The Second School Rule – Manners

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.

A few years ago I was on a class trip to Quebec with a group of Grade 7 students. At one point along the 401, our bus pulled over into one of those big rest stops so we could all grab a snack and visit the washrooms. As I watched our students enjoying their hot chocolates and donuts, one of the cleaning staff walked over to me.

“Are these your students?”

“Yes, they are,” I replied warily, preparing myself for what might come next.

“Well… I want you to know this is the best group of kids we’ve ever had here.”

He looked around at the KCS students, nodded approvingly, and then walked away. I looked back at our kids and realized that what I thought was typical behaviour was actually anything but. Our students were saying please and thank you to the staff, they were walking respectfully through the crowd, and they were even holding doors and giving up their chairs to families and seniors. To me, that kind of behaviour isn’t going above and beyond. It’s just the right thing to do. But it reminded me that not everyone feels that way.

Now, I think I’m getting close to the age where I’m allowed to start grumbling about how everything was better back in the “good old days”. However, I don’t really feel the need to grumble, because I believe that in most ways, the world keeps on getting better and better. Except for one thing – manners.

Good manners are getting rarer and rarer. Some people I’ve spoken to think this is because today manners are considered old-fashioned or unimportant. But I think the reason is actually pretty obvious. People don’t have good manners because we don’t go out of our way to teach the next generation good manners.

That’s one of the reasons why I think teaching our students manners is absolutely essential. Because we can’t expect them to just figure them out on their own. We have to model good manners, take the time to correct bad manners, and make it a priority to regularly go out of our way to teach simple social graces. And it’s worth remembering that we’re all part of that teaching team. Teachers model manners by the way they speak to each other in the halls. Parents model manners by the way they navigate the parking lot. I model manners by the way I greet students at the door. The kids are watching us, and they will copy what they see.

I know we’re doing a pretty good job. I know this because of what our visitors say to me when they come to KCS. Potential families visiting our open houses regularly comment on the fact that our students hold the doors for them. Special guests like our yoga instructors and Scientists in School tell me that they “hold lotteries” over who gets to come to our school because they love working with our polite students. Admissions Directors and other Heads of School always comment on our graduating students’ manners when our Grade 8s visit their open houses in the fall. Even the guy who makes my burger at Magoo’s tells me they love having KCS kids in their restaurant because our students clean up after themselves and treat their staff with respect!

In the end, while I love that other people think our students are great and well-behaved, that’s not really the point. The point is that our students go out in the world believing that the way they treat other people matter. That will help them find success and happiness, but more importantly, it will make them kinder and more compassionate people. And to me, graduating outstanding citizens with manners is the foundation of our school and what matters most to me.

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WHAT WILL YOU BE TALKING ABOUT ON JANUARY 30?

When we talk openly, accurately, and without judgement about mental health, we are making a difference for those who are affected by it.  Who are those that are affected by mental health?  As the tag line for Bell Let’s Talk Day has said for the past two years “Mental health affects us all.”  Just like we all have physical health, we all have mental health.  Just like we can all get physically ill or be in physical distress, we can all experience mental illness or mental distress. The more we know about mental health and the better we understand it, the more that we can help ourselves, our friends and family, and society at large access the supports and resources needed from both a prevention and an intervention standpoint.

As part of their message, Bell Let’s Talk promotes five ways to help end the stigma around mental illness:

  1. Language matters
  2. Be kind
  3. Educate yourself
  4. Listen and ask
  5. Talk about it

One way we help promote such an understanding is through our Encouraging Dialogue speaker series.  On Tuesday, January 29, we will be hosting Dr. Greg Wells, author of The Ripple Effect: Sleep Better, Eat Better, Move Better, Think Better. His talk is focused on the four stages of physical and mental wellness, how they are interconnected, and how simple changes can create a ripple effect that improves overall functioning.  He will share this message with our grade 5 – 8 students in the afternoon, and then address our parents and the wider community that evening.

Talking about mental health is not something that we shy away from here at KCS. We understand the need to reduce the stigma around mental health and help everyone better understand that if you are experiencing a mental health issue you are not alone, you will not be judged, we will listen, and we will work with you and your family to get you the help and support that you need. Through avenues such as our Talk That Matters series for students, our above mentioned Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series for parents and the wider community, Children’s Mental Health week, and Bell Let’s Talk day, we are able to educate and promote an understanding about mental health and overall wellness.  But we aren’t going to stop there. We purposefully embed wellness, physical health, and mental health into what we do every day in all of our classes at every grade level. Discussions and learning about a variety of topics take place. Some such topics are: being active, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and taking time for ourselves. Our students also learn about mindfulness, yoga, movement, other stress-reducing strategies and who we can talk to and what we can do if we aren’t feeling healthy.

To strengthen our understanding about mental health and how we can help someone who is in distress, beginning in 2013, all of our faculty and staff have been certified in Mental Health First Aid, a 16-hour course provided by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. This past August, we completed a refresher course. We are also all certified in Red Cross First Aid; however, ask any of our faculty or staff and they will tell you that they use what they learned in their mental health first aid far more frequently than what they learned in physical first aid.

To continue our students thinking about mental health, and in support of the important initiative of Bell Let’s Talk Day, we asked all of our students from PK through grade 8 to think about what they could say, what they could do, or how they or someone else might feel if they were experiencing a mental health issue. They shared those ideas by filling in a speech bubble, a hand, or a heart. Take a moment to look at the display in our front lobby and you will see our students are doing their part to reduce the stigma and understand that mental health matters.

On Wednesday, January 30, there will be a lot of talk about mental health. Please join the conversation and help raise awareness about and funds for mental health. However, I challenge you to keep the conversation going and make mental health part of what you talk about every day.

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

 

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.

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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Five Things KCS is Thankful for in our 30th Year!

1) The one and only Ricardo – salter of icy sidewalks, handyman extraordinaire, and our foremost class clown!

2) Our alumni are now grown up enough to work here!

3) Foula’s big smile and bigger heart! Whether she’s looking after a sick student, helping a new family find their way around the school, or simply greeting everyone who walks through our doors, she does it all with a seemingly endless supply of happiness and joy.

4) Three additions, one amalgamation, lots of renovations, and (coming soon) a new park too!

5) The visionary and dedicated founders of KCS. Because if they hadn’t followed their dream thirty years ago, we wouldn’t get to be a part of this amazing school that they built for all of us. So from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!!!

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Grounded in Tradition, Driven by Innovation

“Although so much of KCS has changed, there is still so much that remains the same, and that’s one of the many things that makes this school so special.” – Laura, a KCS parent and alumna, reflecting on her children’s first day of school this September, thirty years after her own first day as a Grade 1 student at KCS.

Last weekend was KCS’s Welcome Back BBQ, an annual event we’ve been celebrating since the school began thirty years ago. In many ways, it wasn’t that different from our very first BBQ, held back when we were just a small school with only 50 students. Both of them featured hamburgers, hot dogs, sunshine, and (most importantly) families and friends joining together to celebrate the start of a new school year.

But this year’s BBQ wasn’t a total time capsule. Along with the classic traditions, the 2018 iteration also featured climbing walls, airbrushed tattoos, and kids showing off their best Fortnite dance moves. Because while traditions are important, you can’t let them completely define you. You have to be open to new ideas and innovations that build on a strong foundation laid by years of thoughtful traditions.

This holds true for everything at KCS, not just BBQs. For example, our academic program is built around a strong core of traditional direct instruction. Our youngest students learn the basics of reading though teacher-led small lessons on phonics and decoding. Older students are formally taught a wide range of study skills to help them find success in exams and tests. And students of all ages spend time practicing and memorizing core math facts that help them make complex computations more quickly and easily. In many ways, all of these would have felt very familiar to the students and teachers at our first BBQ.

However, we also know that tradition must be partnered with brave innovations and experimentation. It’s safe to say that nobody in the late eighties was talking about the importance of young students developing an entrepreneurship mindset, but that’s exactly what we’re doing with our new StEP initiative. Our innovative electives program encourages passion-driven learning and gives students the chance to explore their own big ideas. We’ve also got our students creating wearable technology with Arduino, writing code with Scratch, and learning the process of design thinking. All of these exciting programs go to show that thirty years into our story, we’re balancing traditional teaching and learning with a healthy dose of revolutionary ideas.

Some things – like hamburgers and hot dogs – will stand the test of time. But that doesn’t mean you have to be bound by tradition. After all, a nice gluten-free bun and a side of quinoa salad can make that burger taste even better!

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Kindness in Kindergarten

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“Kindness is the language in which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” –Mark Twain

As I reflect on this past school year with my Senior Kindergarten class, one word comes to mind – kindness. In over 20 years teaching, I have never met a group of children who were so empathetic and accepting of one other. These children set such a good example to those around them through so many acts of kindness.

I can still vividly remember an incident when one of our students was upset and laying on the floor crying. On their own accord, two students laid down next to this child, patting her back to comfort her. It made me so proud to see them, without hesitation, go out of their way to help calm their friend.

Their kindness was contagious and it led to authentic writing activities in our SK class. They created Get Well cards for a classmate who had been ill. They also wrote messages and decorated Christmas cards for cancer patients at Sick Kids Hospital.

These children impressed me every day with the ways they lived and breathed our Habit “Make the world better”. If only SKs ruled the world, what a kinder world it would be!

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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.