A Distinct Partner Ecosystem for Learning and Creativity: KCS Senior School Update #8

“Caring teachers who were skilled, experienced and took the time to understand me, encourage me, and recognize my achievements.” – KCS parent

Teachers have important areas of expertise. They have knowledge, skills, and dispositions that notably support student growth. Not surprisingly, when we asked KCS parents in our feedback survey what made for their most memorable learning as a youth, the most repeated answer was one or more teachers.

Other people have expertise in other things. Our parent and grandparent community, our alumni, and our growing network of KCS ‘friends’ bring expertise from every possible sector. They bring languages from around the world. They represent a wide array of cultures, demographics, and lived experiences. They have interests, talents, passions, and perspectives of great value.

Bringing these seasoned learners and practitioners together – teachers and others – and regularly connecting them with students (with their own knowledge and skills to share) provides an environment that is distinctly able to inspire learning and creativity. Learning is inspired by partners sharing their expertise, providing authentic projects, and offering field and co-op placements. The creativity they inspire comes from the unlimited addition of facts and ideas that students can connect in new ways. A favourite TEDx Talk, Bill Stainton’s “How to Be a More Creative Person”, explains how this works.

Our roster of learning partners is growing. The response of both our KCS community as well as those learning about us for the first time affirm that this is an idea which is immediately understood to have value. The partners who have already inspired learning at KCS have made the positive impact evident. We’ve also identified technology that will support making this community of learning partners visible to our Senior School students and teachers, so they know what expertise is available and ready to inspire. Finally, our curriculum is being designed so engagement with learning partners will be woven into every course, and that relevant learning and creativity will follow. From grade 9 through 12, our students will build an unparalleled awareness of the breadth of people who are shaping the world, and the many paths available for them to shape it in turn.

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye

A surprise hidden inside Stainton’s TEDx Talk is the story of how the beloved Bill Nye came to be ‘The Science Guy’. He was once the overlooked expert that, thankfully, has now informed and inspired millions.

We aren’t all experts like Nye. And we all have interests and perspectives that don’t need to be ‘expert’ in order for them to have value. A vast, untapped resource is in our midst, and keen to engage. Students, teachers, parents, extended family, alumni, and friends of KCS, make up what will be a distinctive ecosystem for learning.

To the KCS family and friends reading this, more information and an invitation to join this exceptional learning partner community will follow soon. To those new to KCS but keen to join our efforts to inform and inspire youth, reach out to us.

Join us in making unprecedented learning happen. Join us in shaping the future of education.

To learn more about KCS Learning Partnerships, please reach out to Andrea Fanjoy, Head of Senior School, at afanjoy@kcs.on.ca.

 

Our Vision, Made Real: Senior School Update #6

“The KCS vision for a new type of high school in Toronto is remarkable on three fronts: it is in demand; it will serve the needs of an entire population of forward-thinking families and students; and the incredible depth of study and research that is going into the design, based on what leading schools all over North America are doing…” – Grant Lichtman

Our fundamentals were established. Our vision document was clear. In January 2017, a Task Force of 40 parents, past parents, board members, and staff set out to research how these two things were being realized in leading schools all over North America. Many hours and 100 pages of research later, the group convened to build a prototype.

What would the student experience be exactly?

What timetable framework would enable our vision?

How would learning partners help enrich student learning?

How would the facility be designed to encourage deep learning?

How would assessment practices support optimal learning?

On June 15, 2018, we identified the features of the KCS Senior School model. While our full output was too long for this blog, here were some we intended to embrace:

Student Experience

  • Deep, relevant projects
  • Regular engagement with external experts
  • Community-based experiential learning
  • Student-driven learning (including passion-driven learning)
  • Relationships (Collaborative projects, Advisory, open as community hub in off hours)

Time

  • Math and French courses all year for optimal learning
  • Other courses semestered or trimestered
  • Longer periods for most courses
  • A protected time block when students are tasked with self-directed projects and learning experiences
  • A quality Learning Management System for every course so students can easily access course-related learning when and as much as needed

Partners in the System

  • Identify the different roles learning partners can play, from one-off engagement to co-op placements
  • Build a large roster of willing partners from within and outside the KCS community
  • Identify an online tool that will facilitate and help manage student/teacher/partner engagement
  • Assign an administrative role to provide oversight and support
  • Engage students in the identification, selection, onboarding, and design of the student/partner experience

