Leading by Example

“The three most important ways to lead people are: by example… by example… by example.” – Albert Schweitzer

As Head of School, I’m very familiar with children’s uncanny ability to see and hear everything. Just like all of us, I have days when I get stressed out, upset, or frustrated. But whenever that happens, I have to take a minute and remind myself that I’m surrounded by young people who are listening and watching my every move. Because if I lose my cool or act unkindly, those kids will not only notice, they’ll follow my lead.

That’s the thing about modelling appropriate behavior. It means you have to hold yourself to a higher standard, for the sake of those looking up to you. Of course, I am not the only one doing this at KCS. Teaching children is a team sport, and our school is filled with all kinds of wonderful adults who spend their days setting a great example for our students by following the three school rules – Respect, Manners, and Try Your Best.

But as much as I believe in the power of great teachers and schools, I also believe that the single biggest influence in a child’s life is their family. To keep the analogy going, if teaching really is a team sport, then parents are the coaches, captains, and waterboys all rolled into one!

I know that we have great families at KCS, I also know that we can all do better. So as we ask of your children, we ask that all our families make an extra effort to follow our three school rules with each other, with our staff, in our parking lot and in the neighborhood. At times during the school year, I observe or hear about behaviour among some adults in our community that does not meet the standards we hold your children to each day. KCS is a learning environment, and it can be challenging for young people to follow our three school rules if they do not see the adults in their lives doing so.

With that in mind, I have a couple of asks for all the grown-ups in our community:

#1. Please be respectful of our volunteers at various events at KCS including the Welcome Back BBQ, pizza lunches or in our school store. Please thank them, appreciate them, and respect their efforts. As a community we are very fortunate to have over 4500 hours of volunteer time annually at KCS. Our school could not do all that we do without our committed volunteers.

#2. Please be partners with us in the parking lot and the streets surrounding the school. Our staff are doing their best to keep traffic moving at a safe and reasonable speed for the safety of everyone including the students, families and drivers.  Please do your part paying extra attention near the school and by driving slowly. At pickup, please do not park on the east side of Wimbleton, as it is difficult for teachers to see past your vehicles when they are crossing students into the park for teams and after school play. Unsafe and disrespectful parking also impacts our entire neighborhood. My first day of classes ended with a phone call from one of our great neighbors, who was understandably upset about a highly disrespectful encounter they had with a KCS parent who left their car parked on a corner for 15 minutes. We are part of a wider community here in Etobicoke, and our interactions with that community should be a reflection of our school values.

#3. Please help up lessen congestion in the parking lot at our busiest times (8:15-8:45) and (3:15-3:45). Consider organizing a carpool, or if you live near the school, think about walking to KCS for pick up and drop off. If you are planning to supervise your child in the Reading Circle or in the park after you pick them up, please park in the neighbourhood rather than the parking lot, as this frees up spots for families who need to pick up their child and leave immediately. And if your children are in the junior/intermediate grades, you can park on the other side of the Humbertown Park and have your son or daughter meet you there.

I know these seem like small measures, but they send a message of respect and manners to our entire community, and sets a great example for all our kids. I thank you for your support, and look forward to another fantastic year of partnership with all of you.

Please share this information with others who are helping with drop-off and pick-up of your children.

Derek Logan

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A Day of Service at the Special Olympics

In many ways, citizenship is all about service. It starts by recognizing that you are part of a community, which means you have a responsibility to step up and help your fellow citizens. This is particularly true for those of us who have been blessed with great opportunities and advantages in life. As the old maxim goes, to those whom much is given, much is expected.

I was reminded of this simple truth when I accompanied our Grade 8 students to the Special Olympics Youth Games earlier this week. This event brought together 2,000 young athletes with intellectual disabilities from across Canada and the United States. Thanks to the efforts of Shelley Gaudet, our Citizenship Coordinator, our Grade 8 students were given the opportunity to spend a day at a 42 team floor hockey tournament held at The International Centre in Mississauga.

But we weren’t there to watch. We were there to serve. Each Grade 8 student was assigned a floor hockey team for the day for whom they would serve as team ambassadors. They spent all day helping the players and coaches by getting water, carrying equipment, leading warmups and helping the athletes find their way around the facility. Perhaps more importantly, they were also there to provide support and encouragement through conversations, high fives and cheering.

To help prepare them for this experience, Ms. Gaudet facilitated a number of very positive and open conversations with the Grade 8s. The students talked about the importance of inclusive and respectful language, patience and getting out of your comfort zone. That last point was essential, as many of the students were a bit nervous about what the day would look like.

