The Forces to Be Better: KCS Senior School Update #4

Our most recent update shared that the KCS Senior School model includes all the fundamentals. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.   As many of you know, we take the ‘responsible’ in ‘responsible risks’ very seriously. So why not stop there? Why not model ourselves as a great version of a wholly recognizable secondary school?

Future updates will explain the distinctive features of our model. Before those updates, it’s worth sharing why we felt the need to rethink certain aspects of the high school experience. It’s all rooted in our commitment to our three school rules, in particular our commitment to respecting our community and to trying our best.

Here are four forces shaping education and our Senior School model:

  1. Demands for deeper learning are coming from a growing number of voices. Traditional education was founded on the need for schools to impart knowledge and core skills. The world has changed a great deal in the intervening 150 years. While knowledge and skills continue to matter, students and the world they inhabit expect and require more. New teaching practices like project-based learning and place-based learning are spreading for their enhanced ability to not only teach the knowledge and skills students have always needed, but also for their ability to develop our Habits, most aligned with success after formal schooling.
  2. Increasing alignment of expectations among students, parents, post-secondary institutions, employers and our profession is providing unprecedented support for change. Global interdependence, climate change, and the growing digital economy have implications for everyone. The evident need to prepare for an increasingly complex future means that all stakeholder groups are calling for practices that develop students more thoroughly as skilled, creative, agile, action-oriented thinkers. RBC’s recent Future Skills Report “Humans Wanted: How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in the Age of Disruption” is a recent example of this call for change.
  3. Well-being is a growing area of focus because it’s a growing area of concern. Many studies, both local and international, have reported on the downward trend in youth mental health. The reasons behind the trend are multiple, and schools are increasingly reflecting on the roles they play in either exacerbating or potentially mitigating any factors.
  4. Pioneering schools are demonstrating that becoming better is both possible and sought by parents and students alike. The Senior School Task Force committed to researching dozens of such schools over the course of five months in 2018. High Tech High, Design 39 Campus, and The Downtown School (a new downtown campus for Lakeside School) are three of the many explored. The unique features of the proposed KCS Senior School are being leveraged to positive effect elsewhere. Our commitment to trying our best is compelling us to bring worthy features here.

Grant Lichtman, author, consultant and change-leader serving schools throughout North America, including KCS, has succinctly summarized four arguments for change within the profession:

  1. We must
  2. We want to
  3. We know better
  4. We can

At KCS, these four arguments have always driven our commitment to do better. They remain the arguments behind our senior school model. Our three school rules wouldn’t allow us to do anything less.

KCS Habits _ 2017 Redesign_crop

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Ensuring the Fundamentals: KCS Senior School Update #3

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

– The KCS Vision and Mission Statement

We take our mission seriously. The KCS Senior School will build upon the strong foundation of the current KCS program, providing the same commitment to developing lifelong learners and adding unparalleled opportunities for students to discover and realise their potential. We look forward to explaining the distinctive features we have in mind. But first, let me share all the fundamentals included in our model:

  1. Our facility will be mindfully designed to support learning, collaboration, and community-building. We are working with Oliver Beck, principal architect at Architecture Counsel, to help us choose a site that fits our vision and then design it to be a beautiful space meeting our needs. The chair of our senior campus committee, Greg Dunn, is a partner of the global architecture firm Adamson Associates. For those wondering about the quality of space we aspire to offer, we encourage you to visit their firms’ websites to see the kind of projects they represent.
  2. The Senior School syllabus will include all mandatory credits and a wide variety of elective credits for students who seek to pursue sciences, technology, the arts, humanities, business and more.
  3. Students will be challenged and inspired by exceptional teachers. The faculty will oversee and guide students, ensure safety, communicate with parents, and assess student learning for report card purposes. In addition, the presence of an Advisory teacher for each student, who will oversee their learning and success over their four years at school, will play a significant role in ensuring all the fundamentals are in place and serving students well.
  4. As in all schools, our senior students will gather at the school each day, and will have time in class that includes teacher-led instruction. There will be content they need to learn, and there will be quizzes, tests and exams in addition to assignments and projects. Like the current KCS junior school, the senior school will demonstrate that an optimal program benefits from a variety of strategies, chosen intentionally and with each student in mind.
  5. Students will also be taught in a distinctly impactful way so that their learning “sticks”, addressing a weakness long recognized in more traditional approaches to teaching and learning. Under teacher oversight, students will not only learn the core knowledge and skills required in each course, they will have enriched programs thanks to project-based learning, place-based learning, the engagement of external experts, and notable experience in applying their learning for actual impact.
  6. Our school will offer a variety of extra-curricular activities in academics, arts, athletics, and citizenship, led by teachers, students, and external experts, on and off-site.
  7. A sense of belonging, commitment to well-being, and the habit of community engagement, both within and beyond the site of our school, will be infused throughout the learning experience.

