The OJCS Announces $50,000 Innovation Gift

“An older couple walk into a Jewish Federation…” is not the beginning of a borscht belt joke…but it just might be the beginning of the future of education in Ottawa.  I am not normally the b’sheret type of person.  I don’t often subscribe to the notion that the “universe” responds to what you put out there.  I am not even sure I believe that you “make your own luck”.  But I am paying attention now…

When I got an email from our Jewish Federation’s Executive Director, Andrea Freedman, that an older married couple had expressed interest in contributing to the future of Jewish education in Ottawa and did I have anything to propose, I tempered my enthusiasm.  Not due to their age, simply out of having had the prospect of a meaningful gift floated many times without landing.  But I definitely had ideas…

I just so happened to be sitting on two innovation proposals and with much help from Andrea and her team, we managed to put something compelling in front of the couple (they have expressed a preference to remain anonymous) in short order.  And thanks to Andrea’s stewardship, not only did they agree to fund them both…they also agreed to do more.

We have consistently described the school as being engaged in three critical conversations in this year of transition.  The first is a clarification of our Jewish mission and vision, the work of which continues to be shared out.  The second is an honest examination of our French outcomes, the work of which is ongoing with a first deliverable expected in early February.  The third is (probably) the most important of the three and if schools were not living creatures, would likely have launched first.  However, since change management in schools is analogous to fixing an airplane whilst flying it, it had been parked on the runway.  This conversation cuts to the heart of the very value proposition of the school and attempts to answer one very simple and consequential question: “What does the OJCS believe to be true about teaching and learning?”

The answer to this question lives in the messy world between mission statement and curriculum (both of which we presently have).  The answer to this question serves as the connective tissue between our pedagogical choices and our academic benchmarks and standards (both of which we kinda-mostly have).  The answer to this question anchors the school in a vibrant present while leading with clarity, strategy and purpose towards an innovative future.

The answer to this question is the work and the work just got real.

It is important to know your limits.  Is something I try to remind myself of in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, night-dreaming of all I want to do.  Here in my third headship, with all the lessons learned working with schools all across North America and a deep-dive into innovation, I have tried on patience.  I know that the system can only manage so much change in a given year and that it takes time to lay the ground for what’s to come.  I know what I believe to be true about teaching and learning, but that simply imposing that on a school is doomed to failure.  That is why so much of my focus this year is on systems and structures and processes.  I am in the weeds with the nuts and the bolts and the fire-putting-outs.

We have introduced “bandwidth” to our shared vocabulary here at OJCS because its maintenance is an important reality check against all proposed change.  And I have it as well.  So when it became clear to me early on that in order to get us from here to there we’d need a little help from our friends, I knew exactly who to turn to for proposals. You are going to get to know them all much better in the months ahead, but let’s introduce the partners who are going to help the Ottawa Jewish Community School become the most innovative school in Ottawa.

Sometimes it’s the haystack you need to find, not the needle.

NoTosh is a global consultancy with a passion for learning and a conviction that innovation and creativity can change the way people think, the way they learn and the way they work – as individuals, teams, organizations and communities.  NoTosh was established in 2009 to improve student engagement by challenging the status quo of teaching and learning in schools.

Beginning in January, NoTosh will work with the OJCS leadership team and faculty to:

  • Unpack some of the big questions that need answered to achieve its ambitious goals;
  • Co-design some of the nuts and bolts that will help get the school up and running with design thinking at the heart of its approaches;
  • Unpack what the unique value proposition of the school is and how does it stand apart from all other schools in the area.

Research has proven that a reflective learning culture is one of the best indicators to increase student learning.

Silvia Tolisano is a leading global educator and proponent of the documentation of learning as part of the learning process.  [She has also been a colleague and inspiration during my last three stops.  As part of my faculty at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, part of my team at the Schechter Day School Network and at Prizmah, and cofounder (along with our third partner Andrea Hernandez) of edJEWcon, I can attest firsthand to what an extraordinary educator she is.]   The work we will do with Silvia beginning in the Fall of 2018 will be a powerful learning opportunity allowing teachers to experience that shift in their learning and make documentation, reflection and sharing part of their practice.

Selected faculty will build a learning network, and share their practices, successes and failures to benefit the school community, including parents, colleagues and students.  While there is no one magic solution to excellence and this process will take time, developing a culture of shared documentation is the key to building an innovative school ready to tackle the challenge of preparing students to be successful in the 21st Century.  It creates the spine upon which student, faculty and parent culture and communication thrive.  It sets the conditions for project-based learning, collaboration and integration of new literacies.  This is the future of education and we are ready to lead.

What’s this “more” you were referring to in the opening?

Great question!

In addition to funding these two amazing proposals which will transform teaching and learning at our school, this remarkable couple is also enabling us to double the number of iPads in the school. The great news is that our teachers are already doing such wonderful work with them that we can take advantage of this blessing immediately…and will.

As we enter Winter Break and the end of a (secular) calendar year, it is natural to look a bit back and dream a bit forward…

With a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears from our talented and loving faculty, administration, and board, it is starting to happen.  We can feel it in the walls and hear it in the parking lot.  We see it in the new students joining us this January and the tours being booked for next year.  The blessing of this gift will accelerate and amplify what has already begun.  We meant it when we said that the future of education will be written at the OJCS.  That future just got closer…

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School and co-founder of edJEWcon.  He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

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