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.

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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 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

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?

What Happens on those Early Dismissal Days?

Have you ever wondered what KCS teachers are doing during those early dismissal days when school wraps up at 12:20 and students head out to start their weekend? For starters, these afternoons always begin with a great tradition- a delicious potluck lunch.  Many KCS teachers work across numerous grades throughout the building. This special lunch is a wonderful opportunity to break bread together and reconnect with colleagues from a different grade or division. A quick glance across the room reveals tables that are full of lively conversations, laughter and an unmistakable atmosphere of positive energy.  It is this energy that fuels the professional development activities that make up the balance of the afternoon.

Staff activities during Early Dismissal Days, or EDDs, exemplify the collaborative spirit of the KCS Faculty.  Early Dismissal days complement the numerous meetings that KCS teachers attend on a weekly basis.  These formal and informal meetings allow our teachers to better understand and meet the needs of our students.  Earlier this year, the KCS faculty completed professional development activities that reflected on Project Based Learning, Differentiated Instruction and Health and Wellness. These afternoons are sometimes used to formulate action plans for students who may need extra support, guidance, challenge or a friendly pat on the back.  EDDs also offer a wonderful opportunity for both teachers and administrators to invest time into discussing curriculum, school wide projects, enrichment opportunities and upcoming events. Building on these important discussions, the teachers also take time to review current best practices whose key purpose is to make KCS a better school. Topics cover the range of our Four Doors to Learning including classroom innovation, student generated ideas, the status of clubs and teams as well as improvements to assessment and reporting.  Most importantly, teachers focus on how best to apply our Habits of Mind, Body and Action.

Time is always a precious commodity during the school year.  With this in mind, the KCS team recognizes the value of taking time to pause, reflect and then planning out a solid path forward. EDDs often have a busy agenda, but enjoying your grade partner’s homemade brownies while planning for the next Science or Language Arts units is a nice way to spend an afternoon.

staff-meeting

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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