Recycling in Pre-Kindergarten

For our recent celebration of Earth Day, the Pre-Kindergarten students have been using recycled materials to build. Many of the children displayed an interest in space, so the PK teachers took this opportunity to practice teamwork in a fun and motivating way. In order to create a “rocket ship” and “a space station”, the class had to employ many of the KCS Habits. Building together alongside their engaged teachers developed their already emerging cooperation and collaboration skills. It began when the PKs themselves brought in recycled materials from home, providing a meaningful home-school connection, further enriching their collaboration experience. They were then able to brainstorm about what they would like to create – an activity requiring patience, listening skills, and the ability to take on another’s perspective. This is no small feat when you are three years old, but developing these skills in the realm of play makes for a safe learning space and only good ideas!

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After their structures were built, the children were given the opportunity to add paint, glitter and open ended art materials to their structure. The purpose of this was not only to make it look beautiful, but to add further meaning to something that the children worked on themselves. Engaging their senses and tactile experience, this step of the project also fostered focus, persistence and their individual sense of self within a group: a skill that will last them a life time.  The “rocket ship” and “space station” were completed, but the children carried the learning from that experience into their everyday play, by re-enacting the building process, singing about taking a trip to the moon, and turning their play dough into “a rocket ship”.  Recreating what they have seen, heard and learned, they are making meaning in their world.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

“Can We Start Reading Now?”

It’s a Friday afternoon in the KCS Library, shortly after the Silver Birch program has begun.  There are swarms of children racing to the library after school to sign out books…..Silver Birch books!  Some of these students already have a book checked out for the weekend, but are worried that they may finish it early and not have anything else to read the rest of the weekend.  “Could I borrow a second book, just in case?”  How can I say no to such enthusiasm for reading?

The OLA’s Forest of Reading® Programs have been a tradition at KCS for over ten years.  Passports and reflection sheets, sharing thoughts and opinions through blogging, author visits, house competitions, and impromptu discussions in the hallway and classrooms are all part of the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch and Red Maple programs.  And like all traditions, enthusiasm for the program is passed from sibling to sibling.  I am often asked, the first week of school, when will it start this year?

I just love the BookBuzz around the whole school! Some things I’ve overheard:

  • “Did you like Space Raiders?”
  • “I liked The Swallow: A Ghost Story better than I thought I would!”
  • “Are there any more books by David Skuy?”
  • “My goal was 10 books last year, but this year I’m going to try to finish all 20!”
  • Clover’s Luck is here!  I can’t wait to read it!”
  •  “I’ve read all the books!  What else can I read?”

Not surprisingly, this tradition is my favourite time of the year.  There is an increased enthusiasm for reading, and even the most reluctant of readers can be found sitting on a beanbag chair in the library with a book in their hands.  At KCS, we are continuing to grow our culture of students who read for the love of it.  And there are many additional benefits. As People for Education published in a report, “Students with a more positive attitude towards reading tend to be more successful in all subjects”. (Reading for Joy, 2011.)

The Forest of Reading Program – It’s the Super Bowl of Reading!

Judy Dunn-Hoggarth
Teacher Librarian

Practising the Hard Part of Listening

soundOne of our Habits at KCS is Listen to Understand. Hearing comes easily for most of us. Listening requires a bit more effort but we usually try our best with that. It’s the ‘understand’ part that is trickiest. Some cool things are happening here with that Habit and they’re a reminder of why it matters.

Understanding means stepping out of our old opinions, assumptions, and even otherwise-justified practices to fully understand those of others. It requires another one of our Habits, Flexible Thinking. Cognitive science Daniel T. Willingham helps explain why that makes it so tricky. In his book Why Don’t Students Like School:  A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, Willingham explains that the brain, surprisingly, is not designed for thinking. That’s right. For all its smarts, it’s actually designed to avoid thinking. When listening, the unmotivated and undisciplined brain will work to hear what it wants to hear, or rapidly defeat what it finds contradictory and therefore too much trouble. Hmm. Does that sound like some conversations you’ve heard (or even had) before?

