Jewish Day Schools As Incubators of Jewish Leadership

What is “Jewish leadership”?

Does it refer to Jews who serve in leadership roles?  Is it about Jews who lead in accordance with Jewish values?

The first is common; the second is rare.

We’ve been thinking about it a lot at OJCS.   We have come to believe that Jewish day schools can serve as incubators for Jewish leadership because they have the opportunity to encourage and inspire both.

I had the privilege of addressing this topic last Shabbat when I spoke at Congregation Machzikei Hadas and it went well enough that I was encouraged to blog about it this week.

About three, four, years ago I had the opportunity to visit Donna Klein Jewish Academy  in Boca Raton, Florida and I can still recall how each time we entered a new classroom, how a student would automatically pop up, come over, introduce themselves, tell us what was happening in the class, and then offer to answer any questions we may have. Class after class after class.  No prompting from teachers.  I further noted how each teacher had a personal mission statement on the doors of each classroom.  The hallways were labeled in both Hebrew and English with each of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

That was how I was first introduced to the “7 Habits”.  I further learned how CAJE-Miami helped provide training for many of the Jewish day schools in South Florida to receive training in The Leader in Me – which helps schools bring the 7 Habits to life – and provided some Jewish value translation work to ensure they could live throughout the Jewish day school experience.  And, with some stops between then and now, that is how it came to be that OJCS began prototyping its own version of the 7 Habits this year.

I have been blogging about the details of this prototype as we have introduced each new habit (and, yes, I am actually now one behind) and in preparation for last Shabbat I came across an article from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks that helped me connect some dots.  “Seven Principles of Jewish Leadership” is the title and the symmetry was too good to pass up.  As a first step, I expanded upon a visual already created by CAJE-Miami and I created a visual that integrated Rabbi Sacks’ “Seven Principles” with the “7 Habits” with Jewish values. What I did conversationally, was link each of the “sevens” with Jewish text and real examples of what it looks like in a school or classroom.  In a nutshell, I tried to answer the question of what happens when a Jewish day school moves Jewish leadership from the implicit curriculum to the explicit curriculum.

Here’s a graphic organizer to help you get oriented:

You may note that all of the “sevens” are further divided along Rabbi Hillel’s famous dictum from Pirkei Avot 1:14 (again borrowed from CAJE-Miami) – the first three focus on the individual, the second three on the relationship between the individual and community, and the final on, let’s say “timing”.  So.  How about we explore what this can look like in real life and in real classrooms?

  • #1: For me, the relevant texts are the juxtaposition between the lack of responsibility taken by Adam in the Garden of Eden (the serpent made me do it!) and Cain (Am I my brother’s keeper?) and how Moshe responds when he sees a Hebrew slave being beaten or when he discovers Yitro’s daughters being harassed by shepherds.  In terms of examples, in our school being proactive and taking responsibility lives in both formal structures like Knesset (student government) and informal structures like prototyping.  Two recent examples come to mind.  A member of Knesset pitched us on letting a student co-own the school’s Instagram account to make it more student-friendly. Also, the entire Grade 4 pitched us on allowing them greater access to student blogging:

The prototyping culture we are creating encourages and incentivizes students to take responsibility, to be proactive and in the parlance of our “North Stars” to truly “own their own learning”.

