The Transparency Files: The OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty

We are doing our very best to tie up all our loose ends at the very same time, without getting tripped up!  The school itself has been physically open on Thursday and today for parents to come and drop off library books, used uniforms, etc., and to pick up the contents of desks, lockers, as well as yearbooks.  After all these months of distance it is very weird seeing actual human beings in our parking lot!  At the same time, we have report cards which are being sent home electronically today as well.  Those tasks will functionally close out the 2019-2020 school year.

That sets the stage for us to focus our energies squarely on the 2020-2021 school year to come.  The most important issue, of course, that we are working on is the plan for a safe reopening.  We are finishing up our review of provincial guidelines, I have been participating in calls with the Heads of Toronto Jewish Day Schools (through their UJA), and we are keeping up with best practices in both the private school world (through CAIS) and the Jewish day school world (through Prizmah).  The “good news” so far is that there are no huge surprises.  The threefold path we have already been planning to travel – in-person, distance and a hybrid (or “hyflex”) – is how every school is being asked to plan.  The two simpler paths are easier to conceptualize.  We can imagine what it might look like to have everyone back in the building with some amount of social distancing and with restrictions on activities such as PE or Music.  We would need to make adjustments, change schedules, etc., but we’d figure out how to make it work.  We can do more than imagine what it might look like to have everyone home, because that is what we lived through during the last 13 weeks of the school year.  However, parents should not expect that our OJCS Distance Learning program would look the same in the future as it did in the past.  With more time to plan, with experiences under our belts and with student/teacher/parent feedback, it is reasonable to believe that if we were forced back into a fully remote program, that it would look meaningfully different and increasingly improved (particularly in the youngest grades).

What is less easy to imagine, of course, is the hybrid or hyflex model and this is where we are doing the greatest amount of planning.  Guidelines that cap class cohorts at 15 students or seek to limit the amount of teachers who engage with a cohort are understandably tricky for a trilingual school with class sizes that average 15-20.  We have both physical and programmatic challenges to overcome to land in the right place.  We also have to have a better handle on parent needs and wants, which is why a parent survey will be sent out within the next couple of weeks.  We look forward to sharing more about our thinking and our proposed model as it comes into focus.  We appreciate your patience as we go about our work and we stand ready to answer any question or address any concern you may have in the meanwhile.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly.

This extended caveat – why not just tell us who the teachers are! – is necessary because what follows is a bit more tentative than it otherwise would be.  It is possible that the adoption of a hybrid model could require a different assignment for a teacher here or there because some classes (Art, Music, PE, etc.) may not take place (in the same way) or some grades may not be split the same way in a hybrid model than in a full in-person model.

So with that in mind, please get excited about this gifted and loving group of teachers and administrators who will partner with our parents in the sacred work of educating our children.  I know I am!

The 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Janet Darwish,  French Teacher (French) & Taylor Smith (EA)
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport &  French Teacher (French)
  • Grade Two: Ann-Lynn Rapoport/Lianna Krantzberg & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Yardena Kaiman (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended)
  • Grade Five: Melissa Thompson/Lianna Krantzberg, Yardena Kaiman (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [TWO Classes]

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Dalet: Ada Aizenberg
  • Kitah Hay: Yardena Kaiman & Ofra Yfrah [TWO Classes]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  Dr. Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ofra Yfrah  (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: A Rabbinics Teacher

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: TBD (due to COVID)
  • PE: Josh Ray, Faye Mellenthin (Grades K, 1, 2 & MS Girls) & Brian Kom (3)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Needs
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Education Leadership Team

  • Melissa Thompson, Teaching & Learning Coordinator
  • Deanna Bertrend, Student Life Coordinator

Administration

  • Josh Max – IT & Technology Support
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Head of Jewish Studies – Head of Jewish Studies
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter – Director of Development
  • Emily Jiang – Chief Accountant
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

You will see two new names in the above list.  We are pleased to introduce Ofra Yfrah, a new Jewish Studies Teacher, who will be coming to us, with her family, from Israel with teaching experience and a passion for children.  We are additionally pleased to introduce Dr. Sylvie Raymond, a new French Teacher, who comes with a wealth of teaching expertise and enthusiasm for all things French.

