Please find our updated COVID safety plan HERE.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our Head of School Jim Christopher at or our Deputy Head of School & Director of Student Support Services Jennifer Alexander at

Thank you.

From Angst to Thanks

There is no job that is more angst-ridden than being a parent. As much as you would like to cocoon your children from the hurts and disappointments and harsh realities of the world – it is simply not possible. Every day we are bombarded by the media with images that reflect all of our worst nightmares. Last week the internet was crowded with remembrances of that horrific day five years ago in Sandy Hook. There are no words that can express the sorrow and the outrage that consumes us all when we allow ourselves to reflect on this kind of violation of what should be one of the safest places on earth for our children.

It is often far too easy to dwell on the dark possibilities of life.  But, as parents, we can not, and should not, go there. Quite the contrary, this time of year should be a time of giving thanks. Thanks for our children and all of the joy that they bring to our lives. Thanks too, to all of the amazing people in their lives who care for them and support them; the people who make sure that they don’t “fall between the cracks”.

Many years ago, one of my older sons declared in the middle of Grade 12 that “school is irrelevant” and stopped attending. No amount of begging, lecturing or threatening would make him budge, and if it hadn’t been for a cadre of teachers who were determined to make sure that he didn’t throw everything away in the last weeks of high school, the end of the story might have been quite different. As it was, he graduated, and then took two years off to work as a short-order cook. More angst! Eventually however, he met a girl. She was interested in school and driven to succeed. Fast forward twenty years and they are both university professors in Winnipeg with two lovely daughters and very successful and satisfying personal and professional lives. And his father? I still remain full of angst –  transferred quite seamlessly to my two young sons (how will I ever get Morgan to sit down to his math homework rather than gravitating to his iPad? Or get Quinn to realize that there is more to life than watching hockey and baseball?) and to my grandchildren who are too far away for me to micro-manage in the way that I want to. That is the nature of parenthood. We want the best for our children and woe be to anything or anyone that gets in the way of it!

Sometimes however, we get so focused on the perceived barriers to our children’s future successes, that we forget to reflect and appreciate those circumstances and people who are not holding them back, but propelling them forward. As our children get older, and our direct influence wanes, those factors (the values, the work ethic, and strength of character that we have tried to instil in them) and those people (their teachers, coaches, friends and extended family members) play a greater and greater role in the path that they choose to follow.

As the term draws to a close, and we look forward to celebrating a holiday season that is more about family than about turkeys and presents, it is a great time to be thankful for all of those people who are helping our children along their way. No doubt, if we could be in a hundred places at once, we would try to do it all ourselves, but sometimes, we just have to let go, hope for the best, and trust that the foundation that we have built for our daughters and sons will carry them through just fine.

So, from me, this is a letter of thanks to my own children’s teachers, past and present, to their friends (and friends’ parents) and to the hosts of cousins, Aunts and Uncles, and Grandparents who have been such an important part of their lives. You don’t relieve my angst, but somehow you make it all come together for my kids.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Timing is everything!

I never miss an opportunity to read whatever Daniel Pink authors, or give up a chance to hear him speak on podcasts, or interviews, or in person. His books: A Whole New Mind; Drive; and, To Sell is Human are three of my favourites and rarely spend much time on my book shelf, as either I take one down to refresh my memory about an idea, or a staff member drops in to grab one of my copies.

Pink’s latest work – When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing hit the bookstores last week and once again he doesn’t disappoint. One of the central themes is his examination of the research studying the correlation between performance and time of day. Scientists have known for a long time that most living organisms have internal clocks or “circadian rhythms”. Pink’s research takes this one step further as he considers the impact of these rhythms on our day to day performance at work, school, or play.

“For most of us mood follows a common pattern: a peak, a trough, and a recovery.” Most of us seem to peak in the morning, trough at midday, and recover in the later afternoon. But, as he notes, even casual observation reveals that not all of us experience this pattern in the same way, in fact, we’re all different “chromotypes.” About a quarter of us are “larks” that excel in the morning; others are “owls” that hit their peak in the wee hours, and still others — between 60 to 80 per cent of us — are “third birds,” somewhere in between. Knowing your chromotype is critical to avoid making dangerous mistakes or becoming the victim of other people’s time-sensitive errors. Pink points out that although most of us fall into that middle group, this is not a consistent pattern throughout our lives. Young children tend to be “larks”, up at ’em at the crack of dawn. After puberty there is a significant shift towards becoming an “owl”. Research shows that for most teenagers, 6-7 a.m. is the physical equivalent of the middle of the night. And, anyone who has tried to dynamite a teenager out of bed in the morning, or watched adolescent zombies walk the halls of a high school before lunch will understand that completely. Eventually, most young adults tend to gravitate to the middle ground in their 20s but will eventually become more and more “larkish” in their 60s and beyond.

