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.

Making a Difference, Thanks to Parents

I knew it as soon as I heard them.

Two Moms, climbing the stairs near the Multi-Purpose Room, heaved a huge sigh.  This was the week of the annual KCS Lip Sync and these intrepid volunteers had just led a dance rehearsal with their children’s class. We crossed paths in the stairwell, we chuckled over the challenge, and off they went.

KCS Lip Sync 2012This is to thank all the parents who devote their time to helping make KCS the special place that it is. We have parents who volunteered through the summer to mentor new families. We have parents who have worked endless hours in the store. We have parents who commit their days and evenings to committee and board meetings as well as in the role of class parents. We have parents who organized an outstanding Welcome Back BBQ! We have parents preparing for our upcoming Special Lunch, parents helping in the library, parents hosting grade parties and parents who have helped supervise field trips.

And those of you who attended last week’s Lip Sync for grades 1 to 4 know that we also have a very special group of parents who are willing to do what for most is unthinkable: choreographing and teaching dance to our youngest and least focused, even dancing alone as the children’s example, in front of a Canada Hall full of spectators. What a terrific show of spirit, confidence and the joy of dance to start the school year.

Thank you to all who have already made a difference at KCS and thank you in advance for making a difference in ways to come. We’ll keep teaching your children to lead and make a difference. And we’ll point to you as examples to follow.

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

Lead to Make a Difference

Lead To Make A DifferenceA student entered my office this morning. “I have the chocolate”, she said, then promptly opened her pink flower-covered backpack, pulled out a bag and showed me multiple packages of fair-trade chocolate, each tied up with ribbon. We’re approaching the big moment when she and her friend present their powerpoint at a school-wide assembly and initiate the leadership project they have been working on since last year: Fair Food Friday.

They are in grade three. How we got here is an interesting story.

They knew about leadership projects, because they happen here frequently and visibly. They approached me about doing a project on chocolate, “because everyone loves chocolate.” One thought it would be great to collect recipes, and maybe students could win something by contributing recipes.

During one of these early meetings, her friend remarked, “I don’t know. Most of the projects here do something. They matter. This one doesn’t seem to.”

“But just doing something you like matters!”, she replied.

“Yeah, but…” Back and forth they went.

At this point, I told them about a leadership project from a previous year when students spoke at assembly about the connection between the chocolate we all love, and child labour in Africa. Upon hearing this, raising awareness of this underside of the chocolate industry, and awareness of fair trade foods, became the compelling purpose of the project. The plan is as follows: They will start the project with a presentation at assembly that tells the story of chocolate, child labour and fair trade. Also during this presentation, they will invite students and teachers to contribute their favourite recipes. Every week, they will randomly draw one recipe from their box, and give fair-trade chocolate to the person who shared it. At the end of the year, the recipes will go into a e-cookbook, and a hard copy cookbook for the KCS library.

With the plan in place, the girls wrote their speech, decorated their recipe collection box, bought the chocolate prizes, and are almost finished their power point. The official launch of Fair Food Friday is imminent.

Last year, the article “Student Leadership, Gone Viral”, first published by OurKids, explained the bigger picture of student leadership at KCS. But it’s the details that go into each project that excite me most. And it’s the details that convince me our students are really learning to be leaders, because the students are behind the details every step of the way. As for making a difference, without these two students, 310 people would likely not hear about the connection between chocolate and child labour. Most wouldn’t learn how fair trade practices have been established so that consumers can make things better by their purchasing choices, not worse. They would not be reminded of these things week after week, making the memory of this lesson stick. Many would not have the opportunity to savour fair trade chocolate under the envious eyes of their school community over the course of the upcoming year.

This is leadership that makes a difference. As icing on the (chocolate) cake, it inspires me to follow their lead. And it is just one of the dozens of student-led projects I’ll witness over the year.

This is not what schools were designed to do. But they could be. Imagine what a difference that would make.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
Follow Andrea @afanjoy