We are moving full steam ahead with candidates for a new Head of Jewish Studies and a K-1 French Teacher, and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of our new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

This likely ends my weekly blogging for the season.  I will blog through the summer if and when there is what to share – obviously including all our thoughts and plans for a safe reopening.  Our office remains open, of course, but administration will take staggered vacation throughout the summer to make sure we are refreshed and recharged for 2020-2021.

Happy Summer!

The Grit to Graduate: My Charge to the Coronavirus Class of 2020

Over a decade ago, academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth released her first paper on the notion of grit and its application to education.  In both her TED Talk and her book, Duckworth defines grit as “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” that is a key ingredient for high achievement, not only in school, but in life.  If there was ever an adjective that described this year it would be “grit”.  And if there was ever a class who could successfully, not only survive, but thrive in a school year complicated by COVID, it would be this (first) Coronavirus Class of 2020.

But let me first pivot back towards two other critical partners in grit and resilience…

The Perseverance of Parents

The path of small Jewish day schools is not always an easy one to tread.  Parents find their way into Jewish day schools for all kinds of highly personal reasons – personalized attention, family atmosphere, a deep commitment to Jewish Studies, or even just going where everyone else happened to be going that year.  We also know that parents find their out of Jewish day schools for all kinds of highly personal reasons as well.  We are not here to stand in judgement of those who opted out; we are here to stand in praise of those who persevered to opt in – year after year.  Jewish day school comes at a high price, and that price is not just financial.  There are many in this room who have sacrificed luxuries and necessities to reach this day.  All in this room have sacrificed their most precious gift – time – in service of their children’s academic and Jewish journey.  A year like this one sharpens both points.  COVID-19 has not only strained families’ pocketbooks, but even with extraordinarily self-directed Grade 8 students, the transition to distance learning has strained families’ living spaces, devices, time, and patience (not to mention wifi!).

We believe that a night like tonight validates those choices, those sacrifices and proves the power of perseverance.

The Passion of Teachers

Teachers make a school and we never saw greater proof of that than during this most unusual of school years.  When I think of all the reasons why our school was able to so successfully transition to distance learning for the last third of the school year, I would place their passion at the top of the list.  “Passion” marks the spot where teachers move from good to great and where teaching moves from occupation to calling.  Passion for students means that relationships become prioritized and through relationships the magic of learning is amplified.  Passion for learning means lifelong learning and through lifelong learning comes new and innovative practices, pedagogies and platforms.  Passion for community means choosing to work and stay in a school that may not have all the bells and whistles, but does have all the heart and soul, and through community we become family.  Passion is why graduation is not only an opportunity to acknowledge the Grade 8 Teachers, but a moment to celebrate all the teachers whose collaborations and contributions over time come together to create a class.

We believe that a night like tonight rewards those relationships, lauds that learning, commemorates community and proves the power of passion.

The Grit of Graduates

“A combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” really makes an apt description of the OJCS Class of 2020.  That “singularly important goal” is different for each one of you and it has changed and grown as you have changed and grown.  But what I have seen firsthand from you each – and know secondhand from all your teachers – is that you bring these unique qualities of passion and perseverance to your individual work, your group projects and your class commitments.  You bring them to your academic challenges and you bring them to your extracurricular opportunities.  You bring them to your varying Jewish commitments and you bring them to your many expressions of community service and social justice.

And all of that would have been true in the most normal of years.  This year, however, was of course far from normal.  Like so many others, this year’s Grade 8 has had to sacrifice moments and memories as planned events became unplanned experiments.  We have, of course, done our best to be creative and go virtual in order to provide with you as many of the capstone experiences as we could, but we know they aren’t the same.  But it is here, too, where you have shown your grit and your character.  You have hung together, you’ve made your lemonade from lemons, and you have come through the other side with your bonds as tight as ever.

We believe that a night like tonight confirms your character and projects the promise of your potential, and, thus proves the promise of grit.

Our OJCS “North Star” Prayer

Our prayer for you as you graduate and head out into the world is that you come to experience and embody our school’s North Stars; that you continue to point in their direction as you continue to grow and develop into high school and beyond…

“Have a floor, but not a ceiling” – be your best self.  Have high expectations at a minimum and unlimited aspirations at a maximum.  We hope you learned at OJCS to be comfortable in your own skin and to carry that confidence with you when you head out into the wider world.

“Ruach” – be joyful. School – and life – is supposed to be fun, even when it may seem hard or have difficult moments, like a global pandemic.  We hope you had many moments of joy at OJCS and that you have many more moments of joy in the years to come.

