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.

The Abilities They Have

“Instead of teaching children to get ‘there,’ why not let them be here? Where is ‘there’ anyway? The world needs more ‘here’ than ‘there’.” – Vince Gowmon

One grade 5 student stopped me in the hall early in the year, explaining she had some things to share. “I’ll walk you to your office,” she began. She explained she wanted to start an environment club for students in grades 1 to 4 (in the works). Oh, and she’s working on two novel series (yes, you read that right.)

You get what you give. What is evident is that we get to learn more about what students can do when we give them space to show us. Here are five inspiring ways we’re learning this lovely lesson at KCS:

  1. Projects have started in many grades and students are coming up with their research questions. Our grade 2 students, after following the Question Formulation Technique, came up with questions that no “grade two” resource can answer. The teachers are now planning to connect with a zoologist so the students’ questions can get the answers they deserve.
  2. Other grades have started their own entirely independent projects. Grade 5 students, for example, have dedicated time to pursue an area of learning chosen by them, with the sole expectation that they share it with their class. One girl recently shared a presentation on a special family celebration, Diwali, with her classmates. Another student is learning how to code. Yet another is organising a food drive.
  3. A boy approached my colleague to say he wanted to lead a project to create a school flag. He has put together his team and already received permission to pursue this from the Head of School (the minute he learned he needed approval, off he went, right to Mr. Logan).
  4. Our grade 7 and 8 students recently learned of their opportunity, through KCS By Design, to join faculty and administrators in making KCS “outstanding,” working side-by-side and following a design thinking process to make a wise and notable difference. There’s no election, no special status and no reward for this work, other than the intrinsic reward of making something better. Twenty-two students opted to join us at our kick-off design thinking workshop next month.
  5. A group of over 30 students from grades 3 to 8 attended our recent Young Authors of KCS (YAKCS) workshop with award-winning author Shane Peacock. This is a unique opportunity for students who so love to write that they’re willing to persist in writing a book. There is no time limit and successful young authors have typically (and understandably) required more than one year. Those who persist to complete a manuscript will have a one-to-one feedback session with Mr. Peacock, where he’ll give them revision tips “author to author.” Students who persist beyond that to create a final product will have it officially published by KCS. To date, KCS students have seven published books sitting in the National Library and Archives Canada.

I was interviewed last week by a grade 3 student for an upcoming Learning Exhibit. Among his questions, he asked what students do that make me proud. How could I explain? They make me proud with every effort they make to do their best, make that best better, share what they know, take risks, and make a difference. You’d be overwhelmed with pride too if you could see the abilities they have. Go ahead, give them space to show you.

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.

Everything a School Should Be – Part 2

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. Doing one’s best includes a vast array of efforts, a sample of which were shared in Part 1 of this post.

Doing one’s best also means a determined, responsible commitment to constant improvement, wherever merited and as manageable.

At KCS, we’re constantly looking at what we do, identifying where we wish to grow, and taking measured steps forward from year-to-year. Many steps are identified by individual teachers, or grade partners, or divisions of teachers. Some steps are school-wide. Some are new initiatives; while others are ongoing efforts that began in previous years and continue to be an area of focus.

Here is some of what we’re focusing on this year:

