Everything a School Should Be (Part 1)

Let’s take a moment and think about everything a great school should be doing for students. There’s the curriculum – collectively many hundreds of pages of content and skills, wrapped up in subjects, that schools need to make sure all students learn. Then there’s tailoring the curriculum, because ensuring all students learn requires adjustments for each and every one. On top of that there’s enrichment programming, character education, learning skills, collaboration skills, critical and creative thinking, leadership and citizenship, appreciation of nature and the arts, and so much more. Schools need to engage minds, inspire physical health and activity, develop resilience, and nurture the artistic spirit. Direct instruction matters. Project-based learning matters. Clubs, teams, field trips, inspiring speakers, cross-grade integration activities, and spirit-raising events matter. Throughout the delivery of all of the above, a school needs to help students with the inevitable bumps – social, emotional, mental, academic, physical – that happen and directly interfere with everything else if not well addressed. And all of this, and more, needs to happen in an aligned, whole-system manner so it’s optimal both in how it’s experienced and in the difference it makes. Without a doubt, a great school must do many things exceptionally well.

Yet to follow the dialogue, one might think it’s otherwise.

We hear boasts of schools that are outstanding on singular measures, but left wondering how these feats are achieved without sacrifice in other areas of the school. We read that schools should focus improvement efforts on only a small number of areas at once, as if all other important things can wait, for years. We learn of exciting new programs that have great appeal, but represent just a tiny fraction of what’s needed for deep, longstanding impact. This is fine reading, but none are the story that students most need. None are the story we should want for our children.

At KCS, we’re transparent in our unrelenting commitment to being everything a school should be. Our Four Doors to Learning program in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship reflects years’ worth of creative, collaborative effort so that our story is the full story students need. Our faculty are constantly adding new professional learning so that this effort reflects the wisest judgment we can muster. And we’re constantly striving to improve in as many ways we can, and in all ways that matter.

KCS is committed to being everything a school should be. If there’s anything singular about where we strive to be outstanding, that’s it. We know that other schools strive for this as well, but it’s a story we don’t hear often enough. It makes for a long story, with many lengthy chapters. In a busy world and crowded social media space, it’s a story that takes time to tell and time to hear.

That’s okay. Children love long stories. So should we.

Part 2 of this post, to be published shortly, will share the story of how KCS is constantly striving to improve in its effort to be everything a school should be.

Four Doors Collage.jpg

The Numbers Have It

mathAs classrooms across Ontario echo with the sounds of excited students, the hot topic making waves in Ontario has been math scores. The news for many, unfortunately, has not been as sunny as our summer weather.

At Kingsway College School, our approach to math (and everything else) is proactive, based on proven practice, tailored to our students, and built through teamwork.  For example, in our first week of school, I observed a few of our grade 3 and 4 students completing a math placement activity with one of our specialist teachers, Mr. Graham Marshall.  Working in small groups, the students tackled a range of challenging questions.  Once evaluated, these assessment results will be used by both Mr. Marshall and his Primary and Junior colleagues to support differentiated instruction and a tailored curricular course for these students.

Math doesn’t come easily to some. And it comes very easily to others. A school’s job is to make sure all these students learn. KCS continuously strives to uncover the most effective strategies to support and if need be, accelerate students as they all navigate the ins and outs of the math curriculum.  Standardized test results make clear that we’re doing our job. Though fall will soon be here, we’re delighted that the KCS math story is the sunny one that all students deserve.

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.

Can They Feel Their Brain Growing?

HeadandArrowssmallIt’s a tough habit to break. In a school full of students who impress in myriad ways, it’s hard not to hand out generous amounts of praise.

What’s the harm? Plenty. This recent article by Sal Khan “The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart” is a worthy reminder to tread carefully with praise. The possibilities are endless if we do.

(Parents and students wanting to stretch their brains might enjoy checking out Khan Academy and their large library of brief, instruction videos on a whole array of topics.)

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

The Journey Through KCS

GrowthLots of little ones are joining KCS this week. And this year they’re littler than ever.

As of this September, KCS now has pre-, junior and senior kindergarten, in addition to grades 1 to 8. The excitement among faculty is palpable, and the desire to do our best for these youngest of students as strong as ever. Like we do for every student, we’ll follow their journey through to graduation from KCS with heartfelt interest. Here’s some of what they will come across:

  1. Deeply caring and driven teachers who are constantly improving what they do to best meet their students’ needs.
  2. A school experience committed to giving students the academic foundation and Habits they need to be successful in school and throughout life.  Their learning will be enriched, at times accelerated, and differentiated to meet the strengths and needs of all.
  3. A house system, led by senior students, that brings community, spirit-raising and friendly competition to the school day.
  4. An immersion in student leadership that makes clear everyone can be a leader, and that leadership can unfold in infinite ways.
  5. When in grade 1, they will have a grade 8 buddy who will organize get-togethers, high five them in the hall and be an example of the fine young men and women they will also become.
  6. An extra-curricular schedule with around 35 club and team opportunities available to the students each term.
  7. A regular message that they can make the world better, through acts big and small, through our Wall of Service and service learning projects.

