The Week of Thinking Flexibly

It became abundantly apparent to me how little we talk of it.

I was covering a grade 3 library class, and I started by saying the lesson was about my favourite habit. Hands shot up and student after student took a stab at claiming what it was sure to be. With nary a second in between, ‘show self-control’, ‘create’, ‘act with empathy’, ‘persist’, ‘think creatively’, ‘do what is right’ were offered up with conviction. Goodness, these kids know what matters in life. And to be honest, I certainly am fond of every habit they offered. They aren’t my favourites, though.

The lesson was about thinking flexibly. It’s a habit that reminds me of my most special stories. It takes me way back to the year I lived in and backpacked throughout Europe. It takes me back to the years I lived in Japan. It reminds me of the many years I spent learning French and then Japanese. It reminds me of the most special books and inspiring courses in my life. It also reminds me of why I love what I do. Not a day goes by that I’m not challenged to think flexibly, considering an opportunity or addressing a concern that just the day before may not have even entered my consciousness.

Last week, in particular, was a week of thinking flexibly. It included a wonderful collection of emails and conversations with a parent who equally enjoys thinking flexibly on the topic of education. It included the lesson in thinking flexibly for the grade threes. It included a deeply moving Remembrance Day ceremony that, once again, took me briefly away from the charmed life we enjoy and into the tragedy and sacrifice faced by soldiers both living and gone.

Then, just before the end of this short week, the grade 8 teachers, Mr. Logan and I received an email from a student who believes a change in part of our homework practice is in order.

And so, I look forward to my meeting with her, and indulging once again in my favorite habit.

What’s your favourite habit? Please also tell us why it’s special to you, either by adding a comment, sending an email or tweeting me @afanjoy. Stories have a way of sticking. And the habits are worth sticking to.

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

Leadership, Passion, Cootie Catchers and Flexible Thinking

What happens when those four collide? Thanks to two boys in grade three who approached me last Monday, I can now answer that.

It was recess and I was working at my desk. These two entered my office with something they clearly wanted to say. Trouble is, some things are hard to articulate, especially when you’re eight. Eventually deducing they wanted to do a leadership project, they hadn’t yet thought of what that project would look like. I encouraged them to start from a personal talent or passion, and out came this: “You know”, said one, “I’m really good at making Cootie Catchers. I’m probably the best in the school. I make the biggest in the school, that’s for sure.”

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Now, you are asking, “What does making Cootie Catchers have to do with leadership?” “How could they make a difference in the world?”

That’s where flexible thinking came in.

We struggled for a bit. It was clearly a new conundrum for all three of us. Where could these popular little games help? Well, they clearly help develop fine motor skill and strength – that’s important in grade one. Maybe they could be made to help practise basic academic skills too? Some trial and error later, we had defined a leadership project that has real value and that the boys have embraced with zeal. Dozens of different Cootie Catchers are being created to practise basic addition in grade one. Students will be given questions, the answer will be found, and the reward, a selection of smelly stickers, will be hidden in the heart of the Cootie Catcher.

I’ve no doubt this will be a hit with the grade ones. The beauty of these projects, however, is what they do for the budding leaders. The boys may not choose to stick with Cootie Catchers as their main contribution to the world. However, they have started a path with leadership, passion and flexible thinking that they would do well to continue on throughout life.

And who knows, maybe the humble Cootie Catcher should have a big future. It’s at least good to know that these boys will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of ways to make a difference.

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

School and Other Things that Scare Us

Some lessons need to come from afar to be noticed.

Maasai Warriors visit KCSTwo special guests visited KCS last Friday. Jackson and Wilson, young Maasai warriors from Kenya, came as ambassadors for Free the Children. Draped in their traditional regalia, they told stories of growing up in their mid-African country, fleeing drought, herding cattle and collecting beaded bracelets from their “mammas” when they did good deeds, bracelets which they still wear with pride today.

Mindful of the young audience, they only shared one scary story. It was the story of how schools came to the Maasai. This was a terrifying development for parents, and their terror was passed down to their children. Moms and Dads told their offspring to never go near “school”, as it was a place that took children away from their parents and stole from them their culture and traditions. If policemen tried to force them to go, children were told to run.

Sure enough, the policemen came and children ran. In Wilson’s case, a police officer caught up and threw the young boy over his shoulder. He offered Wilson a candy and explained that school was just as sweet. The officer carried Wilson back to his parents, and, according to Wilson’s recollection, school was similarly explained to them. Wilson and Jackson not only ended up going to school but also became the first in their community to earn university degrees.

In my experience, the value of what is learned from cross-cultural exchanges is beyond measure.  The novelty in their details makes the universal lesson in the story that much more evident and memorable. One lesson from our Friday visit is that change can be both scary and wise. Though our community of Etobicoke and the entire developed world is long past any fear of schooling, we are not done changing and not beyond being fearful of change, even if it is right and positive. A daily read of the newspaper is full of such stories.

Jackson and Wilson are testaments to what can happen when positive change is embraced. Their experience with schooling, despite the rocky start, is a story of thinking flexibly, questioning, being curious, embracing learning (including that which challenged their assumptions) and ultimately, taking responsible risks.

Great lesson. Thanks, Wilson and Jackson, for coming from Kenya to our little corner of Etobicoke so we can learn from it.

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