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

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.

Three Habits for Aspiring Olympians

At KCS, we spend a lot of time talking about the Habits of Mind, Body and Action. So when Olympic bronze medalist Kylie Masse visited us, we were thrilled to discover that her advice for future Olympians lined up perfectly with three of our own Habits!

  1. “Never Give Up.”

We all face challenges. But you can’t let them stop you. That’s why we think one of the most important Habits for success in life is to learn to “Persist”. And Kylie clearly agrees. She spoke to us at length about the challenges she has faced, which ranged from losing international competitions to getting cut from teams. However, she always came back to the same mantra – “Never give up.” It was that drive and persistence that took her all the way to the Olympic podium.

  1. “Worry Only About What You Can Control.”

Letting go of control is a hard lesson for everyone. The first step is to “Think Flexibly” – a Habit that helps us to work effectively no matter what the circumstances. In Kylie’s case, this meant learning to accept that she couldn’t control the temperature of the pool or the noise of the crowd or the speed of the swimmer in the next lane. So she adjusted her attitude, changed her thinking, and focused only on the things she could control.

  1. “Have Fun!”

Kids today live in a fast-paced world, so it’s no wonder the levels of stress and anxiety amongst children is skyrocketing. That’s one of the reasons why we encourage our students to make it a Habit to “Find Humour.” As Kylie pointed out, she could have easily burned out after only a few years of intense dedication and training. But because she held on to her sense of fun and humour, she arrived in Rio with a smile on her face and a calm heart.

Many thanks to Kylie for sharing her story, to the Parent Network for supporting the Talk That Matters Speaker Series, and to Henry and Charlie for inviting their cousin to visit KCS. We may not all make it to the Olympics, but we can all take some guidance from her words of wisdom!

Collage

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

Wall of Service: Making the World Better

I was on my way to Mr. Logan’s office to chat about the Blue Jays, when something wonderful caught my eye.  Our Wall of Service, tucked neatly beside the KCS School Store, was nearly full!  I highly recommend stopping by the board and reading some of the bricks on display.

It does not take long to realize the incredibly positive impact that our students are making in their community.  There were several cards describing donation drives in lieu of birthday presents.  Other students held fundraisers or participated in events that raised thousands of dollars for many worthwhile causes including the devastating forest fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta.  I learned that one of our Grade 2 students was recycling batteries specially designed for hearing aids.  Another student shared how he and his family stepped in and collected clothing and other necessities when someone they knew needed assistance with family oversees.

Two of our Habits of Mind, Body and Action ask our students to do what is right and strive to make the world a better place.  A few minutes at the Wall of Service allowed me to conclude that not only are we on track, but that we are also in good hands.

servuce

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.

Four Doors Collage.jpg

Best Ever Teaching and Learning

“During my Driver’s Ed, I was so nervous the instructor had me drive to Tim’s. I learned how to go through the drive-through and ordered a jelly donut.”

“My grade 9 history teacher claimed he had many past lives and would tell the stories of those lives for the period we were studying. It ignited my passion for history.”

August may seem like a long time ago for many. As for me, one memory from August continues to warm my soul.

The last week of August, all faculty returned to school, joining the non-teaching staff who remained busy over the summer preparing for September. It’s a huge week of learning, meeting, and planning. This year, it was also the week that all faculty and non-teaching staff engaged in an exercise to define excellence in teaching and learning. It started with a partner activity to share our personal answers to the following:

  1. What is the best learning experience you’ve ever had at school?
  2. What is the best learning experience you’ve ever had outside of school?

Take a moment. What would your answers be? We all have them, and would do well to remember.

With these personal stories captured on post-it notes, larger groups assembled and identified the features of these experiences that made the cut. All features were then shared with all staff. Of the 39 different features, all staff then identified their top six. Collectively, here are some of the features that were most chosen by all staff:

  • “Out of our comfort zone”
  • Hands-on
  • Inspiring
  • Meaningful
  • Challenging
  • Involved responsible risks
  • Real-life experience
  • Collaborative
  • Fun, Humourous
  • Passion-driven
  • Creative
  • Empowering

There are many ways to learn, and while not all are exciting enough to be remembered as “best learning ever,” they all add up to making a difference. However, learning that is so special that it remains a powerful memory years later is learning that clearly matters. This exercise was a great kick-off to a new year meant to inspire unforgettable learning.