The KCS Habits are not just for students. Listening to our senior students recently, we introduced a modified timetable during the week of exams so grade 7 and 8 students had choice in how they spent their mornings: either in subject-specific extra help or an open-study session. Earlier this year, when our senior students asked for more independence, numerous other new practices based on student suggestions were introduced (some examples include: freedom to eat lunch with friends from the other class; grade 8s being allowed to eat lunch in the Student Lounge; Special Lunches for 7s and 8s in their corridor instead of Canada Hall; more choices for students who want to stay in to work during recess). Readers of “Stay Connected” are learning direct from the students about some of the changes they helped make happen. We listened and understood. The result has been a breath of fresh air for us all.

“Respect, manners and try your best” are school rules that we all strive to follow. Figuring out what’s best is tricky. Listen to Understand is the first big step. Students and faculty are showing they can take it from there.

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

What does Mental Health mean to you? Let’s talk about it!

Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 27, is Bell Let’s Talk Day.  This is a day where Canadians are encouraged to talk, text, and tweet in order to help encourage conversation around mental health, increase awareness, reduce the stigma, and raise funds to support mental health initiatives across the country (to learn more, go to http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/ ).

Here at KCS, we have made it a priority to address the importance of mental health and wellness for our students and our staff.  We strive to promote overall wellness through our programs, curriculum and extra-curricular offerings, and we’re determined to keep the conversation going every day. We encourage students to talk to their teachers, parents, or other adults in their lives when they are feeling as if something may not be quite right.  We work to assure all of our students that if they choose to talk to someone here at KCS, they know the conversation will happen without judgement or the need to feel any shame for how they are feeling.  And in doing so, we hope that this helps to reduce some of the stigma that exists around mental health.

Over the past couple of weeks, in grades 1 – 8 either your child’s health teacher or I have taken some time to talk about mental health.  The conversations and lessons have been tailored to be age- and developmentally appropriate, and aligned with the Ministry of Education Health curriculum.  As part of the lessons, and in following one of the Bell Let’s Talk initiatives of answering the question: “What Does Mental Health Mean to You?”, the students were asked to fill in a thought bubble to share their ideas around mental health.  These are now displayed in our front lobby and throughout the school.  Our youngest students framed their answers by telling what they do when they are worried about something; our grade 4s answered the question “What Makes me Happy?”; and our grade 5 to 8 students and many faculty explained what mental health means to them.

The answers are moving, insightful, and show that there is a growing understanding of what mental health and wellness means at KCS.  These answers weren’t prompted; they came from the heart of everyone who chose to share their ideas.  Read them, and be inspired to do your part to make sure this is a conversation that will continue each and every day. It is just that important.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life

A Wonderful (Reading) Thing

Kids dash across the playground to update Ms. Pollett-Boyle on their progress. Since I’m the lucky one to distribute certificates when students complete a level, I’m swarmed daily with messages of “I’m done Level 5!” or “I’m now travelling in Egypt!” or the rather direct “Where’s my certificate?” The first week after Christmas holidays I heard more about levels achieved over the break than about presents under the tree.

Lexia at KCSLast year we piloted a new online reading program called Lexia Core 5. It is offered as a supplement that students can use at school and at home, even on holiday if they so choose. It’s an adaptive program that helps develop core reading skills at the level and pace that’s individualized to be just right for every student. It includes re-teaching after mistakes, compelling graphics, and enticing little interludes, all designed to support, motivate, and optimize learning. The pilot was an evident success. One family was so impressed they generously offered to purchase a 3 year school-wide license. Each week, between 40 and 105 young students log on to accelerate their reading skills. — A heartfelt thank you to this family!

It’s wonderful to watch students learn. It’s not always adrenaline-fueled. The pace can be slow. On skills that are difficult, the school includes a fair amount of push and pull on the teachers’ part. So imagine the pleasure watching dozens of students driven to read (even learning the boring stuff like ‘dipthongs’ and other pesky vowel rules!).

Full disclosure, some runaway enthusiasm has led to excessive competition. That was a topic for a recent class meeting, and one more worthwhile lesson thanks to this powerful tool.