They were obviously well prepared, because on the day of the event, all of us in attendance (Ms. Gaudet, Mme Lacroix, Mr. Schroder and myself) could not have been prouder of them. They got off the bus with a positive attitude and a willingness to get involved, and things only got better from there. By the end of the day, every student had opened themselves up to the experience and had become dedicated cheerleaders for their own team. I was particularly impressed with the students who had been assigned francophone teams from Quebec, as they really had to go outside their comfort zone and speak French all day!

For myself, the entire day was one big reminder about what really matters in life. I watched a player spend part of a game pushing his teammate’s wheelchair, just so that player could be a part of the team. I watched a player from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, turn to his coach during his game and ask, “Did I do good?” And I watched our students – all of whom have had the chance to be a part of their own school or community teams – spend a day in service to a group of athletes who do not always have the experiences and opportunities our students get every week.

Much has been given to our Grade 8 students. This week, they proved to me that they understand just what is expected of them.

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Remember, be kind to yourself

Throughout my years as a teacher I have found that I am often learning as much from my students as they are from me. Working with the youngest students at KCS I am continuously taught to enjoy the little things in life. To appreciate the first snowfall of the year, and the second, and the third, to revel at the intricacies of an insect’s body, and see the beauty in every flower or weed. However, the biggest lesson I have learned came from a group of students I do not often see.

This year the grade 4s have been amazing anti-bullying heroes (as deemed by Mrs. Drummond). Recently they were visited by Jason from MLSE (Community, Alumni & Educational Program Specialist, Toronto Argonauts) for a pre-assembly workshop for the upcoming Huddle Up assembly. He spoke to them about how being proud of who you are and being part of a strong community helps to deter and diffuse bullying.

Out of this conversation came a great initiative from the grade 4s. They asked that each person in the school make their own trading card. This card would have a list of two to five positive qualities about yourself along with a picture. Once done you could show others your card in the hall, at lunch, or during recess.

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As I sat down to complete this task I realized that bullying is not just an external force. That more often than not it can be an internal one. We often think of a bully as someone else who may say or do things to hurt us. We don’t often consider the fact that we can be our own bullies.

If asked to write a list of positive qualities for anyone here at KCS I wouldn’t skip a beat. I could rhyme off a number of things without hesitation. However, when it came time to write my own list I sat there for a very long time considering what to write. It wasn’t because I thought there were too many things to choose from. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I had no idea what to write. Ultimately, being a huge Harry Potter fan I went with some qualities used to describe my Hogwarts House.

Once again I ended up learning just as much from the students as they do from me. Whether intentional or not, the grade 4s have taught me that I need to stop being my own bully, and remember to be kinder to myself. This is a lesson I will take with me through the good days and the bad and I will be forever grateful to a group of 8 and 9 year olds for teaching me this very valuable lesson.

The Third School Rule – TRY YOUR BEST

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules”. Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can impact our lives outside of KCS.

About a year ago my son Brandon suffered a concussion while playing soccer for the varsity team at his university. Over the next number of months, he had to learn to balance his schoolwork, part-time job, and personal life, all while dealing with a number of very challenging symptoms. One day, he came home during his mid-terms and told me that he was really worried he hadn’t done well on one particular exam. Having seen first-hand all the effort he had put into his studies during this difficult time, I only had one thing to say to him. “You tried your best. Given all you’ve been dealing with, there’s nothing more you can do.”

That wasn’t the first time I quoted the “Try Your Best” rule to one of my kids. In fact, it’s probably the rule I repeat the most at home. While I do stress the importance of respect and manners to both my son and daughter, my main priority as a parent is their mental and emotional health. And I believe that “try your best” is a rule that encourages us to strive for success, but with the understanding that we must be realistic when it comes our expectations.

Because the rule doesn’t say “do” your best. It says “try” your best. That’s an important distinction. When we tell ourselves we need to do our best, we put all our focus on the end result and what we actually achieve. But when we tell ourselves we need to try our best, we end up focusing on our effort and personal growth. To put it another way, “do” is all about the product, while “try” is all about the process.

After all, we can try our best, but still end up failing. I know for myself, I can think of countless times when I gave it my all athletically, in the classroom, or as a parent, and still ended up falling short of success. But each time, I was able to look myself in the mirror and say “I tried my best”.  I can also remember those times when I didn’t put in the effort, and the results were what you might expect.

We all fall short from time to time. But what really matters in life is how you behave after that happens. I encourage my own children to try their best, learn from their experiences, and then try again. If I told Alyssa and Brandon to focus on the end results, then I would only be teaching them how to learn from success. But by telling my kids to focus on their effort, I teach them how to learn from failure.