  1. Living the Mission – Always our #1 focus, our mission is to be the defining force in developing lifelong learners. Currently, this effort includes Project-Based Learning; direct efforts to teach questioning skills; the growth of KCS as a Makerspace, with our new Innovation Lab and increased “making” throughout the school; the use of design thinking for deeper thinking, learning and problem-solving; and the launch of a new program called “High Resolves” in our senior grades as part of our global education efforts.
  2. Assessment – This is a multi-year area of focus. We launched a new report card last year and some adjustments will be made this year. We also launched our new secure electronic portfolio, Sesame, and we continue our roll-out to include all students from PK to grade 3. A blog will soon follow to explain why this is an exciting addition to KCS!
  3. Movement Project – This is also an ongoing area of focus under the leadership of our Director of Student Life, Tamara Drummond. Standing desks, chairs that allow for movement, fidget toys, and new practices that invite more frequent movement in the school day are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the school.
  4. Reading Evolution – A number of years ago we introduced a reading program that helped many of our students better consolidate the fundamentals of reading. The cumulative effect of this program is now a very noticeable increase in the reading skills of all of our students. Driven by internal data, reading instruction is evolving to meet the growing readiness for greater challenge.
  5. ELP and Reggio-inspired programming – Following widespread professional development, visits to other schools, and engagement of a consultant, the PK, JK and SK faculty have enthusiastically embraced Reggio-inspired programming as a strong complement to the Ministry of Education curriculum. While direct instruction on core skills will continue, students will also be given more time to practise being deep thinkers and learners through self-directed inquiry.
  6. Professional Development – PD has always been a regular feature of employment at KCS. All teachers have a generous budget for PD and they pursue various opportunities of relevance to their role. This year we launched a new means of sharing PD that allows all staff to see what others have done, and get a glimpse into what they learned. This is an efficient and effective new way to share professional learning and encourage greater awareness of the various PD offerings available to all.
  7. Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS preparation) – This merits a blog of its own, and one will follow later in the year. CAIS oversees a comprehensive accreditation process for independent schools that aspire to excellence. KCS is CAIS-accredited, and all staff will be working this year on an internal review in preparation for our upcoming accreditation review in November of 2017.

At KCS we’re constantly learning so that we can keep improving in all ways that matter, each and every year. Creative thinking is inspired when multiple challenges synergize into innovative solutions. Progressing thoughtfully and responsibly, changes aren’t always immediate. They’re discussed, and if considered worthy they’re piloted. If successful, they spread. When imperfect, they’re tweaked. And they’re not limited by the notion that we can only focus on a few areas. Collectively, there are positive changes happening throughout the school, based on what teachers feel needs improvement, and what they can manage well. Being everything a school should be includes constantly trying to do better. Doing our best means we won’t accept anything less.

The Call to Be a Defining Force

Goodness, these are unusual times. Anyone following world news, regardless of political leanings, knows that remarkable things are happening. For years now, it’s been said that the future will be increasingly unpredictable; that global interdependence will be increasingly entrenched and often uncomfortable; and that the challenges we’ll all have to face will be increasingly complex. It’s looking like the future is here.

That’s why we all, increasingly, need to step in.

Eight years ago, KCS made its intentions clear. Our vision and mission statement, adopted then, captured our aspirations:

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

This statement is rooted in our longstanding determination to do our best for our students. It’s equally rooted in something else, something that many of our families may not have thought much about, and something worth pointing out.

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. All KCS staff share that dedication to the children and families we serve. Doing our best means we also need to help realize the potential in education as a whole. There is a tremendous effort that goes into the education of every child. And while there is much that is sound and good in the profession, there has always been significant room for growth. As the world becomes increasingly complex to navigate, the room for growth expands. KCS is not a school that simply strives to offer what other schools, even great schools, offer. We’re a school prepared to push the boundaries of the profession, in ways that are balanced, impactful, and progressive. KCS is a school prepared to wrestle with challenges, be patient when the time for change isn’t right, and to act when creative, valuable ideas are ready. We are willing and able to be a defining force in developing lifelong learners.

Over the past eight years (and more, to be honest), KCS faculty have introduced many new practices that, to our knowledge, were either unique or rare in the profession. The small-group instruction in our Super Skills and Workshop classes; our Wall of Service; our Habits of Mind, Body and Action; our Young Authors of KCS program; our multiple approaches to Student Leadership and service; Wake Up with the Arts; our use of design thinking for innovative learning and student-staff collaboration; and more came to be because our faculty wanted to go further. Pushed by pioneers in the field, remixing promising practice, and following the inspiration from others to create brand new solutions, we keep pressing forward.

