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.

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!

First Day of School 2018 - 7897024.jpg

 

42258274_1937716842989234_1591249275377942528_o

IMG_0662.jpeg

DSC_5442.JPG

Kindness in Kindergarten

Image

“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!

FOR YEARBOOK SK1 - 6876964DSC_9637

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.

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.

Passion-Driven Learning

There’s a story in Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, that has stuck with me over the years. It’s the story of how much Paul McCartney, when a schoolboy, hated music class. Surely, that was a clue that there was something remiss in how school worked.

We all have memories of school that include the less interesting stuff. Memorizing unengaging facts, repetitive practice of concepts, the frustrating period before you “get it,” learning square dancing in gym class (am I dating myself?), and more. Some of that less interesting stuff is still happening, even in schools like KCS (not the square dancing…). That’s because it matters. Whether you consider it the cement or the bricks, establishing core skills takes time and is a foundational part of becoming a lifelong learner.

With that foundation, however, there’s nothing like passion to inspire lifelong learners to unimaginable heights. Passion-driven learning engages all of our abilities and awareness. It is an intrinsically-driven determination to learn, embrace challenges, and achieve something of value. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, renowned psychologist, has hypothesized that certain traits predispose individuals to experiencing what he called flow: high interest in life, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a tendency to pursue things for intrinsic reasons. Creators of all kinds are recognized for these traits. They are traits that lead to unparalleled learning and difference-making. In his 2010 TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi argues flow is even the elusive secret to happiness. These traits are intentionally developed in passion-driven learning.

Csikszentmihalyi makes clear that skill is a necessary foundation for flow. At KCS, we’re actively developing that foundation. We’re also actively inspiring curiosity, intrinsic motivation, persistence, and low self-centredness. Our Reggio-inspired program is teaching our youngest students to read, write, compute, collaborate, and imagine. Our project-based learning (kissing cousin to Reggio), electives, student leadership, and encouragement of student-driven learning are targeted at developing the attributes of passion-driven learners who can look forward to lives filled with creative contributions and the happiness we all want for ourselves and others.

KCS students are exercising their intrinsic motivation by writing books, playwriting, creating videos, educating others, creating with technology and composing music. If Paul McCartney were a student here, his passion for music would have a place.

At KCS, in all grades, students enjoy a balanced program of basics with opportunity. This balance makes for school days full of hard-earned progress plus inspired initiative and creativity. It makes for stories that are vastly different from the unfortunate ones shared in the early chapters of The Element. It makes for stories that show, at KCS, education has come a long, exciting way.

Visible Learning at KCS

How can we go one step further? And one step further again?

Educating almost 400 students is a job that’s never done. It starts, of course, with the people involved – the students, their parents, our faculty and staff – and an ongoing awareness of their needs. Then the Ministry curriculum is added to provide provincial context and expectations. Our Four Doors to Learning in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship then take us well beyond what the Ministry expects. As the foundation and guiding framework of our entire effort, our Habits of Mind, Body and Action ensure we develop our students to be lifelong learners, equipped to embrace any challenges they face. And so on.

Recent visitors to KCS have seen our most current effort to go one step further in promoting learning at KCS. Our “Visible Learning” exhibit showcases the wide array of learning underway at KCS from PK to grade 8. It includes both finished products and artifacts in process (where the important learning happens). It includes evidence of our Four Doors and all of our Habits. Uniquely, it also includes the Learning Stories of our students and faculty – stories of remarkable moments, challenges overcome, most thought-provoking experiences, and personal expressions of pride. These are the kinds of stories that are normally kept private. Now shared, our whole community is learning more than ever from the experiences of others in our midst.

What is some of the “further learning” stemming from this exhibit?

  1. KCS students learn lots of cool things in cool ways. For young students, there’s much to look forward to. For older students, there is hard-won pride in how far they’ve come.
  2. KCS students also do the hard work of learning the fundamentals (see how proud many are of their efforts and growth!).
  3. Challenges are normal. If you’re feeling alone in yours, know that others have faced and overcome them, just like you will.
  4. Process matters. The work that is imperfect, that needs revision, that has feedback on it, is worthy of display. Embrace the work and imperfection inherent in process.
  5. Teachers are proud of their students when they persist. There is no shame in struggle.
  6. Sharing is inspiring. By sharing your private learning story, and by having your work on display, you are inspiring others to think about it, find affirmation or challenge in it, and consider possibly following your lead. Maybe more students will choose to 3D print for a project? Maybe they’ll give book-writing a try with YAKCS? Maybe song composition for the KCS Sound Library? There are so many possibilities.

Thank you to all the students and faculty for helping make learning more visible at KCS. Your efforts are already inspiring. This exhibit takes that inspiration one step further.

The “Visible Learning at KCS” exhibit continues until Friday, November 24.

Revisiting: How Schools Learn

Four years ago, I had the pleasure of joining a CAIS accreditation committee at a school in Bermuda. Fuelled by my conviction that the exercise in earning CAIS accreditation was a story worth telling, I wrote the following blog from my hotel room overlooking Hamilton Harbour. This coming Sunday to Wednesday, I’m heading out west to join the committee for another school visit. CAIS and the accreditation process help make KCS and other CAIS schools outstanding places to teach and learn. Here’s how:

——-

Our website, newsletters and social media channels explain in detail how our students learn. A nod to how our teachers are learning was given in the recent blog ‘Embrace Learning’. There’s one more pocket of learning worth knowing about. A critical part of the value offered by independent schools, it’s a process that would bring untold value to all if this practice could only spread.