“We own our own learning” – learning isn’t something that happens to you, it is something you choose.  We hope you take the sense of ownership for your learning that we strive towards at OJCS into your next schools of choice and that you not merely be satisfied with gathering information, but that you take a growing sense of responsibility for what you learn and how you learn.

“We are each responsible one to the other” – make the world a better place. Take what you’ve learned (Torah) and do great deeds (Mitzvot); do great deeds and be inspired to learn more.

“We learn better together” – we are stronger and more successful together than we can be alone. Judaism has always been communitarian in this way and what is old is new again as we live in a world where collaboration is not simply advantageous, but required.

“We are on our own inspiring Jewish journey” – keep choosing Jewish. One can argue that the next years of your Jewish lives are more important than the ones you are celebrating tonight.  In your own ways – continue.  Whether that is in formal Jewish learning, youth group, summer camps, Israel, synagogue attendance, social action – you are no more fully formed Jewishly at your Grade 8 graduation than you were at Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  We pray that you build on this foundation and that you embrace the Jewish journey that continues after tonight.

In closing, know that you each are blessed more than you realize.  But do not ever be content to merely count your blessings.  Be someone who makes their blessings count.

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Creates & Delivers PPE to Hillel Lodge

There is some irony (that may not be the best word) that COVID-19 delayed our official grand opening of the OJCS Makerspace (with generous support from the Congregation Beth Shalom of Ottawa (CSBO) Legacy Endowment Fund), and that the OJCS Makerspace has yielded our school’s first significant contribution to the community’s response to COVID-19.  We had softly opened the space prior to pivoting to distance learning while furniture and equipment were still coming in, but our official grand opening had to be indefinitely postponed.  This week, however, we got a firsthand look at what having a makerspace for our students can mean for their learning and for our community.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 40b) describes a debate about whether the study of Torah leads to action or whether action leads to the study of Torah, and like most talmudic debates, the answer is, of course, “yes”.  At the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we deliberately create experiences and learning holistically.  Our Jewish learning and values inspire us take action to repair the world and our engagement in the world inspires us to further our Jewish learning.  This project is a wonderful embodiment of this idea in practice.

Going back a number of weeks, a parent and frontline healthcare professional, Dr. Joanne Tannebaum, came to us with an idea.  A colleague of hers had worked out a design for 3D-printing face shields and “ear-savers” and she wanted to know if we wanted to participate.  We talked it through, brought in our Middle School Science Teacher Josh Ray, and decided that the most logical partnership for our Community School would be the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge, our community’s Jewish Home for the Aged.  I reached to their CEO, Ted Cohen, and with his enthusiastic support and partnership, we were on our way!

The next step was to host a meeting between our Middle School, Dr. Tannenbaum and the leadership from Hillel Lodge to officially launch our project for producing PPE for their frontline healthcare workers through our school’s 3D printer.  During that meeting, our students got a chance to hear firsthand about the importance of PPE and were given both a design challenge (How can we make face shields and surgical masks more comfortable?) and a practical challenge (How will we create, assemble and deliver the final product?).

Mr. Ray went ahead and safely retrieved our school’s 3D printer from the Makerspace, gathered supplies, recruited student volunteers and the work began!

The easier of the two to produce is the ear-saver:

OJCS 3D-Printed “Ear-Savers” for Surgical Masks

This item helps anyone who has to wear a surgical mask or face shield relieve the pressure off their ears.  You loop your mask on the appropriate notch and voilà – your ears are spared.  This one is easily printed, comes in lots of colours, and our students have even managed to personally inscribe messages.

Why does this work matter?  Let’s see what Mr. Ray has to say:

For me, this project is so important for many reasons. It teaches students 21st century skills like 3D modeling, while connecting the importance of community and empathy at the same time. I think everyone is always looking to serve, and give back wherever possible. The need for PPE in the community has provided both the students and I that opportunity. I’m so proud of the commitment and character shown from the group of students that volunteered their own time to get involved.

OJCS 3D-Printed Face Shields

The face shields were a little more complicated.  Because we have a smaller-sized 3D printer, it took some time, research and trial-and-error to find a program that allowed us to print plastic to hold a full-sized shield.  But Mr. Ray and team eventually figured it out and we are thrilled that we can now deliver these to Hillel Lodge.

