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.

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

Speak Up

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.

Basics Made Marvellous

A recent blog shared how we’re actively balancing basics with unlimited opportunities. We appreciate parents’ desire to ensure the basics are a priority. They’re the foundation. Our internal and external assessments, including the standardized Canadian Achievement Test (CAT) scores with an average result in the 80th and 90th percentile, as well as the success of our alumni, make clear that the basics are being established.

Like piano scales in the hands of a virtuoso pianist, schools need to nurture children’s desire to do marvellous things with what they know. We’re delighted to share stories of how this, like the basics, is also evident throughout the school. While there are many examples, here’s one story that’s worth some detail.

Our grade 6 – 8 students have the unique opportunity to enjoy electives in the spring term from the end of March to end of school. For two back-to-back periods each Wednesday, these students engage in one of nine opportunities within the Four Doors, purely for the love of it. Some march down Dundas in aprons and chefs’ hats to Cirillo’s for a cooking class. Others go to a dance studio; compose music; create wearable tech with Arduino; do yoga; learn cricket; make movies; or prepare for their European Battlefield trip next year. One final group is called ‘Go Ahead’. It’s for students with BIG IDEAS, including entrepreneurial ambitions, who want time, a location, resources and access to expertise to pursue them. We have 18 students in Go Ahead who truly make me marvel:

  1. Four with entrepreneurial ambitions, including one who has already started an online business that’s earning money (he requested marketing expertise) and one social entrepreneur whose project may have a lasting legacy at KCS (can’t wait to share more about that!)
  2. Nine creating with electronics, Arduino code and circuit boards, motors, straws, fans, lights and more – one is creating a mini water park; another is creating a wind-powered motor to power lights; yet another is fitting a beach chair with a phone-charging solar panel, table, and cup holder (inspired by a March Break mishap).
  3. One working on a KCS By Design project to introduce student-led peer tutoring.
  4. Others writing books (yes, books) and creating stunning personal artwork.

The basics are big, and what students do with them is big. We’ll keep working to ensure students have the foundation they need, and the opportunities they need, so that they also learn that they can do marvellous things now, and throughout their lives.