Wall of Service: Making the World Better

I was on my way to Mr. Logan’s office to chat about the Blue Jays, when something wonderful caught my eye.  Our Wall of Service, tucked neatly beside the KCS School Store, was nearly full!  I highly recommend stopping by the board and reading some of the bricks on display.

It does not take long to realize the incredibly positive impact that our students are making in their community.  There were several cards describing donation drives in lieu of birthday presents.  Other students held fundraisers or participated in events that raised thousands of dollars for many worthwhile causes including the devastating forest fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta.  I learned that one of our Grade 2 students was recycling batteries specially designed for hearing aids.  Another student shared how he and his family stepped in and collected clothing and other necessities when someone they knew needed assistance with family oversees.

Two of our Habits of Mind, Body and Action ask our students to do what is right and strive to make the world a better place.  A few minutes at the Wall of Service allowed me to conclude that not only are we on track, but that we are also in good hands.

servuce

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

Best Ever Teaching and Learning

“During my Driver’s Ed, I was so nervous the instructor had me drive to Tim’s. I learned how to go through the drive-through and ordered a jelly donut.”

“My grade 9 history teacher claimed he had many past lives and would tell the stories of those lives for the period we were studying. It ignited my passion for history.”

August may seem like a long time ago for many. As for me, one memory from August continues to warm my soul.

The last week of August, all faculty returned to school, joining the non-teaching staff who remained busy over the summer preparing for September. It’s a huge week of learning, meeting, and planning. This year, it was also the week that all faculty and non-teaching staff engaged in an exercise to define excellence in teaching and learning. It started with a partner activity to share our personal answers to the following:

  1. What is the best learning experience you’ve ever had at school?
  2. What is the best learning experience you’ve ever had outside of school?

Take a moment. What would your answers be? We all have them, and would do well to remember.

With these personal stories captured on post-it notes, larger groups assembled and identified the features of these experiences that made the cut. All features were then shared with all staff. Of the 39 different features, all staff then identified their top six. Collectively, here are some of the features that were most chosen by all staff:

  • “Out of our comfort zone”
  • Hands-on
  • Inspiring
  • Meaningful
  • Challenging
  • Involved responsible risks
  • Real-life experience
  • Collaborative
  • Fun, Humourous
  • Passion-driven
  • Creative
  • Empowering

There are many ways to learn, and while not all are exciting enough to be remembered as “best learning ever,” they all add up to making a difference. However, learning that is so special that it remains a powerful memory years later is learning that clearly matters. This exercise was a great kick-off to a new year meant to inspire unforgettable learning.

May the learning in your lives be full of what we aim to bring to your children.

The Last Seed

I’ve wanted to write a blog for quite some time. Working with our grade three students is always inspiring as they look at everything with such curiosity and wonder. Today I was inspired to put into words a very special story that is happening right now. It brings tears to my eyes as I try to put it into words.

Every year in grade three, we read the Dr. Seuss story, The Lorax, as part of our plants unit and to symbolize Earth Day. This is a wonderful story about how saving one ‘truffula’ seed can be the start of a new tree and eventually a new forest that future generations can enjoy.

First, some background. My father went into a nursing home about a year ago. He was (and in his mind still is) passionate about so many things: family, friends, fishing, music, watercolour painting, building projects, and gardening. The list goes on. When my husband and I purchased a cottage 17 years ago, Dad was thrilled, as it was a lifelong dream of his to own a cottage. In the early years, he and my mom spent more time than we did at the cottage. He took pride in keeping every blade of grass manicured, in growing tomatoes and of course, flowers. He still talks about the ‘projects’ he needs to complete at our cottage, even though we know he is no longer able to pursue these passions.

My father has a special love for ‘Four o’ clocks’. These beautiful, delicate flowers are named Four o’clocks because they open in the afternoon sun each day. Every year Dad planted them, and then harvested the seeds at the end of the season to be replanted the following year. He taught my two children how to collect the seeds. The last seeds he collected with my children are about 8-10 years old. He now only comes to the cottage for a few days at a time, so the seeds have gone unplanted for many years, sitting in his old toothpick jars in my kitchen drawer. My wish is that he can come to visit his favourite place in the world, even though it is unlikely. Because of this, the rest of the story…

This year we planted our Four o’clock seeds as part of our science unit in grade three. We called them ‘truffula’ seeds, at first, but I wanted to share this story with my students, so they are now in on the secret that the seeds are actually Four o’clocks. Both classes planted Papa’s seeds, but sadly, none of them germinated. However, I had a few left over, so I threw them into a dish, watered them, and crossed my fingers. Amazingly, ONE seed germinated.

