Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 1

HeadandArrowssmallEarlier this year I wrote about our debut with design thinking. For readers still unfamiliar with what that means, here’s my attempt to describe it:

Design thinking is a process that takes a group of people from ‘complex problem’ to ‘solution’ in ways that are exceptionally correlated with success. Design thinking deeply engages all stakeholders, requires them to empathise with all affected, and reins in the more typical ‘rush to conclusion’ so creative win-win thinking has time to emerge.

While the specifics can vary according to task and organisation, the method is clear and comprehensive. Thanks to Project 2051 at the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Leadership Institute last summer, I became acutely aware of its power and potential. Inspired, we have adopted design thinking, adapted it to meet our needs, and launched two new innovations that are rocking our world.

The earlier blog explained how we’ve established a new form of student leadership that allows all interested senior students and staff to work together to make KCS the best it can be. Here’s the design thinking process we’re following:

  1. What is the design challenge?
    1. What problems are you aware of that need fixing?
    2. What challenges are you aware of that are worth addressing?
    3. What opportunities have occurred to you that are worth pursuing?
  2. What do you need to know?
    1. Who is affected?
    2. What are their perspectives?
    3. What research can inform you?
    4. What can you learn from others’ experiences?
  3. What ideas address your design challenge?
    1. What can you think of?
    2. Which are win-win for all?
    3. Get feedback from a larger group
  4. Act
    1. Pilot at a small scale
    2. Reflect and iterate
    3. Expand to address the challenge

We started as a small but intrepid group. Since our November launch, the group has quadrupled in size. The design challenge we’ve chosen to pursue first, identified by a grade 7 student, is the following: “How do we better enable differentiated learning at KCS?” We’ve since conducted a survey with the grade 6 to 8 students to learn more about how they best learn. Later this month, we’ll be launching this year’s Student Voice topic so we can hear from all students about differentiated learning and how to improve it. The KCS by Design members are currently preparing frequency distribution graphs and PowerPoint slides so they can share their findings through presentations to faculty, senior students, and the whole school (separately), as well as through presentation boards in the foyer for parents. Finally, Mrs. Drummond and I have launched a new elective as a prototype that makes more differentiated learning possible at KCS. That exciting venture will be Part 2 in the story of “Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat”.

This is what all leadership should be built upon. Engaging, listening to, learning from, prototyping with, and informing the whole school community makes smart innovation possible. I can’t wait to see where this journey goes. The inspiration that began with Project 2051 energises every step of the way.

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

“Can We Start Reading Now?”

It’s a Friday afternoon in the KCS Library, shortly after the Silver Birch program has begun.  There are swarms of children racing to the library after school to sign out books…..Silver Birch books!  Some of these students already have a book checked out for the weekend, but are worried that they may finish it early and not have anything else to read the rest of the weekend.  “Could I borrow a second book, just in case?”  How can I say no to such enthusiasm for reading?

The OLA’s Forest of Reading® Programs have been a tradition at KCS for over ten years.  Passports and reflection sheets, sharing thoughts and opinions through blogging, author visits, house competitions, and impromptu discussions in the hallway and classrooms are all part of the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch and Red Maple programs.  And like all traditions, enthusiasm for the program is passed from sibling to sibling.  I am often asked, the first week of school, when will it start this year?

I just love the BookBuzz around the whole school! Some things I’ve overheard:

  • “Did you like Space Raiders?”
  • “I liked The Swallow: A Ghost Story better than I thought I would!”
  • “Are there any more books by David Skuy?”
  • “My goal was 10 books last year, but this year I’m going to try to finish all 20!”
  • Clover’s Luck is here!  I can’t wait to read it!”
  •  “I’ve read all the books!  What else can I read?”

Not surprisingly, this tradition is my favourite time of the year.  There is an increased enthusiasm for reading, and even the most reluctant of readers can be found sitting on a beanbag chair in the library with a book in their hands.  At KCS, we are continuing to grow our culture of students who read for the love of it.  And there are many additional benefits. As People for Education published in a report, “Students with a more positive attitude towards reading tend to be more successful in all subjects”. (Reading for Joy, 2011.)

