Unsolicited Parenting Advice from my Mom

“Your only job as a parent is to prepare your child for the day they leave the nest and go out to face the world without you.” – My mom’s advice to me on the day my first daughter was born.

My mom gives me a lot of advice – probably a little too much, to be totally honest. But when it comes to advice about raising my own kids, she’s actually pretty restrained. However, when she does offer her opinion, it’s always a variation on the same theme – independence builds resilience.

Growing up I often learned this lesson the hard way. When a note was sent home in Grade 3 about my repeated inability to complete (or sometimes even start!) my homework, her response was, “Sounds like you need to figure this out. I suggest you start by talking to your teacher.” When I left my clarinet on the subway in Grade 6, her response was, “I think the TTC has a lost and found. I suggest you start by looking them up in the phonebook.”

I don’t want to make it sound like I was thrown to the wolves. She didn’t just throw her hands up and say, “Not my problem.” Instead, she would give me advice and point me in the direction of a solution. But it was always up to me to put the plan into action. Yes, I got docked some grades and earned a few detentions, but I always came out of it with a new set of problem-solving skills. Over time, I realized that most of the problems in my life were not the end of the world. They were bumps in the road that I had to learn to deal with.

I have tried to take this same approach with my students throughout my teaching career. I cannot count the number of times I’ve sat on the floor beside a kindergarten student and said, “No, I won’t put your boots on for you. But I will help you figure out how you can do it yourself.” The truth is, every single time I want to grab those little boots, pop them on, and end their frustration. But I know that if I just trust in their ability, they’ll end up walking out to recess with a sense of pride and accomplishment. More importantly, I know that they are also walking away better prepared to face the next inevitable problem.

No matter how much we want to protect them, the simple fact is that our kids are always going to have to deal with disappointments, setbacks, and frustrations. They are going to get cut from a team. They are going to not be invited to a party. They are going to get rejection letters from universities. They are going to be told that they didn’t get the job. They are going to face medical issues, personal struggles, and tragedies.

Unlike my mom, I don’t really like to offer unsolicited advice. But it’s hard to hold your tongue when you work side-by-side with a generation that is notably struggling with mental health. More and more young kids are struggling with anxiety and a lack of resilience. While there are many reasons for the rise of mental health issues in kids, one major factor is the way in which we try to protect them from hardship. Because when we go out of our way to remove obstacles from our kids’ lives, we rob them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, develop coping strategies, and become more emotionally resilient.

So the next time your child is facing a challenging situation, ask yourself “Can they handle this on their own?” If the answer is yes, step back and let them try. If the answer is no, give them some guidance and advice, and then step back and let them try. Trust your kid enough to give them the space they need to build their own independence and resilience. They’ll thank you for it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my own mom and say thanks myself.

Recommended Reading

  • “Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement” by Alex Russell and Tim Falconer
  • “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle” by Lynn Lyons and Reid Wilson
  • “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” by Paul Tough
  • “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

 

Just Call Us ‘Guides on the Ride’

Thirty years ago I started teacher’s college. ‘Sage on the stage’ was how we were taught to teach back then. Thanks to 30 years of students, that practice has been humbled into one role among multiple others. This summer, all KCS faculty and I learned about a promising new option, that of ‘guide on the ride’, from the book Empower by A. J. Juliani and John Spencer. I’m strapped in with my helmet on. My current ride? Cryptocurrency.

Yes, cryptocurrency.

In September, we launched our new StEP entrepreneurship program. StEP invites students with entrepreneurial ambitions to pursue their big ideas, learn the basics, access mentorship, and potentially acquire seed money for viable ideas. As soon as this new opportunity was announced, a student stepped forward. His passion? You guessed it.

My role in this program is to support all grade 6-8 students who take the same first step, connect them with mentors, and provide basic instruction in value propositions, minimum viable products, design thinking, prototyping, customer interviews, and prepping pitch decks. What I provide is significantly enhanced by our partnership with Future Design School and a growing list of established entrepreneurs in the KCS community who are willing to speak, entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur, with our students.