The students and I believe that this is a small miracle. We are watching our little baby plant and pleading that it will survive. Our hope is that I can deliver it to Dad in his nursing home to share a little bit of the cottage with him and to make him smile with pride. I have promised to plant it this summer at our cottage, and if it reproduces, I will collect the seeds and pass them onto the children when they are in grade four. If they each plant their little seed, Papa’s Four o’clocks will live on in our gardens for future generations to enjoy. And by doing so, a special part of Dad will live on as well.

Jackie Madigan
Grade 3 Teacher
Kingsway College School

Where Courage Happens

Lots of wonderful, just-plain-happy things happen at KCS. This week’s Blue Spruce celebration, complete with costumes, contests and cupcakes, is one fine example of such a thing. Yesterday’s grade 8-primary buddy get together to play Stinky Pig, Octopus and Soccer Bench Ball is another great example. Overhearing one SK ask another if she could join him, and his reply of yes – a simple thing but oh-so-important for that one girl – is a third example from the last 24 hours that leaves me smiling.

Some things are a bit more complicated, a bit tougher, and I’ve seen plenty of them since September too. Wake Up With the Arts is an exceptionally heart-warming monthly student performance, but there’s no question it’s courage-on-display. The event is entirely student-driven, and performances include students who perform solo, often on new instruments, or dancing something they choreographed themselves. We had our annual grade 7 and 8 speech contest and these remarkable youth held us spellbound by their effort and courage to stand in front a large crowd to deliver their speeches. Other moments of courage happen on the playground, or in the classroom, and they may be more private but they’re significant none-the-less. Our mission is to prepare students for challenges. They happen here. And our students respond with such courage you can’t help but be inspired to watch.

All of this reminded me of a great video a former student introduced me to. It’s a good one to watch and share with those you love. The world’s most remarkable people had to summon courage to face challenges and overcome failure, and their example should inspire us all.

January will bring a new year that I’m sure will be full of happy happenings at KCS. It will also bring many moments of courage. I wish you all a new year full of both.

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

Getting Out

I love this wonderful corner of Toronto. Living and working here, and spending my days with those who do the same, is one of my greatest good fortunes in life.

A recent field trip reminded me of the blessings of getting out.

This past Friday, the grade 8s, Ms Gaudet and I went to Variety Village, where 240 special athletes arrived to participate in the Four Corners provincial-qualifying track and field meet organized by Special Olympics Ontario. James Noronha, Youth Group Leader at St. Georges-on-the-Hill Church as well as Manager of Program Services at Special Olympics Ontario, gave our grade 8s the opportunity to be marshalls, timers and ambassadors at the event.

Whether demonstrating shotput, enticing reluctant long jumpers, announcing race starts, timing runners, or cheering on their adopted school teams, our students demonstrated exuberance, patience, kindness, adaptability, clarity in communication, focus on task and unlimited appreciation for these exceptional athletes. In return, we were all inspired by many athletes’ undeniable skill, and all athletes’ determination to try their best, pride in participation, and willingness to take the leap, throw the shotput, and run the race, especially when for some it was new and unsettling. When I asked some of our students what stood out most for them, they shared it was the athletes’ smiles. They noticed that regardless of how an athlete did, each ended their event with a smile so immense it felt they grabbed our hearts as they raised their fists in victory.

My words can’t quite describe how beautiful a day it was, and how different a day it was. It’s good for everyone to get out of their usual stomping grounds for many reasons, of course. How fortunate we were that we got out, and that our reason was to be at Variety Village, spending the day with special athletes and Special Olympics. May we all get out more often.

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

Thankful

Around The WorldI spent the majority of my Thanksgiving weekend in Montreal with my son whose soccer team was playing in the Quebec-Ontario Cup. Watching competitive soccer while experiencing the culture and food of La Belle Province — what a great time!  The Ontario victory in the two game series, by a combined score of 4-0, made the chore of getting out of Toronto… on the eastbound 401… on a Friday night… of a long weekend… much more worthwhile.

But what happened on the weekend that made it really special and memorable happened on Saturday night. A number of the dads and coaches and I went out for the evening. During our conversations, I learned that all were newcomers to Canada in the last twenty years: Carlos (Portugal), Danny (Jamaica), David (Guyana), Johnny (Iran), and Mike (Poland). They all left much behind when they immigrated, but did so in the hope of a better future for themselves and their families. Many of their stories sounded much like those my grandparents had when they immigrated from England.

