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.

A Groundswell of Gratitude

Our students have much to be thankful for. What’s nice is that they are thankful, and make no secret of it. Here are just of few of the ways our students express their gratitude.

Gratitude Journals
Our grade 3s are keeping gratitude journals. Messages of gratitude also cover their walls. They recently all prepared lunches for a local Out of the Cold program, and included heartfelt messages that will warm hearts as much as the lunches will fill bellies. I stopped by their class the other day to pick up the lunches and had the pleasure of hearing them share what they had just written in their journals. One was grateful for the fact his mother spent her time registering him for lacrosse. Another was grateful that his father coached his hockey team. A third was grateful for his guinea pig’s delight when he came home from school every day.

100 Reasons Why We Love KCS
100 Reasons Why We Love KCSOne of our SK teachers recently created a 100-days-of-school mural, composed of 100 hearts completed by our JK, SK and grade 1 students, as well as some teachers and administrators. In each heart we wrote a message of what we love about KCS. The messages include:

“I love using numbers and counters.”
“I like going to the library.”
“We get to play chess.”
“The teachers are very funny.”

Compliment Friday
Each end of week assembly includes Compliment Friday where students are invited to share a public thank you in front of the whole school. Last week’s assembly included compliments to teachers for their support during exams, a guest teacher for jumping in when their teacher was away, friends and classmates for generally being awesome.

Class Meetings
Class meetings at KCS start with an around-the-room sharing of compliments or expressions of thanks. Last week I had an unexpected opportunity to join a class meeting dedicated to a student facing an exceptional personal challenge. Each of the other 41 grade 6 students gave a compliment to their classmate. This student was praised for being resilient, being brave, being funny, having a positive attitude and being a great friend.

One of our KCS Habits is Make the World Better. One way to do so is to express gratitude. Our students’ obvious gratitude makes our little part of the world much better. For that, I’m grateful.

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

Could-Be Blogs

TenEach weekend, I carve out time to sit down, reflect on the week, and decide what to write about for the blog. Each weekend, I struggle with the fact that for every blog that’s written, there are easily ten that could be.

This weekend, I chose not to struggle. Here are ten events that I had the pleasure of witnessing and could have easily written more about, but won’t this time.

  1. Our first Primary Awards Day for 2013-2014, where individual students were recognized for exceptional demonstration of our habits. It’s pretty inspiring to see how hard these 5 to 7 year-olds are working at following the three school rules, taking responsible risks, acting with empathy, showing self-control and persisting at what’s tough.
  2. Hearing the story at a cross-country tournament this week of one of our fastest male runners, fighting for first, going neck-and-neck with a female from De La Salle, losing by a pace, but making a point of high-fiving and saying “Good race”.
  3. Watching dozens of our students participating for the first time in the Brock University Caribou math challenge http://www.brocku.ca/caribou/
  4. Seeing the return of the student leadership project ‘Save That Species’, an awareness-raising and highly entertaining game-show skit that informs us of endangered animals and what we can do to help them
  5. ‘Free-Hug-High-Five Friday’, another student initiative in its third year, where students, parents and teachers are greeted with a show of affection as they arrive for school.
  6. Following our SK students on Twitter (check out our Twitter feed @KCSMatters and look for their hashtag #KCS_SK)
  7. Learning of how hard the grade 8s are working to prepare for Remembrance Day, not because they’ve been told to but because they want to
  8. Finding out that one of our grade 6 boys entered a contest to create a new Pokémon character, and won!
  9. Joining our first Open House of the year and having the chance to meet and chat with parents and children keen to join KCS. I love sharing what happens here.
  10. Watching our older students get up and speak at assembly, marveling at how confident and skilled they’ve become at public speaking over their years at KCS.

Our first Pizza Lunch, ‘Compliment Friday’, class meetings, field trips, other stories from the cross-country tournament, our girls’ basketball team and many other topics could have easily been added to the list.

A school with 413 students has a lot going on each week. With our Four Doors to Learning program at KCS, what goes on is pretty great. I look forward to explaining more when I write next weekend.

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

In Case You’re Wondering: Curriculum Planning By Design

LearningI recall as an elementary student admiring the coiled manual my teacher held in her hand. Believing that book held the key to my learning, I ambled through my young non-teaching years thinking good teaching was pretty straight-forward.

Boy was I wrong.

Optimal teaching is anything but straightforward. It doesn’t come from a book, but grows thanks to the endless efforts of the teachers who deliver it, and thanks to a culture that supports them.

By now, KCS parents, you’ve already met many of the outstanding teachers at KCS. You might be wondering, however, about the culture that drives what we do. It’s worth wondering about. It explains how these teachers grow from each other’s strengths and create learning experiences that surpass anything a single teacher could deliver on their own. Here are the elements of a culture that leads to a curriculum where 1 + 1 = 3:

  1. A foundation rooted in knowing each student’s needs, aspiring to our school mission, and a broad awareness of the tools and techniques that will help us meet both
  2. Regular collaboration and frank conversations
  3. A framework that meets or exceeds Ministry expectations
  4. An environment free of practice based on doing what’s comfortable, unsupported opinion, what’s in fashion, how we were taught or what we’ve always done
  5. An atmosphere saturated in the Habits of Mind, Body and Action, so teachers and students exercise and strengthen them through their work (Embrace learning, think flexibly, take responsible risks and do what is right are some of the stand-out Habits required in curriculum development.)
  6. A balance between Direct Instruction, Project-Based Learning, and other learning experiences, as deemed worthy
  7. An ever-present search for how to enrich learning, inspire a love for learning, inject critical and creative thinking, and differentiate instruction

I sure wasn’t aware of this as a young student, and don’t know that many outside of KCS faculty would be aware of it either. I do know you care a lot about what we do with your children, and thought I would share how we determine what we do, just in case you were wondering.

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

The Journey Through KCS

GrowthLots of little ones are joining KCS this week. And this year they’re littler than ever.

As of this September, KCS now has pre-, junior and senior kindergarten, in addition to grades 1 to 8. The excitement among faculty is palpable, and the desire to do our best for these youngest of students as strong as ever. Like we do for every student, we’ll follow their journey through to graduation from KCS with heartfelt interest. Here’s some of what they will come across:

  1. Deeply caring and driven teachers who are constantly improving what they do to best meet their students’ needs.
  2. A school experience committed to giving students the academic foundation and Habits they need to be successful in school and throughout life.  Their learning will be enriched, at times accelerated, and differentiated to meet the strengths and needs of all.
  3. A house system, led by senior students, that brings community, spirit-raising and friendly competition to the school day.
  4. An immersion in student leadership that makes clear everyone can be a leader, and that leadership can unfold in infinite ways.
  5. When in grade 1, they will have a grade 8 buddy who will organize get-togethers, high five them in the hall and be an example of the fine young men and women they will also become.
  6. An extra-curricular schedule with around 35 club and team opportunities available to the students each term.
  7. A regular message that they can make the world better, through acts big and small, through our Wall of Service and service learning projects.

Some will start shy and become contest-winning public speakers. Some will become passionate artists.  Some will discover a penchant for politics, and will debate provincial legislation at the Ontario Legislature in grade 8. Some will bring home championship banners in sports. Some will become published authors in our YAKCS program. Some will discover special talents in math contests and robotics. Some will perform in an orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall. Many will become leaders with experience and skill beyond their young years.

It’s amazing to watch little ones grow. Immersed in the same opportunities, the unique core in every child will blossom in whatever way it chooses to.

That’s why we watch with so much interest. And why we’re so excited to be part of the journey.

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

Tough Stuff

“At first we argued consistently about what had to be done. Now we don’t argue and we compromise.”
–        A student in the Lego Robotics elective

TeamworkBeing Active is how some people relax. Acting with empathy is second nature for others. We universally enjoy those adept at finding humour. And we all know people for whom share what you know is a lopsided strength…

The KCS Habits are everywhere. Even a cursory read of the daily paper is an immersion in the Habits, whether by their presence or oh-so-unfortunate absence in world events. The challenge we’ve undertaken at KCS is for every person to have all of the Habits. Every one. At once. While it may be asking too much to say that all of our young graduates will have every Habit firmly and forever established, we do believe they’re old enough to be aware of the Habits that matter in life, and to reflect on where they’re strong and where growth is needed.

A recent assignment asked our electives students to reflect on their growth in some key Habits. Our songwriting, Renaissance Art and theatre students are clearly growing in their ability to create. Our Lego robotics students are doing an impressive job persisting in building and programming their robots. And the baseball students will all be sharing what they know when they instruct and coach the grade three students in the upcoming Baseball Classic.

What Habit do the students find toughest? According to the reflections, the one most students seem to struggle with is seeking collaboration.

What’s one of the most important attributes for success in one’s career? The ability to collaborate.

Good thing our students are working on it, and realizing the need to do so.

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

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.

Practising Leadership

Imagine Create InspireEvery Friday we have a school-wide assembly. Here’s how a recent one unfolded:

  1. Three grade 8s presented their regular ‘Save that Species’ game show/skit to promote awareness of endangered species.
  2. Three other grade 8s announced the conclusion of their successful Winter Coat Drive, thanking the KCS community for donating 101 coats to families in need.
  3. Another five grade 8s came to lead our weekly ‘Compliment Friday’, inviting students in grades 1-4 to come up and give a public compliment to anyone they felt made a difference over the holidays.
  4. Four girls in grade 6 reminded the community of their Poster-to-Canvas contest, with submissions due early February.
  5. A group of House Captains from grades 7 and 8 announced the upcoming House lunches.
  6. About thirty students from grades 1-8 came forward to present the ‘brick’ they earned for our Wall of Service. Each brick represents an initiative that makes a positive difference, and included acts such as running in marathons for charity, donating birthday money, distributing food to families in need over the holidays and many, many more.

And these represent a mere fraction of the leadership projects that are currently underway.

Practice makes perfect. The world could use more perfect leaders, or at least great ones, so KCS is working on it.

How do we do it?

First, we’ve taken the mystery out of great leadership. Every student at KCS knows the traits that lead to not only personal success but also a meaningful life that makes a positive difference. The KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action are the undeniable, timeless attributes that make one a leader in all aspects of life.

Second, we’ve made leadership accessible to all. Leadership isn’t reserved for our oldest students, nor to students winning elections, or to students arbitrarily chosen by others. Leadership opportunities are as infinite as the imaginations of each student. If they can dream it, and we can help them make it happen, it can be pursued. We also make it clear that leadership is not always a big and bold undertaking – it can be as small and impactful as facing a daunting personal challenge, standing up to others doing something wrong or helping someone when they’re hurt.

Third, we’ve made it imperative. We don’t see leadership as optional in life – it’s as important as the academic skills that underlie any undertaking. Leadership is practiced in smaller ways among our youngest students, unless individuals choose to pursue a more substantial leadership project. By grade 6 it’s a timetabled subject and all students are given the time and guidance to imagine and deliver on an idea that makes a difference. Many choose to support groups in need, others choose to provide exciting new offerings to their schoolmates, such as contests and talent shows.

Our students have unparalleled opportunities to practice leadership. We know that the world would be a better place if all children went to a school that unleashed the leadership within, and we hope that one day this will come to be. In that way, KCS is practising leadership too. After all, it’s true what they say, practice does make perfect.

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

Exams Got You Down? Just PAUSS

The following blog first appeared one year ago. It’s as relevant now as it was then. We all face challenges from time to time, and how we face them makes all the difference. That’s where the KCS Habits come in.

At KCS, it’s our mission to develop lifelong learners with the habits to face and embrace life’s challenges. Many of our students and parents have an extra one of those challenges on their plate right now.

Exams.

Students in grades 6-8 write exams starting January 28th. Love them or dislike them (yes, we’ve had students say they love them!), learning to prepare for and take exams is a challenge we all have to face at some point. Starting them in grade six, with ample guidance and time learning how to prepare, is the best way to start. Though a big deal, exams at KCS are also a safe opportunity to face this challenge, ‘try your best’, and learn from mistakes.

Looking at our Habits poster in my office Friday morning, I wondered which of the habits students should focus on to be successful preparing for exams. Five stood out. When written down, it became clear they made for a nice little acronym – a beacon for calm in the storm of stress that often surrounds the ‘e’ word. The acronym is PAUSS. The habits are:

Persist – this is a marathon, not a sprint

Adapt – old patterns of studying and time management likely need to change

Use past learning – use notes and old tests; use strategies that you already know to work, and avoid those that you know don’t

Show self-control – stick to the study plan; focus on the task; remember to also rest, eat well and get exercise

Strive for accuracy – follow the study keys, test yourself, aim to understand any errors

Exams inherently stir up anxiety. PAUSS, happily, does not.

If your child is writing exams, encourage them to PAUSS. And watch with pride as your child develops habits that matter. Take heart. Dread will soon be replaced with delight, and doubt will be replaced by well-earned confidence. And the unknown challenges to come will face a tougher foe.