So, what impact does all of this have on schooling? To begin with, for elementary students, it is a reminder – which all teachers and tutors know from experience – that the most challenging academic tasks are best performed before the early afternoon. Pink identifies the trough period for most people as hitting between 2 and 4 p.m. but for younger “larks” in the early elementary it may come as early as 11 or so. High School students are more productive if, either their day starts a bit later, or begins with less academically demanding courses such as phys-ed or one on one direct instruction, where they can be individually coached and encouraged, scheduled at the beginning of the day.

Can you break this rhythm, or are we doomed to wallow in the afternoon trough with declining focus and productivity? Well, in this case, Pink gives us a little hope to counter our own circadian rhythms. He suggests that the mid-afternoon is a good time to focus on mundane, administrative tasks. If morning is our peak analytical time, and later in the day is our most creative, then the mid-point might just be a time to grind it out! He also points out that research shows that taking a break (not an extended siesta, but rather a deliberate active change of scene) can also be rejuvenating. I heard Pink speak about this on Quirks and Quarks last week. He recommends a brief – 10-15 minutes – brisk walk, outdoors, ideally in the company of a friend or colleague. This tends to clean out the cobwebs, improve mood, and get you back on track. For elementary students this might mean a “body break” on the playground. For high school kids, a 10 minute afternoon opportunity to walk to the corner and grab a snack. These “time wasters” are actually a great investment in productivity.

So next time you have trouble getting your kids up in the morning, or getting them to focus on homework in the evening. Don’t blame them, blame it on their chromotype!

Timing is everything.

Using your RAM to avoid being rammed!

This morning, my son Morgan missed the bus for school. My previously calculated plan to see him off, stop at Starbucks, beat the traffic down the Cut and arrive at school were rearranged to include a ten minute drive in the wrong direction, drop him at school, adjust my route to avoid the now-jammed up Cut and arrive at KGMS a little later than I had planned. 
Sound like a typical morning at your house? As parents we are often on “auto-pilot” as we manage the routines around work, school, activities and errands. This management skill is called executive functioning. It allows us to set goals, plan, initiate, monitor our progress, review our successes (or failures) and learn from our experiences. In short, executive function is the set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. We use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.

Needless to say, school success is highly dependent upon executive function. It enables students to regulate their behaviour and to perform those tasks that that facilitate learning. EF allows students to plan; keep track of time; multi-task; build on past experience; evaluate and reflect; make mid-course corrections; ask for help; and, exercise self-control.

However, unfortunately, many of our students have challenges that get in the way of their executive functioning skills. These problems manifest themselves in a number of different ways. Students who struggle with executive function have difficulties with initiating projects; predicting how much time a task will take; relating a story in a sequential fashion; planning and prioritizing; adapting to changing conditions; or retaining information from something that they have read while trying to answer questions about it.

Often when educators think about executive function, they focus on organizational skill development such as time management, developing organizational systems or planning and prioritizing. While this works for many students, there are clear barriers that prevent some children from easily mastering these skills. For them, this traditional approach does not work.

A key EF challenge can be a product of  working memory, which is the ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks. It incorporates the ability to “draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project it into the future”. As an analogy, I recently heard on Quirks and Quarks that while the “hard drives” of long term memory in our brains can store an impressive 100 terabytes of information, our RAM – or working memory – holds very little but that limited data is critically important to the management of our moment to moment operations.

“It’s like mental juggling”, says H. Lee Swanson, PhD, a professor of education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. “As information comes in, you’re processing it at the same time as you store it,” he says. “A child uses this skill when doing math calculations or listening to a story, for example. She has to hold onto the numbers while working with them. Or, she needs to remember the sequence of events and also think of what the story is about” .

Other executive functioning skills include: response inhibition which is the ability to think before you act including the ability to resist the urge to say or do something before you take the time to evaluate what impact your behaviour might have on a given situation; emotional control, that is, the ability to manage emotions, controlling and directing your behaviour in order to achieve goals and complete tasks; and, sustained attention which is the capacity to maintain attention to a situation or task in spite of distractibility, fatigue or boredom.