The Forest of Reading Program – It’s the Super Bowl of Reading!

Judy Dunn-Hoggarth
Teacher Librarian

Where Was This Thirty Years Ago?

KCS_Where-Was-This-30-Years-AgoLast week, staff and students were asked to fill in a thought bubble about what mental health meant to them. After reading many of them, a flood of emotions and memories came to me as I have a brother who lives with a mental illness. Words like “brave” and “hero” put a smile on my face because that’s how I would describe my brother. These were not words I heard when I was a young girl dealing with this issue in my family.

People did not understand that my brother was sick. Maybe if he were in a wheelchair, people would have been more supportive. It is hard to understand something that you cannot see.

We have come so far with raising awareness and decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness, but we still need to continue with these conversations, not just on Bell Let’s Talk Day. Here, at KCS, teachers encourage these dialogues with their students to promote good mental health. As uncomfortable as it may be for some, we embrace it.

KCS instills in our students key habits such as Act with empathy, Do what is right, and Make the world better. These children will carry kindness and empathy towards others for the rest of their lives. It makes me hopeful that this next generation of students will do their part to end the stigma towards mental illness. This makes my heart happy and it made my brother’s heart also very happy when I told him about what our students were saying!

Lucy Rizzuto
Senior Kindergarten Teacher

Practising the Hard Part of Listening

soundOne of our Habits at KCS is Listen to Understand. Hearing comes easily for most of us. Listening requires a bit more effort but we usually try our best with that. It’s the ‘understand’ part that is trickiest. Some cool things are happening here with that Habit and they’re a reminder of why it matters.

Understanding means stepping out of our old opinions, assumptions, and even otherwise-justified practices to fully understand those of others. It requires another one of our Habits, Flexible Thinking. Cognitive science Daniel T. Willingham helps explain why that makes it so tricky. In his book Why Don’t Students Like School:  A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, Willingham explains that the brain, surprisingly, is not designed for thinking. That’s right. For all its smarts, it’s actually designed to avoid thinking. When listening, the unmotivated and undisciplined brain will work to hear what it wants to hear, or rapidly defeat what it finds contradictory and therefore too much trouble. Hmm. Does that sound like some conversations you’ve heard (or even had) before?

The KCS Habits are not just for students. Listening to our senior students recently, we introduced a modified timetable during the week of exams so grade 7 and 8 students had choice in how they spent their mornings: either in subject-specific extra help or an open-study session. Earlier this year, when our senior students asked for more independence, numerous other new practices based on student suggestions were introduced (some examples include: freedom to eat lunch with friends from the other class; grade 8s being allowed to eat lunch in the Student Lounge; Special Lunches for 7s and 8s in their corridor instead of Canada Hall; more choices for students who want to stay in to work during recess). Readers of “Stay Connected” are learning direct from the students about some of the changes they helped make happen. We listened and understood. The result has been a breath of fresh air for us all.

“Respect, manners and try your best” are school rules that we all strive to follow. Figuring out what’s best is tricky. Listen to Understand is the first big step. Students and faculty are showing they can take it from there.

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

Addressing the important question of “How do we keep our kids safe online?”

Stock Photo Child with Laptop

Join us for “Keeping Our Kids Safe Online” – Kingsway College School on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.

When organizing a panel for our February 9th KCS  Encouraging Dialogue Speakers Series, our committee kept hearing from families that they would like this year’s panel to address issues around social media and our children.

To start our search for speakers, we called KCS alumna Marianne B ‘01., whose work is with the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) at Ryerson University.  Marianne’s expertise helped guide us in the right direction, and this year’s panel is a result of her leadership.

In our initial conference call, Marianne said something that really resonated with our group.  I’m paraphrasing now, but she said, “When I was in grade 5 at KCS, at the end of the day I went home, played with my toys, ate dinner, did my homework, maybe did some extra-curricular activities or spoke on the phone, and then went to bed.  I didn’t have a phone connected to the Internet, and I didn’t have a laptop or iPad in my room.”  And this was only a little over a ten years ago.