  • #2: Here we look to Sefer D’varim (Book of Deuteronomy) in which during the last month of his life, Moshe sets out a vision and a set of laws to secure it.  When we think at OJCS about the future, about “beginning with the end in mind,” we want our students to learn how to envision a future for themselves and then learn how to communicate and achieve it.  We provide them with opportunities to develop these skills through a variety of student-led experiences with both high and low stakes.  We collaboratively goal-set with each student around academic and behavioral outcomes, for example, as we head down a path that will likely end in student-led conferences (replacing parent-teacher conferences).  We also provide students with opportunities to plan and run clubs such as our “Detective Club” and “Alien Club”.
  • #3: Thinking about “putting first things first” and an overall sense of timing leads me to Rabbi Tarfon who said in Mishnah Avot 2:16, “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”  In the life of school, this resonates with all the ways we are trying to help our students navigate time management and executive functioning.  We now offer a Study Skills Elective each week.  We offer twice-weekly Study Hall.  We are looking at an Executive Functioning Boot Camp model for next year.  We are looking at tools like Google Calendar and Google Keep.  Another way we think about “putting first things first” is building on the success of our Middle School Retreat in helping create a sense of community and shared expectations for our middle schoolers each and every year.
  • #4: This next one is a little dense, but is actually one of my favorite teachings about leadership.   Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, a leading theologian and philosopher from the Reform Movement, wrote an article years and years ago in which he asserted that (religious) leadership should model itself on the kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum. “Tzimtzum” as described by Isaac Luria is the idea that in order to create the world, God had to contract Godself in order to make room for creation to take place.  In other words, sometimes leadership is about making space for others to lead.  These ideas are embedded in two of our North Stars – “We learn better together” & “We are each responsible one to the other” – and live in the commitment we have made to project-based learning and conflict resolution.
  • #5: The Torah teaches that a king must write his own Sefer Torah which “must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life” (Deut. 17:19).  Leaders learn.  At OJCS, this lives in the North Star of “A floor, but no ceiling,” and in our emphasis on personalized learning.  This year we are prototyping “Genius Hour” projects as just one example of letting students lead with their passion and letting their passion lead to their learning.  In terms of “seeking first to understand and then be understood” we are working with JFS to provide “Kindness Workshops” to our students to help them skill-build towards active listening.
  • #6: Here I am going to quote directly from Rabbi Sacks in his article when he says, “One of Judaism’s greatest insights into leadership: The highest form of leadership is teaching.  Power begets followers.  Teaching creates leaders”.  We provide our students with lots of opportunities to learn through teaching and to learn leadership skills by “owning their learning”.  Whether it is a Grade 6 WE Day project, leading a Rosh Chodesh assembly, designing a Hebrew Escape Room or interviewing residents at Hillel Lodge, our students develop the skills to see projects through, to dream dreams, to speak publicly, and to organize.  These are all the building blocks of leadership.
  • #7: There are no shortage of examples of stressed out and overwhelmed leaders in the Bible.  Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and Jonah – just to name a few – all at some point prayed to die rather than carry on as a Jewish leader.  That is certainly an extreme example of the toll leadership can take, but we acknowledge that stress is very real for our students and families.  It is partly why one of our North Stars is “Ruach” – we have intentionally and explicitly named joy and spirit and wellness as a guiding value in our school.  Studying in school (and teaching!) is supposed to be joyful.  We do our best to provide wellness and mindfulness into the school day.  It is why we remain committed to Art, Music and PE as part of a well-rounded experience.  Students deserve to feel successful and joyful and not each student is going to find that in the traditional academic subjects. It is why we have a “Ruach Week” and a Middle School Retreat.  It is also why we are looking at advisory and guidance models.  The emotional and spiritual wellbeing of our students is important for them as human beings, and as future leaders.

We cannot take for granted that what was once true will always be true.  It has been true for generations that the leaders of Jewish organizations, schools and synagogues have come from the ranks of Jewish day schools; and flourished as a result.  If we want that to continue – if we want to secure the Jewish future – our schools will need to work to make what was once implicit, explicit.  Jewish leadership requires Jewish leaders who know how to lead – not just as Jews, but Jewish-ly.  Ken y’hi ratzon.

OJCS Building First School-Based Makerspace in Ottawa! (Wait…what’s a “makerspace”?)

It just got real.  Real exciting.

As we announced last year, thanks to the generosity of the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund, we were going to take on our first major project to make our physical space as innovative as our educational program.  Or rather, we are now able to think about designing spaces that will best allow the unique vision OJCS has for teaching and learning to best come to life.  [With a building as “seasoned” as ours, we don’t lack for options!]  We intend to completely redo our “computer lab” and transform it into a tech-friendly collaborative workspace.  We intend to completely redo our “library” and transform it into a 22nd century media literacy center. Etc.  But we have decided to lead with a makerspace.  Why?  Glad you asked!

Although more and more schools have invested in makerspaces, it is still rare enough that it is okay if you are asking yourself an obvious question: What is a makerspace?

Makerspaces are popping up in schools across the country. Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.

A makerspace is not solely a science lab, woodshop, computer lab or art room, but it may contain elements found in all of these familiar spaces. Therefore, it must be designed to accommodate a wide range of activities, tools and materials. Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces.

When you think about many of the exciting prototypes in play this year at OJCS – Genius Hour, VR, 21st Century Judaica, Robotics, Blogs, Recreating Biblical Artifacts and QR Codes for Art Projects, just to name a very few – they share one feature in common.  They all require our students (and teachers) to make something.  These are all learning prototypes that include or result in a tangible (including digital or virtual) product. They are also projects that are both cross-curricular and collaborative.  A classroom is not always designed to house learning of this kind.  Our school needs a place where students can come as a class or in teams or on their own to be inspired.  Our school needs a place where teachers can come with students or in their own teams or on their own to be inspired.  Our school needs a learning commons designed as a hub of creativity.  Our school needs an incubator of innovation.  Our school needs a makerspace.

