Preparing to Make the Leap Online

There are a million aphorisms about the importance of being prepared for an emergency.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Ben Franklin

“I don’t believe in luck, I believe in preparation.” – Bobby Knight

“Preparation for tomorrow is hard work today” – Bruce Lee

Some would argue that it was impossible to prepare for an event like COVID-19 and the subsequent move to online learning. But at KCS, we have actually been preparing for situations like these for some time now. Over five years ago, we created and put into place our Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan, a comprehensive set of responses to a number of drastic “what if?” scenarios that is audited and updated annually.

One of those scenarios outlined in the plan is a situation where the school’s building is no longer accessible, but the technology infrastructure is still in place. And as we all well know, we found ourselves in exactly that situation back in March of this year. Knowing that this situation – along with many others – could one day arise, we have been preparing for the worst by making regular strategic updates over the past few years to our technology infrastructure.

We transferred workloads and data to the cloud, along with our email system. We drastically cut down on local applications that have to be saved on laptops, and moved instead to web-based subscription programs. We also made an intentional choice to move away from desktop computers and towards a full fleet of microphone- and webcam-enabled laptops for all faculty and staff. Additionally, our faculty and students received a great deal of tech training to help them get used to Sesame, Edmodo, and the Google suite of apps. All of these decisions meant that our technology was nimble, mobile, and ready for remote teaching and working, long before COVID-19 came onto the scene.

When March rolled around and we realized that we had to “flip the switch” and move to an online learning scenario, we made the leap and got everyone ready. The academic leadership team developed an at-home learning plan that incorporated strong academics, mental well-being, and meaningful connections between faculty and students. We then took this plan and used it as a guide for our next steps. We had all staff and faculty take part in intense, focused, and scaffolded professional development designed to help them make effective use of Google Meet, Edmodo, and Sesame as communication and teaching platforms.

On the first Wednesday after March Break, we officially launched the KCS At Home Learning Program with homeform Meets at every grade level. Each class was assigned a “homeform buddy”, who would set up, record, manage, and post each Meet. By the second week of classes, we were hosting specialist classes for each grade, and all faculty were well versed on how to set up and run Meets.

Knowing that there was a huge amount of learning for our entire community, we decided to provide additional support for all our faculty, staff, students, and families. We set up a dedicated email for at home learning questions and reassigned staff to increase our Help Desk team from one full-time person to two full-time and three part-time people. Over the first month, that team also provided a great deal of one-on-one training to families and students, to ensure that everyone was able to get online and access all learning resources. That team also provided one-on-one training to faculty, to help them master a range of different strategies and tools that would help them teach online in an effective and engaging manner.

Of course, all the planning and preparation in the world doesn’t mean anything if the people you are working with don’t follow the plan. But if these past few months have taught us anything, it is that we are blessed with a culture of growth and flexibility here at KCS. Our faculty and staff have gone way out of their comfort zone and embraced this situation with positivity, professionalism, and drive. Additionally, our families and students have epitomized our third school rule – Try Your Best! All our students and families have worked incredibly hard to take on these new challenges, and we could not be prouder of them.

If you’ll indulge us one more preparation-themed quote, we like this one from Colin Powell. “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” We couldn’t agree more, and we think our success in making the leap online comes from the hard work and preparation of our entire community.

  • Stacy Marcynuk (Director of IT, Curriculum) & Adam Stoyles (IT Manager)

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.

Ensuring the Fundamentals: KCS Senior School Update #3

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

– The KCS Vision and Mission Statement

We take our mission seriously. The KCS Senior School will build upon the strong foundation of the current KCS program, providing the same commitment to developing lifelong learners and adding unparalleled opportunities for students to discover and realise their potential. We look forward to explaining the distinctive features we have in mind. But first, let me share all the fundamentals included in our model:

  1. Our facility will be mindfully designed to support learning, collaboration, and community-building. We are working with Oliver Beck, principal architect at Architecture Counsel, to help us choose a site that fits our vision and then design it to be a beautiful space meeting our needs. The chair of our senior campus committee, Greg Dunn, is a partner of the global architecture firm Adamson Associates. For those wondering about the quality of space we aspire to offer, we encourage you to visit their firms’ websites to see the kind of projects they represent.
  2. The Senior School syllabus will include all mandatory credits and a wide variety of elective credits for students who seek to pursue sciences, technology, the arts, humanities, business and more.
  3. Students will be challenged and inspired by exceptional teachers. The faculty will oversee and guide students, ensure safety, communicate with parents, and assess student learning for report card purposes. In addition, the presence of an Advisory teacher for each student, who will oversee their learning and success over their four years at school, will play a significant role in ensuring all the fundamentals are in place and serving students well.
  4. As in all schools, our senior students will gather at the school each day, and will have time in class that includes teacher-led instruction. There will be content they need to learn, and there will be quizzes, tests and exams in addition to assignments and projects. Like the current KCS junior school, the senior school will demonstrate that an optimal program benefits from a variety of strategies, chosen intentionally and with each student in mind.
  5. Students will also be taught in a distinctly impactful way so that their learning “sticks”, addressing a weakness long recognized in more traditional approaches to teaching and learning. Under teacher oversight, students will not only learn the core knowledge and skills required in each course, they will have enriched programs thanks to project-based learning, place-based learning, the engagement of external experts, and notable experience in applying their learning for actual impact.
  6. Our school will offer a variety of extra-curricular activities in academics, arts, athletics, and citizenship, led by teachers, students, and external experts, on and off-site.
  7. A sense of belonging, commitment to well-being, and the habit of community engagement, both within and beyond the site of our school, will be infused throughout the learning experience.

KCS has a long history of innovative practice. It also has a long history of being highly responsible. We’re proud of what those dispositions have helped us build in grades PK to 8. And we’re excited to show how they can make for a remarkable senior school.

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.

Unleashing Potential

“The best plans are those that liberate other people’s plans” – Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)

Jane Jacobs understood potential. An urbanist icon, she saw how cities, and in particular how they were designed, could have profound impact on the lives within them, for better or worse. Even the humble neighborhood had power and potential beyond what most in her time realized.

I spent much of my summer learning from and about Torontonians who are making (or helped make) this city remarkable. My classroom was Toronto, and my textbook was the diverse voices, sights, and activity of Torontonians making a difference. I watched what happens when plans liberate other people’s plans.

There are many reasons to appreciate Jacobs. What I most appreciate is her ability to see potential in people where others didn’t. And this is why she belongs in a school blog.

To what extent do we see the potential in children and youth? To what extent is education set up to unleash it? How might childhood, youth, and even the world, be better if we could confidently say, “Yes, we see it, and by design it will be unleashed!”.

Greta Thunburg, 16, just finished crossing the ocean on her international mission to get adults to adequately act on climate change. Many other youth this past year (and years past!) demonstrated impressive abilities to make a difference through activism, service, innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership, and more. While their schools have no doubt contributed to their abilities, their unleashed potential often had little to do with systematic efforts at school.

At KCS, we’re committed to unleashing student potential by design, and we’re committed to nurturing the intrinsic motivation needed to fuel it. The foundation set in our junior school will align with unprecedented opportunity in our senior school. We see their potential already, and look forward to seeing it blossom and fuel exceptional learning in grades 9 to 12.

If this post leaves you unconvinced, let this TED Talk by 12-year-old Adora Svitak do the job. She’s one of those remarkable children, and she speaks on behalf of the many others who want to be listened to, believed in, and challenged more.

We’re listening and looking forward to watching plans unfold.

P.S. Adora shares the difficulty she faced to get her books published as a child, because she was a child. KCS has been publishing student books through our YAKCS program since 2013. We have since published 11 books that sit in our library plus the Library and Archives Canada, in addition to those in various homes.

The World That We Design

Last week, we were treated to our annual spring concert – a wonderful showcase of our extracurricular bands and choirs. The arts do so much to make the world better. In fact, beyond the pleasure of listening to beautiful music, this concert included a message from our primary choir that struck a particular chord:

We can live in a world that we design.
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.
(“Million Dreams” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)

Part of educating students (and raising children) is preparing them for the world they will eventually face, independent of us. Much of that world is what it is, for better or for worse (sigh). Of course, we’re getting them ready for that. But the world is also what we collectively make it. At KCS, we’re teaching our students how to design the world they face for the better. Here’s one recent responsible risk where we did just that.