These dads and coaches were all appreciative of the chance to create opportunity for themselves in Canada over the last couple of decades. I was thankful to learn of their stories and to be reminded of what a blessing it is to be Canadian.

Derek Logan
Head of School

How Do You Define Success?

This past Friday, at morning assembly, our school welcomed former Canadian Olympian Deidra Dionne.  Deidra represented Canada during both the Salt Lake (2002) and Torino (2006) Winter Olympic games as a free-style (aerial) skier.  She spoke to our students about goal setting, the feeling of being an Olympian, the importance of others in our achievements, and so many other insightful and important messages.

The message that resonated with me centred on the definition of success.  During her talk, Deidra mentioned her journey to compete in the Salt Lake Olympic games.  She described how she and her coaches planned to get to her first Olympics so that she could eventually stand on the podium.  She accomplished her goal by winning a bronze medal.  By all accounts, people would consider that a success.

More importantly, she went on to describe her journey to Torino four years later.  During training in Australia, she broke her neck.  Given this, free-style skiing at the Winter Olympics in Italy would seem, to many of us, an unreachable destination.  Not for Deidra.  Once she decided she wanted to ski again, Deidra committed herself to get to Italy.  And she did make it.  After all of the jumps made by all of the skiers, Deidra finished 22nd in a field of 23.  Given all she went through to get to Torino, she and her coaches, and all those who knew what she overcame to participate in another Winter Olympics, would consider this a success.  And I think you would too.

In school, sometimes people equate success with winning awards, first place teams, and medals for some competition or another.  There is no doubt you can consider all of those type of achievements success.  This type of success is easily identifiable in assemblies and awards ceremonies.  But there are so many other ways that our students should see themselves as successful: dealing with a difficult personal situation; overcoming a physical injury; doing something for the first time; improving their study or organizational skills, etc.

Deidra defined success in much the same way we’ve been defining success at KCS for 25 years:  try your best in whatever you do.  Success will follow.

Derek Logan
Head of School

There Was A Buzz Around Here Today

Today was an amazing day at KCS.  Five of our teachers, including myself, had their heads shaved in support of The Terry Fox Foundation.  You can see the before and after photos below and on our KCS Facebook page and through our KCS Twitter feed.

We set a goal at the beginning of the school year to raise $25 000, and if we reached the goal, the six of us had agreed to have our hair cut by Cos and Jackie from Cos on the Kingsway Salon/Spa.  To see the excitement in the school leading up to today was tremendous.  The students would come up to the each of us and say things like:

  1. “Are you looking forward to having some taken off the top?”
  2. “I can’t wait to see you bald!”
  3. “Bzzzzzzzz.”
  4. “Can ‘I’ cut your hair?”
  5. “It’s going to get cold soon.”
  6. “Hope you are enjoying your hair as its going to be gone soon.”
  7. And my favourite, “Isn’t this great that we are helping people and their families who have cancer?”

Achieving a goal such as raising over $25K takes a little effort from a lot of people.  We realize how our the parents, staff and faculty helped us raise the $25 000.  A special thanks to our students who opened up their piggy banks, who asked for money for their September or October birthdays in order to donate it, and who went out into their neighbourhoods and asked for donations.  It just goes to show that when many people contribute to a cause by doing what they can, it is possible to accomplish wonderful things.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Winning Without Coming in First Place

On Monday morning, our grade 3 cross country team went to their meet at Heart Lake in Brampton.  I wasn’t able to attend, however, over the past 48 hours I have heard many comments from students and teachers that it was a great event.  As usual, I heard about how hard our students competed, how much they enjoyed themselves, and how this event was a wonderful introduction for our youngest cross country athletes.

And then I heard another story.  One that reminds me about the role an excellent coach, parent and teacher can have on a young person and how they choose to act.

One of our students fell at the beginning of the race.  There was a question about whether or not he was intentionally pushed, but in the student’s words, “only the guy who pushed me will know…”  He didn’t quit.  Instead he got back up and ran until he couldn’t run anymore.  After he finished running his friends came by, offered words of encouragement and checked in on him.  Another student helped him by going to get his lunch off the bus.  All wonderful gestures and not surprising from the students at KCS.  What made this story even more heartwarming was what happened when the student realized he could not keep running.  In the middle of the race, another boy stopped running himself and helped his classmate find a teacher.  After he did this, the student got back in the race and finished it.  The runner who was hurt said to his mom afterwards, “[He] stopped to help me”.

To Zach and Daniel, thanks for your efforts on behalf of our cross country team.  More importantly, thanks for doing what is right.  I’m proud to know both of you and you can be on my team any day.

Derek Logan
Head of School