Facility

  • Quality space for learning of all kinds for students, teachers, and learning partners
  • Lots of room to display student work and to support entrepreneurship (products for sale)
  • Places to build community, enjoy a snack or meal, hold assemblies, give presentations
  • Fitness room and easy access to outdoor space for nature and physical activity
  • Makerspace, art, and recording studios

Assessment

  • Leverage e-portfolios to capture learning journey and growth
  • Authentic assessment via performance tasks
  • Assessment of competencies in addition to knowledge and skills
  • Ongoing student reflection
  • Traditional assessments where worthy

We left the prototyping exercise in agreement, knowing our work wasn’t done but that our progress was palpable. The next step was to put our thoughts in front of others. What did they think? Ever serious in our efforts, that was a task that merits its own update.

 

 

Learning Partners Come in All Sizes

At KCS, we’re deeply committed to looking outside our school walls in order to connect with a range of learning partners in our city and beyond. But sometimes you don’t have to look that far to find experts who are ready and willing to share their knowledge and experiences.

At the end of the last school year, Madame Fanjoy heard about a young boy named Ethan in grade 1 who wanted to start a rock club at KCS. She supported the idea wholeheartedly, but it just couldn’t get rolling in the short time left before summer. The first week back in grade 2 she asked about his plan to start a rock club, and discovered that he was still very determined to share his love of rocks with his community.

Madame Fanjoy said that the grade 4’s were about to start studying rocks and minerals, and asked if he would visit the class as an expert. He immediately embraced the idea and started explaining what he would do to prepare. It was amazing to see his passion and commitment, and hear him speak about his “process” and “Plan Bs”! He quickly reached out to me (the grade 4 science teacher) to lock down a visit. He also let me know that his Uncle Ben was a geologist who travelled all over the country exploring potential mine sites, and that he might want to come and visit as well. This was going to be an exciting opportunity for both Ethan and the grade 4s!

A few weeks later, both Ethan and Ben ended up sharing their collective wisdom and knowledge with both the grade 4 classes. Ethan shared his rock collection and talked about how he learned so much about rocks, while his uncle talked about mining engineering, mine safety, and ways in which we can minimize the environmental impact of mining.

What was striking to me was the way in which the grade 4 students treated both their guests. They treated the “grown-up” guest with great respect and manners, and peppered him with a number of insightful questions and interesting facts. How did Ethan fare with this group of students? They listened attentively, spoke to him as an equal, and treated the entire experience with great gravitas and sincerity.

We take it for granted that we learn from those older and more experienced than us. And yes, in this case, we learned a lot about mining and engineering from a professional geologist with an impressive resume filled with university degrees and real-world experiences. But we also learned another valuable lesson from a grade 2 who just happened to love rocks. Namely, some of the best teachers and learning partners come from the most unexpected places, and that everyone who walks into a KCS classroom deserves our respect, attention, and willingness to learn from them.

Our North Star: KCS Senior School Update #5

Grant Lichtman, author, educator, and changeleader, was clear. He would only help us develop our Senior School model if we were prepared to include a large, mixed group of stakeholders.

We also needed a vision document – a North Star – so that this diverse group would be clear on where they were headed.

We drafted that document. In addition to the fundamentals shared in a previous post, the North Star for the KCS Senior School included the following essential features:

  • a clear framework and process that establishes authentic student leadership in their learning and experience as the norm
  • the intentional inclusion of student passions and interests in the core learning experience
  • deeper learning that includes extended investigation of a topic, significant student voice and choice, expectations for creative thinking, and authentic purpose
  • a nimble curriculum, timetable, and experience so there is ongoing room for student leadership, voice, choice, as well as learning across grades, across the curriculum and learning through external experts
  • the intentional and regular inclusion of external experts, partners and facilities to enrich student learning through presentations, mentorships, co-op placements, field work, field trips, research and more
  • the expectation that graduates have been regularly required to look at topics from different lenses (cultural, geographical, political, socioeconomic, Four Doors etc.)
  • a nurturing, strong and thriving community as the foundation in which remarkable learning will take root and bloom

(From our full vision document “The Senior School to Strive For”)

Grant Lichtman has worked with hundreds of schools and thousands of educators across North America. He had the same response to our vision document as the 40 staff, parents, past parents, and board members who joined our Task Force. It was sound, it made sense, it was exceptional.

It’s what we all wished school could be.

