A Brilliant Move

It’s usually a humbling experience when somebody comes along and succeeds with ease where you have already failed miserably. But sometimes you need a little humility to get to a place of deeper understanding.

SK Chess at KCSWay back at the end of September, I tried to introduce chess to the SKs. I played up the thrilling warfare angle, created backstories to help explain the way the pieces moved, and generally did my best to sell the students on a complex and exciting game of strategy. One month later, the boards were gathering dust and the knights were being used as “guys” in LEGO castles.

But then a Grade 5 student came along. She had recently read a book called The Queen of Katwe, which chronicled the life of a poor rural Ugandan girl whose love of chess helped her pull herself out of poverty and set her on the path to becoming a world-class Grandmaster. Inspired by the story, she decided that her leadership project would be to teach chess to the little ones in Kindergarten. So she recruited a few friends, hunted down some extra boards, and started coming every Friday at lunch.

chess 3The first visit from the Grade 5s was at the start of January. And with only a few visits, these student leaders have inspired almost half the SK kids to pick up the game and give it a try. The class now cheers when they see “Chess Club” on the daily schedule, and pick-up games during free choice time have become a common sight.

For me, watching these Grade 5s succeed where I had failed has reminded me that the Official Teacher Voice of Authority just can’t compete with joyful enthusiasm from a fellow student. Peer teaching is a powerful tool, and I feel so fortunate to have ended up at a school where it emerges and grows in an organic and authentic way.

Mark Magee
SK Teacher

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.

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.

Learning for the Love of It

Paddle Tennis KCS Elective 2013

Paddle Tennis Elective
photo credit: Mary Gaudet/Etobicoke Guardian

I can remember the day I found my passion. To the extent that we can help spark it, we want our students to find theirs.

Third term clubs and teams have started – twenty-nine opportunities in the areas of academics, arts, athletics and citizenship. Scheduled so students can do as much as their hearts desire, our keenest students pursue up to ten offerings each term in each of our Four Doors to Learning.

Many dozens of ‘Brainiacs’ (independent student-initiated projects) plus leadership and service projects are in full swing. Feel like creating a whole new language, or creating a comic that spoofs James Bond? That’s what a group of boys in grade 4 have shown they’re inclined to do. How about organizing a food drive, like a group of girls in grade 2? A boy in grade 5 is creating a video game that the class can use in its upcoming unit on the human body. And compelled by the desire to make a difference, a group of grade 7 students is organising KCS’ participation in a global Vow of Silence, an awareness-raising effort that allows children to ‘speak’ on behalf of those silenced by unacceptable circumstance. Giving time, encouragement and guidance so students can pursue what moves them has created a virtual deluge of learning

Third term also marks the start of our much-anticipated electives program for students in grades 6 to 8. Every Wednesday these students break out of the routine, learning just for the love of it. Joining an elective of their choosing, here is what these disparate delighted groups are up to:

  1. Receiving instruction in and cooking meals for a local youth shelter
  2. Creating a dramatic presentation from beginning to end
  3. Learning, playing and spreading the word about paddle tennis
  4. Geocaching (www.geocaching.com) and putting KCS on the international geocaching map
  5. Composing a school song
  6. Composing songs to promote social justice
  7. Receiving expert coaching in baseball, then providing that instruction to young KCS students
  8. Creating Renaissance art
  9. Building and programming robots to face challenges

And because we’re pretty tireless, a brand new opportunity for students in grades 4 to 8 with a special kind of passion is being revealed this Friday…

The day I found my passion was the day my life became defined by commitment to lifelong learning. This is our wish for our students. Let the sparks fly.

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.

Our People + Effort = Successful Change

Last week we announced our proposed amalgamation with St. George’s on-the-Hill Nursery School (SGNS).  The faculty and staff of both schools reacted to the announcement with a positive mixture of excitement and anticipation as we tackle our future together.  Both organizations understand the benefits of amalgamation.  I really didn’t expect anything less.  And here’s why.

I joined KCS back in September 1999 as the grade 8 homeform teacher.  At that time I taught history, Language Arts and geography to our grade 7 and 8 students.  In 1999, KCS had one class in each grade, and we had approximately 150 students in the school.  Our  staff was about 25 people, a number of whom still teach at KCS today.  Halfway through my first year, I was happy with my decision to join the KCS team.  Even then, I knew this was a great school.

Over the past fourteen years, KCS has grown to 317 students and 46 faculty and staff.  The school has faced many opportunities and challenges along the way – some planned for, others unanticipated.  We’ve opened two additions to the school, one in March 2003, and one in December 2009.  Those of you who have lived through a renovation know the inconveniences you have to live with during construction. We have managed our school through an economic recession and a flood in February 2010 that closed six of our classrooms for an extended period of time.  Through each opportunity or challenge, I’ve watched the people at KCS listen, ask questions and propose solutions, and then get to work to make sure KCS comes out the other side a better school.  And importantly because of that can-do, positive attitude, we’ve created many memories and had many laughs along the way.  I know that the people at SGNS have had to face similar opportunities and challenges over that same time period that they have successfully dealt with.

Change either succeeds or fails due to the efforts of the people involved.  Based on past experience at KCS, I am confident that the people at SGNS and KCS will all grow and learn together as we amalgamate the two schools at this exciting time.  We have responded successfully to opportunities in the past, and I feel the future will be no different.  In fact, with such a positive outlook with the faculty and staff of both schools, I am certain we will be better together.   We are excited for the outcome of the vote at both upcoming AGMs, which will put a stamp of approval on this project and enable us to move forward.

