of iambic pentameter.  The Grade 4s were very excited when professional actor Lara Jean Chorostecki (X Company, Hannibal) took time from her busy schedule to work with the eager KCS performers.

The Stratford workshop included stage combat choreography from West Side Story, followed by an analysis of characters, mood and themes from the Stratford classic Hamlet.  The most exciting part of the day was yet to come as the Grade 4s were called down to the theater to act out their scenes with a professional stage crew. Complete with one of the Grade 4s in the “booth” directing cues for lighting and sound, the KCS players took a responsible risk and performed their dramatic scenes in front of a live audience.  “I was nervous, yet very excited at the same time” commented one Grade 4 student as the entire KCS crew were congratulated for their stage presence, clarity and skillful interpretation of each scene.  The Stratford facilitators were doubly impressed when they discovered that the group from KCS was one of the youngest at the Festival.

As a fitting conclusion to the workshop, the students followed up by sharing their experiences with their classmates.  More importantly, when it was announced that funding for the Student Festival was expiring, the students rallied to the cause by writing persuasive letters to Stratford’s Educational Committee urging them to continue with the program!  After such a fun and enriching experience, the Grade 4 team looks forward to continuing with this wonderful celebration of literature and drama in action.

Everything a School Should Be – Part 2

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. Doing one’s best includes a vast array of efforts, a sample of which were shared in Part 1 of this post.

Doing one’s best also means a determined, responsible commitment to constant improvement, wherever merited and as manageable.

At KCS, we’re constantly looking at what we do, identifying where we wish to grow, and taking measured steps forward from year-to-year. Many steps are identified by individual teachers, or grade partners, or divisions of teachers. Some steps are school-wide. Some are new initiatives; while others are ongoing efforts that began in previous years and continue to be an area of focus.

Here is some of what we’re focusing on this year:

  1. Living the Mission – Always our #1 focus, our mission is to be the defining force in developing lifelong learners. Currently, this effort includes Project-Based Learning; direct efforts to teach questioning skills; the growth of KCS as a Makerspace, with our new Innovation Lab and increased “making” throughout the school; the use of design thinking for deeper thinking, learning and problem-solving; and the launch of a new program called “High Resolves” in our senior grades as part of our global education efforts.
  2. Assessment – This is a multi-year area of focus. We launched a new report card last year and some adjustments will be made this year. We also launched our new secure electronic portfolio, Sesame, and we continue our roll-out to include all students from PK to grade 3. A blog will soon follow to explain why this is an exciting addition to KCS!
  3. Movement Project – This is also an ongoing area of focus under the leadership of our Director of Student Life, Tamara Drummond. Standing desks, chairs that allow for movement, fidget toys, and new practices that invite more frequent movement in the school day are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the school.
  4. Reading Evolution – A number of years ago we introduced a reading program that helped many of our students better consolidate the fundamentals of reading. The cumulative effect of this program is now a very noticeable increase in the reading skills of all of our students. Driven by internal data, reading instruction is evolving to meet the growing readiness for greater challenge.
  5. ELP and Reggio-inspired programming – Following widespread professional development, visits to other schools, and engagement of a consultant, the PK, JK and SK faculty have enthusiastically embraced Reggio-inspired programming as a strong complement to the Ministry of Education curriculum. While direct instruction on core skills will continue, students will also be given more time to practise being deep thinkers and learners through self-directed inquiry.
  6. Professional Development – PD has always been a regular feature of employment at KCS. All teachers have a generous budget for PD and they pursue various opportunities of relevance to their role. This year we launched a new means of sharing PD that allows all staff to see what others have done, and get a glimpse into what they learned. This is an efficient and effective new way to share professional learning and encourage greater awareness of the various PD offerings available to all.
  7. Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS preparation) – This merits a blog of its own, and one will follow later in the year. CAIS oversees a comprehensive accreditation process for independent schools that aspire to excellence. KCS is CAIS-accredited, and all staff will be working this year on an internal review in preparation for our upcoming accreditation review in November of 2017.

At KCS we’re constantly learning so that we can keep improving in all ways that matter, each and every year. Creative thinking is inspired when multiple challenges synergize into innovative solutions. Progressing thoughtfully and responsibly, changes aren’t always immediate. They’re discussed, and if considered worthy they’re piloted. If successful, they spread. When imperfect, they’re tweaked. And they’re not limited by the notion that we can only focus on a few areas. Collectively, there are positive changes happening throughout the school, based on what teachers feel needs improvement, and what they can manage well. Being everything a school should be includes constantly trying to do better. Doing our best means we won’t accept anything less.