And so the work has begun!  Our first step was to identify a partner to bring our dreams to life.  We interviewed a few architecture firms, but found in our new friends Ryan and Wendy, from Project1 Studio, a partner who brings enthusiasm, creativity and expertise to the work. Our next step, which was this week, was to convene a group of teachers, students and administrators for a “Visioning Session” to allow them to begin to identify the kinds of activities we believe should take place in our new OJCS Makerspace.  What will be the right blend of…

  • movie-making equipment (green screens, sound mixing, movie editing equipment, etc.)
  • robotics,
  • coding,
  • 3D printing,
  • VR,
  • state of the art presentation space (TED Talk-style),
  • woodworking,
  • crafts,
  • science/STEM/STEAM,
  • brainstorming/mental-mapping/collaborating spaces,
  • inspiring/relaxing/creativity-inducing spaces,

…activities, tools and zones to maximize our space and enhance energy and enthusiasm for learning at OJCS.

[Where is this space going to be located, you might be wondering (if you are an OJCS parent)?

We are working with the footprint of our current Science Lab and adjoining offices.  That gives us about a 1,300 square foot space to play with, but it does require that we factor in our current Science needs within the design.]

Once we settle on our priorities, we will move to design.  From design we move to furniture and fixtures and from there we move to construction itself.  Our current schedule has us breaking ground in July and on target for a grand opening on the very first day of the 2019-2020 school year!

It will be our pleasure to share out designs as they come in and it would be our pleasure to show any current or prospective families the spaces we are discussing.  Although we know the building isn’t the most important factor in a quality education, we also know that the right kinds of spaces can have a meaningful impact on the educational experience.  We are proud at OJCS to be creating innovative spaces to match our innovative program.  It is just another example of how OJCS is becoming an educational leader in our community.

And we are still just beginning…

A Trip Around The “Cohort 2018” OJCS Blogosphere

Wait, didn’t we just do this two weeks ago?

Nope!  We teased it two weeks ago when we said that,

For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on.  Stay tuned!

Well, as we head into our February Break with a Friday PD Day facilitated by our friends from NoTosh, this seems like a good opportunity to share out the amazing work our DocuMentors are doing.  Which teachers are part of this cohort again?

Glad you asked!

Ann-Lynn, Melissa, Shira, Bethany, Josh, Keren, Chelsea, Jon & Silvia.

We are so pleased to have a diverse (grade level, subject & experience) group of new teachers (folk who were not part of the NoTosh Design Team; excepting Melissa, Keren & me) who are learning new paradigms, NOW literacies and innovative skills and practices which are not only impacting their work, but the larger work of the school.

Don’t believe me?  Well…let the tour begin!

“Cohort 2018” has a home page  where you can see summaries and insights from Silvia herself.  “Cohort 2018” has a landing page where you can get links to each teacher’s professional blog.  That’s where the magic lies.

From Ann-Lynn’s Blog (click here for the full blog)

Who Own’s the Learning? Daily 5 Chronicles – Posted on January 27th

Daily 5 is a literacy framework that instills behaviors of independence, creates a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers, and learners, and provides teachers with the time and structure to meet diverse student needs. Because it holds no curricular content, it can be used to meet any school, district, state, or national standards. ~ The Daily Cafe

This week I asked myself, “Is the Daily 5 literacy framework allowing my students to achieve the ultimate goal?” Are they a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers and learners? Do they truly own their learning? As my Grade 2s completed their  literacy block this past Wednesday morning and headed off to their next class, I remained in the empty classroom long enough to browse through my phone and look at some photos I had recently added. Were they just photos of compliant students doing what was asked of them, or did I have a classroom of students who now own their learning? Let’s examine four components of the Daily 5 and the photos which I believe captured my students owning their learning.

Work on Writing 

I will confess, if I did not take a few minutes to quickly walk around the room and ask questions, I might have deleted these photos, not truly understanding the evidence I possessed in my photo album. In the photos below, both students were working on their writing, yet neither student was getting their inspiration from a class list of topics. One was very eager to complete a biography on a famous basketball player, Kawhi Leonard and another student was busy completing a narrative on a special family event. Yet a third student, who sadly will be leaving us in a few weeks, took this opportunity to write an account of her experience here in Canada for the past two years. Who owns the learning? They do!

Word Work

My students understand the importance of expanding their vocabulary. The photo below captures a student wanting to learn more and being self-motivated to do so. The student chose to spend our literacy block  reading chapter 2 of our novel study “My Father’s Dragon”, stopping to jot down words she is unfamiliar with. I know I am hoping to see these vocabulary words added to our live dictionary on Flipgrid. The group photo below is evidence of two things; an example of Win Win, and a group of students who chose to play the competitive level of Osmo words. Before the Osmo spelling game could begin, however, the students had to resolve a conflict, brainstorming a solution where everyone wins.