At our school, every class and tutoring session involves working on developing and enhancing executive functioning skills with our students. Our academic division core teachers work in partnership with our Social Emotional Learning counsellors to support all of our students in this process. It is all part of our universal design approach to learning. Looking around the school you will see all kinds of strategies in action such as:

Working memory supports including cognitive orthotic devices such as written agendas or organizational apps; posting daily schedules, weekly calendars, “to do” lists; giving directions that prompt reference to past experience; breaking tasks into manageable chunks; organizing student workspaces to minimize clutter (at home this could mean having dedicated spaces for certain tasks); and, making sequentially stepped process checklists (“first do this, next do this, etc.”).

For response inhibition and emotional control issues we provide distractions; set time limits; model delayed gratification; reduce or eliminate triggers; remove the student from the situation; and, teach and rehearse coping strategies until she or he has internalized them.

To sustain attention we work on reducing distractions; modifying or limiting the time on task; using peer coaching; providing active exercise breaks; and, reinforcing successful focussing.

In the final analysis, success in school, like everyday life, demands that you not only effectively plan and implement tasks in a logical, sequential fashion but also learn how to self-regulate as well. After all, we all know drivers who have their destination, route, and timing all planned out in advance but cannot cope with any variation that might get in their way. So next time you see someone gripped by “road rage”, you are undoubtedly witnessing a breakdown in their executive functioning. Probably a good idea to just get out of their way!

Self-inflicted Wounds

Last Sunday my Grade 6 son went with a friend’s family to a Vancouver Whitecaps game. It was his first time at a professional soccer match. Before going, he asked if he could borrow one of our cellphones so that he could post game shots on Instagram. Pretty harmless entertainment and nice for him to be able to share a new experience with his friends in real  time. He went, he clicked, he posted. In doing so he was part of an Instagram network of almost 700 million users who post almost 100 million photos a day. Having had a Blackberry for 20 years (which, until my new KeyOne, took the world’s blurriest pictures) I never got into Instagram. My Twitter habits keep me quite busy enough and, besides, my life really isn’t interesting enough to share globally! But for many of our students, Instagram is an on-going visual conversation through which they keep their friends constantly close at hand (or in their hip pockets!) Should we be concerned? Maybe.

Lost in all of the public conversation about cyber-bullying is the fact that people in general (students, parents and educators) do a generally lousy job of communicating electronically. Cyber-bullying is, in essence, an extreme form of our day to day, cyber-foolishness. Over the years I have arranged countless sessions for students centring on the very public nature of “private” communication on the internet. We explained to them just how exposed they really were in their emails, texting, tweets, and especially on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. What they were beginning to grasp was that the actual audience for their comments was far broader than their intended one. Instagrammers, for example, quite regularly cut and paste or forward personal images and comments to people who were never intended to see or read them. And, once they are hung out there on the line for everyone to see, it is virtually (and physically!) impossible to reel them back in. After much discussion and sharing of experiences, I had begun to feel like the kids were getting it, and in some small way maybe we were helping them to self-edit what they were willing to share with the world. Having said all of that, I feel now that I may have missed the mark and in fact, all of these years I have been directing my efforts at the wrong target (or rather at only one of our at-risk groups). And also, perhaps, misreading their motivation for sharing.

Last May, the U.K.-based Royal Society for Public Health recently named Instagram and snapchat the worst social media apps for mental health. Its study of almost 1,500 Britons ages 14 to 24 found that young people were most likely to associate Instagram with negative mental well-being and feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. The report observed:
“Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues.”

The crux of the problem seems to be one of self-image. Instagram users are bombarded with images of people wearing the right clothes, travelling to exotic places, and taking part in cool events. Vicariously sharing the “great” lives that other people appear to be enjoying, children and young adults can often self-amplify their own feelings of inadequacy as they reflect on the boring or mundane nature of their day to day existence. While most of us can sit back and recognize the basic disconnect of what people are posting from “real” life, for others those lines are blurred or non-existent. A recent story in the New York Post highlighted the case of a young woman (26) who had run up debts of over $10,000 in order to create an online personna on Instagram. She bought high-end clothes she didn’t need, took trips to exotic locales that she couldn’t afford and tried to cultivate an image that she couldn’t maintain. Now, six months later, she is broke, in debt, and somewhat wiser.
With a casual search I found a number of coaching sites that instruct neophyte users how to have the greatest impact and build their personal brand and “story”. One even shared the optimum days and times to post to reach the widest audience (hint: more than half of the times are between 10 pm and 3 am – are you still wondering why your child is on their device late at night?)
A study published five years ago by the American Psychological Association concluded that millennials were almost twice as fixated on wealth and fame as baby boomers were a half a century ago. Online platforms have become the medium to generate celebrity and, for students in B.C., Instagram is the vehicle of choice.

