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.

 

 

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.

The Forces to Be Better: KCS Senior School Update #4

Our most recent update shared that the KCS Senior School model includes all the fundamentals. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.   As many of you know, we take the ‘responsible’ in ‘responsible risks’ very seriously. So why not stop there? Why not model ourselves as a great version of a wholly recognizable secondary school?

Future updates will explain the distinctive features of our model. Before those updates, it’s worth sharing why we felt the need to rethink certain aspects of the high school experience. It’s all rooted in our commitment to our three school rules, in particular our commitment to respecting our community and to trying our best.

Here are four forces shaping education and our Senior School model:

  1. Demands for deeper learning are coming from a growing number of voices. Traditional education was founded on the need for schools to impart knowledge and core skills. The world has changed a great deal in the intervening 150 years. While knowledge and skills continue to matter, students and the world they inhabit expect and require more. New teaching practices like project-based learning and place-based learning are spreading for their enhanced ability to not only teach the knowledge and skills students have always needed, but also for their ability to develop our Habits, most aligned with success after formal schooling.
  2. Increasing alignment of expectations among students, parents, post-secondary institutions, employers and our profession is providing unprecedented support for change. Global interdependence, climate change, and the growing digital economy have implications for everyone. The evident need to prepare for an increasingly complex future means that all stakeholder groups are calling for practices that develop students more thoroughly as skilled, creative, agile, action-oriented thinkers. RBC’s recent Future Skills Report “Humans Wanted: How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in the Age of Disruption” is a recent example of this call for change.
  3. Well-being is a growing area of focus because it’s a growing area of concern. Many studies, both local and international, have reported on the downward trend in youth mental health. The reasons behind the trend are multiple, and schools are increasingly reflecting on the roles they play in either exacerbating or potentially mitigating any factors.
  4. Pioneering schools are demonstrating that becoming better is both possible and sought by parents and students alike. The Senior School Task Force committed to researching dozens of such schools over the course of five months in 2018. High Tech High, Design 39 Campus, and The Downtown School (a new downtown campus for Lakeside School) are three of the many explored. The unique features of the proposed KCS Senior School are being leveraged to positive effect elsewhere. Our commitment to trying our best is compelling us to bring worthy features here.

Grant Lichtman, author, consultant and change-leader serving schools throughout North America, including KCS, has succinctly summarized four arguments for change within the profession:

  1. We must
  2. We want to
  3. We know better
  4. We can

At KCS, these four arguments have always driven our commitment to do better. They remain the arguments behind our senior school model. Our three school rules wouldn’t allow us to do anything less.

KCS Habits _ 2017 Redesign_crop

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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)

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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Just Call Us ‘Guides on the Ride’

Thirty years ago I started teacher’s college. ‘Sage on the stage’ was how we were taught to teach back then. Thanks to 30 years of students, that practice has been humbled into one role among multiple others. This summer, all KCS faculty and I learned about a promising new option, that of ‘guide on the ride’, from the book Empower by A. J. Juliani and John Spencer. I’m strapped in with my helmet on. My current ride? Cryptocurrency.

Yes, cryptocurrency.

In September, we launched our new StEP entrepreneurship program. StEP invites students with entrepreneurial ambitions to pursue their big ideas, learn the basics, access mentorship, and potentially acquire seed money for viable ideas. As soon as this new opportunity was announced, a student stepped forward. His passion? You guessed it.

My role in this program is to support all grade 6-8 students who take the same first step, connect them with mentors, and provide basic instruction in value propositions, minimum viable products, design thinking, prototyping, customer interviews, and prepping pitch decks. What I provide is significantly enhanced by our partnership with Future Design School and a growing list of established entrepreneurs in the KCS community who are willing to speak, entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur, with our students.

Thirty years ago, cryptocurrency didn’t exist (that was still 21 years away). Now I get a front row seat in this and other budding areas of potential entrepreneurship at KCS. Guiding students on journeys they chart is full of unforeseeable learning, accented with bumps and hidden curves. Like the up and down of a roller coaster, it’s impossible to know where the journey will go and much scarier than the experience of a lecture. Though just one month into the year, multiple other teachers at KCS are telling me of their own trips into the unknown. The excitement and trepidation expressed in my office evoke summer memories of Wonderland. We’re strapped in and hanging on. This year promises to be an interesting ride.

Making a Difference – As an Entrepreneur

I received an email the week before Labour Day from a student who graduated last June. Subject line: Our tutoring business. That’s what happens when entrepreneurship takes root in your school.