Who owns the learning? They do!

Read to Self/Read to Someone

Finally, as all these wonderful things were taking place in my classroom, I had the opportunity to do some one-on-one conferencing with some students. Where were the others you ask? They took this opportunity to make a quick trip to the library to add to their book bins. They were using the Star Reading program to help them choose a “Just Right” book. This last photo in my post needs no words to describe what is taking place. But three words come to mind, highly engaged readers.

From Chelsea’s Blog, “The Chrysalis Chronicles” (click here for the full blog)

Feeling Sketchy? – Posted on January 17th

What is Sketchnoting? This is today’s topic on my learning journey with my cohort the DocuMentors  with our in-house visit with Silvia Tolisano.

  • Is drawing and doodling a story with pictures?
  • Is it making my thoughts visible with symbols, pictures, arrows, ideas?
  • Could this be a way I have my students take notes to enhance their thoughts and learning about how math concepts are related?
  • Can I video/record the sketchnoting process (stop motion) to show my doodles and thoughts over time?
  • How will sketchnoting change my learning?
  • How will it change it and throw me to do something different?
  • How am I going to take my examples and practices of sketchnoting and use it to sketchnote for learning?

These questions are running through my head as we gear up to begin this new learning process.

Opening up and getting ready to begin my first Sketchnote using the Paper app.

       

Doodling has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing. ~ Suni Brown

And I’m off…

On my third sketchnote…getting the hang of this..as we learn and “live” sketch…it’s hard…very hard… listening and sketching at the same time…

challenging my multi-tasking skills….

Let’s keep going….

 

so…here I am…

…look at everyone else…
They are doing so well! We are learning so much!

…but…how am I feeling…this is going on too long…I’m feeling very uninterested…not by my lack of artistic skills (Tip #1 You don’t need to be an artist)…but I’m starting to tune out and not enjoy this process..but I’m hanging in there.

What does this tell or say about me?

First, that drawing may not be for me…but I’m open to try new things and work through it…

Second, that as much as I am a visual learner…I’d much rather express my own thoughts through words to communicate my output. This makes me think to a colleague sharing their learning DNA. I can have more than one learning competency, and this means; so can our students!

Back to more questions…now with some answers!

  • would some of my students really enjoy this…YES!
  • is it a skill that may be helpful and beneficial for some students to grow…YES!
  • is this another avenue, tool, and skill to learn, and create from and with… YES!

So…back at it…and let’s try some more sketching…

I’m in this to learn…not just for me, but for my students…

Tip 8! WHY!?

Sketchnoting For…. This is it! This is why I’m continuing to do this…through my personal frustration and disengagement: for the students!

…to contribute, to give skills, to make meaning, to enhance memory, to tell a story, make connections, to reflect, to display content….to CREATE!

Here is my final sketchnote from…the big reveal…

10 Tips for Sketchnoting from a Sketch”novice”

       

I’ll continue to try sketching more…and provide an update of my progress.

If you want to try to sketchnote yourself, I encourage you to try it out! If you’re looking for inspiration and ideas.. check out the following places and links.

You may surprise yourself, learn something about yourself, and perhaps a new skill to surprise and encourage others!

Sketchnothing

Teach Thought

@sketchnotesclub

#sketchnotes

From Shira’s Blog, “Finding the Light” (click here for the full blog)

Capturing Resilience – Posted on January 16th

Today the Documentors were invited into a Grade 3 math class with the goal of making learning visible. The students were assigned open-ended multiplication problems, and demonstrated their knowledge of 1 or 2 digit multiplication, using pictures, words, and numbers to demonstrate their thinking.

During the pre-documentation phase, I decided to focus on capturing the students resilience. How do they continue when they hit a barrier? What tools do they use? Do they persevere or do they give up? Resilience has been proven to be a strong measure of students success.

This trait is also attached to one of our school’s North Stars…We Own Our Own Learning. 

The students were amazing! They were eager to get to work and tackled their problems with enthusiasm. Even with 9 extra adults in the room snapping photos, taking videos, and writing notes, they weren’t deterred. Even the first demonstration began with a student detailing how she began again as her first trial wasn’t working.

Then they broke into groups of two and the work began. It was beautiful to see the students working together, listening to each others ideas, and using trial and error multiple times to figure things out.

When some groups got stuck, they raised their hand for help or patiently waited for their teacher to come and support them. She reminded them to break the question down and use trial and error. They immediately got back to work.

I observed students continuing to work to figure out what was missing. They kept trying even though it was hard, and when one group felt down, with a little encouragement they continued to work with enthusiasm.