Students have always deserved the best education. What’s best is changing and the need for growth is imperative. And it’s not about one school. Our vision statement “To be a defining force in developing lifelong learners” makes clear that it’s not about KCS being ‘the’ defining force. Frankly, such a limited vision would underserve students. Our wish is that all educators work together to make education the best it can be for now and for this increasingly unforeseeable future. We’ll keep doing our part. And we look forward to another year of learning and inspiration from all others who heed the call.

Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 2

Design thinking came to KCS with the launch of our new student leadership group KCS By Design (KBD). While there has been significant student leadership at KCS for years, never before have we had such a powerful means for senior students to work with staff in driving innovation.

The KBD group has chosen to focus on helping KCS better enable differentiated learning. Discussing how to make that happen, it became apparent that we needed to carve out time for students to engage in learning that is designed both by them and for them. The easiest way to find that time was in our electives program. Available for students in grades 6 to 8, this time is dedicated to “Learning for the Love of It”. Perfect.

Inspired by our KBD discussions, Mrs. Drummond and I added an elective called “Go Ahead: Lead Your Learning” to the already enticing list of learning opportunities for senior students. Our elective description went like this:

Do you wish you could control how and what you learn at school? Do you have big ideas, and wish you had the time, tools and support to pursue them? Is there something you’d love to build/create/invent/compose/investigate that you can’t do at home or school (yet)? In this elective, you can go ahead. Involved faculty will support, encourage, and look for experts/resources/tools/trips to help. Go ahead, surprise us, and yourself!

To our delight, eleven students signed up. Five students want to write a book. Three are keen on an art project, though they’re also considering writing or possibly app creation. One wants to build a high-powered rocket from scratch. Another is keen to build a motorised aircraft. The final wants to build a motorised go-kart. Adapting the design-thinking process to fit our endeavour, here is what we’re calling their ‘Game Plan’:

    1. Inspiration Phase
      1. What do you think you want to create?
      2. Find related sources of inspiration and look through many possible examples before deciding what you specifically want to make
      3. If your idea is FOR others, understand their needs and wishes. Speak with others. Record their answers via writing or video.
      4. Do a visual sketch or general plan of what you aim to create
    2. Why do you want to create it?
      1. What values/adjectives do you want associated with your final product? Have an idea you believe in and are inspired by.
      2. For what purpose (play, use, learn, decoration, gift, just because)
      3. For what audience (self, friends, siblings, family, school showcase)
      4. Know what your questions are
    3. Prototype or Storyboard
      1. How will you prototype your idea?
      2. Will your prototype answer your questions?
      3. What do you need for the prototype?
        1. Materials
        2. Expertise
        3. Location
      4. What are you learning from the prototype? Any new questions to answer? (Be curious, open-minded and prepared to start again if the evidence says you should!)
    4. Go Ahead

At each step, our students will create a video log, or ‘vlog’, on our new Sesame electronic portfolio. Before they rush ahead, they have to reflect deeply on their plan, and articulate their thinking each step of the way.

To introduce the elective to our students, we showed them the video “Do You Dare to Dream?” Among other things, it introduced students to the concept of a ‘comfort zone’, where we immerse ourselves in what’s familiar; the ‘learning zone’, for those who embrace learning of all kinds; and the ‘panic zone’, for those willing to go out on a limb to pursue the unknown. Writing books? App creation? Art, rockets, electronics and motorized vehicles? The ‘panic zone’ may be speaking to me more than our students. This couldn’t be more beyond my routine, and more exciting.

Design thinking, reaching out to our faculty and parent community for expertise, and faith in our students are all I need to allay my fears. Our students have embraced the opportunity. There will be lots of learning for us all. We’ll adapt. They’ll launch their Go Ahead projects. If all goes well, we’ll keep repeating our use of design thinking to make KCS the best it can be. Let’s see where this journey goes.

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

Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 1

HeadandArrowssmallEarlier this year I wrote about our debut with design thinking. For readers still unfamiliar with what that means, here’s my attempt to describe it:

Design thinking is a process that takes a group of people from ‘complex problem’ to ‘solution’ in ways that are exceptionally correlated with success. Design thinking deeply engages all stakeholders, requires them to empathise with all affected, and reins in the more typical ‘rush to conclusion’ so creative win-win thinking has time to emerge.

