The Transparency Files: Long Range Planning

Today is our second “PD” (Professional Development, although in our internal language we prefer “Professional Growth”) Day of the school year.  Like the prior one, most of the time is being given over to our teachers in light of the high bandwidth that hylex teaching and learning requires.  A lot of the day will be spent catching up and working on second trimester report cards.  We, will, however be spending a little time in both horizontal (grade-level) and vertical (subject matter) conversations around what I am calling “Curriculum Mapping – Year Zero”.

If you read this blog – or know me – then you already know that I tend to think in terms of stories and narrative arcs.  And in living and telling the story of OJCS, I have tried to make explicit what chapters we are in and how those chapter come together.  For example the financial story of the school has been moving from “Crisis” to “Fragile Stability” on our way towards “Sustainability”.  When it comes to the educational product – what matters most to students, parents and teachers – we have documented in my blog and lots of other places the story of our journey.  Without revisiting all that territory, with the extraordinary contributions of three different consultancies, we have…

…2017-2018: Embraced transparency, clarified our value proposition [NoTosh consultancy / North Stars], defined our Jewish mission/vision and named our challenges around French outcomes.

…2018-2019: Built faculty capacity around “NOW Literacies” [Silvia Tolisano consultancy], aligned our classroom management program and our homework philosophy to our North Stars.

…2019-2020: Was supposed to be a year to PAUSE and let everyone catch up with all the changes, with the exception of launching our TACLEF Consultancy to impact French outcomes and a task force to help align our teacher evaluation process with our North Stars.  And then COVID…

The story of those three years (my first ones at OJCS) was largely about the HOWS and WHYS of teaching – what does OJCS uniquely believe to be true about teaching and learning and, then, what does “excellence” look like?

This year was supposed to begin a transition to an equally important topic – the WHATS of teaching.  As a private school we have freedom (and I would argue an obligation) to only use the provincial standards and benchmarks as the “floor” not the “ceiling”.  To make that true, we have a responsibility to be very clear about what our benchmarks and standards are for each subject in each grade.  The shorthand for that process is often called “curriculum mapping”.  In a non-COVID year, 2020-2021 would have been the first in a two-year curriculum mapping consultancy, the end result being a clear and detailed description of the “whats”.  And because I like round numbers, it would have meant that after five years, this chapter of the school would be complete and we’d be ready to start writing the next exciting one.  But still COVID…

In order not to lose momentum, however, we did this year ask our teachers to commit to putting on paper their long range plans for the year.  Before you can have a conversation about what should be, it is helpful to all be on the same page with what is.  That brings us back to today.  Today, our teachers are sharing with their grade-level teams and their subject matter teams the results of their long range planning.  Their discussions will focus on the following questions:

  1. What have you noticed in your own plans now that you have had a few months to reflect on the gap between what you planned and what actually happened?  How is your pacing with regard to meeting all of your learning expectations over the span of the whole school year?  Does anything need to be adjusted to meet those outcomes?
  2. Do you notice any gaps in your own plans?  What do you think needs to be added?  Are there opportunities to offer more detail?
  3. Do you notice any overemphasis or overlapping in your own plans? What do you think needs to be trimmed, cut or adjusted?
  4. Do you notice any gaps in the collective plans?  Is there content or learning skills that are critical for your students that don’t live in anyone’s (JS/FS/GS) plans?   Is there content that is critical for your students that doesn’t live in any grade’s plans below yours? Are there learning skills that are critical for your students that don’t live in any grade’s plans below yours?
  5. Do you notice any redundancies in the collective plans?  Is there content or learning skills that are duplicated across your plans?  How might you better collaborate and/or assign those goals/skills/experiences across the team?  Is there content or learning skills that are duplicated across your plans?  How might you better collaborate and/or assign those goals/skills/experiences across the grades?

We are grateful to have a day of conversation and collaboration.  We are excited that the work our teachers will be doing today will have real impact on teaching and learning at OJCS in the years ahead – COVID or no COVID!

One more dot to connect!

About 600 words or so ago, I mentioned a task force to align what we now believe to be true about teaching and learning with our evaluation process of teachers.  I also mentioned that we now had a clearer picture of what “excellence” in teaching and learning truly is.  Those things are connected.  The first deliverable from the task force was the creation of a new “Learning Target” for OJCS.  This “Learning Target” is the instrument of alignment – meaning we can now make big and small decisions based on whether they bring our school closer to the target or not.  If our “North Stars” represent unchanging aspirational endpoints of our educational journey, our “Learning Target” functions as a map and a compass.  I am very pleased to share it with you here for the first time:

We have a separate document providing detailing each cog in greater detail, which I will be happy to share upon request.

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. 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.

One thought on “The Transparency Files: Long Range Planning”

  1. Jon, love this and huge mazel to you and all of the staff for putting this together. I could not be more proud for my children to be at OJCS and part of this transformative journey!

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