Our first (there will be more!) delivery took place on Wednesday, June 17th and it was wonderful have a couple of our Grade 8 students – Talia C. and Jessica A. – join me, Mr. Ray, Ted Cohen, Karin Bercovitch, CFO and Morag Burch, Director of Nursing to commemorate the occasion.

What is the impact of this project?  Let’s see what Mr. Cohen has to say:

All long-term care homes including the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge has a critical responsibility to keep our residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personal Protective Equipment such as face-shields and masks are vital to protecting our residents and staff during this pandemic. We are grateful for the strong partnership we have with the Ottawa Jewish Community School and for their assistance creating face-shields and masks extenders for our front-line workers. This innovative initiative is not only an educational experience for the students but provides our team with vital supplies. We are thankful for the assistance we’ve received and look forward to continuing to develop our partnership.

At the end of the day, this is an example of what it means to live our values, to reach towards those North Stars.  I cannot think of a better way to express what it means when “We own our own learning,” and then make sure that “We are each responsible one to the other”.  I know that it is easy to reduce things to slogans and hashtags (guilty as charged), but slogans and hashtags are meaningful when they serve as both reminders and catalysts.

So, what does it mean when we say #WhenTorahLeadsToAction?  Let’s ask Talia:

It was such a meaningful experience for me to be able to help my community in a time of crisis. It always feels good to give back to the Jewish Community, and be a part of something bigger.

What does it mean when we say #TheOJCSDifference?  Let’s ask Jessica:

Over the years, Hillel Lodge has provided me with so many life lessons and experiences that have enriched me as a person. Since kindergarten I have been involved with Hillel Lodge therefore, I wanted to give back to a place that has so much significance in my life.

Thanks to everyone at OJCS and Hillel Lodge who played a role in bringing this partnership and project to life!  Let our next innovative collaboration be inspired by health and joy…

Becoming a Dugma Ivrit

How about we take a break from social protest, social distancing and COVID-19 for just a week?

Next week, we will laud our amazing OJCS Graduation Class of 2020, and then we will introduce the 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff, and – of course – we will have ongoing conversation about how we will safely reopen school.

But just for a week, can we pretend that things are normal?  It would be so good for my state of mind to talk about normal things for just a week, so please indulge me in a non-emergency, non-urgent, post about something I care a lot about…Hebrew.

There is a Hebrew expression often used in Jewish educational settings known as a dugma ishit – a personal example.  We remind ourselves as leaders, and our students (or campers or youth group members) of what it means to be a role model and an example to others.  I take this concept seriously, not only for my teachers and students, but for me. As a Jewish educational leader, I should strive to be a dugma ishit. However, as I am constantly reminded in conversation and meetings with Jewish Studies Faculty, Ellie, and not-an-insignificant-number of parents in a school like ours that prides itself on language immersion, what that really means is that I also must strive become a dugma ivrit.

My youngest daughter is now in grade six.  Having attended preschools where she always had at least one Israeli teacher and being in day schools that utilize immersive curricula, she has developed a cute little Israeli accent.  She, like many of her classmates, have been listening to Hebrew for as long as they can remember and although they (naturally) vary in their abilities, they are comfortable speaking Hebrew.

Let me define “comfortable”.

The biggest difference between adult learners and child learners is self-consciousness.  As an adult, I am very conscious when I make mistakes and, as an adult, I am uncomfortable making them.  As a child, I am often less conscious when I make mistakes, but more importantly, as a child, I am comfortable making them – because that’s what learning is.

You can learn Hebrew as an adult.  I did.  I was in my 20’s attending ulpan as a prerequisite to begin graduate school before I spoke my first Hebrew sentence.  I was a pretty good student and so I learned.  But as I good as I ever got in the heart of my studies, I could never escape the heart palpitations when called upon to speak.  What if I didn’t know the correct word?  What if I mixed up my verb tenses or used the wrong grammatical construct?  And so even though I have lots of Hebrew in my head and would be considered somewhat “fluent” by some, I still have to manually shift my brain and screw up my courage to speak.

For example,  Jewish Studies Faculty meetings are typically conducted in Hebrew.  And I am perfectly capable of participating.  But when it is my turn to speak, I may get a few Hebrew sentences out, but will almost automatically switch to English.

Here’s the irony.  (Or, perhaps, hypocrisy.)