Some will start shy and become contest-winning public speakers. Some will become passionate artists.  Some will discover a penchant for politics, and will debate provincial legislation at the Ontario Legislature in grade 8. Some will bring home championship banners in sports. Some will become published authors in our YAKCS program. Some will discover special talents in math contests and robotics. Some will perform in an orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall. Many will become leaders with experience and skill beyond their young years.

It’s amazing to watch little ones grow. Immersed in the same opportunities, the unique core in every child will blossom in whatever way it chooses to.

That’s why we watch with so much interest. And why we’re so excited to be part of the journey.

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

Summer Learning

SummerCubbies are cleaned. Lockers lay bare. Papers have been sifted through with favourites kept and the rest thrown out.

Summer holidays have arrived, and the weight of the academic world has been lifted for another year.

I’ve been guilty of thinking that children have it relatively easy. I can remember once pointing out to a group of teens how hard their teachers are working, leading extra-curriculars, teaching all day, marking and planning every evening. I deserved their immediate challenge. They reminded me that, in fact, students also have a lot of demands on them. They’re involved in those school extra-curriculars and more, they’re in those classes throughout the day, and they’re doing homework every evening. They have endless expectations on them for managing themselves and their work. Many regularly face misunderstanding, mistakes and reprimand in both academics and social relations. They navigate this world with the vulnerable self-esteem, self-confidence and skill set inherent in being young. Even in the best schools, the days are not easy.

Many parents and teachers bemoan the long gap between June and September. It’s true that some academic learning can take a hit. Having said that, other learning should be savoured in the summer. Because the school year doesn’t always make enough time for it, here is some of the summer learning I hope all children work hard at this holiday:

  1. Learning through play
  2. Learning through mistakes
  3. Learning within one’s strengths and passions
  4. Learning and relaxation in a healthy balance
  5. Learning what and how you want, just for the love of it

Lots of important things are learned at school. And lots of important things are learned outside of school. Like students, teachers also learn a lot over the summer. Maybe, as a result of all their learning, more of this summer learning will work its way into the school year.

Have a wonderful, learning-filled summer.

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

This article will be published in the July 2013 edition of SNAP Etobicoke.

A Notion Worth Knocking

Working the brainI remember the indignation. I was a grade 8 student studying for a science test. I announced with all the wisdom and conviction of a 13-year-old that it was ridiculous studying all this science. “It’s not like I’m going to be a scientist!”

No doubt I would have joined the chorus today that also argues against learning and memorizing facts. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read or hear the argument that students don’t need to know things like they used to. Anything one needs to know can be found on the internet.

A number of reasons why this notion is incorrect quickly come to mind: students need information as fodder for critical and creative thinking; people don’t always have the internet when they need it; you can’t simultaneously Google everything you need to know to think about a complex issue; much information we learn contributes to our sense of community and identity.

Reading Kathie Nunley’s book A Student’s Brain: The Parent/Teacher Manual, I can now add another definitive reason for why this notion needs knocking. Pure and simple, having to learn anything, anything, makes your brain stronger. The more the brain takes in, the more neural pathways become established. The more those pathways are repeatedly used, the more permanent those pathways become. The more numerous, varied and permanent those pathways are, the more ways in which the brain is ready to learn everything else it’s subsequently exposed to. Much like a muscle that grows whether you’re lifting barbells or babies, the brain is a use-it-or-lose-it organ. If you want to be good at anything in life, learn everything you can.

Along the way, you might even learn what I learned when applying to university. My undergraduate, as it turned out, was in science.

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

This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, June 2013.

Habits Worth Having

What Are The Habits of Mind, Body and Action?Our students have lots of habits. Rather than trying to break them, we’re shamelessly celebrating them in our just-released school videos on how we develop lifelong learners at KCS.

If your habits need a little tweaking, you might be inspired by some of our students and the habits they’ve already embraced in their lives:

  • A student in grade 4 whose favourite habit is to take responsible risks, because it reminds her to try something new
  • A student in grade 7 whose favourite is to persist, because it’s what he knows he most needs to do
  • A student in grade 6 whose favourite is to share what you know, because if everyone did so we would all be smarter. Besides, collaborating is fun.

Check out our KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action and think about which is your favorite? Why? Then share it with others, and do a little inspiring of your own.