What Our Students Had to Say

“Can we get more bugs in the playground?” – JK student

Student VoiceAbout five years ago KCS introduced a way to invite all students into strategic faculty conversations. Taking place usually once a year, a significant area of focus for the school is chosen and feedback is sought from faculty, staff and all students on that topic, with particular attention on how KCS can improve. In the past, topics discussed in every class have included homework, extra-curriculars, the House System and student leadership. This year’s topic is wellness in all its forms: physical, social, emotional, mental and intellectual. In addition to what comes out of class discussions, Student Voice includes a focus group for interested students in grades 6 to 8 who want to discuss the topic in more detail with senior administrators and teachers.

This year’s discussions focused on four questions:

  1. What are the signs of health/wellness at KCS?
  2. What are signs of ill health/unwellness at KCS?
  3. What does KCS do to promote wellness?
  4. What could KCS do to better promote wellness?

Our students had 23 pages worth of things to say. The results of Student Voice have now been shared with all staff and students in grades 6 to 8 and will be used to inform leadership efforts at KCS among faculty and students.

Our youngest students are still three years old. When asked about what they do to make others feel good, answers included cuddling, sharing and “rubbing their friend’s back if they’re unhappy”. Empathy and wellness go hand-in-hand.

Collectively, the students could describe wellness in great detail. They know that eating and sleeping well, getting along, dealing well with conflict and embracing learning are part of being well. But life doesn’t always work that way and they were equally able to describe what it means to be unwell at KCS, and shared examples such as not getting along with others, times when others weren’t kind or respectful, times when they ate unhealthy food and stress around homework and exams.

The students appreciate the many things KCS does to promote wellness, identifying caring teachers, time to be active, ‘I Messages’, class meetings, special events, having fun, effective teaching, the Habits and dozens of other efforts that make a positive difference.

What can we do better? These ideas were interesting and will lead to numerous discussions among faculty and senior students. Some are too tricky to act on anytime soon: a turfed field, a roof patio, a swimming pool and a cafeteria among others. But many can and surely will be done. We actually have a plan in place to get more bugs in the playground – we look forward to announcing that one. It was nice to see that our grade 8s would like more and earlier opportunities to play with their grade 1 and 2 buddies. The students had interesting ideas for changes in the timetable. One idea was to have a shorter day, while another was to have a longer day! A number suggested vending machines with healthy food. The bathrooms and water fountains also got special mention, as did more time outside.

Twenty-three pages is a testament to how much students have to say. We’re listening, and we look forward to working with student leaders to bring more wellness to KCS, bugs and all.

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.

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.

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.

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