KCS Engages in CAIS Green Schools National Student Discussion

KCS students are taking climate action seriously. On November 5, six students from Grades 7 & 8 connected with 20 other CAIS Green School students from across the country in the first national online discussion forum. The students thoroughly enjoyed connecting and sharing their sustainability work, while learning a lot and having fun collaborating with other environmentally responsible fellow students from other schools, nation-wide.

“I got lots of notes and it was fun to learn. I’m glad I participated in it. The best idea I heard was that one of the schools has a green roof,” KCS Grade 7 student, Robert expressed enthusiastically.

Fellow Grade 7 student Sophia really enjoyed taking part in the forum as well, “I thought it was very fun. I liked the idea that we got to say what was happening in the school. It was very informative. There were a lot of schools in the meeting and they did lots of different things, which was cool to learn about.”

One of the ideas the KCS students liked and wish to initiate is a KCS “Sweater Day”, in collaboration with National Sweater Day held in February – where the entire KCS community would participate by sporting a sweater and turning down the heat, wear another layer and save some energy for a day, and perhaps even a week!

Other green initiatives discussed that generated excitement were:

  • Set up proper recycling and compost bins in each classroom
  • Conduct food waste competition, grade vs grade or house vs house
  • Grow plants in the science lab in the winter
  • Install solar panels
  • Run Trash-less Tuesdays
  • Remove plastic utensils
  • Help clean up Humbertown Park
  • And more…

Grade 7 and 8 students from across the country were invited to participate in these national conversations about sustainability with independent schools. This was the first for independent schools, and it’s a great way to share what other schools are doing. The CAIS Green Schools project is interested to hear and share what student are doing at their schools to advance sustainability goals.

Our thanks to the following students for their sharing their time and wisdom to help make our school a greener place!

Grade 8: Maya, Maia & Jack

Grade 7: Sienna, Sophia & Robert

green

Success Redefined – Rethinking Motivation

We all have different reasons for getting up each morning and doing what we set out to do. Motivation is the reason why we do things and is a crucial component that inspires us to reach our goals.

There are two forces at play when it comes to motivation: intrinsic – which is doing something because it’s personally meaningful; and extrinsic – which is doing something for a reward or to avoid punishment. We rely on these forces to achieve our objectives – whether we are playing for a team, participating in the classroom, reading a book or simply helping out with chores at home.

As parents, educators, coaches and lifelong learners, we sometimes wonder which motivational approach is better in managing those relationships – to be more aggressive or to be more open and nurturing. This was the matter in question at the recent KCS Encouraging Dialogue event held in October.

“Break out of convention to prepare for your child’s performance, well-being and success” was the theme discussed by former Olympians, Jason Dorland and Robyn Meagher at the event, followed by powerful messages surrounding the importance of building relationships when it comes to coaching, teaching and parenting.

Jason and Robyn provided practical tips, based upon their shared experiences, on how we can best coach and teach our children through nurturing and encouraging. They both elaborated on their successes and failures, using motivation as a tool, resulting in greater acceptance, fulfillment and mutual respect.

Learning begins after a respectful relationship has been developed. Once the respect is there and the individual feels safe, cared for and empowered, then they are ready to engage and to learn. Before we engage with people, we often need to step back and consider where they are coming from, as well as understanding and respecting their intentions and goals. This may sound easier said than done, especially when one of the people in the relationship is in an authoritative position.

Throughout their athletic careers, Jason and Robyn were coached and trained from two very different perspectives and approaches. Jason experienced the ‘warrior, aggressive, win-at-all-costs’ approach, mixed with a bit of anger and extrinsic condemnation as the motivational tool.   Jason sees this as not an effective or successful approach in the long run. Alternatively, Robyn’s coaching and training was based on mutual respect, support, serenity, intrinsic composure and appreciation. After getting to know Robyn and understanding her training history and coaching style, Jason saw and appreciated the benefits. Over time, they worked together to develop practical tips on how we can help children navigate through the success and failures of life.

A few helpful tips from the evening were:

  • To find out what you are capable of is a journey. Intrinsic motivation is not the chase. Intrinsic motivation is powered by love and high performance is the by-product.
  • Ego driven motivation is powered by reputation, reward and fear, whereas spirit driven motivation is powered by service, mastery and joy.
  • Coaching is built around three questions:
    • What went well?
    • What was tricky?
    • What do you want to change moving forward?
  • The journey of life is the gift. Celebrate and enjoy it!