During the gallery walk we had a chance to ask the student leading questions. The resilience shone through in each and every group I spoke to.

When explaining her work, one student told me that there were lots of possibilities for the answers. I asked if she was finished and she said:

“There are still more possibilities. I am working on the math.”

Another pair explained that they tackled the problem by just starting to experiment different ways to solve the problem. When they got stuck their strategy was:

“We kept experimenting stuff.”

When there were problems one group said:

“We each did half.” When they got stuck, “We talked to each other, we erased it and did it another way.”

Was resilience evident?

ABSOLUTELY!

I want to share examples of Bethany, Josh, Melissa & Keren’s blogs as well – which I will do on our next tour – but you can view all their blogs by starting at the landing page and diving in.

Do you see how excited our teachers are about learning?  Can you imagine how exciting it is for our students to have teachers like this?

We can!  Because that is what life is (now) like at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

“Caught Being Kind” at OJCS: One Year Later

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote:

If each time the school calls is to inform the parent that their child has misbehaved (or is sick or forgot their lunch), one imagines that when the phone rings and the school’s phone number comes up on the “caller ID”, the parent is not exactly excited to pick up.  But what if just every now and again we are calling to let them know how proud we are of their child?

How often do principals or heads of school get to call parents with good news?

And that was before we had clarified our “North Stars” or launched our “7 Habits“.  It was simply a desire to flip the script.

If each time you were sent to the “principal’s office” was because you were in trouble, you probably wouldn’t want to be hanging out in that part of the building.  And if a principal only spent his or her time with students referred for misbehavior, there would be a significant gap in relationships.

We made a commitment that our teachers would start sending students to us when they do something kind.  That way when the phone rings in the home of an OJCS parent and the school comes up on the “caller ID”, the emotion it triggers is excitement and not dread.

So, how’s it going?

It actually took a bit longer than expected to get going, but it has been slowly building this year.  The above is just from the last few weeks…so…pick up the phone when we call…your child may be next!

A Trip Around The OJCS Blogosphere

You know what?  Enough about me!

How about this week, we take a trip through The OJCS Blogosphere and kvell about some of the excellent projects our students and teachers are engaged in. Perhaps it is too much to expect folk to check all the blogs all the time – especially if they are not parents in a particular class. So allow me to serve as your tour guide this week and visit some highlights…

From the Grade Three – Kitah Gimmel Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grade 3 Introduces Blogging to Grade 1 – Posted on January 23rd

After all their hard work and preparation, Grade 3 presented their blog posts to Grade 1 and taught them about how to comment in an effective and meaningful way. The grade 3 blogging group prepared a ‘stations’ layout and the grade 1 students were split into groups and visited each station. Upon arrival at each station, the grade 3 blogging group had prepared a speech, introducing their blog and how one may go about commenting. They shared rules and a model example, alongside comment sentence starters and comment boxes.

Grade 3 even took the time to reflect and reply to the comments, responding to questions and developing answers.

They were mini teachers in action, with their lesson plans, resources and differentiation. Well done Grade 3! And thank you Grade 1 for being such good commentators, we really appreciate your kind and encouraging words!

 

From the Grade Five – Kitah Hay Blog (click here for the full blog)

Une tempête de neige! – Posted on January 17th

Il fait tellement froid dehors qu’il a commencé à neiger à l’intérieur! Aujourd’hui en 5T, nous avons eu une bataille de “boules de neige» pour mettre en pratique notre nouveau vocabulaire!

 

From the Grade Seven – Kitah Zayin Science Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grade 7 Virtual Reality Presentations – Posted on January 14th

Grade 7 students building their communication, collaboration, digital media, researching, and coding skills as part of their CoSpaces Ecosystems presentations for judges.

 

From the Grade Four – Kitah Dalet Blog (click here for the full blog)

Guest Blogger of the Week – Shylee – Posted on January 18th

I hope you have fun looking at what Grade 4 did this week. Our class is doing the school reading challenge, and so far we have read 396 books. Our goal is to read 600 books. We might even have to make our goal higher.

In English class we have been practicing our interviewing skills. This week we interviewed our reading buddies from Ganon on what they liked to do, their hobbies, etc….  We are going to be interviewing the residents of Hillel Lodge for an upcoming project.

We also took part in a Research Workshop about using key words instead of typing long questions into Google. We have also been practicing our research skills in class too.

In French, we have been working on a new unit. The new unit that we are working on is sports. We have been doing a little project at home about an athlete.

In Art, we have been doing a project about a fox. We will be putting the artwork in the hall of the school.