Everything a School Should Be (Part 1)

Let’s take a moment and think about everything a great school should be doing for students. There’s the curriculum – collectively many hundreds of pages of content and skills, wrapped up in subjects, that schools need to make sure all students learn. Then there’s tailoring the curriculum, because ensuring all students learn requires adjustments for each and every one. On top of that there’s enrichment programming, character education, learning skills, collaboration skills, critical and creative thinking, leadership and citizenship, appreciation of nature and the arts, and so much more. Schools need to engage minds, inspire physical health and activity, develop resilience, and nurture the artistic spirit. Direct instruction matters. Project-based learning matters. Clubs, teams, field trips, inspiring speakers, cross-grade integration activities, and spirit-raising events matter. Throughout the delivery of all of the above, a school needs to help students with the inevitable bumps – social, emotional, mental, academic, physical – that happen and directly interfere with everything else if not well addressed. And all of this, and more, needs to happen in an aligned, whole-system manner so it’s optimal both in how it’s experienced and in the difference it makes. Without a doubt, a great school must do many things exceptionally well.

Yet to follow the dialogue, one might think it’s otherwise.

We hear boasts of schools that are outstanding on singular measures, but left wondering how these feats are achieved without sacrifice in other areas of the school. We read that schools should focus improvement efforts on only a small number of areas at once, as if all other important things can wait, for years. We learn of exciting new programs that have great appeal, but represent just a tiny fraction of what’s needed for deep, longstanding impact. This is fine reading, but none are the story that students most need. None are the story we should want for our children.

At KCS, we’re transparent in our unrelenting commitment to being everything a school should be. Our Four Doors to Learning program in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship reflects years’ worth of creative, collaborative effort so that our story is the full story students need. Our faculty are constantly adding new professional learning so that this effort reflects the wisest judgment we can muster. And we’re constantly striving to improve in as many ways we can, and in all ways that matter.

KCS is committed to being everything a school should be. If there’s anything singular about where we strive to be outstanding, that’s it. We know that other schools strive for this as well, but it’s a story we don’t hear often enough. It makes for a long story, with many lengthy chapters. In a busy world and crowded social media space, it’s a story that takes time to tell and time to hear.

That’s okay. Children love long stories. So should we.

Part 2 of this post, to be published shortly, will share the story of how KCS is constantly striving to improve in its effort to be everything a school should be.

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Shrek Jr. By Numbers

  • 3 unforgettable shows
  • 36 cast members
  • 73 members in the grade 1-3 choir
  • 27 members in chorus
  • 8 members in the dance troupe
  • 28 members in Tech Crew
  • 1 Student Costume Intern
  • 4 directors
  • 60 staff and parent volunteers

plus…

  • Professional musicians and theatre crew
  • Donations and additional contributions by many others
  • Collectively thousands of hours by over 200 people

The quality of the KCS 2016 musical, Shrek Jr. was undeniable. The acting, singing, dancing, stage, costumes and music were a feast for the ears and eyes. From where I sat supervising the choir Friday night, I had an extra special opportunity to watch the delight on faces in the audience.  I was also treated with the view of chorus members mouthing every word in the musical, they had memorised each part so thoroughly. The previous night I watched from the audience and it was my face among the delighted.

As if that wasn’t enough, the sheer number of people involved, who invested countless hours and their full array of talents, left me equally impressed. It’s not unusual to have special things happen at KCS. This year’s musical takes special to an astounding level.

The curtains are now drawn and the cast party is over. Many of us continue to hum the songs from Shrek Jr., and the inspiration among young students to follow the lead of older cast members will linger. Not much else remains, however, except for one heartfelt thank you from the audience to all who brought the story, song and experience of Shrek Jr. to KCS.

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.

Students Speak Through Music

Tracking Change Tracking ChangeIn the elective, Tracking Change, students are in the midst of composing a music track that connects to a social justice movement for change. Students have composed music tracks that connect to issues of education, equality, anti-bullying, and animal rights. The complexity of these issues is further highlighted by the multiple layers and texture of the compositions themselves.

Seeing these tracks on the computer screen and seeing the students working collaboratively and creatively is inspiring. The issues, while different, are linked. Students somehow find ways to connect to one another throughout the process. Using Apple’s GarageBand, it’s amazing to see and hear how students have managed to create a track that speaks to us through music.

A visit to Humber College Studios introduced students to the exciting world of sound engineering. It was interesting to learn that our work with loops, controlling dynamics, balance, and instrument recording were similar to what was being done in a professional studio.

Since our visit to Humber, students have begun editing their final tracks. Instrument levels are being adjusted, voices are being recorded, loops are being softened. The tracks are growing and changing just like the issues they represent.

Now in our eighth week, some students have decided to take their tracks another step further. In order to really drive home their messages, some are incorporating the music tracks into an iMovie project.

It is incredible to observe this creative process and to see how passionate the students are when it comes to creating a track for change.

Who knows where the next couple of weeks will lead us? Stay tuned!

Matina Mosun
Music teacher

You Never Know Where Things Go… When You Share What You Know

Stack of colorful books tied up with ribbonGreat things can start really small. When small, of course, they appear insignificant and usually go unnoticed. Small things start becoming great when they’re shared.

Here’s how this happened recently at KCS.

About a year ago, a student in grade 5 thought of a story. It could have stayed in her head, like the many stories people think up. Instead, whenever she found the spare time to do so, she started writing it out on her school computer. It turned out that the story was pretty lengthy, so she kept on writing. As it grew, her friends and teacher started to notice. It kept growing and soon I noticed.

When a student ends up writing a 76-page story, just because, it’s already clear that something great is going on. But the sharing didn’t stop there. Ms. Hoggarth, our librarian, and I started talking about what to do with a story like this. After much discussion (sharing what we knew), we came up with a new offering at KCS that has us both pretty excited. Young Authors of KCS (YAKCS) is a program designed to inspire, support and ultimately publish the work of any students in grades 4 to 8 who independently persist in writing a book. Participating students will receive expert guidance from a published author, with the exceptional opportunity to receive direct feedback from the author when manuscripts are written. Published books will be honoured with a KCS book launch, housed in our library, and copies given to the student. Books will also be given an ISBN and be registered in the National Library of Canada and the National Archives. Aspiring artists will also join this group if chosen to be illustrators.

When first announced at assembly, fifty students rushed to the library to pick up information on how to participate.

The story in the head of our original aspiring author, when unshared, was unnoticed. Because it was shared, and because it inspired subsequent sharing, her story is not only on its way to being published, but was also the catalyst for what may end up as countless more books and inspired future authors.

Share what you know. You never know where it’ll go.

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

Time for Awe and Appreciation (Tribute to Wonderland!)

Wonderland!Readers who saw this year’s musical Wonderland! know why it’s time.

Respond with awe and appreciation is one of the KCS Habits. Of course, the world has plenty of things that are awesome and worthy of our appreciation. Trouble is, most of us don’t stop and recognize them enough. Even at KCS, where wonderful things, big and small, happen quite regularly, it’s the other habits that tend to get the most air time.

Well, the musical put this habit front and centre. Awe is the absolute right word to describe this wonderful show. And appreciation to match is due.

The primary students sang with heart, confidence, and charm. It’s clear many of our youngest students are already destined for a future on stage. The dancers performed throughout with style, grace and polish. The chicken dance will be among the many unforgettable moments! The chorus and band immersed us in delightfully memorable songs. The performers amazed us with their evident talent and commitment to their roles. Their efforts have inspired performers-to-be. And then there’s the many people behind the scenes, from tech crew to the many teachers, parents and grandparents who invested hundreds of hours planning, directing, organizing, sketching, sewing, shopping, thinking creatively, problem solving and just generally making something huge happen.

It was awesome. Thank you.

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

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Thespians

KCS Students Perform at Studio TheatreAs many of you know, on a Friday back in November Ms. Biljetina and I took a group of eight Grade 8 KCS students to Stratford, Ontario to take part in the Student Players Festival: the fourth and final stage of Stratford’s incredible Teaching Shakespeare program. Our students performed a 10 minute scene from Romeo and Juliet on the legendary Studio Theatre stage in front of peers, parents and professional adjudicators from the Stratford Festival.

Since the students had also been studying S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, we decided to set our scene in the 1960s – the Capulets became Soc’s and the Montagues turned into Greasers. What happened on that stage was truly magical. Working with a professional stage crew, the kids learned about blocking, sets, timing, and all the other behind-the-scenes machinations that go into a professional stage production. But what they really learned went so far beyond that. Call it The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Thespians:

  1. Take responsible risks: Putting themselves out on the stage to be adjudicated was a huge risk – not only for the kids, but for us directors!
  2. Seek collaboration: The students not only had to work with each other and their teachers to plan the scene, a professional actor from Stratford also stepped in to offer advice and direction.
  3. Think creatively: Benvolio wearing hair gel and a leather jacket? The kids truly had to open their minds to combine these two works of literature.
  4. Find humour: A bumbling police officer introduced the two warring houses of Verona. Hilarious.
  5. Strive for accuracy: The students choreographed a stage combat scene that required precision and planning to ensure that it looked realistic and no one got hurt.
  6. Persist: Memorizing 10 minutes of Shakespearean dialogue. Need I say more?
  7. Adapt: Two minutes before we were about to perform, we discovered one of our props was missing. The students improvised and adapted like pros.

I could not have been more proud of our students, and the way they rose to the challenge. In the words of Bette Davis, “Without wonder and insight, acting is just a business. With it, it becomes creation.” That day on the stage of the Studio Theatre, those eight students learned lessons that were wonderful, insightful and deeply creative, and I was so privileged to have been able to share the experience with them.

Teresa Pollett-Boyle
Drama teacher, Arts Coordinator