Earlier this year we showed a video at Curriculum Night that was all about independence. Looking back on it, I think in many ways it’s also about trying your best. In that video, a young boy tried, again and again, to jump onto a box. And again and again, that boy failed. Eventually, with support and encouragement from his dad, he ended up making the leap. But I think he learned more from falling down a dozen times then he did from his one success.

As parents and teachers, we can sometimes get caught up in the grades on report cards or the final score of a soccer game. But if we want our kids to become resilient lifelong learners, then we need to encourage them to persist and put forth their best effort, no matter what challenges they are facing. And I can think of no better way to do that than by simply reminding them to always “try your best”.

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The Second School Rule – Manners

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules.” Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can enrich our lives.

A few years ago I was on a class trip to Quebec with a group of Grade 7 students. At one point along the 401, our bus pulled over into one of those big rest stops so we could all grab a snack and visit the washrooms. As I watched our students enjoying their hot chocolates and donuts, one of the cleaning staff walked over to me.

“Are these your students?”

“Yes, they are,” I replied warily, preparing myself for what might come next.

“Well… I want you to know this is the best group of kids we’ve ever had here.”

He looked around at the KCS students, nodded approvingly, and then walked away. I looked back at our kids and realized that what I thought was typical behaviour was actually anything but. Our students were saying please and thank you to the staff, they were walking respectfully through the crowd, and they were even holding doors and giving up their chairs to families and seniors. To me, that kind of behaviour isn’t going above and beyond. It’s just the right thing to do. But it reminded me that not everyone feels that way.

Now, I think I’m getting close to the age where I’m allowed to start grumbling about how everything was better back in the “good old days”. However, I don’t really feel the need to grumble, because I believe that in most ways, the world keeps on getting better and better. Except for one thing – manners.

Good manners are getting rarer and rarer. Some people I’ve spoken to think this is because today manners are considered old-fashioned or unimportant. But I think the reason is actually pretty obvious. People don’t have good manners because we don’t go out of our way to teach the next generation good manners.

That’s one of the reasons why I think teaching our students manners is absolutely essential. Because we can’t expect them to just figure them out on their own. We have to model good manners, take the time to correct bad manners, and make it a priority to regularly go out of our way to teach simple social graces. And it’s worth remembering that we’re all part of that teaching team. Teachers model manners by the way they speak to each other in the halls. Parents model manners by the way they navigate the parking lot. I model manners by the way I greet students at the door. The kids are watching us, and they will copy what they see.

I know we’re doing a pretty good job. I know this because of what our visitors say to me when they come to KCS. Potential families visiting our open houses regularly comment on the fact that our students hold the doors for them. Special guests like our yoga instructors and Scientists in School tell me that they “hold lotteries” over who gets to come to our school because they love working with our polite students. Admissions Directors and other Heads of School always comment on our graduating students’ manners when our Grade 8s visit their open houses in the fall. Even the guy who makes my burger at Magoo’s tells me they love having KCS kids in their restaurant because our students clean up after themselves and treat their staff with respect!

In the end, while I love that other people think our students are great and well-behaved, that’s not really the point. The point is that our students go out in the world believing that the way they treat other people matter. That will help them find success and happiness, but more importantly, it will make them kinder and more compassionate people. And to me, graduating outstanding citizens with manners is the foundation of our school and what matters most to me.

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WHAT WILL YOU BE TALKING ABOUT ON JANUARY 30?

When we talk openly, accurately, and without judgement about mental health, we are making a difference for those who are affected by it.  Who are those that are affected by mental health?  As the tag line for Bell Let’s Talk Day has said for the past two years “Mental health affects us all.”  Just like we all have physical health, we all have mental health.  Just like we can all get physically ill or be in physical distress, we can all experience mental illness or mental distress. The more we know about mental health and the better we understand it, the more that we can help ourselves, our friends and family, and society at large access the supports and resources needed from both a prevention and an intervention standpoint.

As part of their message, Bell Let’s Talk promotes five ways to help end the stigma around mental illness:

  1. Language matters
  2. Be kind
  3. Educate yourself
  4. Listen and ask
  5. Talk about it

One way we help promote such an understanding is through our Encouraging Dialogue speaker series.  On Tuesday, January 29, we will be hosting Dr. Greg Wells, author of The Ripple Effect: Sleep Better, Eat Better, Move Better, Think Better. His talk is focused on the four stages of physical and mental wellness, how they are interconnected, and how simple changes can create a ripple effect that improves overall functioning.  He will share this message with our grade 5 – 8 students in the afternoon, and then address our parents and the wider community that evening.