I’m rarely away from school. This week, however, I’ve joined a Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Visiting Committee, where six peers from across Canada and I will play a part in one school’s learning. It’s a process required for CAIS accreditation and represents the high bar in demonstrating school-wide commitment to excellence in education. All told, it’s a process that takes about two-and-a-half years and repeats itself every seven.

CAIS has identified 12 Standards which together cover every area of functioning within a school: vision, mission and strategy; learning environment; academics; facility; finance; health and safety; and commitment to school improvement, to name just some of the Standards. Within each Standard, undeniable effective practices are listed. Under effective practices are questions designed to prompt and provoke schools into being accountable for their efforts.

One year prior to the visit such as I’m on, schools mobilise their whole community to collect evidence on their effective practices. The preparation of the Internal Evaluation Report includes feedback from all staff and faculty, parents, students, board members and administration. The document is rarely less than 200 pages and can be hundreds more. Designed to be an exercise in thorough and honest reflection, the report includes not only an account of strengths but also self-identified challenges and next steps. By design, this exercise is about school-wide learning. This process identifies schools which demonstrate an exceptional commitment to learning and makes note of their achieved excellence.

During our official visit, the committee will spend four days meeting with teachers, administrators, parents, board members and students, verifying what’s in the school’s Internal Evaluation Report and asking about any unreported areas of note. When we leave, we’ll be writing up our observations, and include commendations, suggestions and recommendations. Our report then goes to the school, where they will have 18 months in which to respond to the recommendations. It also goes to CAIS for a decision on accreditation.

Two-and-a-half years of every seven spent answering to the profession’s highest standards fuels an undeniable engine for learning. It sets in motion work and learning that fills the interim four-and-a-half years. And by mobilizing the whole community, and bringing in professionals from outside the school, all involved learn and become better able to serve the students in their midst.

Parents with children in CAIS schools can be confident that they have invested in a school which strives for excellence. Wishing all children could be so lucky, parents with children in non-CAIS schools are encouraged to ask the question, “How do their schools learn?” It’s the kind of provocative question that our entire profession should be accountable for answering.

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

Print

A Great Year to Come, By Design

I make no secret of my enthusiasm for what happens at KCS, and what’s happening in the profession. I have an exciting vantage point, in the midst of determined teachers and students as they embrace learning, within a profession that is evolving in notable inspiring ways. The evolution I witness daily isn’t always smooth – “messy” is the word often used in professional dialogue. Like the work of a sculptor, through (responsible) mess, beautiful things emerge.

Last week, all KCS faculty were introduced to design thinking. Blog readers may recall that we introduced design thinking two years ago in the form of a unique model of student-staff collaborative leadership, called KCS By Design. This initial experience with design thinking made clear that it was worth adopting school-wide.

While design thinking has origins in the late 1960s, it has gained increasing attention since the turn of the century for contributing to remarkable innovation, both in the corporate world and in addressing some of the world’s most challenging social issues. One remarkable article published by the Harvard Business Review shares how design thinking helped create a middle class in Peru. Impressive indeed! In schools, design thinking not only equips educators with a problem-solving tool, it equally develops in students mature critical and creative thinking skills, and so much more.

Design thinking insists on certain mindsets. Based on the work of the international driver of design thinking, IDEO, here are the mindsets shared with faculty last week:

Creative confidence
Make it (Bias for Action)
Learn from Failing
Empathy
Embrace Ambiguity
Optimism (love the problem!)
Iterate, iterate, iterate (small actions, big change)

Fuelled with those mindsets, design thinking requires a disciplined multi-step process. Also based on the work of IDEO, here is the process we’re following:

What is the design challenge?

  • What problems are you aware of that need fixing?
  • What challenges are you aware of that are worth addressing?
  • What opportunities have occurred to you that are worth pursuing?

What do you need to know?

  • Who is affected?
  • What are their perspectives?
  • What research can inform you?
  • What can you learn from others’ experiences?

What ideas address your design challenge?

  • What can you think of?
  • Which are win-win for all?
  • Get feedback from a larger group

Act

  • Pilot at a small scale
  • Reflect and iterate
  • Expand to address the challenge

Annette Diefenthaler’s TEDX talk ‘Teachers as Designers’ was part of last week’s introduction. This was followed by a creative brainstorming exercise that was rooted in KCS survey results and research. The design challenge for all was to find new ways to do better in various areas.

Most gratifying were the comments from faculty that “this is how we’ve done things for years – now we have a name for it.” What was also gratifying was to see the buzz among faculty. Optimistic bias for action was fuelled.

The world has complex problems. So does education. As all schools, so does KCS. Equipping all faculty with the mindsets and tools of design thinking is one big reason for my excitement as we begin this new school year. Mindfully embracing challenges is how we’ve gotten better year after year. And it’s why we can confidently look forward to a great year to come.