Thirty years ago, cryptocurrency didn’t exist (that was still 21 years away). Now I get a front row seat in this and other budding areas of potential entrepreneurship at KCS. Guiding students on journeys they chart is full of unforeseeable learning, accented with bumps and hidden curves. Like the up and down of a roller coaster, it’s impossible to know where the journey will go and much scarier than the experience of a lecture. Though just one month into the year, multiple other teachers at KCS are telling me of their own trips into the unknown. The excitement and trepidation expressed in my office evoke summer memories of Wonderland. We’re strapped in and hanging on. This year promises to be an interesting ride.

World Mental Health Day Every Day

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of helping young people build mental resilience, from the earliest ages, in order to cope with the challenges of today’s world.” – World Health Organization

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day set aside by the World Health Organization (WHO) to educate, increase awareness, and mobilize efforts to promote better mental health around the globe. This year, the focus for World Mental Health Day is Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World, a topic that is obviously near and dear to the hearts of everyone at KCS.

For far too long, mental health was seen something that mainly affected adults. It just wasn’t on the radar when it came to young kids. But one only has to glance at the statistics and facts provided by organizations such as CAMH to see that there is a clear need for families and schools to pay close attention to the mental health of our young people. Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that 70 per cent of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence.

Faced with numbers like that, it’s clear that we must continue to make mental health awareness a core component of our overall wellness strategies at KCS. Events like World Mental Health Day and the annual Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign certainly help to bring greater awareness and understanding that helps to reduce the stigma around mental illness. But it can’t stop at awareness. Any effective strategy must also include a proactive approach to both prevention and recovery.

We know that when children are given the skills that they need to foster resiliency and accept challenges as an obstacle they are able to work at to overcome, they are better equipped to cope with adversity and the inevitable bumps in the road of life. Because early intervention is key, learning these skills can and must begin at a very young age. When children learn and recognize that they do have the skills and the strength to pick themselves up and dust themselves off after something does not go as planned, they are building up that resiliency.

At KCS we recognize this and continue to make mental health a fundamental priority. Beginning right from PK, our students are encouraged to talk about and recognize their feelings. Social-emotional growth and development is an intentional component of our curriculum, and the adults in the building use those “teachable moments” to role model and discuss dealing with disappointment and asking for help.  Our faculty and staff are certified in Mental Health First Aid, allowing us to recognize early warning signs and symptoms of mental distress, and assist our students in getting the help they need.

We also recognize that we need to help our entire school community better understand the importance of mental health and wellness.  Through our Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series, we have shared information about brain development, mental health, and our children, volunteerism and contributing to the community, moving from stress to strength, developing resiliency, internet, and online safety, and we will continue in January 2019 when Greg Wells – author of The Ripple Effect – comes to speak with us about our overall well-being.  The more we talk about mental health, the better we understand its importance – not just on World Mental Health Day, but every day.

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Five Things KCS is Thankful for in our 30th Year!

1) The one and only Ricardo – salter of icy sidewalks, handyman extraordinaire, and our foremost class clown!

2) Our alumni are now grown up enough to work here!

3) Foula’s big smile and bigger heart! Whether she’s looking after a sick student, helping a new family find their way around the school, or simply greeting everyone who walks through our doors, she does it all with a seemingly endless supply of happiness and joy.

4) Three additions, one amalgamation, lots of renovations, and (coming soon) a new park too!

5) The visionary and dedicated founders of KCS. Because if they hadn’t followed their dream thirty years ago, we wouldn’t get to be a part of this amazing school that they built for all of us. So from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!!!

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Grounded in Tradition, Driven by Innovation

“Although so much of KCS has changed, there is still so much that remains the same, and that’s one of the many things that makes this school so special.” – Laura, a KCS parent and alumna, reflecting on her children’s first day of school this September, thirty years after her own first day as a Grade 1 student at KCS.

Last weekend was KCS’s Welcome Back BBQ, an annual event we’ve been celebrating since the school began thirty years ago. In many ways, it wasn’t that different from our very first BBQ, held back when we were just a small school with only 50 students. Both of them featured hamburgers, hot dogs, sunshine, and (most importantly) families and friends joining together to celebrate the start of a new school year.

But this year’s BBQ wasn’t a total time capsule. Along with the classic traditions, the 2018 iteration also featured climbing walls, airbrushed tattoos, and kids showing off their best Fortnite dance moves. Because while traditions are important, you can’t let them completely define you. You have to be open to new ideas and innovations that build on a strong foundation laid by years of thoughtful traditions.