In coaching, parenting and teaching, motivation is used and can be delivered aggressively, by instilling fear, or softly by imparting love. Both approaches impact behavior in a variety of ways.

The benefits are evident when there is mutual respect in a relationship; the results can be positive and boundless.  Investing and working on the connection in order to cultivate mutual respect, feelings of trust, and support is always well worth the time and energy. There is value in nurturing a strong sense of connection between the coach and the athlete, the teacher and the student, the parent and the child.

We all grow and learn through our trials and our errors. The relationships between success and failure is fluid; they are linked in the process of growth, learning and change. And communication and motivation are vital components in this process. When the lines of communication are open, and the right form of motivation is applied, there is synergy – collaboration and cohesiveness – like Canadian geese – we fly together.

We were happy to host Jason and Robyn back in October.  Our staff will continue to work closely with them in the two four-day professional workshops in the summer of 2020 and 2021.

Redefining Success

On October 24, 2019, we will be hosting the next installment in our ongoing Encouraging Dialogue speaker series. This time, we’re fortunate to have the chance to hear from Robyn Meagher and Jason Dorland, two former Canadian Olympians who will share their powerful message about the importance of relationships when it comes to coaching, teaching, parenting, and life in general.

Jason’s sport is rowing. For many years, he subscribed to the “warrior” approach to coaching and training. He was driven by aggression and winning at all costs. His coaches yelled, belittled, and used anger as a tool for motivation. But when he finally made it to the 1988 Olympics, his team’s devastating failure made him reassess his entire attitude towards competition and coaching.

Another huge factor in this reassessment was meeting Robyn Meagher, a middle-distance runner who represented Canada at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. She came from a very different tradition of coaching – one grounded in serenity, calmness, and an understanding that each athlete is an individual with their own complex emotional needs and history.

At first, he was skeptical of this seemingly wishy-washy approach to training for elite athletes. But over time, he came to realize that this style of coaching actually led to better results, even at the highest level of competition. Now the two of them work together to provide practical tips on how parents and teachers can coach children through their successes and failures, with greater acceptance and fulfillment.

I personally have found Robyn and Jason’s message to be a profoundly transformative one. After hearing about their work through former KCS Head of School, David Richards, and learning about their work with both the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario (CIS) and the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS), I decided to bring them in and have them work with our entire faculty to help us learn how to better understand our students. A third of our faculty took part in a four-day high performance training session this past summer. Over the next two years, the rest of our faculty will also take part in this training. I know this will help us to not only better tailor our teaching and coaching to our students, but also help us remember to “push the pause button” in all our relationships.

Relationships are like icebergs – we know what’s on the surface, but we may not know what’s going on underneath. Which means we need to stop and take a moment to understand where people are coming from. Twenty-five years ago, I would walk into a class and teach a lesson. And if a kid didn’t get it, that was their problem. Now, we know that we must take the time to understand where each student is at, and then meet them where they are.

That means learning how to build our relationships with students, coaches, teachers, parents – everyone. It means pausing and not jumping to conclusions. Once upon a time, we would say, “I’m the coach, I’m going tell you what to do, and there’s no room for questions.” But as Jason and Robyn have discovered, that approach just doesn’t work.

Kids can’t learn until they are ready to learn. And being ready to learn means feeling safe, empowered, mindful, and cared for. But you can’t make a child feel all those things unless you’ve taken the time to build a relationship. You have to realize that you are bringing your perceptions and biases to every interaction you have with another person – whether it’s your spouse, your colleague, your student, or your child. You have to pause, think about that person’s intentions, and then give them the benefit of the doubt as you move forward to help them grow and learn. That can be hard to do, but that’s exactly what Robyn and Jason are here to remind us to do.

I hope many of you can take the time to join us at this wonderful event. We all deal with complex relationships every day, and I believe that Robyn and Jason’s message can help all of us to better manage those relationships and understand the people in our lives. I really feel that you will find the ninety minutes worthwhile.  I hope to see you there!

Encouraging Dialogue: Success Redefined will take place on Thursday, October 24 at 6:30 PM in Canada Hall. This is a free event, but we ask you to please register here so we can plan appropriately.  

19-103 KCS Speaker Series Poster_v2_HIRES Proof

 

Connecting KCS with the World

How do you connect elementary students with the world?

You rethink elementary school.

