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.

 

Then We Listened Some More: KCS Senior School Update #7

“All stages of research indicated support for the Senior School approach…”                          – Donna McPhail, Market Researcher

We were one year into our effort to establish a Senior School. Our Task Force had completed well over a hundred hours of research. We’d created a prototype. We had listened to thought-leader Grant Lichtman, the members of our Task Force, and the many educators from leading schools we had interviewed. And though we knew our model was rooted in the practices of North America’s leading schools, we also knew we needed to listen to local families, both current and prospective. It’s what they said that mattered.

In September 2018, we engaged an external agency to lead our market research. The effort began with a review of secondary research that related to education trends. This work affirmed our own. The primary research, with local families of students in grades 7 and 8, began that December. We hosted four focus groups of four to six participants, each at KCS: two with KCS parents and two with KCS students. In addition, we hosted five focus groups with non-KCS parents and students.

Participants began with an ice-breaker activity where they were asked what they valued in secondary schools. Answers were common among parents and students:

  • Academic standards
  • Programs and facilities
  • Post-secondary admissions
  • Variety of courses and learning
  • Supportive teachers
  • Positive environment, and
  • Location

Interestingly, students, more than parents spoke about school environment, expressing their preference that it be energetic, friendly, supportive, and calm.

Parents and students were then given hints about features of our model through photos and text. The dialogue that followed was recorded and analyzed. The result? Overall, parents and students responded positively to our model and would like the core curriculum to be covered well. And they want more. They accepted that focus on a student’s passion would enhance their engagement in learning. They believed that exposing students to additional ideas and areas of learning would lead to more passions and greater engagement. External partners and experiential learning were recognized as powerful motivators for understanding. In addition, students notably appreciated the opportunity to explore their area of interest from multiple perspectives, as well as learning experiences that enhance self-confidence, self-motivation, leadership, collaboration, empathy, and engagement.

The KCS student participants went beyond expectations with one of the exercises. When asked to make a collage from text and photos provided, they added their own words to properly complete the task. Here is some of what they documented about their ideal secondary school:

  • Authenticity
  • Creative energy
  • Individuality and more
  • Your place in the world
  • Acceptance
  • Backed up by teachers who want you to succeed
  • Important life skills and strategies taught!
  • Ask questions?!!!
  • Free to explore your interests and be as involved as you want in all areas

Our model provoked much dialogue. It also provoked questions. In addition to earning support, the exercise made clear that we needed to communicate the model and the process shaping it with care and clarity. The final market research report, 109 slides long, propelled us forward.

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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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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.

Your Answers to Our Questions: KCS Senior School Update #2

“GO DO IT! We are in.” – KCS Parent

From January 2018 to June 2019, the Senior Campus Committee engaged in research to build our school model, testing it with parent and student feedback as it was developed. Our effort began with a Task Force of 40 parents, past parents, board members, and staff to research exemplary schools throughout North America. That was followed with market research led by an external firm to hear from grade 7 and 8 parents and students on elements we were considering. Finally, last spring, a KCS survey invited all families to share some of their thoughts about high school, features we were exploring for our model, factors they’ll be considering for their children, and questions they had for us. 50% of families responded and generously shared their comments. It has been evident from the beginning that many parents are interested, see the need for a KCS Senior School, and see the value of the model we’re building.

Here is some of what we learned from the school-wide survey:

  • 82% of parents said they were interested in learning more about the Senior School and open to considering it for their children
  • 81% said location and ease of their child’s commute is a consideration in the choice of high school
  • 90% said they believe the high school experience needs to evolve from what they had to better prepare students for the futures they face
  • 88% said they believe the distinguishing features we intend to offer provide valuable learning: extensive engagement of external experts; regular offsite learning; a program that invites students to exercise leadership in their learning in an area of interest; and experiential learning (including field placements, collaboration with external organizations, entrepreneurship, travel, and opportunity for co-op)
  • 83% were interested after learning about what we expect to be a smaller population of students, potentially 160 at full enrolment
  • When asked about how critical exclusive access to green space and an on-site high school gym were in their choice of high school, 50 and 56% respectively said they were critical
  • After learning all of the above, and also learning that this model is expected to cost parents less than other independent schools and to provide a distinctly enriching learning experience, 64% of parents said they remain interested in our model

Then we asked parents for their questions. Here’s a sample:

  • How will it compare to other top secondary schools?
  • What will this school actually look like?
  • What’s special about these four distinctive features – partners, offsite learning, including student interests, and experiential learning?
  • What would a regular day be like?
  • How will it prepare them for university?
  • What kind of athletics and arts programs will it offer?

We are excited to see the high level of interest based on the number of questions we continue to receive. Our goal is to answer the questions as honestly and as quickly as we can through these updates.

Questioning has deep roots at KCS. It is a questioning mindset, one we directly develop, that makes rich student learning happen. That same mindset is at the root of our efforts to build the KCS Senior School. We welcome all who wish to add their questions. Welcome to the dialogue about how great education can be.

 

 

Making the Senior School Real

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

In the late 1980s, a small group of parents made KCS a reality. Since that founding day, many others – parents, staff, and students – have built KCS into the special school that it is today, one that not only honours worthy traditions and tried-and-true teaching, but one that also forges ahead with innovative practice, because we can, should, and won’t accept less than our best.

This commitment in the junior school will now extend to a senior school. On Curriculum Night, we announced we will be opening as early as 2021, to be confirmed as soon as we secure our site. We are confident enough to say “will”, not “might”, because of the number of sites we’re visiting and finding both compelling and affordable. But it’s fair to ask what’s different this time.

  • Properties of 20,000+ square feet can be leased and our conservative financial modelling makes clear that a number of such properties are within our means
  • We will leverage external facilities, as many other independent schools do; pioneering schools, mostly in the United States, reveal that exceptional learning is possible with an urban location where teachers and students have a great school hub and easy access to quality external facilities and learning partners
  • Many schools are also making evident how a notably healthy and positive community can be built in a smaller school population that creatively brings them together for enriched learning

Work is happening on many fronts. Most importantly, the site search began over the summer. Since then, we’ve considered 10 sites with features we seek. The borders of our search are the Bloor Street corridor on the north, the lakeshore on the south, the Kipling corridor on the west, and the Bloordale neighborhood on the east (a 10-minute subway ride from Royal York). Several properties have already earned extra attention. We’re working with external experts to ensure we fully consider each one.

We are proud to make our mark in education, both in the junior school and by soon offering an exceptional learning experience up to grade 12. Our parents and students are excited and we have a big story to tell. Regular updates on our site search and details of our model will be shared on a biweekly basis in the KCS blog, in Stay Connected, and on our social media channels. Just over thirty years ago, our founders created the big story of KCS. We hope you join us as we create this new story of the KCS Senior School.

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.