This holds true for everything at KCS, not just BBQs. For example, our academic program is built around a strong core of traditional direct instruction. Our youngest students learn the basics of reading though teacher-led small lessons on phonics and decoding. Older students are formally taught a wide range of study skills to help them find success in exams and tests. And students of all ages spend time practicing and memorizing core math facts that help them make complex computations more quickly and easily. In many ways, all of these would have felt very familiar to the students and teachers at our first BBQ.

However, we also know that tradition must be partnered with brave innovations and experimentation. It’s safe to say that nobody in the late eighties was talking about the importance of young students developing an entrepreneurship mindset, but that’s exactly what we’re doing with our new StEP initiative. Our innovative electives program encourages passion-driven learning and gives students the chance to explore their own big ideas. We’ve also got our students creating wearable technology with Arduino, writing code with Scratch, and learning the process of design thinking. All of these exciting programs go to show that thirty years into our story, we’re balancing traditional teaching and learning with a healthy dose of revolutionary ideas.

Some things – like hamburgers and hot dogs – will stand the test of time. But that doesn’t mean you have to be bound by tradition. After all, a nice gluten-free bun and a side of quinoa salad can make that burger taste even better!

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Kindness in Kindergarten

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“Kindness is the language in which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” –Mark Twain

As I reflect on this past school year with my Senior Kindergarten class, one word comes to mind – kindness. In over 20 years teaching, I have never met a group of children who were so empathetic and accepting of one other. These children set such a good example to those around them through so many acts of kindness.

I can still vividly remember an incident when one of our students was upset and laying on the floor crying. On their own accord, two students laid down next to this child, patting her back to comfort her. It made me so proud to see them, without hesitation, go out of their way to help calm their friend.

Their kindness was contagious and it led to authentic writing activities in our SK class. They created Get Well cards for a classmate who had been ill. They also wrote messages and decorated Christmas cards for cancer patients at Sick Kids Hospital.

These children impressed me every day with the ways they lived and breathed our Habit “Make the world better”. If only SKs ruled the world, what a kinder world it would be!

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Making a Difference – As an Entrepreneur

I received an email the week before Labour Day from a student who graduated last June. Subject line: Our tutoring business. That’s what happens when entrepreneurship takes root in your school.

It was a distinct pleasure to announce the launch of the KCS Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP) at our annual Curriculum Night. Our pilot last spring was an evident success, not just for the students who embraced the opportunity but also for the contagion that hit a passion-driven group of grads who explained they spent all of one summer night together at a cottage hatching their business plan. Each going to different high schools, they wanted to find a way to stay tight-knit. When they landed on their idea of offering tutoring services for interested families at KCS, their passion was locked in.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in its Learning 2030 report, declared the “students who are best prepared for the future are change agents.” The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report shared an estimate that 65% of today’s primary students will have jobs that don’t exist yet. Further evidence of the times a-changin’ was a story on CTV that announced the gig economy was substantial and growing in Canada. In this mix are multiple, global challenges looking each of us square in the eye. This is not what traditional schooling prepared us for. But it’s an opportunity for those equipped to be the informed, responsible change agents the world needs. The future is for the difference-makers, in whatever field and position they find themselves, in whatever capacities they choose.

The entrepreneurial mindset is already well established at KCS. The Habits of Mind, Body and Action that include the hallmark attributes of quality entrepreneurial pursuits have been our waymarkers for over eight years. Service learning, which is the intentional integration of curriculum and community service, has been part of KCS for 14 years. Authentic, ubiquitous student leadership, where students pursue their passions to make a difference (no election needed), has been part of our core offering almost as long. Now we’re adding an unparalleled opportunity for middle school students to become authentic entrepreneurs (social, not-for-profit, or for-profit). It includes structured guidance on the entrepreneurial path, the support of external experts from Future Design School, the challenge of pitching one’s plan to a panel of entrepreneurs, and the opportunity to earn mentorship from an established entrepreneur and even seed funding to get started. The KCS 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala on May 4, 2019, will raise funds to support this new dimension of KCS. And the generous involvement of entrepreneurs in our community will give successful students a uniquely inspiring learning opportunity on the life of a difference-maker.

