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.

 

 

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.

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.

Knowing Our Place

“Wisdom sits in places.” – Apache proverb

Six years ago, KCS grew younger. In a fervent commitment to best teach our youngest learners, the teachers of our 3, 4 and 5-year-olds have created learning environments they consider the “third teacher”. Beautiful, nature-rich spaces both inside and out that inspire, provoke, engage, and support important learning.

At the same time, the rest of the school embraced similar principles of intentional classroom design. It started with comfy nooks, soft lighting, floor cushions, and wobbly stools. Then we began upgrading student chairs so they could support all kinds of positions and movement, and added desks tall enough for standing.

This summer, a transformation of our outdoor greenspace has yielded a striking play structure that all of our students from grades 1 to 8 can enjoy. It’s as delightful to the eye as it is inviting to the child in all of us. Complicated to navigate, students are using their minds and bodies at recess as they never have before.

And as we increasingly welcome and embrace external experts to help enrich student learning, the wisdom connected to our KCS space expands. It’s in fact, limitless.

We are committed to making KCS a limitless place. Wisdom is nurtured in the physical environment the KCS staff have created to convey respect, consideration, and confidence in our students. It is being developed when imagination and curiosity are inspired through invitations to question, lead, and pursue learning for the love of it. And it is found in a community that includes people from KCS and beyond, sharing experiences from their respective places with our students.

Knowing what matters includes knowing one’s place. Teaching what matters includes a place that is both right here and limitless. Designed with intention and limitless in reach, learning, and even wisdom, sit here.

Leading by Example

“The three most important ways to lead people are: by example… by example… by example.” – Albert Schweitzer

As Head of School, I’m very familiar with children’s uncanny ability to see and hear everything. Just like all of us, I have days when I get stressed out, upset, or frustrated. But whenever that happens, I have to take a minute and remind myself that I’m surrounded by young people who are listening and watching my every move. Because if I lose my cool or act unkindly, those kids will not only notice, they’ll follow my lead.

That’s the thing about modelling appropriate behavior. It means you have to hold yourself to a higher standard, for the sake of those looking up to you. Of course, I am not the only one doing this at KCS. Teaching children is a team sport, and our school is filled with all kinds of wonderful adults who spend their days setting a great example for our students by following the three school rules – Respect, Manners, and Try Your Best.

But as much as I believe in the power of great teachers and schools, I also believe that the single biggest influence in a child’s life is their family. To keep the analogy going, if teaching really is a team sport, then parents are the coaches, captains, and waterboys all rolled into one!

I know that we have great families at KCS, I also know that we can all do better. So as we ask of your children, we ask that all our families make an extra effort to follow our three school rules with each other, with our staff, in our parking lot and in the neighborhood. At times during the school year, I observe or hear about behaviour among some adults in our community that does not meet the standards we hold your children to each day. KCS is a learning environment, and it can be challenging for young people to follow our three school rules if they do not see the adults in their lives doing so.

With that in mind, I have a couple of asks for all the grown-ups in our community:

#1. Please be respectful of our volunteers at various events at KCS including the Welcome Back BBQ, pizza lunches or in our school store. Please thank them, appreciate them, and respect their efforts. As a community we are very fortunate to have over 4500 hours of volunteer time annually at KCS. Our school could not do all that we do without our committed volunteers.

#2. Please be partners with us in the parking lot and the streets surrounding the school. Our staff are doing their best to keep traffic moving at a safe and reasonable speed for the safety of everyone including the students, families and drivers.  Please do your part paying extra attention near the school and by driving slowly. At pickup, please do not park on the east side of Wimbleton, as it is difficult for teachers to see past your vehicles when they are crossing students into the park for teams and after school play. Unsafe and disrespectful parking also impacts our entire neighborhood. My first day of classes ended with a phone call from one of our great neighbors, who was understandably upset about a highly disrespectful encounter they had with a KCS parent who left their car parked on a corner for 15 minutes. We are part of a wider community here in Etobicoke, and our interactions with that community should be a reflection of our school values.

#3. Please help up lessen congestion in the parking lot at our busiest times (8:15-8:45) and (3:15-3:45). Consider organizing a carpool, or if you live near the school, think about walking to KCS for pick up and drop off. If you are planning to supervise your child in the Reading Circle or in the park after you pick them up, please park in the neighbourhood rather than the parking lot, as this frees up spots for families who need to pick up their child and leave immediately. And if your children are in the junior/intermediate grades, you can park on the other side of the Humbertown Park and have your son or daughter meet you there.

I know these seem like small measures, but they send a message of respect and manners to our entire community, and sets a great example for all our kids. I thank you for your support, and look forward to another fantastic year of partnership with all of you.

Please share this information with others who are helping with drop-off and pick-up of your children.

Derek Logan

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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 Third School Rule – TRY YOUR BEST

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules”. Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can impact our lives outside of KCS.