At present, my son is far more interested in hockey and baseball than in Instagram and Snapchat and so now is probably the time to gently monitor his habits and become one of his Instagram followers. It’s kind of for my own protection, because if in the future he begins to post about haute cuisine or high-end travel, he’ll probably be using my credit card to pay for it!

Head and Hands: Getting Meaning out of Experience

There is probably no term more ill-used in education circles than “hands-on” learning. It has become a synonym for a wide variety of strategies such as: discovery learning; experiential learning; kinesthetic learning; learning by doing; constructivism; or exploratory learning – to name a few. The basic premise in many of these terms is that through exploration or discovery, a learner can engage in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his or her own past experience and existing knowledge to discover facts and relationships and new truths to be learned”. Or, as another school of thought states, “hands on learning is “gaining knowledge by actually doing something rather than learning about it from books, lectures, etc.”

The implication in both these definitions is that modes of learning are an either one thing or the other. But the fact is, effective learning is always an “and” not an either/or. I think of it this way, the first time that I ever went to Paris, I had read about all of the highlights first and then experienced them in person. And, even as I was admiring Notre Dame, I still had my Michelin Guide clutched in my hand so that I could make sense of what I was seeing. That is the true value of experiential/hands-on learning, a delicate balance between knowledge and experience with the result being a far greater depth of understanding than either method could produce on its own.

Last week I had the pleasure of tagging along as our senior high school Science students traveled to spend four days at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, which is perched high above Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Reading over the itinerary in advance, I knew that there would be some great field experiences along the shore and out at sea in the Centre’s research vessels. I noticed too, almost in passing, that sandwiched in between these excursions there were a number of labs scheduled as well. My first inclination was to conclude that the labs would be interesting “fillers” while we waited for the next on-site adventure. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Rather than being diversions, these labs were an essential component of the learning process. For example, on the first day, students took part in both an invertebrate lab and a seaweed lab. In each case, through a combination of lecture/demonstration; the study of resource materials; and, practical hands-on experience, the students learned how to identify and classify different types of marine life found locally. Armed with this knowledge, the next morning found them out on the Sound in a research vessel dredging the ocean floor for specimens and the following day hiking to a nearby beach at low tide to look at life in the tidal pools first hand. At each stage, the students acquired, deepened and applied their knowledge and understanding of invertebrate life and the symbiotic relationship with aquatic plants and, eventually, plankton. This was experiential learning at its best. Solid preparation, acquiring key background knowledge, hands-on reinforcement in a laboratory setting and then practical, real world observation and application to gain a greater understanding of the local environment.

I have spent the last 10 years living near the ocean, walking the shoreline, gazing into tidal pools and picking up and discarding shells. But all this time, I had been the classic tourist without a guidebook. I saw but didn’t understand in more than a cursory fashion the living world around me. Many of our students were the same, but now that has changed. Information can be found in books, or online, and experiences can wash over us like the incoming tide. But, until you put them together, real knowledge and understanding generally remain just out of reach.

Want to really learn something? Do your homework first, and then be prepared to get your hands dirty. It’s an unbeatable combination

Experiential Learning & The Hidden Curriculum: A Hot Dog Story

In my last post, I wrote about the winning combination of experiential and knowledge-based learning that I had seen in action accompanying our Senior High School Science students to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre earlier this month. What I didn’t talk about was what we used to call the “hidden curriculum” that was also embedded in the organization and execution of the trip.

In order to ensure a successful experience in May, bookings were made a year earlier and active planning began in earnest in September. One of the key enabling components to ensure that the trip was accessible for all interested students, was figuring out how our kids could raise the funds necessary to defray some of the costs. The students were an active part of the planning process, looking at various fundraising options and finally settling upon that tried and true proven money-maker – hot dog sales! Now, we all know that this is not the most healthy option, but as a once a week lunch alternative, nestled between two days of our nutritious hot-lunch programme, they decided to give it a go.