In May, Ms. Hooper, Ms. Gaudet and I joined our grade 8s on a trip to the WE Global Learning Centre downtown. This was the culminating event of a year spent learning about human geography, including forces shaping the human experience and our relationship with the planet. Against a backdrop of global challenges, they also learned about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were where our grade 8 students would both demonstrate and leverage their learning for the better.

At the WE Centre, our grade 8s pitched social enterprises to experts from the WE community, enterprises that they created from scratch to help address one or more of the U.N. goals.

They created enterprises to help address illiteracy, pollution, access to clean water, gender equality, health and wellness, climate change, poverty, education, plus life below and above water. One enterprise, Hakuna Njaa (meaning ‘No hunger’ in Swahili), was a proposed restaurant that would allow hungry Torontonians to help fund food and nutrition programs in areas facing a food crisis. “At our restaurant, people won’t just be paying for food, they are paying to make a difference.” Their pitch wrapped up with:

“We’re hungry for change. You should be too.”

We don’t know if our grade 8s will go on to further pursue their social enterprise plans. Their time at KCS is soon over and our Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP) won’t follow them to their high schools. What they will take with them, however, is something that will follow them wherever they go. Here’s how one parent described her son’s reflection on the day:

“Listening to [my son] describe how inspired he was to be at the office yesterday and how meaningful it made it for the kids to have the “experts in the field” vote on the projects…the whole experience from start to finish has absolutely made an impact and a difference already. It made [him] think more deeply for example about believing he could actually make a difference, which I feel is an enormously empowering thing for kids to feel in this era of knowing so much about problems that affect the world, and yet not feeling like they can always help…or make an impact.”

Part of preparing students for the future is preparing them to design it, and instilling the knowledge and confidence that they can. We’re heeding the message. Our students are dreaming. And it’s music to our ears.

(Note – This partnership with WE, including an introduction to social entrepreneurship, instruction in making a strong pitch, and expert feedback and judging through the day, was supported by the KCS StEP Fund, thanks to the generosity of KCS parents and 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala sponsors)

Top five reasons why you should get your gala on!

The KCS 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala is only a few weeks away, and tickets are going fast. So unless you want to spend an entire Saturday night on Instagram watching everyone have an amazing time without you, click here and get yourself sorted!

But if you still need a little convincing, here are five reasons why you should stop stalling and get yourself some tickets…

#1 – Five Star Food & Drink

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It wouldn’t be much of a gala without great things to eat and drink, and nobody brings the gourmet grub and cocktails better than superstar catering company 10tation. You can look forward to tons of delicious delights all night long, as they will be hosting lots of different food stations throughout the venue. There’s also premium bar service, because you’re going to need something to wash down all that truffle mac and cheese!

#2 – Bling Up Your Jeans

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The theme for this Gala is “denim and diamonds”, so it’s a great opportunity to break out your own personal style and take your fashion game to the next level. Most gala events can be pretty stuffy and formal, but this one is all about fun chic and variety. You can go full on glamour with gowns and suits, go comfy casual with timeless jeans and some simple accessories, or even embrace your inner rocker and show up in a bedazzled Canadian tuxedo. Anything goes! But if you need a little help getting started, take a peek at our own Pinterest inspiration page.

#3 – Shop ‘Till You Drop

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Two of the Diamond Gala highlights are the amazing live and silent auctions, both of which are laden down with some truly amazing events and items. Alongside such auction classics as glamourous getaways, premium sporting event tickets, and catering packages, there’s also a whole raft of epic KCS-themed experiences. Take in a TFC game with superfan Mr. Sawyer, have Ms. Russo read your little one a bedtime story, or – best of all – give your child a taste of power by having them usurp Mr. Logan so they can become “Head for a Day”! And if you want to make your daily drop-offs and pick-ups a breeze, there are reserved parking lot spaces up for grabs. Expect a lot of competition for those hotly contested spots!

#4 – Support the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

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We all know that the working world is undergoing a seismic shift. The rise of automation, artificial intelligence, and other technologies are making many traditional jobs obsolete. So to help our students find success in life, we’ve focusing on teaching them the essential skills they need to think and act as entrepreneurs. That’s why this year, all funds raised from the Gala will go to support our innovative StEP program, which is designed to give our students the chance to create and develop their own entrepreneurial initiatives (you can read more about this innovative program here, here, and here). So you’re not just giving yourself a fun night out – you’re also helping your kids learn how to go out into the world and forge their own destiny.