A short pause to think about how things have changed, and will continue to change for our children, leaves one amazed.

Marianne and her parents did not have to deal with cellphones, texting, Facebook’s Likes and Dislikes, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or cyberbullying.   Although we might not have appreciated it at the time, I’m sure a number of today’s parents would like to see a return to just having their children play with their toys after school.  But that’s not going to happen.  For today’s parents and their children the ‘online world’ is a big part of their everyday lives.  Given this, how can we help our children navigate their digital experiences and keep them safe online?

We are confident our Encouraging Dialogue panel will help families address this important question.  We look forward to seeing you at “Keeping Our Kids Safe Online” on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Layers for Learning

I often think of the show Wipeout, and its unconquerable obstacle course, as a metaphor for what we do. The more appropriate way to describe how KCS works, I suppose, is to talk of layers. Whichever works for you, it speaks to the big back story of what happens at KCS and it’s what needs to happen in any school striving to reach all students.

Every school has objectives, many dozens in fact. We have academic objectives in every subject and grade. At KCS, we have equally significant arts, athletics and citizenship objectives, though that doesn’t necessarily set us far apart from numerous other schools. Our Habits of Mind, Body and Action are a further set of objectives, but having them is not what matters. What matters are the layers of effort designed to achieve them – the number, the variation among each, and the ongoing commitment to keep adding layers to make sure no student leaves before our objectives are achieved.

I’m regularly reminded of this. The other week, I popped by one of our grade 5 classes. They were in the midst of an impromptu speech-giving activity, where students volunteered to pick a topic from a bag and give a 45-second speech in front of their classmates. Having already done this previously, some students assumed a semi-Rex Murphy polish, naming their moments in the spotlight “Nonsense with Noah” or “Yapping with Yarema”. Tomorrow we will experience our monthly “Wake Up With the Arts” showcase, where students volunteer to perform in the lobby. Friday mornings are typically spectacular student-led assemblies that have students from SK to grade 8 speaking to the school, including everything from reading a brick to leading school-wide contests such as “Minute to Win It”. This month was the impressive Primary Project Fair. French plays in most grades are around the corner and we just recently enjoyed the annual Café Couguar, our French café for the KCS community hosted by grade 8 students. I could go on at great length. Let this suffice as a peek into a few of the many layers that go into just public-speaking, one of many key objectives that we work endlessly to achieve with every student.

Too often, discussion on the topic of education centres on one practice over another. It supposes, erroneously, that one approach could be enough. In reality, education that makes a difference with every student needs a multitude of approaches, layers if you will, so if one layer doesn’t work for one child then the next one might, and if not that one then the next. Anything less than that will likely reach some students but be insufficient to reach all.

Wipeout isn’t my go-to program for professional development, but I’ve joined my boys at the TV often enough to see how, by design, no contestant can make it from start to finish without being “caught” somewhere along the way. That’s where the metaphor works. School has to accomplish many things with each and every student, and must ensure it does so before those students move on.  It’s no easy task, and something the profession continues to struggle with. The answer won’t be found in one approach, or two or even three. It’s in the multiple various layers of intervention, and the ongoing commitment by teachers to never end in their quest to find the layers that work for each of their students.

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

Where Lie the Rewards

KCSWe have our Wall of Service, Wake Up With the Arts, ‘Save that Species’, ‘Free Hugs and High Five Fridays’, Compliment Friday, and House Captains who are second to none. We have four more championship banners, top three finishers in the local Royal Canadian Legion Remembrance Day Art Contest, and a third place finish out of fifteen schools in the regional First Lego League robotics contest. We have over a dozen students writing books – yes, books to be published – through our YAKCS program. We have data showing the tremendous progress our students are making with our new reading program. We have all of this, and so much more.

With choice, patience and persistence, great things grow. If you choose carefully what’s worth sticking with, and nurture it along the way, you’ll reap the rewards widely sought but seldom found.