The young have always been known to be dreamers. The fact is, we need them to remain dreamers. School needs to kindle those dreamers into meaningful change-makers, and KCS has always assumed that responsibility. With the addition of StEP to our many other offerings in student leadership, the height of our efforts to make dreams a reality match the height of the changing world students face, and the opportunities available to those ready to make them.

For Those Willing to Leap

“Experience does not go on simply inside a person…Every present experience is a moving force…influencing what future experiences will be.”
-John Dewey, Experience & Education, 1938

This was the opening quote at our 2018 return-to-school faculty meeting. Recognising that KCS students have always had a plethora of wonderful learning experiences, we reflected on how these experiences, and in particular the balance of experiences, in turn shape the experiences to come.

Many positive initiatives are underway at KCS. Initiatives inherently require a leap, a responsible risk, and the recognition that the first effort may not be as anticipated. They’re experiences of particular potency, often unsettling, earning early pushback, with the possibility of failing*. Our Habits equip us to embrace the challenge of initiatives and grow as a result of doing so. We see the leaps among our students, and we see how they grow by fighting through them, and subsequently enjoying what the future experiences offer as reward. We also see the leaps among our faculty, who equally grow by grappling through our areas of focus, and enjoy the pleasure of seeing how their leaps enhance student learning and agency. And we see how each experience of individual students and teachers positively shape the landscape where future experiences will take firmer root. These are exhilarating moments to witness.

Equally exhilarating is to learn about how the Habits are fueling other members of the KCS community to embrace huge initiatives and shape the subsequent experiences of those around them.

I learned recently of a parent who has undertaken the exceptional initiative of seeking public office for the first time. A longstanding, active member of our community, the KCS Habits are as much a part of her mindset as they are our students and faculty. Lead to Make a Difference, Take Responsible Risks, Do What is Right and more have helped propel her to step in where she noticed leadership was deeply needed. She admitted to the same struggle we all face when taking a leap, but shared that the values and messages of KCS helped reinforce what she knew she needed to do. She also shared her delight at seeing how her actions are inspiring similar courage, persistence and determination in her children. They’re rightly proud watching their mother step forward, challenge power, and work to make the world better. They’re now taking more of their own leaps. Experiences, influencing future experiences.

Parents, share your leaps with your children as we share our own at school. Share how you’re taking responsible risks, how it may be unnerving at times, how it often includes mistakes, how leaps always require courage, persistence and many of our other Habits. Where possible, invite your children into those leaps so your children are part of the experience. And see how doing so influences the future experience for both yourselves and your children.

The future needs individuals exceptionally equipped to make a difference. The job of preparing them begins in childhood. Let the experiences begin.

*F.A.I.L. = First Attempt in Learning

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A Balanced Digital Diet

Canada’s Food Guide has served generations of Canadians in making wise choices for a healthy diet. Technology is the new area of consumption that needs a similar campaign. Here’s the balance we strive to strike with the abundance of technology available to our teachers and students:

  1. No technology: This is a significant part of each student’s day. Our PK students have no interaction with technology. Our JK to grade 2 students have limited access to iPads. Our grade 3s share laptops, with 20 available for 40 students, using them three times a week on a regular basis, with increased usage for specific assignments. Students from grades 4 and up have a dedicated laptop, but significant amounts of their program make no use of a laptop. Printing and handwriting are directly taught and practised. Reading books, playing an instrument, note-taking, group work, performance tasks, dialogue, socialising, and physical activity throughout the day are regular features in all grades.
  2. Technology to provide personalised learning: Our Director of IT Curriculum and teachers curate learning apps and online programs to find those that provide personalised practice and instruction where students would benefit. Some students need just a bit more practice with math facts. Others learn language and math so readily that they crave an additional challenge. Every student is at a unique place in their learning and when tech tools can directly help advance their learning, we assist in making those tools available to augment their learning.
  3. Technology for acquiring knowledge: There’s no escaping the value of this. While we are well served by a beautiful library and classrooms full of books, our students and teachers also make use of technology to access information that they otherwise couldn’t. Our grade 2 classes used Google Hangouts to interview an ornithologist as part of their animal project research; our grade 4s follow current events from age-appropriate news sites like Here There Everywhere; multiple grades use our online Canadian Encyclopedia for research; and our older students use the Canadian Geographic and Dollar Street sites, among others, because they’re available, authentic and directly relevant to the world they want to understand.
  4. Technology for creation: This is hands-down the most exciting use of technology. Word-processing tools make mindful improvement of writing much more effective and efficient. Our Macbooks and iPads support podcasting, movie-making, visual art creation, video game creation, and music composition. Blogging in response to books read or current events begins in grade 4. Leveraging PowerPoint for student presentations often starts in grades 3 and 4. Creating online comics for French, LA novel studies and digital citizenship occurs in the junior division. More recently, students throughout the school are exercising creativity and practising algorithmic thinking through coding, whether with Dash and Dot, Scratch Jr., Scratch, Lego Mindstorms, Arduino or Visual Basic.
  5. Technology for capturing the journey: With the launch of our Sesame e-portfolio, technology is an unparalleled way for students and teachers to capture and share special moments of learning. Each child from PK to grade 4 currently has their own e-portfolio that’s shared with their teacher and parents; remaining students will have their own portfolio as we continue to roll out this practice. Teachers and students are posting photos, videos and captions of note. At home, the content provokes reflection and conversation (which reinforces learning). Over time, their e-portfolio is a celebration of their growth as lifelong learners.
  6. Technology as a tool that needs to be wielded with care: Digital citizenship is the ‘respect and manners’ of technology. Students learn about digital etiquette, footprints, social media, cyberbullying, phishing, spam, ergonomics, etc… From the time they’re allowed to use technology, KCS students learn how to use it respectfully and responsibly.

Technology is a rich learning tool, and we’re very fortunate to have it at our fingertips. It is also a powerful attraction that, if unchecked, can be notably more unhealthy than the “sometimes” foods our children learn about in health class. At KCS, we’re working tirelessly to make this healthy digital balance a habit that our students will carry with them throughout their lives. Like our other Habits, it’s one that will serve them well.

A message of love

In the 20 years I’ve known her, I’ve never heard my 92-year-old (honourary) Oma speak about the war. She will never bring it up, and skillfully diverts conversation when it happens to come up. She’s a blunt woman, so that usually means she leaves the room. To this day, I have no idea what Oma experienced living in small-town Germany during the war and I completely understand her approach. It’s not something pleasant to relive for the casual historian like me. That’s why it’s so important to have women like KCS Great Aunt Paula Marks-Bolton to share their stories with us.

Paula is a Holocaust survivor and her message is to love. Taken from her family at just 13 years old, Paula survived the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, Muhlhausen and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. She watched two of her three older brothers taken away to Posen concentration camp and was ripped from her mother’s arms before being sent to the Ozarkow Ghetto with hundreds of other children. The difference in Paula is that she recognizes the love. Paula credits her neighbour, Hans, with her survival. During her childhood, he watched Paula grow up and play with his own daughter. During the war years, he was a member of the Gestapo. Despite orders against showing sympathy, she believes he may have intervened to send her to the Ozarkow Ghetto and help her remain alive. He saw Paula’s humanity and for that she loves him.

During her time at Muhlhausen, Paula worked in a munitions factory making bullets for the German army. A grandfatherly foreman helped her survive. He brought her bread and crab apples and covered her with a blanket to keep away the chill. For Paula, her only regret is not learning the man’s name. She reminds us that one person can make an incredible impact on someone’s life. “It’s so easy to be kind to another person,” Paula says. “He recognized my humanity.”

She was just 18 years old when the war ended. Sick with typhoid, she was finally liberated at Bergen-Belsen by the British soldiers who helped her and the other prisoners in any way they could. They provided food and water, gave the sick medication and set up makeshift hospital tents for the seriously ill. Every act was an act of love for a stranger in need.

Under the harshest of circumstances, Paula came out remembering humanity. Her warmth and care for everyone around her remind us that we always have a choice. Despite reliving the worst years of her life, Paula was comforting the students with whom she shared her story by giving hugs and wiping tears. She reminds us that even in the toughest times we can always choose love and compassion.