#5 – Marvel at the Amazing Danny Z

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Speaking of StEP, don’t forget that our very own Danny Z was the first “graduate” of the KCS entrepreneurship program. Danny Z decided to take his love of magic to the next level by creating a set of KCS-branded playing cards, complete with instructions on how to master a few tricks yourself. Danny Z will be putting on a performance at the Gala, so you’ll get to wonder at his skills in person. Every guest will also be given a set of his playing cards to bring home, so you can learn his tricks and impress your own kids!

Great auctions, thrilling entertainment, fun fashion, and better food and drink then you’ll get anywhere else. And it’s all for a good cause. So what are you waiting for? Get your tickets here, before they sell out! See you on May 4!

Remember, be kind to yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Reasons Why Education and Entrepreneurship Belong Together

I’m new to the world of entrepreneurship. For most of my career, my passion for education left little room for interest in the business sector. While I respected business as a worthy passion of others, I saw no obvious reason why it belonged with mine.

But passions are funny – sometimes they take you to unexpected places. In my case, education took me to entrepreneurship, social and otherwise, and I won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Why do entrepreneurship and education belong together? Here are five reasons driving my newfound conviction:

  1. Mindset

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying everyone has to be an entrepreneur. Many good people are needed in professions, corporations, and public service. Many others commit themselves to political life, volunteer work, homemaking or other worthy pursuits. That said, everyone, whatever you do in life, benefits from the traits found in entrepreneurship. Habits such as embrace learning, think creatively, listen to understand, act with empathy, adapt, take responsible risks, and lead to make a difference bring interest and happiness to life, in addition to value. They should be inherently developed at school. Entrepreneurship is one powerful way to do so.

  1. Agency

Agency is a sense of control in one’s destiny. It includes the know-how, confidence and inclination to act so as to shape that destiny. It has been frequently observed that too much of education and growing up today includes an over-abundance of adults assuming control, telling kids what to do and how. Agency matters and its decline, some psychologists have argued, helps explain some of the decline in student mental wellness. School should intentionally carve out time where children and youth can take the reins, pursue responsible risks, and be in charge while challenged to make something good happen. Design thinking and Integrative thinking are processes students can use to exercise agency for meaningful impact. Like toddlers learning to walk, entrepreneurship will let them exercise agency, and see what they’re capable of making happen.

  1. Relevance

“Why do we need to learn this?” This student lament has reached cliché proportions and is still widely dismissed with the response that relevance will become evident when they’re older. Some of that is true, and pushing back on instant-gratification-run-amok has a place. Entrepreneurship, integrated where relevant to the subject at hand, lets students live the relevance of learning. At KCS, a group of grade 7 students completed a geography project by designing an environmentally responsible product for our school store. Through our StEP entrepreneurship program, they’ll be supported should they choose to launch this social enterprise. That’s relevant.

  1. Future-readiness

There’s no denying that disruption is underway in the work world. While many argue automation will create new jobs, there’s little doubt that it will also increasingly overtake any tasks that can be captured by an algorithm. That said, there remain many things automation will never do. RBC recently released Humans Wanted: How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in the Age of Disruption, emphasizing the need for humanity’s most fundamental traits. An entrepreneurial mindset, and the agency to exercise it, are uniquely available to humans and will be rewarded with opportunities that no technology can touch.

  1. Purpose

If you’ve found your purpose, you know how positive a force it is. While not all people would say they’ve found it, there’s no reason to think it’s reserved for the few. In fact, it’s easy to argue that we do too little to help all youth explore this part of themselves. What if education made time for children and youth to explore how they want to make a difference? What if education directly supported them in making that difference, and let them experience the setbacks, successes, and next steps that ensue? What if we graduated students who care to have a positive impact, who have experienced the rewards of doing so, and who have the capacity and agency to follow-through in their corner of the world? These would be graduates energized and intrinsically motivated with purpose.

Of course, there is much more that belongs in education beyond entrepreneurship. And there are examples of entrepreneurship that don’t reflect the values many of us wish to develop in youth. But where our aims meet is where education and entrepreneurship belong together. And where we can do better, we will. We can’t help it. That’s our entrepreneurial mindset at work.

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