Kate’s Top 10 Secrets: How to Succeed in Canadian Culture

Image Source: bigstockphoto.com
Image Source: bigstockphoto.com

Over the next year, I would like to share what I consider to be some of the 10 most important unwritten social rules in Canada that newcomers and their families need to know to succeed in Canada. In this first post, I’ll give you the list of all 10 secrets, as well as the first secret.

How am I qualified to know these secrets?

Keep in mind that these are what *I* consider to be the most important secrets.  I am drawing on a lifetime of experience in Canada as a mother of 3 and as a worker in education, banking, computers, and employment counselling, but that doesn’t mean these social rules are cast in stone or true in every community across Canada.

Okay, so here is the list of the 10 most important secrets I’ve learned for succeeding socially, as well as in Canadian schools and workplaces:

  1. CHILDREN & SCHOOL: Why doing everything the teacher ASKS on an assignment and doing it RIGHT DOESN’T get a 4/4.
  2. CHILDREN & SCHOOL: How to understand educational jargon on report cards.
  3. CHILDREN & SCHOOL: HOMEWORKParents are teachers too! (& some resources to help)
  4. WORKPLACE CULTURE: Why should everyone volunteer
  5. WORKPLACE CULTURE: Small talk is important – but know WHEN to use it!
  6. WORKPLACE CULTURE:  Email: how to sound friendly but professional.
  7. WORKPLACE & SOCIAL CULTURE: Social rules for dealing with bosses and co-workers.
  8. SOCIAL CULTURE: How to break the ice & make friends with your neighbours & others.
  9. SOCIAL CULTURE: How to respond to invitations (accepting, declining & expressing uncertainty).
  10. SOCIAL CULTURE: What to bring (and NOT to bring!) when invited to a Canadian social event. 

Secret #1: Children & School

Why doing everything the teacher ASKS on an assignment and doing it RIGHT DOESN’T get a 4/4:

Sample Assignment Grades (out of 4) 


4 out of 4: Exceptional Work = In Canada, we have a very strong work ethic. We expect everyone – even children – to do about 25% more than is required + All that is listed in ‘3 out of 4.’            

Here are some examples of ways to get a 4/4: 

  • Even in Kindergarten, my kids made a cover page, which included their name, the teacher’s name, the title of the assignment, and the date for all assignments. When they were younger, they often drew a picture on the cover page. All assignments were handed in inside a plastic report cover (from the dollar store).
  • If kids are supposed to research 3 sources, research 4 sources (not Wikipedia after about Grade 4); remember, do at least 25% extra!
  • Kids who relate the topic to their own or their family’s experiences or compare Canada to their home country will usually get extra points.
  • DON’T COPY & PASTE from the internet! Even in the lower grades, children who write in their own words get extra points.
  • Check for spelling errors!  Parents can and should help with all assignments. Check your child’s homework after he or she is finished. Teachers here expect children to be self-correcting, but kids need to learn how to do this from us, rather than from the teacher.

3 out of 4: Completed Work (= 80 to 100% of what was required)

  • Follows all of the criteria in the given rubric
  • Neat and easy to read – checked for spelling errors
  • Must have date and name
  • Must be handed in on time

2 out of 4: Incomplete Work (directions not followed) (= 50 to 80% of what was required)

  • May be difficult to read
  • Follows some of the criteria in the given rubric
  • Missing information or the information is incorrect; not checked for spelling errors
  • May be missing name or date
  • May be on time

1 out of 4 Incomplete  Work (= less than 50% of what was required)

  • Difficult to read; not checked for spelling errors
  • Follows few of the criteria in the given rubric
  • May be missing name, date
  • Late or not handed in

As mentioned earlier, these are tips that I found to be true  and want to pass on to my students . Tell me what you think… if your community or your experiences are very different from mine, please share your experience in the Comments. I’m not afraid of being ‘wrong’ – so your input can only enrich our communal knowledge!



6 thoughts on “Kate’s Top 10 Secrets: How to Succeed in Canadian Culture”

  1. Hi Kate, Good to see you here.

    The reality of our educational system is that children whose parents support them with homework and projects (to the point sometimes of taking over and all but doing the projects!) “score” higher than children whose parents are not able to buy the materials, take them to the library, make ” suggestions”. Not sure if this helps children understand what is meant by “work ethic”. The teacher (and the other kids) know whose hand was in the project!

    For sure parents should encourage ” above and beyond” effort – but I would add more for developing efficient and effective learning – for intrinsic motivation – joy of learning – not just ” marks”. (btw – in reading comprehension if the instructions are for two examples – don’t give three!)

    There is a downside to focusing on ” marks”. When we relocated to Canada from the States my son got 82% on his first (GradeThree) report card. The class average was 84%.”How did you miss that 2%?” I asked (or words to that effect) He was crestfallen and I realised I had fallen into the trap. Instead of praising his achievement I got anxious about him falling behind the others. I discussed this with the school and the policy of giving the class average was changed (for the lower school).

    I think on the whole the idea of giving practical suggestions for “How some things are done in Canada” is a good one.

    1. Thanks, Claudie – I know it’s hard as a parent (and probably More so as a newcomer parent) to know how hard to push our kids. I wanted my kids to do well at school, but I DIDN’T want them to succeed in education and neglect other (equally important) aspects of their lives. I think one of the most important lessons I learned from MY mom was, “Kids need DOWN TIME, too. Make sure you don’t schedule and organize every minute of their lives. Let them watch TV. Let them play games, chat with their friends, or just Do Nothing.”

      I wrote this post to help newcomer parents understand one of the unwritten rules – the expectation of unasked effort. That said, it’s not that I think we should all focus on “marks” and forget “learning”!! So THANKS for the reminder to praise our children’s achievements – whatever they are!! =)

      As for “parent intervention” – I guess you might have a problem when I get to the tip that suggests that “Parents are Teachers, Too!” – but it will be based on the idea that learning should take place Everywhere – NOT just in school. My feedback from many newcomer parents has been that their child’s education is the TEACHER’S sole responsibility – NOT theirs.

      They have hinted to me that teachers – like ME – who Demand student input in and commitment to the learning process – are LAZY (Saying, more or less, “If *I* have to teach myself, then YOU don’t have to do anything.”) It’s an uphill battle sometimes to bend them toward the goal of becoming independent learners themselves – let alone getting them to understand our high expectations of children’s independence in studying (that’ll be my NEXT post!).

      Again, thanks for your input!

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