May the learning in your lives be full of what we aim to bring to your children.

The Last Seed

I’ve wanted to write a blog for quite some time. Working with our grade three students is always inspiring as they look at everything with such curiosity and wonder. Today I was inspired to put into words a very special story that is happening right now. It brings tears to my eyes as I try to put it into words.

Every year in grade three, we read the Dr. Seuss story, The Lorax, as part of our plants unit and to symbolize Earth Day. This is a wonderful story about how saving one ‘truffula’ seed can be the start of a new tree and eventually a new forest that future generations can enjoy.

First, some background. My father went into a nursing home about a year ago. He was (and in his mind still is) passionate about so many things: family, friends, fishing, music, watercolour painting, building projects, and gardening. The list goes on. When my husband and I purchased a cottage 17 years ago, Dad was thrilled, as it was a lifelong dream of his to own a cottage. In the early years, he and my mom spent more time than we did at the cottage. He took pride in keeping every blade of grass manicured, in growing tomatoes and of course, flowers. He still talks about the ‘projects’ he needs to complete at our cottage, even though we know he is no longer able to pursue these passions.

My father has a special love for ‘Four o’ clocks’. These beautiful, delicate flowers are named Four o’clocks because they open in the afternoon sun each day. Every year Dad planted them, and then harvested the seeds at the end of the season to be replanted the following year. He taught my two children how to collect the seeds. The last seeds he collected with my children are about 8-10 years old. He now only comes to the cottage for a few days at a time, so the seeds have gone unplanted for many years, sitting in his old toothpick jars in my kitchen drawer. My wish is that he can come to visit his favourite place in the world, even though it is unlikely. Because of this, the rest of the story…

This year we planted our Four o’clock seeds as part of our science unit in grade three. We called them ‘truffula’ seeds, at first, but I wanted to share this story with my students, so they are now in on the secret that the seeds are actually Four o’clocks. Both classes planted Papa’s seeds, but sadly, none of them germinated. However, I had a few left over, so I threw them into a dish, watered them, and crossed my fingers. Amazingly, ONE seed germinated.

The students and I believe that this is a small miracle. We are watching our little baby plant and pleading that it will survive. Our hope is that I can deliver it to Dad in his nursing home to share a little bit of the cottage with him and to make him smile with pride. I have promised to plant it this summer at our cottage, and if it reproduces, I will collect the seeds and pass them onto the children when they are in grade four. If they each plant their little seed, Papa’s Four o’clocks will live on in our gardens for future generations to enjoy. And by doing so, a special part of Dad will live on as well.

Jackie Madigan
Grade 3 Teacher
Kingsway College School

Where Courage Happens

Lots of wonderful, just-plain-happy things happen at KCS. This week’s Blue Spruce celebration, complete with costumes, contests and cupcakes, is one fine example of such a thing. Yesterday’s grade 8-primary buddy get together to play Stinky Pig, Octopus and Soccer Bench Ball is another great example. Overhearing one SK ask another if she could join him, and his reply of yes – a simple thing but oh-so-important for that one girl – is a third example from the last 24 hours that leaves me smiling.

Some things are a bit more complicated, a bit tougher, and I’ve seen plenty of them since September too. Wake Up With the Arts is an exceptionally heart-warming monthly student performance, but there’s no question it’s courage-on-display. The event is entirely student-driven, and performances include students who perform solo, often on new instruments, or dancing something they choreographed themselves. We had our annual grade 7 and 8 speech contest and these remarkable youth held us spellbound by their effort and courage to stand in front a large crowd to deliver their speeches. Other moments of courage happen on the playground, or in the classroom, and they may be more private but they’re significant none-the-less. Our mission is to prepare students for challenges. They happen here. And our students respond with such courage you can’t help but be inspired to watch.

All of this reminded me of a great video a former student introduced me to. It’s a good one to watch and share with those you love. The world’s most remarkable people had to summon courage to face challenges and overcome failure, and their example should inspire us all.

January will bring a new year that I’m sure will be full of happy happenings at KCS. It will also bring many moments of courage. I wish you all a new year full of both.

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