It was a distinct pleasure to announce the launch of the KCS Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP) at our annual Curriculum Night. Our pilot last spring was an evident success, not just for the students who embraced the opportunity but also for the contagion that hit a passion-driven group of grads who explained they spent all of one summer night together at a cottage hatching their business plan. Each going to different high schools, they wanted to find a way to stay tight-knit. When they landed on their idea of offering tutoring services for interested families at KCS, their passion was locked in.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in its Learning 2030 report, declared the “students who are best prepared for the future are change agents.” The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report shared an estimate that 65% of today’s primary students will have jobs that don’t exist yet. Further evidence of the times a-changin’ was a story on CTV that announced the gig economy was substantial and growing in Canada. In this mix are multiple, global challenges looking each of us square in the eye. This is not what traditional schooling prepared us for. But it’s an opportunity for those equipped to be the informed, responsible change agents the world needs. The future is for the difference-makers, in whatever field and position they find themselves, in whatever capacities they choose.

The entrepreneurial mindset is already well established at KCS. The Habits of Mind, Body and Action that include the hallmark attributes of quality entrepreneurial pursuits have been our waymarkers for over eight years. Service learning, which is the intentional integration of curriculum and community service, has been part of KCS for 14 years. Authentic, ubiquitous student leadership, where students pursue their passions to make a difference (no election needed), has been part of our core offering almost as long. Now we’re adding an unparalleled opportunity for middle school students to become authentic entrepreneurs (social, not-for-profit, or for-profit). It includes structured guidance on the entrepreneurial path, the support of external experts from Future Design School, the challenge of pitching one’s plan to a panel of entrepreneurs, and the opportunity to earn mentorship from an established entrepreneur and even seed funding to get started. The KCS 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala on May 4, 2019, will raise funds to support this new dimension of KCS. And the generous involvement of entrepreneurs in our community will give successful students a uniquely inspiring learning opportunity on the life of a difference-maker.

The young have always been known to be dreamers. The fact is, we need them to remain dreamers. School needs to kindle those dreamers into meaningful change-makers, and KCS has always assumed that responsibility. With the addition of StEP to our many other offerings in student leadership, the height of our efforts to make dreams a reality match the height of the changing world students face, and the opportunities available to those ready to make them.

For Those Willing to Leap

“Experience does not go on simply inside a person…Every present experience is a moving force…influencing what future experiences will be.”
-John Dewey, Experience & Education, 1938

This was the opening quote at our 2018 return-to-school faculty meeting. Recognising that KCS students have always had a plethora of wonderful learning experiences, we reflected on how these experiences, and in particular the balance of experiences, in turn shape the experiences to come.

Many positive initiatives are underway at KCS. Initiatives inherently require a leap, a responsible risk, and the recognition that the first effort may not be as anticipated. They’re experiences of particular potency, often unsettling, earning early pushback, with the possibility of failing*. Our Habits equip us to embrace the challenge of initiatives and grow as a result of doing so. We see the leaps among our students, and we see how they grow by fighting through them, and subsequently enjoying what the future experiences offer as reward. We also see the leaps among our faculty, who equally grow by grappling through our areas of focus, and enjoy the pleasure of seeing how their leaps enhance student learning and agency. And we see how each experience of individual students and teachers positively shape the landscape where future experiences will take firmer root. These are exhilarating moments to witness.

Equally exhilarating is to learn about how the Habits are fueling other members of the KCS community to embrace huge initiatives and shape the subsequent experiences of those around them.

I learned recently of a parent who has undertaken the exceptional initiative of seeking public office for the first time. A longstanding, active member of our community, the KCS Habits are as much a part of her mindset as they are our students and faculty. Lead to Make a Difference, Take Responsible Risks, Do What is Right and more have helped propel her to step in where she noticed leadership was deeply needed. She admitted to the same struggle we all face when taking a leap, but shared that the values and messages of KCS helped reinforce what she knew she needed to do. She also shared her delight at seeing how her actions are inspiring similar courage, persistence and determination in her children. They’re rightly proud watching their mother step forward, challenge power, and work to make the world better. They’re now taking more of their own leaps. Experiences, influencing future experiences.

Parents, share your leaps with your children as we share our own at school. Share how you’re taking responsible risks, how it may be unnerving at times, how it often includes mistakes, how leaps always require courage, persistence and many of our other Habits. Where possible, invite your children into those leaps so your children are part of the experience. And see how doing so influences the future experience for both yourselves and your children.