While the specifics can vary according to task and organisation, the method is clear and comprehensive. Thanks to Project 2051 at the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Leadership Institute last summer, I became acutely aware of its power and potential. Inspired, we have adopted design thinking, adapted it to meet our needs, and launched two new innovations that are rocking our world.

The earlier blog explained how we’ve established a new form of student leadership that allows all interested senior students and staff to work together to make KCS the best it can be. Here’s the design thinking process we’re following:

  1. What is the design challenge?
    1. What problems are you aware of that need fixing?
    2. What challenges are you aware of that are worth addressing?
    3. What opportunities have occurred to you that are worth pursuing?
  2. What do you need to know?
    1. Who is affected?
    2. What are their perspectives?
    3. What research can inform you?
    4. What can you learn from others’ experiences?
  3. What ideas address your design challenge?
    1. What can you think of?
    2. Which are win-win for all?
    3. Get feedback from a larger group
  4. Act
    1. Pilot at a small scale
    2. Reflect and iterate
    3. Expand to address the challenge

We started as a small but intrepid group. Since our November launch, the group has quadrupled in size. The design challenge we’ve chosen to pursue first, identified by a grade 7 student, is the following: “How do we better enable differentiated learning at KCS?” We’ve since conducted a survey with the grade 6 to 8 students to learn more about how they best learn. Later this month, we’ll be launching this year’s Student Voice topic so we can hear from all students about differentiated learning and how to improve it. The KCS by Design members are currently preparing frequency distribution graphs and PowerPoint slides so they can share their findings through presentations to faculty, senior students, and the whole school (separately), as well as through presentation boards in the foyer for parents. Finally, Mrs. Drummond and I have launched a new elective as a prototype that makes more differentiated learning possible at KCS. That exciting venture will be Part 2 in the story of “Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat”.

This is what all leadership should be built upon. Engaging, listening to, learning from, prototyping with, and informing the whole school community makes smart innovation possible. I can’t wait to see where this journey goes. The inspiration that began with Project 2051 energises every step of the way.

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

Design-thinking Debut

Future Design School Workshop at Kingsway College School

Inaugural KCS By Design workshop.

Have you heard of design thinking? If not, you might want to read further. It’s a process full of possibility, that’s literally changing countries. In a school that aspires to making the world better, it belongs.

Design thinking is a process that takes a group of people from ‘complex problem’ to ‘solution’ in ways that are exceptionally correlated with success. Design thinking deeply engages all stakeholders, requires them to empathise with all affected, and reins in the more typical ‘rush to conclusion’ so creative win-win thinking has time to emerge. San Francisco-based IDEO is renowned as a source of world-changing design thinking. Schools and organisations around the globe that have lofty aspirations are following their lead.

KCS is too.

KCS recently launched our new KCS By Design program. It leverages design thinking and Web 2.0 technology to connect interested senior students and staff in making KCS outstanding. It is open to all students in grades 7 and 8 and all staff who wish to join. Involvement can be as simple as joining our dedicated Wiki, where members can post what they see as challenges, problems or opportunities for KCS. Involvement can also be as significant as students and staff working together to make solutions happen.

As part of KCS By Design, members were invited to attend our inaugural workshop on design thinking, facilitated by Future Design School on November 3rd. The students and faculty in attendance chose to pursue a challenge posed by a student: How can we better enable KCS to differentiate learning? We’ve started an exciting journey to figure that out. Many other ideas for how to improve KCS were also identified, and these are now posted on our Wiki for others to run with.

While two FDS facilitators worked with our intrepid group, we learned that other FDS facilitators were in Paris leading a group of CEOs through the exact same design-thinking process. Good to hear.

We’ve always known our students were destined to make the world better. It’s nice to know that CEOs are learning to do the same.

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