KCS has a long history of innovative practice. It also has a long history of being highly responsible. We’re proud of what those dispositions have helped us build in grades PK to 8. And we’re excited to show how they can make for a remarkable senior school.

Connecting KCS with the World

How do you connect elementary students with the world?

You rethink elementary school.

At least that’s how we’re doing it at KCS, and it has led to relationships with experts from an unlimited array of fields, many of whom with a global reach, including journalists, artists, social entrepreneurs, edtech developers, and many more. Rethinking school includes stepping outside our walls (literally and figuratively), welcoming external experts in, and seizing opportunities when they appear to enrich student learning. Here’s a current example.

KCS has recently partnered with engineering.com, a GTA-based business that shares a newsfeed for “the global community of engineering minds who make a difference” (modelling the KCS Habits!). How big is this community? The site enjoys 2.6 million unique visitors each month, and its social media following includes 1.4 million on Facebook and 44,000 on Twitter. Eight thousand have gone one step further to embrace their newest initiative, ProjectBoard, where they can share the problems they’re solving and get feedback in return.

How did we meet?

Part of my role as Head of Senior School is to notably increase our KCS community of learning partners – individuals and organisations who bring learning to our students, in ways beyond what field trips and guest speakers usually provide. A significant learning partner we established over a year ago is the Centre for Social Innovation, a multi-thousand strong community of entrepreneurs, agencies, and charities sharing coworking and co-learning space in Toronto, New York, and London, Ontario. Engineering.com, like KCS, is a member.

The problem-solvers engaging with ProjectBoard form a community where we believe students belong. KCS is now the first school to join this global network of engineers who are using the online platform. This beautiful tool allows our StEP and Makerspace students to share their creative work, engage in dialogue in our KCS “Makerchat”, and receive comments on their creative process. As a desirable feature, ProjectBoard also allows us to share our student initiatives with the global engineering.com community and through our social media.

KCS is an amazing place to be. The world outside KCS is also amazing. Rethinking school is bringing the two together. What follows, we’re finding, is the unlimited learning students deserve.

Your Answers to Our Questions: KCS Senior School Update #2

“GO DO IT! We are in.” – KCS Parent

From January 2018 to June 2019, the Senior Campus Committee engaged in research to build our school model, testing it with parent and student feedback as it was developed. Our effort began with a Task Force of 40 parents, past parents, board members, and staff to research exemplary schools throughout North America. That was followed with market research led by an external firm to hear from grade 7 and 8 parents and students on elements we were considering. Finally, last spring, a KCS survey invited all families to share some of their thoughts about high school, features we were exploring for our model, factors they’ll be considering for their children, and questions they had for us. 50% of families responded and generously shared their comments. It has been evident from the beginning that many parents are interested, see the need for a KCS Senior School, and see the value of the model we’re building.

Here is some of what we learned from the school-wide survey:

  • 82% of parents said they were interested in learning more about the Senior School and open to considering it for their children
  • 81% said location and ease of their child’s commute is a consideration in the choice of high school
  • 90% said they believe the high school experience needs to evolve from what they had to better prepare students for the futures they face
  • 88% said they believe the distinguishing features we intend to offer provide valuable learning: extensive engagement of external experts; regular offsite learning; a program that invites students to exercise leadership in their learning in an area of interest; and experiential learning (including field placements, collaboration with external organizations, entrepreneurship, travel, and opportunity for co-op)
  • 83% were interested after learning about what we expect to be a smaller population of students, potentially 160 at full enrolment
  • When asked about how critical exclusive access to green space and an on-site high school gym were in their choice of high school, 50 and 56% respectively said they were critical
  • After learning all of the above, and also learning that this model is expected to cost parents less than other independent schools and to provide a distinctly enriching learning experience, 64% of parents said they remain interested in our model

Then we asked parents for their questions. Here’s a sample:

  • How will it compare to other top secondary schools?
  • What will this school actually look like?
  • What’s special about these four distinctive features – partners, offsite learning, including student interests, and experiential learning?
  • What would a regular day be like?
  • How will it prepare them for university?
  • What kind of athletics and arts programs will it offer?

We are excited to see the high level of interest based on the number of questions we continue to receive. Our goal is to answer the questions as honestly and as quickly as we can through these updates.

Questioning has deep roots at KCS. It is a questioning mindset, one we directly develop, that makes rich student learning happen. That same mindset is at the root of our efforts to build the KCS Senior School. We welcome all who wish to add their questions. Welcome to the dialogue about how great education can be.

 

 

Making the Senior School Real

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

In the late 1980s, a small group of parents made KCS a reality. Since that founding day, many others – parents, staff, and students – have built KCS into the special school that it is today, one that not only honours worthy traditions and tried-and-true teaching, but one that also forges ahead with innovative practice, because we can, should, and won’t accept less than our best.

This commitment in the junior school will now extend to a senior school. On Curriculum Night, we announced we will be opening as early as 2021, to be confirmed as soon as we secure our site. We are confident enough to say “will”, not “might”, because of the number of sites we’re visiting and finding both compelling and affordable. But it’s fair to ask what’s different this time.

  • Properties of 20,000+ square feet can be leased and our conservative financial modelling makes clear that a number of such properties are within our means
  • We will leverage external facilities, as many other independent schools do; pioneering schools, mostly in the United States, reveal that exceptional learning is possible with an urban location where teachers and students have a great school hub and easy access to quality external facilities and learning partners
  • Many schools are also making evident how a notably healthy and positive community can be built in a smaller school population that creatively brings them together for enriched learning

Work is happening on many fronts. Most importantly, the site search began over the summer. Since then, we’ve considered 10 sites with features we seek. The borders of our search are the Bloor Street corridor on the north, the lakeshore on the south, the Kipling corridor on the west, and the Bloordale neighborhood on the east (a 10-minute subway ride from Royal York). Several properties have already earned extra attention. We’re working with external experts to ensure we fully consider each one.

We are proud to make our mark in education, both in the junior school and by soon offering an exceptional learning experience up to grade 12. Our parents and students are excited and we have a big story to tell. Regular updates on our site search and details of our model will be shared on a biweekly basis in the KCS blog, in Stay Connected, and on our social media channels. Just over thirty years ago, our founders created the big story of KCS. We hope you join us as we create this new story of the KCS Senior School.

Knowing Our Place

“Wisdom sits in places.” – Apache proverb

Six years ago, KCS grew younger. In a fervent commitment to best teach our youngest learners, the teachers of our 3, 4 and 5-year-olds have created learning environments they consider the “third teacher”. Beautiful, nature-rich spaces both inside and out that inspire, provoke, engage, and support important learning.

At the same time, the rest of the school embraced similar principles of intentional classroom design. It started with comfy nooks, soft lighting, floor cushions, and wobbly stools. Then we began upgrading student chairs so they could support all kinds of positions and movement, and added desks tall enough for standing.

This summer, a transformation of our outdoor greenspace has yielded a striking play structure that all of our students from grades 1 to 8 can enjoy. It’s as delightful to the eye as it is inviting to the child in all of us. Complicated to navigate, students are using their minds and bodies at recess as they never have before.

And as we increasingly welcome and embrace external experts to help enrich student learning, the wisdom connected to our KCS space expands. It’s in fact, limitless.

We are committed to making KCS a limitless place. Wisdom is nurtured in the physical environment the KCS staff have created to convey respect, consideration, and confidence in our students. It is being developed when imagination and curiosity are inspired through invitations to question, lead, and pursue learning for the love of it. And it is found in a community that includes people from KCS and beyond, sharing experiences from their respective places with our students.