In Hebrew we have been practicing for the Tu B’Shevat Seder that we will be having at Hillel Lodge. We have been practicing a play to perform for the residents. Liam and Inbar have been helping us get ready. We will be performing a song as well. This is a video of  some of my classmates singing (notice Dr. Mitzmacher  listening in the background)

Today we did a special activity with Morah Ada. For ‘Ivrit Be’Kef (fun in Hebrew) Devorah (Joey) and Ma’ayan (Mia) translated a recipe to Hebrew and gave us the instructions of how to make the cookies.

This is Mrs. Bertrand who helps us organize with all the Knesset meetings. I am the class rep for Grade Four, and I love going to all the meetings and helping organize activities at the school.

Being a blogger was an awesome experience. It was hard taking the pictures during the classes because people were moving a lot. Putting it together on the blog taught me how to embed pictures and videos and learn how to type better and edit my work. I am looking forward to being a blogger again.

 

Pretty amazing stuff, eh?

I encourage you not only to check out all the blogs on the OJCS Blogosphere, but I encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on.  Stay tuned!

The Transparency Files: Why Do We Give Homework?

That’s not rhetorical.  It is an actual, live question that we are finally ready to begin answering here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, as promised.

It is reasonable to conclude that there are various philosophies about what the purpose of homework ought to be and that there is ample research to be found supporting just about all of them.  For our school, however, the conversation comes with a context.  Considering who we are and what we believe to be true about teaching and learning, what ought to be the role of homework here?

What is our current homework policy?

We have a simple 10 minutes that incrementally increases by grade level (outside of reading) formula for estimating the appropriate time it should take a typical student to complete his or her homework.

Part of the impetus for taking this on is that not only does that policy seem not to hold true often enough, it fails to address the whys and whats of homework.  It only speaks to, “how much?”  We can do better.

 

The purpose of an OJCS Homework Policy, once re-imagined, will be to provide guidelines for teachers, provide for consistency through the grades, and to educate parents who have questions about homework.  A school policy regarding homework, along with clear expectations for teachers as to what constitutes good homework, can help to strengthen the benefits of homework for student learning.

This policy will need to address the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.  The OJCS Homework Policy will be based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework.

Without having had all the conversations we will be having, I do think based on the conversations we have had, that there are philosophical conclusions consistent with who we are that we can put up front that will inform the policy once complete.  The philosophy at the Ottawa Jewish Community School regarding K-8 homework is that it should only be assigned if it is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate. Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding.  Homework should be consistent with the school’s “North Stars” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.

There are also some commonsense practices we believe will help to increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.

Homework is more effective when:

…..the purpose of the homework assignment is clear.  Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.

…..it does not discourage and frustrate students.  Students should be familiar with the concepts and material (unless a flipped pedagogy is being employed).

…..it is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.

…..it is explicitly related to the classwork.

…..it is engaging and creative.

…..it is authentic.

…..feedback is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.

…..it is personalized.

 

This is not to suggest that we are not presently trying to live up to the above in our current practice.  But it is to suggest that our written policy fails to provide teachers, parents or students with sufficient guidance to ensure that all students in all grades are doing appropriate homework – appropriate quality, appropriate content and appropriate length.

As with every other initiative or project we undertake at OJCS, our conversation and conclusions about homework will be done collaboratively and transparently.  We look forward to these conversations, to doing the work, and to sharing it out when done.

Habits of Kindness: Think Win-Win

This time we will let our 7th Grade introduce this month’s habit:

Like others of the 7 Habits, I am struck by the paradox of simplicity the habits create. “Think Win-Win” seems so simple, right?  Yes, there are developmental examples where that not might be possible (thinking of my 10 and 13 year-old daughters) and, yes, there are issues that perhaps are not so easily resolved with two winners (someone has to win the basketball game).  But as a philosophy?  Sure – of course things are best if we viewed challenges as opportunities for everyone to win, not with an inevitable outcome of a winner and a loser.  We might not always achieve a full “win-win”, but striving towards it will always yield a kinder result than “winner-takes-all”.

So instead of using this blog to highlight a personal or professional “win-win” of my own, I want to make a brief comment on the power of transferability, utilizing the “Habits of Kindness” between home and school…

Members of our faculty have been and/or will be reading The Leader in Me, which is the book that helpsbooks schools begin the journey of bringing the 7 Habits into practice.  And as we have been reading, we are realizing the broader impacts, particularly the opportunity to strengthen the relationship between school and home.