Derek Logan
Head of School

A Haunted House that Left Me Scared, and Bursting With Pride

A preschool-aged sibling hid in his room. A writhing trapped rat greeted us at the door. A skeleton sang and swayed while playing the keyboard. A ghost fell on my head. The masterminds? Two boys in grade 4 and their trusty crew of friends, one sister and parents. The mission? To raise money for breast cancer research.

This story goes back to the first day of school. A boy in grade 4 approached me, clipboard in hand. He explained that he had started organizing a Haunted House fundraiser and wanted to meet to discuss it. He knew that’s all it took to launch a leadership project. “Drop by my office and we’ll talk. But remember that you must be willing to persist, and to think flexibly as we plan.” This wasn’t part of a club or program and would test his commitment from the start by making him take responsibility.

He had lots of ideas. He gathered a team. When they learned they couldn’t create a Haunted House at KCS, his friend suggested they could transform his garage. When this boy asked his parents if they could use the garage, his parents replied that they needed a written proposal. The proposal passed, posters were made, a Powerpoint presentation to their classmates was given and a note to their parents posted in the weekly newsletter. Throughout were lots of drafts, changes, challenges, and mistakes. They gave up their recesses, tracked me down a dozen times or more, and devoted two weekends to preparing the garage.

The boys and their siblings raised a significant amount for cancer research. Dozens of visitors experienced an unforgettable Haunted House. This group, through their efforts, made the world better in multiple ways.

And adults of the world are left with a lesson. Don’t ever assume children are too young to lead. Let them lead. We’ll all enjoy a world that’s much richer for it.

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.

It Takes a Village

What does it take to make the world a better place? It takes a village of children – children who are empowered to do so, that is. Here’s what happens when you have such a village:

  • Four boys in grade 4 are organizing a Haunted House fundraiser for breast cancer research;
  • Five girls in grade 2 are organizing a food drive, and four others a toy drive;
  • Two girls in grade 4 are ramping up for their third year of their “Fair Food Friday” awareness campaign;
  • Two others in grade 4 spoke at assembly to remind everyone to say thank you when the door is held for them;
  • Two gentlemen in grade 8 are preparing for this year’s “Walk to School Wednesday” campaign (which has led to exponential increases since it began three years ago in the number of students walking to and from school);
  • Two other grade 8s are delivering math enrichment workshops for younger students;
  • A group in grade six is organizing an art contest;
  • A group in grade 7 is organizing our school’s participation in “The Vow of Silence” to promote awareness of and an end to child labour;
  • One new student in grade three took the initiative to pick up garbage on the field beyond what was asked;
  • Another new student in grade three taught his class about his favourite charity “Helping Hands”;
  • All of our grade four students helped organize our Terry Fox Run;
  • Sixteen House Captains stirred up our KCS spirit;
  • “Compliment Friday”;
  • “Free Hug and High Five Friday”;
  • “Talent for Treats”;
  • “Turn Out the Lights Tuesday”;
  • Volleyball for the Food Bank;
  • A winter coat drive;
  • Art for shelters;
  • Club leaders;
  • Recess helpers;
  • Lunch supervisors…

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Be sure to visit our homepage for regularly updated student-led leadership initiatives – we’ll be featuring them in the news feed.

The world has a lot of room to be made better. Adults are unable to do it alone. Empower the children in your village to use their talents and desires to make a difference. You’ll be amazed at the difference they make.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Star Habits, Wish Habits

I couldn’t wish for more than what’s happening with our Habits.

We’re starting our third year since the official launch of our Habits of Mind, Body and Action. Anything new needs time to settle, time for all to adjust (or in KCS terms, time to exercise one’s flexible thinking), plus time for glitches to surface and tweaks to be made to make what’s new into a perfect fit.

Lots of such activity took place over the past two years while the Habits were still relatively new. This August, when teachers were asked about how they plan to integrate the Habits in their program for the upcoming year, it was eye-poppingly evident that the adjustment is behind us and we’re now going full speed ahead with our efforts to directly teach the habits that matter most for success in life. Collectively, faculty shared over one hundred ideas they have to teach and leverage the Habits in their classes. Here is a sample:

  • Leader of the Day with a special role to help the class
  • Class mission statements to support growth of the Habits
  • Student-made posters of the Habits
  • Student goal-setting on the Habits
  • Reference to the Habits in school assignments
  • Discussion of the Habits in class meetings and novel studies
  • Students teaching the Habits to other students
  • Students teaching the Habits to their parents and grandparents
  • Connecting the Habits with the study of heroes and leaders

One idea that is particularly out of this world came from grade 4. The students are identifying ‘Star Habits’ and ‘Wish Habits’. A ‘Star Habit’ is a habit they feel they have already established and of which they are proud. A ‘Wish Habit’ is a habit they want to focus on developing in first term. The students looked over all 26 Habits, reflected deeply, made their choices, and explained them in the context of home and school. Star Habit, Wish Habit as their ‘Star’ and ‘Wish’ Habits.

Like the spirit behind our Habits initiative, the students have wishes with a plan. And in the same way that our wishes to teach the Habits are coming true, I’ve no doubt our students’ ‘Wish Habits’ will also come true. What are your ‘Star’ and ‘Wish’ Habits? And what’s your plan to make your wishes come true? If you need some help, feel free to ask one of our grade fours.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.