Knowing what matters includes knowing one’s place. Teaching what matters includes a place that is both right here and limitless. Designed with intention and limitless in reach, learning, and even wisdom, sit here.

Unleashing Potential

“The best plans are those that liberate other people’s plans” – Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)

Jane Jacobs understood potential. An urbanist icon, she saw how cities, and in particular how they were designed, could have profound impact on the lives within them, for better or worse. Even the humble neighborhood had power and potential beyond what most in her time realized.

I spent much of my summer learning from and about Torontonians who are making (or helped make) this city remarkable. My classroom was Toronto, and my textbook was the diverse voices, sights, and activity of Torontonians making a difference. I watched what happens when plans liberate other people’s plans.

There are many reasons to appreciate Jacobs. What I most appreciate is her ability to see potential in people where others didn’t. And this is why she belongs in a school blog.

To what extent do we see the potential in children and youth? To what extent is education set up to unleash it? How might childhood, youth, and even the world, be better if we could confidently say, “Yes, we see it, and by design it will be unleashed!”.

Greta Thunburg, 16, just finished crossing the ocean on her international mission to get adults to adequately act on climate change. Many other youth this past year (and years past!) demonstrated impressive abilities to make a difference through activism, service, innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership, and more. While their schools have no doubt contributed to their abilities, their unleashed potential often had little to do with systematic efforts at school.

At KCS, we’re committed to unleashing student potential by design, and we’re committed to nurturing the intrinsic motivation needed to fuel it. The foundation set in our junior school will align with unprecedented opportunity in our senior school. We see their potential already, and look forward to seeing it blossom and fuel exceptional learning in grades 9 to 12.

If this post leaves you unconvinced, let this TED Talk by 12-year-old Adora Svitak do the job. She’s one of those remarkable children, and she speaks on behalf of the many others who want to be listened to, believed in, and challenged more.

We’re listening and looking forward to watching plans unfold.

P.S. Adora shares the difficulty she faced to get her books published as a child, because she was a child. KCS has been publishing student books through our YAKCS program since 2013. We have since published 11 books that sit in our library plus the Library and Archives Canada, in addition to those in various homes.

The World That We Design

Last week, we were treated to our annual spring concert – a wonderful showcase of our extracurricular bands and choirs. The arts do so much to make the world better. In fact, beyond the pleasure of listening to beautiful music, this concert included a message from our primary choir that struck a particular chord:

We can live in a world that we design.
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.
(“Million Dreams” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)

Part of educating students (and raising children) is preparing them for the world they will eventually face, independent of us. Much of that world is what it is, for better or for worse (sigh). Of course, we’re getting them ready for that. But the world is also what we collectively make it. At KCS, we’re teaching our students how to design the world they face for the better. Here’s one recent responsible risk where we did just that.

In May, Ms. Hooper, Ms. Gaudet and I joined our grade 8s on a trip to the WE Global Learning Centre downtown. This was the culminating event of a year spent learning about human geography, including forces shaping the human experience and our relationship with the planet. Against a backdrop of global challenges, they also learned about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were where our grade 8 students would both demonstrate and leverage their learning for the better.

At the WE Centre, our grade 8s pitched social enterprises to experts from the WE community, enterprises that they created from scratch to help address one or more of the U.N. goals.

They created enterprises to help address illiteracy, pollution, access to clean water, gender equality, health and wellness, climate change, poverty, education, plus life below and above water. One enterprise, Hakuna Njaa (meaning ‘No hunger’ in Swahili), was a proposed restaurant that would allow hungry Torontonians to help fund food and nutrition programs in areas facing a food crisis. “At our restaurant, people won’t just be paying for food, they are paying to make a difference.” Their pitch wrapped up with:

“We’re hungry for change. You should be too.”

We don’t know if our grade 8s will go on to further pursue their social enterprise plans. Their time at KCS is soon over and our Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP) won’t follow them to their high schools. What they will take with them, however, is something that will follow them wherever they go. Here’s how one parent described her son’s reflection on the day:

“Listening to [my son] describe how inspired he was to be at the office yesterday and how meaningful it made it for the kids to have the “experts in the field” vote on the projects…the whole experience from start to finish has absolutely made an impact and a difference already. It made [him] think more deeply for example about believing he could actually make a difference, which I feel is an enormously empowering thing for kids to feel in this era of knowing so much about problems that affect the world, and yet not feeling like they can always help…or make an impact.”