From Chapter 3,

“…observe that the same principles and approach being taught at these schools can also be taught at home. One of the great things about the leadership approach is what it is doing to enhance the parent-school partnership.  For starters, it is bringing more parents into the schools to volunteer and support school and classroom activities.  But even more important is what is occurring as students apply the principles to their daily tasks and behaviors at home.  In other words, it is not just teachers who are reporting better behaviors and reduced discipline issues. Parents are reporting the same kinds of positive results. This is particularly true in families where parents have come to know the principles for themselves and have made conscious efforts to reinforce and teach them…If you are a parent, I promise that if you open your mind to it, you will have endless ideas of how you can apply what these educators are doing to your home.”

Excerpt From: Stephen R. Covey. “The Leader in Me.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/NPFVw.l

Now that we are a few months in, I do actually see – as a parent – my children beginning to use the language.  Eliana will say that she is “being proactive” or Maytal will say that she is “putting first things first” which has definitely allowed them to be better organized. Because we are currently working on “think win-win”, I am hopeful it will have a spillover to our family because I think this attitude could only help siblings navigate the everyday challenges of sharing time, people and stuff in a busy 21st century family.

In prior posts, I have given examples from our school of how we are putting the Habits of Kindness into effect…

…if you are a parent at OJCS and you are seeing the impact at home, please offer a quality comment!

…if you are a parent or educator at another school who utilize the 7 Habits, please share your experiences with us so we can continue to improve our implementation here!

We’ll keep sharing our successes and struggles…and if you keep offering advice and feedback…well, we just might achieve a “win-win” of our own!

Annual BlogCloud – A WordCloud to the Wise

It is that magical time of year!

That time where after having written many (many) long (long) blog posts on “very important topics” that with Winter Break approaching, even I am ready for a fun and simple post.  [Note: This will likely be my last blog post until we resume school in the new (secular) year.]

So.  If you missed last year’s post

I love to take an opportunity once a year to run my blog through a word cloud app or website.  If you are unfamiliar with the idea, in a nutshell, word clouds (through an algorithm only they know) takes any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  Another great feature is that, not only can you cut-and-paste in any written document, you can type in blogs, websites, etc., and it will go back and search them for content, add it all up, and spit out a word cloud representing the sum of all its written content.

What does my blog post look like in a word cloud this year?

Words that have increased their frequency that I love?  Transparency, prototype, blog, kindness, strategy, community and innovative.

What words would you have expected to see?  What words are you disappointed to see?

If you see something interesting in the OJCS word cloud, let us know in the comments!

Wishing all our students, families, teachers, volunteers, donors, supporters and the entire OJCS community a safe and joyful Winter Break!  We are looking forward to big things in 2019!

Habits of Kindness: Put First Things First

So Rosh Chodesh Tevet will take place over the weekend, but never fear, we will hold our Rosh Chodesh Tevet Assembly on Monday morning!  And with another Rosh Chodesh comes the introduction, from our “7 Habits Prototype Team” and Knesset, of the third of the 7 Habits: Put First Things First.

As the song says, there are 525,600 minutes in one year.  However, when you consider that approximately 175,200 minutes of that time will be spent sleeping, 16,425 minutes spent eating, and if you’re a student, 72,000 minutes spent in school, you have less than half that total to spend on the rest of your life. Therefore, it is essential to do the important things first—if you leave them until last, you might run out of time.

You know how something is so obvious that you dismiss it?

That’s how I feel about this habit.

You have likely heard that song and/or seen that video numerous times in the past and you know that the moral of the story is to remember that your big rocks are your family and friends and to not get bogged down in the sands of workaholism and workaday concerns.

So why did I get to work yesterday at 7:00 AM and come home at 9:15 PM?

Why do so many of us struggle with finding balance when we know where our true priorities lie?

I don’t have an answer…but I do have an opportunity!

[Bonus Expat File Mini-Post:]

I really believe that Canada is a place that pays more than lip service to work-life balance and wellness.  It may not have quite rubbed off on me yet, but I welcome the opportunity to share and reflect with my Canadian colleagues about how we try to keep ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically prepared to passionately pursue our profession while remaining loving and present spouses, partners, parents, children and friends.

I have made two commitments to wellness this year that are a constant source of teasing…

…I purchased a mini-standing desk for laptop users.

…I purchased a seasonal affective disorder lamp.

I have seen the articles all about how “sitting is the new smoking” and if that is even partly true, I am sadly stage something with sitting.  So I am now standing a few hours a day at my desk and we’ll see what happens!

It is dark when I get to school and dark when I leave school.  And for fun, for about half the year it is pretty dark while I am at school too!  So I have decided to see if one of these SAD lights will keep me un-SAD during the long winter months.

What do you do to “put first things first”?  Feel free to share your secrets via a quality comment on this blog!