Lots of wonderful things happen at KCS and we’ve written about many of them already – the proof is in our blogs. Children swarming me with their achievement in reading? This certainly counts as one more.

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

An Inspired Lunch Hour with Random Acts of Learning

Every Friday at lunch recess, Mme Smith and I host Random Acts of Learning (RAOL) in the KCS Library. It’s a drop-in for any students from grade 2 and up to do, well, random acts of learning. Here’s what happened during last Friday’s lunch hour when 47 students came to RAOL:

  • Three students from grades 5 and 6 met to talk about a leadership project supporting Syrian refugees
  • One brought his Arduino kit to build a machine for his grade 7 service learning project
  • Two others worked on their littleBits ‘keytar’ (their own musical synthesizer)
  • A few others worked on the video games they’re creating themselves
  • Multiple others worked on their own independent projects, just because they want to learn more about something; this will culminate in a class presentation (Habit: Share What You Know)
  • Others are working on writing books, a few of whom are writing to submit a French book in a national contest
  • The newspaper club came to work on their upcoming edition
  • Some older students chose to study for exams
  • Many others just wanted more time to read

That was my lunch hour. How inspiring was yours?

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

Our People + Effort = Successful Change

Last week we announced our proposed amalgamation with St. George’s on-the-Hill Nursery School (SGNS).  The faculty and staff of both schools reacted to the announcement with a positive mixture of excitement and anticipation as we tackle our future together.  Both organizations understand the benefits of amalgamation.  I really didn’t expect anything less.  And here’s why.

I joined KCS back in September 1999 as the grade 8 homeform teacher.  At that time I taught history, Language Arts and geography to our grade 7 and 8 students.  In 1999, KCS had one class in each grade, and we had approximately 150 students in the school.  Our  staff was about 25 people, a number of whom still teach at KCS today.  Halfway through my first year, I was happy with my decision to join the KCS team.  Even then, I knew this was a great school.

Over the past fourteen years, KCS has grown to 317 students and 46 faculty and staff.  The school has faced many opportunities and challenges along the way – some planned for, others unanticipated.  We’ve opened two additions to the school, one in March 2003, and one in December 2009.  Those of you who have lived through a renovation know the inconveniences you have to live with during construction. We have managed our school through an economic recession and a flood in February 2010 that closed six of our classrooms for an extended period of time.  Through each opportunity or challenge, I’ve watched the people at KCS listen, ask questions and propose solutions, and then get to work to make sure KCS comes out the other side a better school.  And importantly because of that can-do, positive attitude, we’ve created many memories and had many laughs along the way.  I know that the people at SGNS have had to face similar opportunities and challenges over that same time period that they have successfully dealt with.

Change either succeeds or fails due to the efforts of the people involved.  Based on past experience at KCS, I am confident that the people at SGNS and KCS will all grow and learn together as we amalgamate the two schools at this exciting time.  We have responded successfully to opportunities in the past, and I feel the future will be no different.  In fact, with such a positive outlook with the faculty and staff of both schools, I am certain we will be better together.   We are excited for the outcome of the vote at both upcoming AGMs, which will put a stamp of approval on this project and enable us to move forward.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Make Room for Passion

Maybe we already ask too much of education. Our profession has certainly evolved from a focus on the ‘3 Rs’ to include many other expectations, academic, social, moral, physical and otherwise. Because these expectations are all worthy, we accept them as part of our role. And because making room for passion is also worthy, and increasingly so, it should be included among the expectations we place on ourselves.

Anyone following the dialogue in education is aware of the growing need to prepare students for an unknown future. Students today are likely to have many different careers in their lifetime, holding jobs that don’t even exist yet. The future is full of opportunity for people who can drive their careers, who are adaptable, who can learn what needs to be learned, and who are energized enough to make their role matter in a global competitive market. If it ever was straightforward, the world is decreasingly so, thanks to technology and the interconnectedness that binds our lives to every other person and place in the world.