I have been on a mission since arriving here to up the intensity of our Hebrew immersion.  As an educator, I know that any hope at true second-language (or in our case third-language depending on how you rank them) acquisition and authentic fluency is dependent on our ability to provide as pure an immersive environment as possible.  And yet when Dr. Mitzmacher comes to teach prayer – I mean Tefillah – to First Grade – I mean Kitah Alef – he speaks to the children in English, while praying with them in Hebrew.

Some dugma ishit that guy is!

So after almost three years of hearing me preach Hebrew immersion (in English!), it is time to ask a hard question: Why don’t I speak to the kids in Hebrew when I am teaching Jewish Studies?  If we want to truly be more of a trilingual school why don’t I make school announcements in Hebrew or speak Hebrew during school assemblies and other events?

Why don’t I?

Because it scares me.

What if I forget the words?  What if I say it incorrectly?  What if I get nervous and go blank?  What will people think?

And for me it is about more than Hebrew.  Because if a school prides itself on transparency and praises spirited failure, then it requires that leaders lead.

So even though it terrifies me, I have set some new professional goals for next year.  I am going to try to speak in Hebrew when I am teaching Jewish Studies.  I am going to try to include spoken Hebrew in major school events, like graduation.  I am going to try to speak Hebrew during Jewish Studies faculty meetings.  I am going to try to speak Hebrew with my daughters.  I am going to try and I am likely to fail.  But I will try to keep trying.

Because that’s what it means to be a dugma ivrit.

By the way…if I had any hope of learning French at my advanced age and reduced bandwidth, I promise I would add that into the mix as well.  All the larger points above apply equally well to French.  But you have to crawl before you can walk, which for me means that you have to try being bilingual before you try trilingual.

Praying With Your Legs: An Expat’s Perspective

A group held a “Justice 4 George” rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. (Leah Larocque/CTV News Ottawa)

I logged into my Google Meet on Wednesday, ready for another adventure in Grade 6 Tefillah, and as each 11-and 12-year old joined up, I noticed that a significant number of them had changed their avatars to symbols and signs of social protest.  Here I sit, an American expatriate living and working in Canada’s capital, heading up a community Jewish day school where expressions of social justice and repair are logical conclusions to curricular content, and while the grownups carefully plan what is and what is not appropriate to teach, to discuss and to do – while I struggle to decide whether and how to use my voice – a group of (mostly) white, Jewish Canadian children with little to no education in American race relations, little to no experience of racism or prejudice, and little to no understanding of police brutality have already left me behind.

Yesterday, I had a chance to participate in a very special program and conversation with our Grade 5 students and Special Guest Tande Maughn and we are gearing up for a Middle School one next week.  But the impetus did not come from me.  Grade 5 General Studies Teacher Melissa Thompson took the lead.  While I struggled to decide whether and how to engage our Canadian Jewish school in an American social protest movement, our teachers – almost none of whom share my American background or education – left me behind.

Why?

Lots of unsatisfying reasons…

In March of 2018 (my first year in Canada), I wrote a response to Parkland and Las Vegas where I expressed my disorientation,

…a strong feeling that I cannot quite put my finger on – somewhere sour between FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out).  I feel motivated to do something, grateful to not have to, left out of a conversation I don’t want to have to be in, but feel guilty for missing out on…I have neither an audience nor an address.

The issue there was, of course, gun violence.

Now even when working in the States, I always took great care not to wade too deeply into matters of controversy and politics over the years.

Why?

Before moving to Ottawa, we spent 12 years in Nevada and Northern Florida deeply embedded in Jewish communities whose purple and [Republican] red political hues contrasted sharply with our deep [Democratic] blue upbringing and bicoastal lives to that point.  We have learned to respectfully disagree with dear friends whose views [on guns] run counter to our own.  We are proud Americans.  We were proud when we lived in California, New York, Nevada and Florida.  We are proud now that we live in Canada.

So there is a part of this that is about having had my cultural and political bubble healthily punctured to welcome people of good intent with very different views than my own brought in.  But I don’t think my reticence is just about being worried about injecting myself (and by proxy the school) into a polarized place.

There is certainly a sense that I don’t know enough about the different history of Black Canadians.  [Just saying “Black” is hard for me to type as I have been conditioned to say “African American”.  When we moved here, one of my daughters asked me what we should call “African Americans” in Canada?  African Canadians?  It is still hard for me to say “Black” without feeling insensitive.  That’s a trivial example of cultural bias for an American living abroad.]  I don’t know enough about the relationship between the Canadian Jewish Community and the Black Canadian Community to make best meaning of this moment.  And so part of my reluctance to speak is fear of being ignorant.