The Transparency Files: CAT*4 Results

In the lull between parent-teacher conferences, I spent my time reading and analyzing the results of this year’s CAT*4 testing.  [I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) my philosophy on test-taking and how we planned on both sharing the tests with parents and utilizing the data in our decision-making.]  We are in the process of providing our teachers with the data they need to better understand their students and to identify which test results fully resemble their children well enough to simply pass on and which results require contextualization in private conversation.

In terms of sharing out the results publicly, which I will happily do, there are a few things worth pointing out:

  • Although we do have prior years, they are not “apples to apples” enough to plot as comparison data.  This is mostly because of our decision to change our testing window and partially because we don’t have enough grades taking the test often enough.  (I have data on spring tests from two and three years ago for grades 3 & 6.)  If that changes, part of this annual analysis will consist of tracking the grades over time to see if…
    • The same grade scores as well or better each year.
    • The same class grows at least a year’s worth of growth.
  • The other issue is in the proper understanding of what a “grade equivalent score” really is.

Grade-equivalent scores attempt to show at what grade level and month your child is functioning.  However, grade-equivalent scores are not able to show this.  Let me use an example to illustrate this.  In reading comprehension, your son in Grade 5 scored a 7.3 grade equivalent on his Grade 5 test. The 7 represents the grade level while the 3 represents the month.  7.3 would represent the seventh grade, third month, which is December.  The reason it is the third month is because September is zero, October is one, etc.  It is not true though that your son is functioning at the seventh grade level since he was never tested on seventh grade material.  He was only tested on fifth grade material.  He performed like a seventh grader on fifth grade material.  That’s why the grade-equivalent scores should not be used to decide at what grade level a student is functioning.

One final caveat about why share out grade and class averages at all when so much of our focus is on personalized learning and individual growth…

Here, my thinking has been influenced by the work I was doing prior to coming to Ottawa, in my role as Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network and then part of the transition team which helped create Prizmah.  I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with colleagues about the different challenges Jewish day schools often have from their secular private school and high-achieving public (and/or gifted programs and in the States and/or magnet and/or charter) school neighbors.  The biggest difference comes down to a philosophy of admissions.  [Please note that although a primary audience for my blog are OJCS parents, other folk read as well, so I am including references to forms of public education that are commonly found in the States.]

Most Jewish day schools attempt to cast the widest net possible, believing it is our mission to provide a Jewish day school education to all who may wish one.  We do not, often, restrict admission to a subset of the population who score X on an admissions test and we do not, often, adjust birthday cutoffs or recommend grade repeating to maximize academic achievement. However, schools who we are most often compared to in terms of academic achievement often do one or both.  If you then factor in whether or not you exempt special needs students from the testing and whether or not you explicitly teach to the test, you may have quite an uneven playing field to say the least.

To reframe and reset the discussion:

Jewish day schools have an inclusive admissions policy, but are expected to compete equally with elite private and high-achieving public (and gifted and, in the States, magnet and charter and suburban public) schools who have exclusive admissions policies or homogeneous populations.

So, in light of all of that – if a Jewish day school with an inclusive admissions policy, a non-exempted special needs population, and a commitment to “not teach to the test” – if that kind of school could demonstrate that it was achieving secular academic excellence on par with elite schools; well to me that would be news worth sharing.

So with all those caveats in mind, in the spirit of full transparency, and with the attitude that all data is valuable data, allow me to present this year’s results:

The bottom line of this graphic is that each grade in the Ottawa Jewish Community School scored, with a few exceptions, at a mean grade equivalent a full year higher than their current grade.  There are a few (Grade 3 Writing, Grade 3 Spelling, Grade 6 Writing, Grade 6 Spelling and Grade 6 Computation) that are closer to their current grade.  [Part of our ongoing analysis and annual comparison would be to learn more about our current spelling and writing outcomes.  Part of our deeper investigation is whether there is a way to layer on standardized French and possibly Hebrew tests to learn more about those important outcomes.]  There are a lot of grades/topics whose averages are significantly higher than that, but let the boldface sink in for a bit.

Too much time dedicated to Jewish Studies?  Nope – a high-quality Jewish Studies program enhances secular academics.  Too much time dedicated to Skyping or blogging?  Nope – an innovative learning paradigm not only positively impacts student motivation, but leads to higher student achievement.

I can sense the tone of triumphalism in my writing and, although I am extremely proud of our students and teachers for their achievements, I do not wish to sound boastful.  But with the state of Jewish day school education being what it is, when there is good news to share…share it one must!  I firmly believe that Jewish day schools with dual-curricula (and in our case tri-curricula!) and innovative pedagogy and philosophy produce unmatched excellence in secular academics.  Here in our school, we will have to prove it year after year, subject after subject, and student after student in order to live up to our mutually high expectations, but what an exciting challenge it shall be coming to school each day to tackle!