Part of preparing students for the future is preparing them to design it, and instilling the knowledge and confidence that they can. We’re heeding the message. Our students are dreaming. And it’s music to our ears.

(Note – This partnership with WE, including an introduction to social entrepreneurship, instruction in making a strong pitch, and expert feedback and judging through the day, was supported by the KCS StEP Fund, thanks to the generosity of KCS parents and 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala sponsors)

Five Reasons Why Education and Entrepreneurship Belong Together

I’m new to the world of entrepreneurship. For most of my career, my passion for education left little room for interest in the business sector. While I respected business as a worthy passion of others, I saw no obvious reason why it belonged with mine.

But passions are funny – sometimes they take you to unexpected places. In my case, education took me to entrepreneurship, social and otherwise, and I won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Why do entrepreneurship and education belong together? Here are five reasons driving my newfound conviction:

  1. Mindset

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying everyone has to be an entrepreneur. Many good people are needed in professions, corporations, and public service. Many others commit themselves to political life, volunteer work, homemaking or other worthy pursuits. That said, everyone, whatever you do in life, benefits from the traits found in entrepreneurship. Habits such as embrace learning, think creatively, listen to understand, act with empathy, adapt, take responsible risks, and lead to make a difference bring interest and happiness to life, in addition to value. They should be inherently developed at school. Entrepreneurship is one powerful way to do so.

  1. Agency

Agency is a sense of control in one’s destiny. It includes the know-how, confidence and inclination to act so as to shape that destiny. It has been frequently observed that too much of education and growing up today includes an over-abundance of adults assuming control, telling kids what to do and how. Agency matters and its decline, some psychologists have argued, helps explain some of the decline in student mental wellness. School should intentionally carve out time where children and youth can take the reins, pursue responsible risks, and be in charge while challenged to make something good happen. Design thinking and Integrative thinking are processes students can use to exercise agency for meaningful impact. Like toddlers learning to walk, entrepreneurship will let them exercise agency, and see what they’re capable of making happen.

  1. Relevance

“Why do we need to learn this?” This student lament has reached cliché proportions and is still widely dismissed with the response that relevance will become evident when they’re older. Some of that is true, and pushing back on instant-gratification-run-amok has a place. Entrepreneurship, integrated where relevant to the subject at hand, lets students live the relevance of learning. At KCS, a group of grade 7 students completed a geography project by designing an environmentally responsible product for our school store. Through our StEP entrepreneurship program, they’ll be supported should they choose to launch this social enterprise. That’s relevant.

  1. Future-readiness

There’s no denying that disruption is underway in the work world. While many argue automation will create new jobs, there’s little doubt that it will also increasingly overtake any tasks that can be captured by an algorithm. That said, there remain many things automation will never do. RBC recently released Humans Wanted: How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in the Age of Disruption, emphasizing the need for humanity’s most fundamental traits. An entrepreneurial mindset, and the agency to exercise it, are uniquely available to humans and will be rewarded with opportunities that no technology can touch.

  1. Purpose

If you’ve found your purpose, you know how positive a force it is. While not all people would say they’ve found it, there’s no reason to think it’s reserved for the few. In fact, it’s easy to argue that we do too little to help all youth explore this part of themselves. What if education made time for children and youth to explore how they want to make a difference? What if education directly supported them in making that difference, and let them experience the setbacks, successes, and next steps that ensue? What if we graduated students who care to have a positive impact, who have experienced the rewards of doing so, and who have the capacity and agency to follow-through in their corner of the world? These would be graduates energized and intrinsically motivated with purpose.

Of course, there is much more that belongs in education beyond entrepreneurship. And there are examples of entrepreneurship that don’t reflect the values many of us wish to develop in youth. But where our aims meet is where education and entrepreneurship belong together. And where we can do better, we will. We can’t help it. That’s our entrepreneurial mindset at work.

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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.