At least that’s how we’re doing it at KCS, and it has led to relationships with experts from an unlimited array of fields, many of whom with a global reach, including journalists, artists, social entrepreneurs, edtech developers, and many more. Rethinking school includes stepping outside our walls (literally and figuratively), welcoming external experts in, and seizing opportunities when they appear to enrich student learning. Here’s a current example.

KCS has recently partnered with engineering.com, a GTA-based business that shares a newsfeed for “the global community of engineering minds who make a difference” (modelling the KCS Habits!). How big is this community? The site enjoys 2.6 million unique visitors each month, and its social media following includes 1.4 million on Facebook and 44,000 on Twitter. Eight thousand have gone one step further to embrace their newest initiative, ProjectBoard, where they can share the problems they’re solving and get feedback in return.

How did we meet?

Part of my role as Head of Senior School is to notably increase our KCS community of learning partners – individuals and organisations who bring learning to our students, in ways beyond what field trips and guest speakers usually provide. A significant learning partner we established over a year ago is the Centre for Social Innovation, a multi-thousand strong community of entrepreneurs, agencies, and charities sharing coworking and co-learning space in Toronto, New York, and London, Ontario. Engineering.com, like KCS, is a member.

The problem-solvers engaging with ProjectBoard form a community where we believe students belong. KCS is now the first school to join this global network of engineers who are using the online platform. This beautiful tool allows our StEP and Makerspace students to share their creative work, engage in dialogue in our KCS “Makerchat”, and receive comments on their creative process. As a desirable feature, ProjectBoard also allows us to share our student initiatives with the global engineering.com community and through our social media.

KCS is an amazing place to be. The world outside KCS is also amazing. Rethinking school is bringing the two together. What follows, we’re finding, is the unlimited learning students deserve.

Building Leaders, One Recess at a Time

When we think back to our childhoods, many of us remember happily roaming the neighborhood with a pack of other kids, planning games and settling disputes with minimal adult assistance. But when we look at our own children and students, it’s clear that the way kids play today has fundamentally changed. And this change has led to many young people in this generation who haven’t been given the opportunity to build their own capacity for leadership and independence through play.

Here at school, we see the fallout of that new reality most clearly during recess. For many kids today, recess is one of the very few times when they are expected to take part in unstructured and undirected play. So it’s not really surprising that we see some kids struggling with social interactions during recesses. That’s why we need to proactively help our younger students develop the skills they need on the playground.

To do this, we’re turning to some of our older students. As Grade 6 teachers, we see a wealth of untapped resources in our grade 6 and 7 students. We know they can do good things and make their community better, but they can only do that if we show them how to build their own capacity for leadership. Because when they do, they end up seeing themselves as capable members of their community who can serve as agents of change.

This year, a number of Grade 6 and 7 students have stepped up and taken on the responsibility of becoming our first set of Community Recess Leaders. It’s a big job with a lot of responsibility, so we knew we had to help set these leaders up for success. The first step was a full day of leadership and conflict resolution training provided by one of our education partners, Playocracy, a local agency dedicated to helping kids develop social skills through the power of play. The training included team-building activities, role-playing, and exploring positive traits of leadership. The students also created their own games and spent the afternoon teaching their games to kids in grades 1, 2, and 3. Throughout the process, they reflected and iterated their games based on feedback and experiences.

The next step is for the leaders to put on their bright orange vests and head out onto the field during recesses. During recess, the leaders will help strengthen our community by mentoring younger students, leading games, and providing conflict resolution for students in grades 1-4. By being out there on a regular basis, all the leaders will be given plenty of hands-on experience in leadership and mentorship.

We know that this is a tricky job filled with potential pitfalls. That’s why the leaders will also participate in a weekly meeting with both of us (Ms. T and Ms. Phillips). During those ongoing support meetings, the students will reflect, debrief, and test out new games with each other. They will also work their way through a comprehensive leadership training manual that was provided to them by Playocracy. Of course, we will still have a full roster of teachers out on duty in the park every day to help our leaders and other students deal with issues that may arise.

We’re very excited about this new initiative, as we feel it will help build leadership and independence across the entire school in a very organic and child-driven way. The initial few steps have been very successful and heartening, and we are looking forward to a year of growth and learning alongside our first cohort of Community Recess Leaders. Watch this space and our social media channels for further updates throughout the year!

Lauren Phillips & Kirsten Tenebaum

If you’re interested in learning more about student leadership at KCS, check out our blogs on student-created social enterprises, helping at the Special Olympics, and student-led learning.