The future needs individuals exceptionally equipped to make a difference. The job of preparing them begins in childhood. Let the experiences begin.

*F.A.I.L. = First Attempt in Learning

Speak Up

Basics Made Marvellous

A recent blog shared how we’re actively balancing basics with unlimited opportunities. We appreciate parents’ desire to ensure the basics are a priority. They’re the foundation. Our internal and external assessments, including the standardized Canadian Achievement Test (CAT) scores with an average result in the 80th and 90th percentile, as well as the success of our alumni, make clear that the basics are being established.

Like piano scales in the hands of a virtuoso pianist, schools need to nurture children’s desire to do marvellous things with what they know. We’re delighted to share stories of how this, like the basics, is also evident throughout the school. While there are many examples, here’s one story that’s worth some detail.

Our grade 6 – 8 students have the unique opportunity to enjoy electives in the spring term from the end of March to end of school. For two back-to-back periods each Wednesday, these students engage in one of nine opportunities within the Four Doors, purely for the love of it. Some march down Dundas in aprons and chefs’ hats to Cirillo’s for a cooking class. Others go to a dance studio; compose music; create wearable tech with Arduino; do yoga; learn cricket; make movies; or prepare for their European Battlefield trip next year. One final group is called ‘Go Ahead’. It’s for students with BIG IDEAS, including entrepreneurial ambitions, who want time, a location, resources and access to expertise to pursue them. We have 18 students in Go Ahead who truly make me marvel:

  1. Four with entrepreneurial ambitions, including one who has already started an online business that’s earning money (he requested marketing expertise) and one social entrepreneur whose project may have a lasting legacy at KCS (can’t wait to share more about that!)
  2. Nine creating with electronics, Arduino code and circuit boards, motors, straws, fans, lights and more – one is creating a mini water park; another is creating a wind-powered motor to power lights; yet another is fitting a beach chair with a phone-charging solar panel, table, and cup holder (inspired by a March Break mishap).
  3. One working on a KCS By Design project to introduce student-led peer tutoring.
  4. Others writing books (yes, books) and creating stunning personal artwork.

The basics are big, and what students do with them is big. We’ll keep working to ensure students have the foundation they need, and the opportunities they need, so that they also learn that they can do marvellous things now, and throughout their lives.

Visible Learning at KCS

How can we go one step further? And one step further again?

Educating almost 400 students is a job that’s never done. It starts, of course, with the people involved – the students, their parents, our faculty and staff – and an ongoing awareness of their needs. Then the Ministry curriculum is added to provide provincial context and expectations. Our Four Doors to Learning in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship then take us well beyond what the Ministry expects. As the foundation and guiding framework of our entire effort, our Habits of Mind, Body and Action ensure we develop our students to be lifelong learners, equipped to embrace any challenges they face. And so on.

Recent visitors to KCS have seen our most current effort to go one step further in promoting learning at KCS. Our “Visible Learning” exhibit showcases the wide array of learning underway at KCS from PK to grade 8. It includes both finished products and artifacts in process (where the important learning happens). It includes evidence of our Four Doors and all of our Habits. Uniquely, it also includes the Learning Stories of our students and faculty – stories of remarkable moments, challenges overcome, most thought-provoking experiences, and personal expressions of pride. These are the kinds of stories that are normally kept private. Now shared, our whole community is learning more than ever from the experiences of others in our midst.

What is some of the “further learning” stemming from this exhibit?

  1. KCS students learn lots of cool things in cool ways. For young students, there’s much to look forward to. For older students, there is hard-won pride in how far they’ve come.
  2. KCS students also do the hard work of learning the fundamentals (see how proud many are of their efforts and growth!).
  3. Challenges are normal. If you’re feeling alone in yours, know that others have faced and overcome them, just like you will.
  4. Process matters. The work that is imperfect, that needs revision, that has feedback on it, is worthy of display. Embrace the work and imperfection inherent in process.
  5. Teachers are proud of their students when they persist. There is no shame in struggle.
  6. Sharing is inspiring. By sharing your private learning story, and by having your work on display, you are inspiring others to think about it, find affirmation or challenge in it, and consider possibly following your lead. Maybe more students will choose to 3D print for a project? Maybe they’ll give book-writing a try with YAKCS? Maybe song composition for the KCS Sound Library? There are so many possibilities.

Thank you to all the students and faculty for helping make learning more visible at KCS. Your efforts are already inspiring. This exhibit takes that inspiration one step further.

The “Visible Learning at KCS” exhibit continues until Friday, November 24.