Why Do We Have To Go To School?

Do your kids ask this?

Long ago I used to think therein lay the foe that I would slay as an educator. It was asked simply because schools hadn’t yet found a way to make learning enticing enough. While I continue my quest to make it as inviting as possible (you get more bees with honey after all), I have surrendered to the fact that it’s really hard to beat the happiness of holidays. I burst with joy when I hear children say that they miss school when away, but have stopped torturing myself when not all relish it as much.

So, while neither I nor anyone else has made school the quintessential “place to be” for all children, my career-long efforts have at least given me a response to the question of why children have to go to school. At least, this is what I think the response should be.

  • To acquire knowledge needed to understand the world and as fodder for our thinking.
  • To develop skills that allow us to share our understanding and thinking.
  • To learn how to learn (for it must never end).
  • To learn how to get along and work with many others, including people not of our choosing.
  • To learn how to struggle, even fail, and get back up again.
  • To learn that our actions matter in the world, and to proceed with care.
  • To learn who we are by facing challenge and temptation.
  • To acquire abilities and dispositions that matter in life – curiosity, empathy, persistence, adaptability, leadership and more – so we can wisely navigate our own path to happiness.

It may be hard to beat summer holiday, and I’m glad children have it. Without a doubt, children also learn a lot of value over the summer, not to mention all other occasions outside of school. But more learning must be done while young, much more, and that is what schools are for. Or should be.

I have a clear answer for my sons’ question. I’m left, however, asking my own.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, August 2012.

The Leader in All of Us

Read any good books over the summer?

I hope you all had time to enjoy the ‘dog days’ of summer. I know you didn’t have homework to supervise and uniforms to wash. While you may have continued working, I hope summer offered you time to slow down and curl up to a good book.

Our teachers did. All of our teachers read the book The Leader in Me, by the late Stephen Covey, renowned author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Every summer, KCS faculty read a common book that relates to an area of focus for the upcoming year. I stumbled upon The Leader in Me while browsing through the shelves at Chapters last Christmas. It told the stories of schools around the world, not too many, that had embraced what we also embrace at KCS: Habits that matter and ubiquitous student leadership. These are exceptional schools that have had exceptional impact. We’re on the same path.

Everyone has the power to be a leader. In fact, we exert our influence all the time, often without even knowing it. Last week all faculty watched Drew Dudley’s TEDxToronto talk “Leading with Lollipops” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVCBrkrFrBE ). A few words and an impromptu gesture on his part served to keep a peer in university and catalyzed a relationship that led to marriage. And he doesn’t even remember it. We’re all leaders, whether or not we know it. By recognizing and encouraging leadership in everyone, children included, there’s no limit to the positive impact on the world.

This may not have been the theme of the books you read over the summer. But I thought you’d like to know that this was the theme of what we read. Leadership is ubiquitous at KCS. And little by little, our students help make the world a better place. There’s always room for more. We hope you’ll embrace our Habits and join us.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

The Yin and Yang of Learning

There’s nothing like our grade two International Celebration to remind me of the Yin and Yang of learning.

Last Friday, our grade twos showed up in costumes from around the world. In their grade-two way, they did a brilliant job at assembly and then back in their classrooms sharing what they knew about their adopted countries.

What I love about this is the way these projects immerse students in how different life can be elsewhere. Some people argue we should focus on our similarities with others, and of course there are many. However, I’m most grateful for our differences, because it’s our differences which make us reflect anew on ourselves.

When I lived in Japan, not a single day went by when I didn’t learn something new, something that made me pause and adjust my understanding of the world and what was possible in it. Among all those lessons was that of Yin and Yang, and the notion that life is full of complementary opposites – it always was, is, shall be and should be – just like night and day.

This flies in the face of the primal Western mindset – the conviction that all can and should be great, that happiness should be a singular goal, and that frustration, setbacks, and grief are bad and to be avoided.

Heavy stuff from a grade two showcase.

Taking place one week before the end of school, I can’t help but reflect on the year. We wholeheartedly strive to maximize the Yang (light) part of the duality. Learning should have many successes. It should have moments of unbridled joy. There are so many such moments at KCS that a book couldn’t capture them all, let alone a blog.

It’s also important to remember the presence and the role of the Yin (dark).The year has also had frustrations, tears, injuries, and conflicts. There have been disagreements, hurt feelings, difficult discussions, and problems that lingered longer than anyone wanted. We work hard to minimize them, yet they happen anyway.

Life happens in complementary opposites, and life happens at KCS. Learning to be resilient is one of our KCS Habits because being resilient is necessary to get through the bumps inherent in a life fully lived.

We’ll keep working to make as much happiness as possible at KCS. And we’ll keep working to help our students face any setbacks. Knowing what matters in life includes both.

Thanks for the reminder, grade twos. And thanks to everyone, teachers, parents and students, who live through the Yin and Yang with us. It has been a great year of learning.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

How a Regular Dose of Fiction Can Make You a Better Person

“We have discovered that fiction at its best isn’t just enjoyable. It measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”

–     Dr. Keith Oatley, University of Toronto

My son had the benefit of being mugged the other day. Thankfully, it happened through fiction, in this case, Eric Walters’ book Shattered. He also had the experience of working in a soup kitchen, meeting people who are homeless, and hearing their stories.