Sir Ken Robinson is one of the most highly renowned voices, and critics, in education today. A major theme in his work is the importance of nurturing creativity. Another theme, captured in his book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (2009), is the importance of nurturing one’s passions, and the unfortunate absence of that as a priority in conventional schooling. Of course, all is well for students whose passions align with the school curriculum. The trouble is, the world is much bigger than the scope prescribed by the Ministry of Education. Student-driven learning, during the school day and with the guidance of interested adults, is too rare a part of formal education. Yet this is exactly what we need to instill in them to be successful as adults.

Finding one’s passion can be the difference between a life driven by happiness and one crippled by disinterest. It can be the difference between a life fully lived and one only a fraction so. It can also be the difference between the students who feel school matters, and those who feel it doesn’t. Make room for students to explore their passion at school. And see how it changes everything.

Andrea Fanjoy
Assistant Head, Academics
Twitter: @afanjoy

This article also features in the April edition of SNAP Etobicoke.

Sharing What We Know about Heroes, Big and Small

A hero is an ordinary person who finds the strength to persevere and endure
in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

–        Christopher Reeve

Need a hero? Look no further – we’ve cornered the market at KCS.

Every student is creating a work of art that represents either a hero or heroism to them. Students in grades one to five are each working on a teacher-led project. Students in grades six to eight have designed their project entirely on their own, choosing everything about it other than the theme. Each student has his/her own hero, and their own way of showing it. The Spring Showcase from May 17th to June 6th will be the richest, most interesting, and most inspiring exhibit of Sharing What You Know at KCS ever, I’ve no doubt.

Since reading a biography of Golda Meir in high school, heroes have always nestled in the periphery of my thoughts – all the big ones, the ones who stared down gross injustice, the ones who believed humanity could be better, the ones who courageously devoted their lives to it – reminding me to get off my duff and strive to live a life that matters.

I’m also recently thinking a lot about a smaller hero. Most people don’t know him, though all KCS faculty and staff, and many of our parents do, as well as many people like us in communities across the continent. He’s small in stature, quiet and humble in demeanor. In that way alone could he be considered small. A hero for me, he speaks a common sense about raising and educating children of character that few people speak. Challenging mindsets à la mode, he devotes his life to helping parents and educators be the better people they are capable of being.

This hero, Ron Morrish, is speaking at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School on May 9th. You can also learn more about his message by visiting http://www.realdiscipline.com/ or reading his book Secrets of Discipline for Parents and Teachers: 12 Keys for Raising Responsible Children.

Heroes come in all sizes. Whether big or small, far away or right in our midst, their example has earned them a place in the periphery of everyone’s thoughts. Thanks to the artistry of our students, our Spring Showcase is KCS’s effort to make that so.

And maybe, just maybe, this occasion of Sharing What You Know might help us ordinary folk move one step closer to being heroes: people devoted to making humanity a little bit better.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

A Good Read

On the weekend, I finished reading a book entitled, Inside Out Coaching:  How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann.  The author is a former scholarship athlete who played football in the NFL.  He now coaches high school football, writes and speaks about the impact coaches have on children.  He certainly provides an important and thoughtful perspective on a coach’s influence.

While reading the book, I made notes on a number of quotes/stories that he references.  Two of my favourites are below.  This morning I forwarded the first story on to my son’s soccer coach as I know he’s experienced similar situations to this one over the past few years.

From page 193
The following is the story of the coach and a conversation he had with one of his players. Please note the quote is taken directly from the book and does not reflect the everyday vocabulary of the author of this post.

“Do you understand what cooperation is?  What a team is?”  The player nodded in affirmation that he knew.  “Do you understand that what matters is not whether we win or lose but that we play together as a team and do the best we can individually and collectively?”  Again, the player nodded yes.  “So,” the coach continued, “I’m sure you know that when a coach makes a bad call or the referee drops a penalty flag you shouldn’t argue, curse, or call them a peckerhead.  Do you understand all that?”  The player again said he did.  Coach continued, “And when I take you out of the game so another player gets an opportunity to play, it’s not good to call your coach an idiot, is it?”  The player shook his head.  “Good,” said the coach, “now go over there and explain all that to your mother and father.”

From page 214
We are all familiar with the saying, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”  Ehrmann prefers Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy’s retort:  “The only must win was World War Two.”

Derek Logan
Head of School