Talking about mental health is not something that we shy away from here at KCS. We understand the need to reduce the stigma around mental health and help everyone better understand that if you are experiencing a mental health issue you are not alone, you will not be judged, we will listen, and we will work with you and your family to get you the help and support that you need. Through avenues such as our Talk That Matters series for students, our above mentioned Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series for parents and the wider community, Children’s Mental Health week, and Bell Let’s Talk day, we are able to educate and promote an understanding about mental health and overall wellness.  But we aren’t going to stop there. We purposefully embed wellness, physical health, and mental health into what we do every day in all of our classes at every grade level. Discussions and learning about a variety of topics take place. Some such topics are: being active, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and taking time for ourselves. Our students also learn about mindfulness, yoga, movement, other stress-reducing strategies and who we can talk to and what we can do if we aren’t feeling healthy.

To strengthen our understanding about mental health and how we can help someone who is in distress, beginning in 2013, all of our faculty and staff have been certified in Mental Health First Aid, a 16-hour course provided by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. This past August, we completed a refresher course. We are also all certified in Red Cross First Aid; however, ask any of our faculty or staff and they will tell you that they use what they learned in their mental health first aid far more frequently than what they learned in physical first aid.

To continue our students thinking about mental health, and in support of the important initiative of Bell Let’s Talk Day, we asked all of our students from PK through grade 8 to think about what they could say, what they could do, or how they or someone else might feel if they were experiencing a mental health issue. They shared those ideas by filling in a speech bubble, a hand, or a heart. Take a moment to look at the display in our front lobby and you will see our students are doing their part to reduce the stigma and understand that mental health matters.

On Wednesday, January 30, there will be a lot of talk about mental health. Please join the conversation and help raise awareness about and funds for mental health. However, I challenge you to keep the conversation going and make mental health part of what you talk about every day.

The First School Rule – RESPECT

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules”. Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can enrich our lives.

It’s becoming a bit of a cliché to say that the world is getting meaner. But some days I can’t help but feel that way.

One of those days happened to me over the Christmas break. As usual, I spent time during the holidays watching the annual World Junior Hockey tournament. I really enjoy that particular tournament, as I’m always so impressed by these young teenagers who are able to get up in front of the world and compete on behalf of their country. To me, it’s a testament to not just their physical strength, but their emotional and mental strength as well.

But this year’s tournament left me shaking my head in disappointment. Not because the team lost, but because of the way in which some people responded to that loss. In their quarter-final game, Canada lost in overtime to Finland. During overtime, Max Comtois, the 19 year-old team captain, missed a chance to score the winning goal on a penalty shot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the loss brought out the social media trolls, and within hours this young man was being pelted with vitriolic insults and hate on his own Instagram account. A 19 year-old was asked to take on the job of leading his country’s hockey team, and rather than respect him for his efforts and courage, many people decided it was better to go out of their way to treat him with disrespect and contempt.

It seems to me that for some being negative and disrespectful has become a badge of honour. In a world filled with information overload, it appears that many have decided the best way to cut through the noise and get noticed is by focusing exclusively on other people’s perceived faults and missteps. I see it in politics, the media, online, and – most distressingly – the ways in which many young people talk to one another.

This is why the first school rule – “Respect” – is so important to me. Because respect simply means treating others like they matter. I keep a sign in my office that says “Be Good To People For No Reason”. To me, that’s the essence of respect. You pause before you say something because you never know what’s going on in that person’s life. You take a minute to understand their point of view. You give people the benefit of the doubt. You treat them the way you would want to be treated.

I believe that our community is a deeply respectful community. I see our students respecting the views of others as they listen to classmates’ ideas during group work. I see our families being respectful to each other in the parking lot as they wait patiently for a parent and small child to cross the road. I see our basketball players show respect for the feelings of their teammates (and opponents too!) as they cheer them on, even if they missed the game-winning shot. And I see our teachers showing respect to their colleagues when they jump in and help out without a word of complaint.

Treating others with respect is the key to success in life. Successful people are the ones who know how to both lead and follow, and you can’t do either unless you start by treating everyone (including yourself) with respect.

I think we do an amazing job of living and breathing respect at KCS. But I also believe we can do better. We need to keep raising our expectations for our school and each other. We choose what our school is by our behavior. And to me, that means treating each and every person who walks through our doors with the dignity and compassion that we all deserve.

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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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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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