My son is a reluctant reader who will only independently gravitate to baseball magazines. Like many other parents of reluctant readers, I do back flips trying to entice him to read books. On a recent occasion, with six baseball-based novels in hand, my son said the following: I hate fiction. It’s not real.

Too bad for him, I had just read about the work of numerous psychologists, as explained in Oatley’s blog post “Changing Our Minds by Reading Fiction” at www.sharpbrains.com. He pointed out that fiction is a simulation for our social and emotional worlds. Though not true stories, they are real in their ability to act as experience that shapes who we are. And in fact, these researchers do find evidence that readers of fiction change as a result. Knowing of their work, I gave my son a bigger response than he expected.

Life is social. Experience is valuable. Reading fiction offers an infinite array of social experiences, equipping readers to better understand and navigate the complex and sometimes precarious social world in which we live.

Being mugged is something I hope never really happens to my son. Working in a soup kitchen and hearing the stories of those who seek warmth and a meal there is something I do hope happens to him, though as yet he’s not open to the idea. So be it. Thanks to fiction, he’s already started checking it out.

And while he’s still pinning his hopes on a future in baseball, I know he’s being prepared for much more.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

With Awe and Appreciation

One popped in to help my Mandarin student with his pronunciation.

Two co-chaired a gala that will live on as the most fun gathering of pirates, Willy Wonkas, Godfathers, Flappers and other assorted book characters Etobicoke has ever seen.

Two others worked steadfastly, as always, in our Parent Network Store.

I sat with six at our strategic planning meeting on Tuesday. Another six joined the grade ones on their outdoor education trip.

About a dozen worked in the hallways putting up 309 pieces of “Hero” art.

Thirty hosted dinner parties for hundreds of grateful KCS Moms, Dads, Friends and Staff.

Dozens more gave generously in time, expertise and goods to our Feast of Fiction extravaganza.

… and that doesn’t even cover the whole week.

One of our KCS Habits is Respond with Awe and Appreciation.  Between all of the above, and the countless other ways parents help make KCS what it is – New Family mentors, Welcome Back BBQ, special lunches, library helpers, various fundraisers, Open House volunteers, the Board of Governors and committees, class parents, and many more  – I am filled with the awe and appreciation we aim to establish in our students.

With effort, the world can be pretty awesome. With appreciation for the huge contributions of our parents, our little corner of the world is.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

Leader or Sidekick – What Kind of Thinker Are You?

“A man is what he thinks all day long.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

When was the last time you thought about who you are?

I don’t mean the self-affirming thinking that most of us fall prey to on occasion – you know, the kind where we tell ourselves how right and good we are relative to those maniacs on the road, or the grumpy, nonsensical others who enter our consciousness.

I mean the kind of thinking that a scientist would bring to a petri dish.

Thinking is at the heart of who we are. It’s at the heart of everything we do. Even our habits, the ones so hidden in our basal ganglia that they happen without apparent thought at all, are rooted within it.

With this in mind, shouldn’t we all take time to think about our thinking?

We believe so, which is why Think About Your Thinking is a KCS Habit. Reflection and goal-setting begin in grade one. They happen in all subjects, formally and informally, and include everything from our Super Seven learning skills, subject-based skills, extra-curricular involvement to the KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action.

The grade 6 students, all of whom are participating in our electives pilot, have been thinking about their thinking lately. Each elective is built to develop 4-8 Habits. The Habits were explained, and then students were asked to look for evidence of each Habit, and identify whether they think they are growing or not in each. As an exercise, it is simple in design, but not so simple in execution.

Try it.

In your life, how are you doing on the following:

  • Thinking flexibly?
  • Thinking creatively?
  • Acting with empathy?
  • Showing self-control?
  • Persisting?
  • Listening to understand?
  • The other KCS Habits?

We are what we think. Honest self-reflections are just the first step in the job of being a disciplined, successful thinker. Having said that, thinking about our thinking is where it all begins.   We can take charge of our thoughts, or be their sidekick. At KCS, we’ve no doubt what we think is the best route.

What do you think?

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

Make Room for Passion

Maybe we already ask too much of education. Our profession has certainly evolved from a focus on the ‘3 Rs’ to include many other expectations, academic, social, moral, physical and otherwise. Because these expectations are all worthy, we accept them as part of our role. And because making room for passion is also worthy, and increasingly so, it should be included among the expectations we place on ourselves.

Anyone following the dialogue in education is aware of the growing need to prepare students for an unknown future. Students today are likely to have many different careers in their lifetime, holding jobs that don’t even exist yet. The future is full of opportunity for people who can drive their careers, who are adaptable, who can learn what needs to be learned, and who are energized enough to make their role matter in a global competitive market. If it ever was straightforward, the world is decreasingly so, thanks to technology and the interconnectedness that binds our lives to every other person and place in the world.

