M&Ms and A Soccer Shoe

Coated chocolate candyOne evening last week, just before 8 p.m., I was driving my daughter, Alyssa, to her weekly piano lesson.  She turned to me and told me that she thought that her brother, Brandon, needed M&Ms for his grade 9 Business class the next day.  Let’s just say I was not pleased to hear this news at that time of night.  My first question to her was when did Brandon find out he needed these M&Ms?  Once she hesitated in her answer, I knew he found out last week, but forgot to tell either my wife or myself.  I told her that I wasn’t going to the store to buy them at that point in the evening and Brandon would just have to figure it out the next day.  Alyssa knew I meant what I said, as both she and her brother remember the time when Brandon was younger and he arrived at his soccer practice with one shoe.  You may have guessed this, but I didn’t drive home to get the other shoe.  If you have never done this before it is interesting to watch someone play soccer with one shoe.  I am pleased to say that since that practice, Brandon makes sure he leaves the house with all his gear before getting in the car.

Unfortunately, I will never know whether the lesson I was trying to teach Brandon with the M&Ms and being prepared for school made a difference.  When I got home from picking up Alyssa from piano, there was a package of M&Ms on the counter in the kitchen.  My wife, Heather, went out and bought them.  We hadn’t agreed on my M&M strategy in advance…

Derek Logan
Head of School

Learning What We Don’t Want to Learn

Habits of Mind, Body and ActionThe first Habit on our poster is ‘Embrace Learning’. Don’t let the soothing tone of the word ‘embrace’ deceive you. We could have just as easily described it as ‘Learn whether you like it or not’.

Learning can be like that. Thankfully, most of the time, and certainly at KCS, learning does feel like a warm embrace. It’s delivered by teachers who evidently care about their students and about making learning as positive as possible. And so it should be.

I’ve been reminded recently, however, about the underbelly of ‘embrace learning’, a side that was always intentionally part of that Habit, but that may have gone unnoticed, hidden in the shadows of the ever-more pleasant type of learning that is more the norm here. I’m talking about those important lessons in life that we resist, the lessons we’d prefer not to learn, but learn we should. They may challenge our character, or reveal a sandy foundation upon which we had built mighty assumptions. These lessons may arise when exams yield lower marks than expected; sometimes they arise when we’ve done something we’re later ashamed of; sometimes they will trip up students who otherwise find learning very easy, but then are faced with a topic that is annoyingly difficult to understand. Though these examples focus on the young, we’re never too old for these lessons. And while these examples focus on others, I don’t pretend to be immune.

Humans are generally a comfort-seeking lot. Daniel Willingham, cognitive scientist and author of Why Students Don’t Like School, argues that the brain strives to be as efficient as possible, lazy even, preferring to do as it wishes and not as it is forced to do. Add a dash of limited understanding, bias, immaturity, emotion, or over-confidence, and you have someone ready for one of these most humbling lessons. If they embrace it.

Most learning should feel like a warm embrace. But growing up and being our best self will include these more challenging lessons too. While decidedly uncomfortable, the reward for their steep price is broader understanding, growing maturity, more rational thought and healthy humility. Resilience, thinking flexibly and the ability to persist, three other noteworthy habits, also grow as a result.

That’s learning worth embracing.

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

Testing What Matters in Life

How did you do on your last test?

If you’re not a student you probably can’t remember. Tests are for students, right?

Formal education has a long history of testing. Spelling, math, science, history – no other institution tests more than schools. Obviously.

KCS CaresWhat’s not as top of mind, however, are the tests that we face minute-by-minute, wherever we are, whomever we’re with and whatever we’re doing. These are the tests of character that appear in our interactions with others, choices of how to spend our time, how we work, how we play, and how we respond to the challenges thrown our way. And if you’re following what most experts are saying, it is character, and specifically traits such as initiative, curiosity, grit, creativity, and adaptability, that will best determine our success in life.

Educators and parents alike spend a lot of time thinking about tests, whether designing, marking or preparing children to do their best with them. Tests help us monitor growth in students and effectiveness of teaching. They have value. But most of these tests don’t measure what matters most. They aren’t designed to.

So, what would a test of character look like? Simple. Watch what others do, of their own volition, and particularly when out of the gaze and direction of authority figures. Minute-by-minute.

And if you want to help prepare students to do well on these tests? Provide a school experience that not only teaches character but also includes the encouragement, time and support needed so students can practice the skills and traits that matter, and do so for their own purposes. Students of character need freedom to initiate, create, persist at solving real problems, make a difference and more, not for marks and not because they’re told to. They need a school that believes in the infinite potential of children, if we let it take shape, and a school which recognises that this means doing a number of things differently.

Educators, watch what your students do with free time. That’s testing what matters. And give them a school experience that lets them develop the traits and skills that matter most. That’s preparing them to ace the test. You won’t be disappointed.

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

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

Sportsmanship Matters

This has been an exciting summer for my son’s soccer team. Brandon plays for North Mississauga Panthers U14 boys’ team in the Ontario Youth Soccer League.  This weekend they are playing for the Provincial Championship, and they have qualified for the National Championships that will be held in Toronto in early October.  As many of you know who have children who compete in various activities, standing on the sidelines can be an emotional rollercoaster for a parent.

A couple of weekends ago, the Panthers faced their rivals, Brampton East Scorpions, in the semifinals.  They won on penalty kicks.  After the game was over this photo was taken of the two goalies:

John Wooden, UCLAs famous basketball coach noted that sports reveals character.  How many times I’ve witnessed the truth of that saying over my years standing on the sidelines: both in the boys’ behaviour on the field and the parents’ behaviour on the sidelines.  After viewing this photo last week, it certainly made me proud to know that Brandon is associated with teammates like this.

Derek Logan
Head of School