Our speaker in Grade 5 came to us and spoke from her heart and, thus, touched ours.  I told the students that one of the bravest things you can do is to allow yourself to be vulnerable to others.  And so, I should try to live up to that myself.  To say nothing would suggest that I have no stake in this issue, that it neither impacts me nor is it incumbent upon me to participate in.  But as a citizen and as an educator, as a human being and as a Jew, I do have a stake, I am impacted and I do believe it is incumbent upon me to participate.  And I will, like many others, have to struggle to figure out what participation looks like because I am unwilling to remain forever a bystander.  Are we our brother’s keeper? What does that keeping look like on this issue and at this time?

If Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who described his marching with Martin Luther King Jr. as “praying with legs,” could risk life and limb to make the world a better place, I can and should do more.  If we want our schools and our children to really matter to black (and brown and impoverished and diverse and etc.) lives in our communities, we will need to do more than engage in hashtag activism and social media blackouts.  We will need to engage with people, even if doing so is complicated by social distancing.  That’s what we did yesterday in Grade 5.  That’s what we are doing next week in our Middle School.  Small steps forward, but steps nonetheless.

The truth is that to stay on the sidelines for fear of political correctness or for fear of getting a few facts mistaken would be an abnegation of our responsibility.  All we can do is our best.  We try to live up to our ideals.  We teach facts.  We provide respectful space for opinions.  We encourage civic participation.  We acknowledge that when one of us cannot speak, then none of us can speak.  And as we have been reminded yet again, when one of us cannot breathe, then none of us can easily draw a breath.

For we are all made in the image of “the God in whose hand thy breath is in” (Daniel 5:23).

L’Zoom V’Zoom: Charge to Kitah Bet Upon Receiving the Gift of Torah

[This is the brief dvar that I shared with Kitah Bet, their parents, grandparents, and special friends on Thursday, May 28th in honour of their Chagigat He’Chumah (Chumash Party).]

As I look at each box on my screen, representing teachers, students and their families, extended families and friends, and so on, I can’t help thinking of the language used to describe B‘nei Yisrael as they prepared to receive Torah at Sinai.  It says in Devarim (Deuteronomy) that, “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God…” (29:9).

When it says, “all of you” we are meant to believe that the entire extended Jewish family – past, present and future – stood together at Sinai.

When it says, “this day” we are meant to understand that the gift of Torah was not a one-time act in ancient history, but rather a forever present-tense experience of covenantal renewal as each Jewish person, in their own way, stands to receive and accept the gift of Torah.

There are important lessons to be learned from these ideas…

We are living through most interesting and challenging times.  Our senses of time and space are becoming distorted through social distancing, online learning and remote workplaces.  We are all playing with differing notions of “together alone” and “alone together” at school, at work, at synagogue, with our families and our friends – all in service of maintaining feelings of connectedness with the people and things that matter most.  A day like today bridges ancient wisdom and modern technology.  We all stand together today to witness these children accept the gift of Torah – whether that is immediate family physically together, extended family and friends virtually together, or the memory of generations spiritually together.

When we stand together on this day, we are reminded that there are parents and teachers amongst us whose “this day” – an OJCS/Hillel Academy Grade 2 Chumash Party – happened years ago, but lives again today.  There are parents for whom this is their first child to reach this milestone and others for whom this is their last.  The experience of Jewish memory, however, is not that of fixed moments sealed in amber.  Our holidays, our rites of passage, our texts and our prayers are not designed to encourage nostalgia for what was, but rather to make the past present, and thus, enrich our future.  On Passover, we don’t remember what took place in ancient Egypt, we relive the experience so that it becomes ours as well.  When a child becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah – when anyone is called to the Torah – the blessing one says is written in the present tense, “…notain et ha’Torah” – who gives the Torah.  God didn’t give the Torah once upon a time to our ancestors.  God gives the Torah to each of us whenever we are present to receive it.

And that brings us to today.

We celebrate our children’s first accomplishments in the study of Torah with the (symbolic) gift of Torah.  We choose to do this on the morning of Erev Shavuot to explicitly link our children’s receipt of Torah in school with our people’s receipt of Torah at Sinai.  Your choice to provide your children with a Jewish day school education forges that link.  Your choice connects your children to the generations who came before and to those yet to come.  Your choice joins your family story to the larger Jewish story.  Your choice honours the Jewish past and secures the Jewish future through the learning and experiences you have made possible for their Jewish present.