Sir Ken Robinson is one of the most highly renowned voices, and critics, in education today. A major theme in his work is the importance of nurturing creativity. Another theme, captured in his book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (2009), is the importance of nurturing one’s passions, and the unfortunate absence of that as a priority in conventional schooling. Of course, all is well for students whose passions align with the school curriculum. The trouble is, the world is much bigger than the scope prescribed by the Ministry of Education. Student-driven learning, during the school day and with the guidance of interested adults, is too rare a part of formal education. Yet this is exactly what we need to instill in them to be successful as adults.

Finding one’s passion can be the difference between a life driven by happiness and one crippled by disinterest. It can be the difference between a life fully lived and one only a fraction so. It can also be the difference between the students who feel school matters, and those who feel it doesn’t. Make room for students to explore their passion at school. And see how it changes everything.

Andrea Fanjoy
Assistant Head, Academics
Twitter: @afanjoy

This article also features in the April edition of SNAP Etobicoke.

Sharing What We Know about Heroes, Big and Small

A hero is an ordinary person who finds the strength to persevere and endure
in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

–        Christopher Reeve

Need a hero? Look no further – we’ve cornered the market at KCS.

Every student is creating a work of art that represents either a hero or heroism to them. Students in grades one to five are each working on a teacher-led project. Students in grades six to eight have designed their project entirely on their own, choosing everything about it other than the theme. Each student has his/her own hero, and their own way of showing it. The Spring Showcase from May 17th to June 6th will be the richest, most interesting, and most inspiring exhibit of Sharing What You Know at KCS ever, I’ve no doubt.

Since reading a biography of Golda Meir in high school, heroes have always nestled in the periphery of my thoughts – all the big ones, the ones who stared down gross injustice, the ones who believed humanity could be better, the ones who courageously devoted their lives to it – reminding me to get off my duff and strive to live a life that matters.

I’m also recently thinking a lot about a smaller hero. Most people don’t know him, though all KCS faculty and staff, and many of our parents do, as well as many people like us in communities across the continent. He’s small in stature, quiet and humble in demeanor. In that way alone could he be considered small. A hero for me, he speaks a common sense about raising and educating children of character that few people speak. Challenging mindsets à la mode, he devotes his life to helping parents and educators be the better people they are capable of being.

This hero, Ron Morrish, is speaking at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School on May 9th. You can also learn more about his message by visiting http://www.realdiscipline.com/ or reading his book Secrets of Discipline for Parents and Teachers: 12 Keys for Raising Responsible Children.

Heroes come in all sizes. Whether big or small, far away or right in our midst, their example has earned them a place in the periphery of everyone’s thoughts. Thanks to the artistry of our students, our Spring Showcase is KCS’s effort to make that so.

And maybe, just maybe, this occasion of Sharing What You Know might help us ordinary folk move one step closer to being heroes: people devoted to making humanity a little bit better.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

Do What Is Right

“Happiness varies more with the quality of
human relationships than with income.”
– World Happiness Report, presented at the United Nations Conference on Happiness

Call us old-fashioned. For all the impassioned talk about ‘21st century skills’ and life-changing advances in technology, manners remain at the core of what makes the world go around.

Our grade fives went on a field trip the other day. At KCS we directly teach, practice, review and remind students of behavior that is right. Before leaving to get on the TTC, the grade five teachers did so.

Here is Mr. Sawyer’s account of what followed: “…the thing that stands out most in my mind was the excellent manners that the students displayed on the subway…I felt so proud watching students in our class get up and offer their seats to elderly passengers or to women with small children.  I also saw two occasions where a boy from our class offered their seat to a lady.  All of this was done without me saying a word…I had many people comment to be about the excellent manners of our students.  I agree!!!!!!!”

Positive relationships with others, nourished through the use of manners, have always mattered. Encouragingly, in a world that has sometimes forgotten the importance of this, it is starting to get the public attention it deserves.

Offering your seat, holding the door open for others, welcoming visitors to the school, and greeting others each day are but a few of the ways in which ‘doing what is right’ is practised at KCS. Practice makes perfect.

Grade fives, that was perfect.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
Kingsway College School

Act with Empathy

One of our grade one classes had a big talk last week about the habit ‘Act with Empathy’. A classmate was away that day having teeth extracted, so they all thought about what they could say to express their empathy and make him feel better.  Here is what they came up with:

  • I feel bad for you.
  • I hope you feel better soon.
  • I hope your mouth doesn’t hurt.
  • I hope you come back to school tomorrow.
  • I miss you.
  • How did it feel?
  • I’m really sorry for you.
  • I hope you can come back to school tomorrow.
  • I hope you get better soon.
  • I hope your teeth get better soon.
  • I hope you get used to it.
  • I hope your teeth grow in soon.
  • I hope you could get a good rest in your bed today.
  • I hope you can have some fun tomorrow.
  • I hope you lie down in your bed so you have energy for tomorrow.
  • I hope you can go to school tomorrow and you can eat apples, your favourite.
  • You can cut up your apple.

Empathy matters, so we teach it at KCS. ‘Sharing What We Know’ also matters, so we do that too. If someone in your life could use a little empathy and you’re wondering what to say, revisit this post. The grade ones know what to do.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics