Student Leadership, Gone Viral

The following was first written for our community two years ago. Leadership projects are as viral as ever at KCS. Students clearly have great potential to make the world a better place. Please pass this on so more schools can help unleash that potential.

A small selection of photos from student leadership initiatives.

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Student Leadership, Gone Viral

My day began by walking past a multicultural food drive organized by five boys in grade 6. Not much later, a student in grade 1 announced to me that he is saving his allowance to buy food for charity. Shortly after, a girl in grade 5 emailed to let me know she is helping a group of grade 3 students organize a talent show. I popped into a grade 5 class and witnessed a group starting to organize a poster contest. That afternoon, a different student in grade 5 came by to ask if he can start a student newspaper, similar to the one the grade 8s established a couple years ago. On my way out at the end of the day, I learned from a grade 4 student that he made a colouring and activity book for the grade 3 classes as a supplement to their unit on the rainforest. This, in addition to the dozens of leadership, community service and service learning projects I know our older students are working on. All in one day.

That is when it became clear student leadership was going viral.

The 21st century is for people who can make success happen. It is a century where leadership skills aren’t just helpful for the few, but required by all. At Kingsway College School, student leadership is a major pillar in our effort to prepare students for the 21st century. While not every day is punctuated by this number and breadth of student-initiated leadership projects, it happens often enough. If you long for a day like I had, the following are some steps that helped get us here:

1. Make time for it. Leadership is a timetabled subject in grades 6 to 8. Students learn about the important aspects of leadership, such as initiative, persistence, active listening, participation and flexible thinking. They use these periods to come up with their own leadership projects. They research, prepare their proposal, work out the logistics and deliver on their project. Awareness campaigns, charity drives, fundraisers and school and community events are some of the more popular projects, though the possibilities are endless. Reflection on the project and self-assessment of their growth is also a valuable part of the experience, and set the students up to be self-aware leaders throughout life.

2. Make leadership for all. Leadership is an egalitarian, unelected pursuit at KCS. It is open to anyone who wishes to initiate it and follow through. In fact, in the older grades, all students are required to learn about and experiment with leadership in their leadership classes. We don’t give students the choice of learning to read, and we believe we shouldn’t give them the choice of learning to be leaders. If it matters, everyone needs to start the journey.

3. Make it personal. Leadership can manifest itself in infinite ways, with the most powerful leadership being rooted in personal interests. Helping children find and leverage their passions to make a difference is an appropriate, though overlooked, role for education. At our school, one boy who loves to read committed himself to writing book reviews for the library. A group of girls who love to dance came up with a “Get Out of your Comfort Zone” Challenge, encouraging students and teachers to perform in assembly. Another boy and his friend prepared and delivered an unforgettable presentation on Down’s Syndrome, breaking myths surrounding that condition. There are dozens of different projects underway, each adding dimensions to everyone’s school experience that the faculty alone could never provide.

4. Let them lead, with guidance only. Many students are naturals at leadership. If invited, they will organize a group to deliver on a significant community project, regardless of age. Some students don’t find it quite as easy. They will need guidance. Give it to them. Also, give the students lots of freedom to change or drop their ideas, and even to follow through with unsuccessful projects, without penalty. Let this be a realm where they can learn to lead the way they learned to walk, being allowed to fall, and then cheered when they get back up and try again.

5. Let them be small. Very rarely are students solely responsible for huge leadership projects. Craig Kielburger, founder of Free the Children, is an inspiration but most children and youths, if really in charge, will come up with smaller ideas. Adults should resist the temptation to jump in and take the lead. It may end up big and polished, and it may even make a truly significant difference to the community or charity of choice, but it isn’t developing the students into leaders. When we step in, it’s the adults’ leadership skills that get honed, not the students. In fact, when faced with the large quantity of projects that need to be coordinated, small is generally the wiser choice for all.

6. Have a variety of opportunities. Leadership experiences at KCS take many forms: earning a brick on our Wall of Service in return for initiating an act of service; lunch supervision roles, where students assist supervising teachers; assisting with clubs and teams; House Captains; peer tutoring; leading assemblies; as well as all the opportunities to come up with one’s own project. We also point out to students the many unplanned opportunities for leadership during class, at recess and outside of school through setting a positive example, resolving conflicts or initiating an activity. The variety ensures there are many opportunities for everyone, at every stage of their leadership journey.

7. Have them share what they know. The presentation of leadership projects is at the heart of making them go viral. The school-wide presentations of our older students inspired the younger students to follow their lead. The result is an ever-increasing number of projects. Let the presentations keep happening. Visibility and quantity matter when creating a culture of leadership.

A word of warning. If you embark on establishing student leadership throughout the school, be prepared for an onslaught of students stepping up. Leadership potential is lying dormant, but will potentially overwhelm you if awoken. Larry Rosenstock, founder of San Diego’s High Tech High, has said a critical attribute for success in the 21st century is a tolerance for ambiguity. For a profession that is more comfortable with prudent adult planning, unleashing school-wide student leadership will rock your world.

Relax. It’s worth the ride.

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

A Beautiful Thing

It’s not easy being a teen. It’s not always easy being a young child either. Bring the two together to play, however, and life doesn’t get much better.

Grade 8, being our graduating year, brings a number of special responsibilities. Among these is the grade 8 – primary buddy program. In early October, each grade 8 student is assigned to be a buddy for a new student in grade 1 or 2. Their challenge? Get to know their young buddy, find out what they enjoy doing, and then do it with them over the course of the year.

Collectively they’ve had tea parties, picnics, dodge ball games, and Wii Dance recesses. They’ve played soccer outside, built Lego in my office and read together in the library. One group of buddies made a picture book together. Another particularly hard-working group organized a school-wide scavenger hunt. High fives and hugs are the signature greeting when they pass each other in the hall.

The joy and reverence on the youngest faces is tonic for troubled teens. The attention of the oldest, biggest and most respected students of the school immediately overrides any frustrations of being five, six or seven. Any students and teachers walking by can’t help but stop, smile and watch them play.

Life isn’t always easy or beautiful. Grade 8s making these occasions happen for their young buddies is undeniably beautiful. Make the world better is one of our KCS Habits. Thank you, grade 8s, for making our little piece of the world much better.

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

How Technology Increases the Personal Touch in School

The notion shared in the title may not be obvious. Because the personal touch matters, it’s worth understanding and, for the benefit of students, acting upon.

Of course, technology isn’t a person. It won’t ever replace the power of a teacher who knows and cares for his or her students. It won’t bring the creativity and professional judgment the teacher applies daily in his or her class. So how could technology possibly increase the personal touch?

First, let’s take a hard look at the familiar. The traditional “sage-on-the-stage” approach to teaching unfolds at the pace decided by the teacher. It covers content decided by the teacher, and is delivered in a manner decided by the teacher. While appropriate at times, this approach is imperfect and, for many students, impersonal. These students require a different pace, be it faster or slower. They respond better to a different level of content, whether more simplified or complex, or would understand concepts better with different choices of content.

Technology personalizes school because it brings flexibility in pace, level and content like a teacher alone cannot. Here are some examples:

  • Instead of completing the same math fact sheet, students can use websites like to practise the math facts they need to practise, at the right pace and level of challenge for them. Similar tools exist for all basic skill development.
  • Instead of learning through the lens of textbooks, students can use technology to roam the world for relevant content. Under teacher supervision, students can create their own multi-media “texts”, in the form of wikis, that they and their classmates can study from with pride.
  • Instead of sitting through a lesson that many students may not need (because they already know it) or not follow (because they’re lost), teachers are leveraging technology to personalise instruction. Technology can deliver introductory instruction at a pace controlled by each student (you can pause, rewind, rewatch at will). Students who need different levels of instruction can get that too. Watching instructional videos the night before class makes the in-class lesson more effective and efficient, and leaves more class time for real teacher-student interaction.

The personal touch matters and having a great teacher matters. Technology can help make the most of both.

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

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