There’s plenty we’re working to improve at KCS, because that’s what we do here. But this has been an outstanding term and it’s time to step back, and notice what’s working, and why. Here’s a sampling of what I mean:

The House Captains – They used to be elected, then appointed. When neither of those models worked to our satisfaction, we had none at all. Then it occurred to us that the best way to find great House Captains was by having them go through a three-part application process, including the expectation that they teach a game to our primary P.E. classes. Now we have House lunches, House Days, House cheers, House spirit items, and numerous spirit-raising events such as the recent ‘Name that Celebrity’ contest. The House Captains bring joy beyond what we could have imagined.

Wake Up With the Arts – This emerged from a desire to make more opportunities for performance, and particularly opportunities with less pressure and more freedom for responsible risks. The idea was to have live performances from willing students in the foyer, with a backdrop of student artwork, complemented by coffee and muffins for those parents who could stop and enjoy some culture at drop-off. In its early days, we had about four or five performers, and a small audience. Now in our third year, our latest performance lineup was so long it went past the bell to get to class, and will spill over into an ‘Open Mic’ session in the near future. The audience was at capacity for our spacious front lobby. And the mix of musical performances made KCS the most heartwarming place to be in Toronto.

The Wall of Service – We came up with the idea of recognizing and spreading word of student acts of service twelve years ago. The process evolved over a number of years and it continues to gain momentum. Now we have a backlog of bricks to share. Students from SK to grade 8 are making the world better in countless ways and educating the school community as they do so, thanks to this program.

Everything we do has a story that’s rooted in choice, patience and persistence. Some of these things are now pretty great. Others are on their way there.

Choose carefully what’s worth sticking with, and persist in nurturing it along the way. There’s lots of room for schools to do so. The rewards we seek lie there.

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

Consider a New Year With No-Marking Time

What would happen if students weren’t marked?

I’ve heard too often that the assumption is little learning would happen, so this post starts with a sad state of affairs. Thankfully, the true answer is both heartening, and possible.

Marks are an imperfect reality in formal education. While feedback is a valuable part of learning, marks wield power that is disproportionate to their brevity. Their power reinforces the notion that learning is something externally imposed. Marks judge, and regularly remind too many students that they simply fall short. From the attention they get, it too frequently appears that marks have usurped learning as the reason for school.

Contrary to what might be assumed, it’s not necessarily better for those earning high marks. Understandably, these students are lulled into liking favourable judgment from others and commit themselves to this model. Both the successful and struggling alike have a relationship with marks that has little to do with the resilience, curiosity, independence and internal drive needed to be successful beyond a mark-driven world. Taking risks, like the ones needed for leadership, creativity and innovation, has no place when marks are on the line.

Outside of school, it’s very evident that children and youth will readily learn without being marked. While marks are here for the foreseeable future, there’s no reason why schools can’t make room where students learn for learning’s sake. Give them time to choose what to learn and how. In these cases, let them set the standards and expectations. Let them share this learning with others without judgment, simply to create an environment of learning for the love of it. Let them take risks. Support the process and leave it in their hands, as these are the hands that need experience if the end goal is lifelong learners. I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen what students will learn when marks aren’t involved. It takes nothing but a willingness among teachers to make some time for it, then let it grow.

To teachers looking forward to a well-deserved Christmas holiday, consider starting the new year with time for unmarked learning. It’s a risk worth taking. And no marks are on the line.

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

How Schools Learn

School buildingOur website, newsletters and social media channels explain in detail how our students learn. A nod to how our teachers are learning was given in the recent blog ‘Embrace Learning’. There’s one more pocket of learning worth knowing about. A critical part of the value offered by independent schools, it’s a process that would bring untold value to all if this practice could only spread.

I’m rarely away from school. This week, however, I’ve joined a Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Visiting Committee, where six peers from across Canada and I will play a part in one school’s learning. It’s a process required for CAIS accreditation, and represents the high bar in demonstrating school-wide commitment to excellence in education. All told, it’s a process that takes about two-and-a-half years, and repeats itself every seven.

CAIS has identified 12 Standards which together cover every area of functioning within a school: vision, mission and strategy; learning environment; academics; facility; finance; health and safety; and commitment to school improvement, to name just some of the Standards. Within each Standard, undeniable effective practices are listed. Under effective practices are questions designed to prompt and provoke schools into being accountable for their efforts.

One year prior to the visit such as I’m on, schools mobilise their whole community to collect evidence on their effective practices. The preparation of the Internal Evaluation Report includes feedback from all staff and faculty, parents, students, board members and administration. The document is rarely less than 200 pages and can be hundreds more. Designed to be an exercise in thorough and honest reflection, the report includes not only an account of strengths but also self-identified challenges and next steps. By design, this exercise is about school-wide learning. This process identifies schools which demonstrate an exceptional commitment to learning and makes note of their achieved excellence.

During our official visit the committee will spend four days meeting with teachers, administrators, parents, board members and students, verifying what’s in the school’s Internal Evaluation Report and asking about any unreported areas of note. When we leave, we’ll be writing up our observations, and include commendations, suggestions and recommendations. Our report then goes to the school, where they will have 18 months in which to respond to the recommendations. It also goes to CAIS for a decision on accreditation.

Two-and-a-half years of every seven spent answering to the profession’s highest standards fuels an undeniable engine for learning. It sets in motion work and learning that fills the interim four-and-a-half years. And by mobilizing the whole community, and bringing in professionals from outside the school, all involved learn and become better able to serve the students in their midst.

Parents with children in CAIS schools can be confident that they have invested in a school which strives for excellence. Wishing all children could be so lucky, parents with children in non-CAIS schools are encouraged to ask the question, “How do their schools learn?” It’s the kind of provocative question that our entire profession should be accountable for answering.

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

How a Tradition Was Born

It’s funny how things come to be.

KCS has quite a few traditions. Many are from before my time so the story of how they began will have to be told by someone else. There’s one young tradition, however, that some of us have had the good fortune of watching from birth. It’s unique to KCS and both the result of and engine for much of what’s special here. It’s called Compliment Friday.

As the name suggests, this tradition takes place every Friday and is the community service project of a group of five to six students every year.  At assembly, these students come forward and announce to the school that it’s Compliment Friday, to which the school responds with a resounding cheer. Yes, it always starts the same way, predictability being a hallmark of tradition. Other students are then invited to come to the front and publicly share a compliment, or thank you, to one or more people. Each week, the theme changes. Last week, compliments were for teachers and classmates. The week before, pets. Over the years, there have been all manner of public outpourings of appreciation.

Contrary to what you might expect, Compliment Friday didn’t emerge from Shangri-La. Though there’s much that’s wonderful here, KCS remains part of a real world that sometimes includes conflict, missteps, insecurity and poor judgment. Despite our many proactive efforts, social bumps continue to be part of growing up.

This tradition began with a group of students who had been struggling with getting along. Friendships started, ended abruptly, then started up again. Feelings were hurt, sometimes healed, then, sadly, hurt again. When it came to our attention at the end of their grade 7 year, many steps were taken. One was the introduction of class meetings.

Now taking place in all grades throughout the school, class meetings have three parts. Students and their teacher usually sit in a circle, and the meeting begins with an “around-the-room” sharing of compliments. After this affirming start, the students collaboratively discuss and problem-solve an issue that needs attention. The final part of a class meeting is another “around-the-room” where students and teacher share something going on in their lives that others might not know about. It’s a powerful way to build connections and encourage empathy. The class meeting proved very effective in turning around relationships in this group of grade 8s. They were so pleased with the exercise that these same students came up with Compliment Friday as their community service project for the school. It has taken place practically every Friday since then.

An environment of regular, public gratitude is as wonderful as it is rare. These students turned a negative situation into a unique legacy of positivity.

And for that, this is a heartfelt public thank you.

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