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.

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.

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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.

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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!

Resolving to be better global citizens

Imagine a generation of young people working to create a better world. This is the invitation from High Resolves, a program that originated in Australia for grade 7-12 students about how to act as global citizens. This year, KCS became the first school outside of Australia to participate in this program! We were anticipating an affirmation of what we are doing at KCS in the area of active citizenship. We were not disappointed!

With funding from the KCS Pickard/Bulger Family Citizenship Fund, all grade 7 students participated in three workshops: Collective Identity, Independent Thinking, and Social Justice. In each of the sessions, our wonderful instructor and Canadian Program Director, Chantelle Kohn, captured our attention and expertly delivered the vital messages in a respectful, open-minded fashion. Students were initially curious, and even apprehensive about these new workshops, but very quickly they became engaged in these timely, interactive activities. Students were able to move around and engage in collaborative group challenges. This made the 2 hours workshops fly by! They learned about: attributes of global citizens, how to think critically about messages in the media, and how to work towards social justice. At the end of each session, students were encouraged to reflect on their learning and write “I Resolve” statements. These statements demonstrate how students plan to incorporate their learning into daily life as global citizens.

In addition, we welcomed over 25 teachers, administrators, parents, board members and social justice champions from across the GTA to KCS so that they could learn more about High Resolves. We shared our positive experiences with colleagues from other schools so that they too may participate in this program. It was an excellent time for all of the adults to discuss: social justice, student leadership, and how to inspire students to make a difference. Here are some of their insights from the students via an anonymous survey conducted after one of the sessions:

  • “I think that the workshop was an amazing learning opportunity for everyone in grade 7. I learned a ton and will keep putting that learning forward to help the earth and the people that live there. I have a feeling that I can make a change in the world.”
  • “The workshop was fun. The whole concept of the learning process really engaged me in the activities. The presentation was great and overall I learned a lot. Everything was also explained very thoroughly in a way that we could easily understand.”
  • “It was stimulating, and made you think. I enjoyed it!”
  • “The workshop was a life-changing and opinion-switching experience. The instructor/presenter was amazing and taught me and many of my peers about the world and how we can make it better.”

We took a responsible risk when we invited High Resolves to KCS, but we’re thrilled that we did! We are already looking forward to continuing our learning next year in grade 7 and expanding the program to grade 8! Thank you to Chantelle for the wonderful learning experiences and thank you to the Pickard/Bulger family for their continued support of citizenship education at KCS.

Shelley Gaudet
Citizenship Education Coordinator

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?

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.

Pourquoi apprendre le français? / Why learn French?

« Why learn French? » If your child asked you this question tonight over dinner, what would your answer be? And how might your own experiences with learning the language influence that response?

The truth is there are many reasons to learn French, as our Grade 7 students recently discovered during a brainstorming session with graphic recorder, Disa Kauk. Their individual ideas contributed to the creation of two stunning visual reminders of ‘Pourquoi apprendre le français?’ and I encourage you to have a closer look at them the next time you are in the school.

In order for learning to endure in any subject area, we must see the value in what we are learning and understand our own reasons for learning it. This is especially important in the French as a Second Language classroom as most students only have a chance to practice their skills here at school. Students need to realize that French exists outside the walls of the classroom as well. With a curriculum now focused on authentic communication and real-life situations, this is truer than ever and families can play a vital role. Simply having a conversation with your child about the importance of learning French is a great starting point as it shows your child that French is valued outside of school. But you don’t have to stop there.

Parents often ask how else they can support their child’s French learning at home. Consider family movie nights in French by picking a DVD of a movie already familiar to your child in English and watching it together in French. Instead of watching the Leafs game in English, choose a station with French commentary. Point out French words on packages, in magazines, in stores and during your travels when you come across it. Visit a museum or gallery and take a tour in French. Listen to a French radio station. Take out French library books. You may even consider joining an organization like Canadian Parents for French which furthers bilingualism by promoting and creating opportunities for youth to learn and use French. Detailed information on exchange programmes, summer camps and many other unique language-learning opportunities is available on www.frenchstreet.ca. The possibilities are endless!

As a French teacher, I have seen a real difference in the classroom when students buy into their learning by taking opportunities outside of school to enjoy learning French. When they have more chances to practice their skills in the real world, they are more inclined to transfer that enthusiasm to the classroom and beyond.

Pourquoi apprendre le français? It’s never too early – or too late! – to start this conversation. When will you have yours?

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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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The Numbers Have It

mathAs classrooms across Ontario echo with the sounds of excited students, the hot topic making waves in Ontario has been math scores. The news for many, unfortunately, has not been as sunny as our summer weather.

At Kingsway College School, our approach to math (and everything else) is proactive, based on proven practice, tailored to our students, and built through teamwork.  For example, in our first week of school, I observed a few of our grade 3 and 4 students completing a math placement activity with one of our specialist teachers, Mr. Graham Marshall.  Working in small groups, the students tackled a range of challenging questions.  Once evaluated, these assessment results will be used by both Mr. Marshall and his Primary and Junior colleagues to support differentiated instruction and a tailored curricular course for these students.

Math doesn’t come easily to some. And it comes very easily to others. A school’s job is to make sure all these students learn. KCS continuously strives to uncover the most effective strategies to support and if need be, accelerate students as they all navigate the ins and outs of the math curriculum.  Standardized test results make clear that we’re doing our job. Though fall will soon be here, we’re delighted that the KCS math story is the sunny one that all students deserve.

The Call to Be a Defining Force

Goodness, these are unusual times. Anyone following world news, regardless of political leanings, knows that remarkable things are happening. For years now, it’s been said that the future will be increasingly unpredictable; that global interdependence will be increasingly entrenched and often uncomfortable; and that the challenges we’ll all have to face will be increasingly complex. It’s looking like the future is here.

That’s why we all, increasingly, need to step in.

Eight years ago, KCS made its intentions clear. Our vision and mission statement, adopted then, captured our aspirations:

To be a defining force in developing lifelong learners
By stewarding a learning environment that inspires us to reach our ultimate potential.

This statement is rooted in our longstanding determination to do our best for our students. It’s equally rooted in something else, something that many of our families may not have thought much about, and something worth pointing out.

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. All KCS staff share that dedication to the children and families we serve. Doing our best means we also need to help realize the potential in education as a whole. There is a tremendous effort that goes into the education of every child. And while there is much that is sound and good in the profession, there has always been significant room for growth. As the world becomes increasingly complex to navigate, the room for growth expands. KCS is not a school that simply strives to offer what other schools, even great schools, offer. We’re a school prepared to push the boundaries of the profession, in ways that are balanced, impactful, and progressive. KCS is a school prepared to wrestle with challenges, be patient when the time for change isn’t right, and to act when creative, valuable ideas are ready. We are willing and able to be a defining force in developing lifelong learners.

Over the past eight years (and more, to be honest), KCS faculty have introduced many new practices that, to our knowledge, were either unique or rare in the profession. The small-group instruction in our Super Skills and Workshop classes; our Wall of Service; our Habits of Mind, Body and Action; our Young Authors of KCS program; our multiple approaches to Student Leadership and service; Wake Up with the Arts; our use of design thinking for innovative learning and student-staff collaboration; and more came to be because our faculty wanted to go further. Pushed by pioneers in the field, remixing promising practice, and following the inspiration from others to create brand new solutions, we keep pressing forward.

Students have always deserved the best education. What’s best is changing and the need for growth is imperative. And it’s not about one school. Our vision statement “To be a defining force in developing lifelong learners” makes clear that it’s not about KCS being ‘the’ defining force. Frankly, such a limited vision would underserve students. Our wish is that all educators work together to make education the best it can be for now and for this increasingly unforeseeable future. We’ll keep doing our part. And we look forward to another year of learning and inspiration from all others who heed the call.