About a year ago my son Brandon suffered a concussion while playing soccer for the varsity team at his university. Over the next number of months, he had to learn to balance his schoolwork, part-time job, and personal life, all while dealing with a number of very challenging symptoms. One day, he came home during his mid-terms and told me that he was really worried he hadn’t done well on one particular exam. Having seen first-hand all the effort he had put into his studies during this difficult time, I only had one thing to say to him. “You tried your best. Given all you’ve been dealing with, there’s nothing more you can do.”

That wasn’t the first time I quoted the “Try Your Best” rule to one of my kids. In fact, it’s probably the rule I repeat the most at home. While I do stress the importance of respect and manners to both my son and daughter, my main priority as a parent is their mental and emotional health. And I believe that “try your best” is a rule that encourages us to strive for success, but with the understanding that we must be realistic when it comes our expectations.

Because the rule doesn’t say “do” your best. It says “try” your best. That’s an important distinction. When we tell ourselves we need to do our best, we put all our focus on the end result and what we actually achieve. But when we tell ourselves we need to try our best, we end up focusing on our effort and personal growth. To put it another way, “do” is all about the product, while “try” is all about the process.

After all, we can try our best, but still end up failing. I know for myself, I can think of countless times when I gave it my all athletically, in the classroom, or as a parent, and still ended up falling short of success. But each time, I was able to look myself in the mirror and say “I tried my best”.  I can also remember those times when I didn’t put in the effort, and the results were what you might expect.

We all fall short from time to time. But what really matters in life is how you behave after that happens. I encourage my own children to try their best, learn from their experiences, and then try again. If I told Alyssa and Brandon to focus on the end results, then I would only be teaching them how to learn from success. But by telling my kids to focus on their effort, I teach them how to learn from failure.

Earlier this year we showed a video at Curriculum Night that was all about independence. Looking back on it, I think in many ways it’s also about trying your best. In that video, a young boy tried, again and again, to jump onto a box. And again and again, that boy failed. Eventually, with support and encouragement from his dad, he ended up making the leap. But I think he learned more from falling down a dozen times then he did from his one success.

As parents and teachers, we can sometimes get caught up in the grades on report cards or the final score of a soccer game. But if we want our kids to become resilient lifelong learners, then we need to encourage them to persist and put forth their best effort, no matter what challenges they are facing. And I can think of no better way to do that than by simply reminding them to always “try your best”.

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The First School Rule – RESPECT

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules”. Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can enrich our lives.

It’s becoming a bit of a cliché to say that the world is getting meaner. But some days I can’t help but feel that way.

One of those days happened to me over the Christmas break. As usual, I spent time during the holidays watching the annual World Junior Hockey tournament. I really enjoy that particular tournament, as I’m always so impressed by these young teenagers who are able to get up in front of the world and compete on behalf of their country. To me, it’s a testament to not just their physical strength, but their emotional and mental strength as well.

But this year’s tournament left me shaking my head in disappointment. Not because the team lost, but because of the way in which some people responded to that loss. In their quarter-final game, Canada lost in overtime to Finland. During overtime, Max Comtois, the 19 year-old team captain, missed a chance to score the winning goal on a penalty shot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the loss brought out the social media trolls, and within hours this young man was being pelted with vitriolic insults and hate on his own Instagram account. A 19 year-old was asked to take on the job of leading his country’s hockey team, and rather than respect him for his efforts and courage, many people decided it was better to go out of their way to treat him with disrespect and contempt.

It seems to me that for some being negative and disrespectful has become a badge of honour. In a world filled with information overload, it appears that many have decided the best way to cut through the noise and get noticed is by focusing exclusively on other people’s perceived faults and missteps. I see it in politics, the media, online, and – most distressingly – the ways in which many young people talk to one another.

This is why the first school rule – “Respect” – is so important to me. Because respect simply means treating others like they matter. I keep a sign in my office that says “Be Good To People For No Reason”. To me, that’s the essence of respect. You pause before you say something because you never know what’s going on in that person’s life. You take a minute to understand their point of view. You give people the benefit of the doubt. You treat them the way you would want to be treated.

I believe that our community is a deeply respectful community. I see our students respecting the views of others as they listen to classmates’ ideas during group work. I see our families being respectful to each other in the parking lot as they wait patiently for a parent and small child to cross the road. I see our basketball players show respect for the feelings of their teammates (and opponents too!) as they cheer them on, even if they missed the game-winning shot. And I see our teachers showing respect to their colleagues when they jump in and help out without a word of complaint.

Treating others with respect is the key to success in life. Successful people are the ones who know how to both lead and follow, and you can’t do either unless you start by treating everyone (including yourself) with respect.

I think we do an amazing job of living and breathing respect at KCS. But I also believe we can do better. We need to keep raising our expectations for our school and each other. We choose what our school is by our behavior. And to me, that means treating each and every person who walks through our doors with the dignity and compassion that we all deserve.

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Unsolicited Parenting Advice from my Mom

“Your only job as a parent is to prepare your child for the day they leave the nest and go out to face the world without you.” – My mom’s advice to me on the day my first daughter was born.

My mom gives me a lot of advice – probably a little too much, to be totally honest. But when it comes to advice about raising my own kids, she’s actually pretty restrained. However, when she does offer her opinion, it’s always a variation on the same theme – independence builds resilience.

Growing up I often learned this lesson the hard way. When a note was sent home in Grade 3 about my repeated inability to complete (or sometimes even start!) my homework, her response was, “Sounds like you need to figure this out. I suggest you start by talking to your teacher.” When I left my clarinet on the subway in Grade 6, her response was, “I think the TTC has a lost and found. I suggest you start by looking them up in the phonebook.”

I don’t want to make it sound like I was thrown to the wolves. She didn’t just throw her hands up and say, “Not my problem.” Instead, she would give me advice and point me in the direction of a solution. But it was always up to me to put the plan into action. Yes, I got docked some grades and earned a few detentions, but I always came out of it with a new set of problem-solving skills. Over time, I realized that most of the problems in my life were not the end of the world. They were bumps in the road that I had to learn to deal with.

I have tried to take this same approach with my students throughout my teaching career. I cannot count the number of times I’ve sat on the floor beside a kindergarten student and said, “No, I won’t put your boots on for you. But I will help you figure out how you can do it yourself.” The truth is, every single time I want to grab those little boots, pop them on, and end their frustration. But I know that if I just trust in their ability, they’ll end up walking out to recess with a sense of pride and accomplishment. More importantly, I know that they are also walking away better prepared to face the next inevitable problem.

No matter how much we want to protect them, the simple fact is that our kids are always going to have to deal with disappointments, setbacks, and frustrations. They are going to get cut from a team. They are going to not be invited to a party. They are going to get rejection letters from universities. They are going to be told that they didn’t get the job. They are going to face medical issues, personal struggles, and tragedies.

Unlike my mom, I don’t really like to offer unsolicited advice. But it’s hard to hold your tongue when you work side-by-side with a generation that is notably struggling with mental health. More and more young kids are struggling with anxiety and a lack of resilience. While there are many reasons for the rise of mental health issues in kids, one major factor is the way in which we try to protect them from hardship. Because when we go out of our way to remove obstacles from our kids’ lives, we rob them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, develop coping strategies, and become more emotionally resilient.

So the next time your child is facing a challenging situation, ask yourself “Can they handle this on their own?” If the answer is yes, step back and let them try. If the answer is no, give them some guidance and advice, and then step back and let them try. Trust your kid enough to give them the space they need to build their own independence and resilience. They’ll thank you for it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my own mom and say thanks myself.

Recommended Reading

  • “Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement” by Alex Russell and Tim Falconer
  • “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle” by Lynn Lyons and Reid Wilson
  • “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” by Paul Tough
  • “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

 

World Mental Health Day Every Day

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of helping young people build mental resilience, from the earliest ages, in order to cope with the challenges of today’s world.” – World Health Organization

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day set aside by the World Health Organization (WHO) to educate, increase awareness, and mobilize efforts to promote better mental health around the globe. This year, the focus for World Mental Health Day is Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World, a topic that is obviously near and dear to the hearts of everyone at KCS.

For far too long, mental health was seen something that mainly affected adults. It just wasn’t on the radar when it came to young kids. But one only has to glance at the statistics and facts provided by organizations such as CAMH to see that there is a clear need for families and schools to pay close attention to the mental health of our young people. Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that 70 per cent of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence.

Faced with numbers like that, it’s clear that we must continue to make mental health awareness a core component of our overall wellness strategies at KCS. Events like World Mental Health Day and the annual Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign certainly help to bring greater awareness and understanding that helps to reduce the stigma around mental illness. But it can’t stop at awareness. Any effective strategy must also include a proactive approach to both prevention and recovery.

We know that when children are given the skills that they need to foster resiliency and accept challenges as an obstacle they are able to work at to overcome, they are better equipped to cope with adversity and the inevitable bumps in the road of life. Because early intervention is key, learning these skills can and must begin at a very young age. When children learn and recognize that they do have the skills and the strength to pick themselves up and dust themselves off after something does not go as planned, they are building up that resiliency.

At KCS we recognize this and continue to make mental health a fundamental priority. Beginning right from PK, our students are encouraged to talk about and recognize their feelings. Social-emotional growth and development is an intentional component of our curriculum, and the adults in the building use those “teachable moments” to role model and discuss dealing with disappointment and asking for help.  Our faculty and staff are certified in Mental Health First Aid, allowing us to recognize early warning signs and symptoms of mental distress, and assist our students in getting the help they need.

We also recognize that we need to help our entire school community better understand the importance of mental health and wellness.  Through our Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series, we have shared information about brain development, mental health, and our children, volunteerism and contributing to the community, moving from stress to strength, developing resiliency, internet, and online safety, and we will continue in January 2019 when Greg Wells – author of The Ripple Effect – comes to speak with us about our overall well-being.  The more we talk about mental health, the better we understand its importance – not just on World Mental Health Day, but every day.

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