So, what did that mean for our students? It meant drawing up a business plan; researching the relative cost of hotdogs, buns, condiments etc. from various sources; setting up a work schedule; and, advertising this new service at school assemblies. It involved collaborative teamwork, commitment, and a strong work ethic, not to mention the mastery of cooking and assembling lunch; counting money and making change; and dealing with a highly demanding clientele.

Thanks to the perseverance and hard work of our students and Tyler Gilowski, their Science teacher, the business was an unqualified success! Over the next six months they raised over $5,000 and were able to cut the cost of the trip in half through their efforts.

So what was the takeaway in all of this? To begin with, instead of just putting their hands out for cash from Mommy and Daddy, they took ownership of the problem. They came together as a group, worked in concert for a common goal, and took pride in the outcome. Week by week, they kept their collective “eye on the prize” and by the time that the trip itself rolled around, they were a solid unit.

I saw the results of this hidden curriculum first hand when I joined them on their trip. They supported one another, worked together effectively in every task presented to them and kept one another engaged and included. There were no social cliques or conflicts. For all of their differences, they were united in a common purpose, no-one was just along for the ride. The rest of the not-so hidden curriculum – being away from home, living in a dorm, eating unfamiliar foods, spending long hours in transit on ferry and bus were all made far more manageable by the easy camaraderie that they had established over the previous months.

Next year, we adults might nudge their successors towards selling a more varied and nutritious menu to their peers, but at the end of the day it will be their problem to solve, their team to build, and their business to run.

And isn’t that what authentic learning is all about?

5 Reasons We Use Google Chrome

Our K-12 school, KGMS/Maplewood is pretty unique in Canada. We have a diverse population of about 200 students, all of whom have an identified learning disability. Although a plurality of these are language-based, such as dyslexia, we have students with a wide range of learning differences: autism; working memory or other executive functioning issues; dysgraphia; dyscalculia; ADHD; anxiety; hearing and speech; etc. If you have heard of it, we have probably seen it.

Most of our students come from families that would not normally choose an independent school for their child, but we are a school of “second choice”, someone that they turn to when their first choice school (public, private, or parochial) is unable to meet the needs of their daughter or son. As result of the financial stretch that this puts on our families, we work hard to help our students to develop the skills and attitudes that will enable them to successfully transition back into a regular classroom in two or three years. It is challenging, often frustrating or puzzling, but always rewarding to find that individual pathway that will allow each of our students to navigate the mainstream back in her or his home school.

We have always relied heavily on assistive technology (SmartBoards; laptops; iPads; etc.) but last year we made the move to become a Google Domain, and we have never looked back! All of a sudden, we had the power and the flexibility to give our students what they needed, a platform that could transition them easily between KGMS and home and eventually back to their next school of choice.

Here are 5 reasons why is works for us, and our kids:

1. It is universal. Even within our school we use two different platforms (MacBooks in the elementary and Chromebooks in the high school). Using Chrome, this no longer matters. Every machine in the school can communicate with one another and, even more importantly, can communicate through the cloud with every student and teacher and parent device at home as well;

2. It is collaborative. Students can share their work with each other and submit it for editing by either a peer or a teacher with a tap of a key. No more memory sticks, or printer issues, or “dog-eaten” paper assignments. When something is ready it can immediately be delivered – even if it is 9 o’clock at night from the dining room table;

3. It is powerful. Google Classroom and apps such as Google Docs or Slides or Sheets or, especially for us, third party extensions such as “Read and Write for Google” have given our students all of the tools that they need for the research of topics and the production of their results all in one package;

4. It is simple. Introducing Chrome to our students (and especially our staff!) has been the easiest software roll-out that I have ever seen. It looks familiar, it is easy to understand, and it doesn’t seem to scare off even the most timid users; and,

5. It is cheap! Okay, I’ll admit it, this was definitely a factor when we were looking at the next generation of assistive technology for our students. Not only is the hardware (Chromebook) inexpensive, but we have been able to replace pricey software such as MS Office or Kurzweil or DragonSpeak with a much more cost-effective alternative.

Sorry if this post sounds a bit like an ad! But to be honest, this summer, if you are looking at ramping up your strategies for working with students with learning differences – give this a try. It is making a world of difference for our students, parents and staff.