That is why, as was true with the Siddur they received at the end of Kitah Alef, the Chumash they receive at the end of Kitah Bet is not a trophy to sit upon a shelf, but a tool to continue the Jewish journey they are just beginning.  It is our hope and our prayer that the work we have begun together as partners – parents and teachers; home and school – continue in the years ahead to provide our children with Jewish moments of meaning and Jewish experiences of consequence so that they can continue to receive and accept Torah in their own unique way, infused by a love of Judaism, informed by Jewish wisdom and aligned with Jewish values.

Thank you.

Thank you to the parents who have sacrificed in ways known and unknown to give your children the gift of Jewish day school.  Before COVID-19, we would describe teachers as in loco parentis – teachers who serve as stand-ins for parents at school.  Well, in this time of distance learning, we can aptly describe parents as in loco teacheris, and thank them for the extraordinary effort that goes in to schooling-at-home.  Thank you for entrusting us with the sacred responsibility of educating your children.  It not something that we take for granted.

Thank you to the teachers who give of their love, their time and their talent each and every day.  On a day like today, special thanks to Morah Batya who has poured herself into your children and into this day.  Our teachers play a significant role in shaping our children’s stories and we are grateful for the care they attend to that holy task.

Thank you to the students who show up each day as authentic selves, even on Google Meet!  Your passion and enthusiasm for learning and for Judaism is why we wake up each day at OJCS with a spring in our steps and a smile on our faces.  We can’t wait to see who you will become!

Mazal Tov & Chag sameach!

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

I took advantage of the holiday weekend (Victoria Day, my American friends) with little opportunity to do much other than enjoy the weather at great (social) distance, to go through the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey.  If you would like to see a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or have them open so you can toggle back and forth.  In this post, I will try to capture the highlights and identify what trends as seem worth paying attention to.

The first thing to name, which does not come as a tremendous surprise considering the times we are living through, is that both the number and percentage of students captured in this year’s survey is markedly down from the prior two years.  We have gone from 81 students to 84 students to 54 students.  This represents about 32% of our student population.  (Even less where not each survey is fully filled out.)  As the survey is per student, not per family, it runs the risk of being even less representative than that.  (In the service of anonymity, we have no way to actually know how many families the survey actually represents.)  Last year, we were at about 40% of students represented with a goal this year of hitting 50%.

Of course, this is definitely not an “all things being equal” circumstance.  We are still navigating distance learning and it is doubtful that drawing any meaningful conclusions about participation rates is worthwhile.  [We saw a similar decline in percentage in this year’s Annual Faculty Survey and it aligns with fieldwide data.]  Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, there is no common wisdom when it comes to pandemic times.  So instead of worrying this year about the motivations for why families did or didn’t fill out surveys, let’s celebrate the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.

As was the case last year – and is usually the case everywhere – it is the parents of our youngest students who are the most invested with decreasing participation as the years go on.  This year, we see less Kindergarten than normal, for what that’s worth.

The percentage who replied “yes” is largely unchanged from last year (and always compounded by not knowing who of the “no’s” represent graduations or relocations, as opposed to choosing to attrit prior to Grade 8).  What is different this year is that the percentage of “undecideds” is larger than the “no’s” for the first time.  An increase of uncertainty certainly seems reasonable during a time of pandemic, although we have no way to tell the difference between correlation and causation.  What continues to be true is that the overwhelming majority of families – regardless of their feedback – stay with us year after year.  This continues to say a lot about them and a lot about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

The first chart gives you the weighted average satisfaction score (out of 10); the second chart gives you the breakdown by category.  I will remind you that for this and all categories, I look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than to 7, and looking for scores to go up each year.  In terms of “overall satisfaction”, we have now gone from 7.13 to 7.20 to 8.17.  This year marks a meaningful jump in the right direction and you can see by the second chart that it is explained by the extremely high percentage of families who graded the school an 8, 9 or 10 and the extremely low percentage of families who graded the school a 1, 2 or 3 (in fact no families graded the school a “1” or “2”) – both of those things were not (as) true last year.  This is surely good news, but let’s dig deeper…

A few things jump out…

  • The topline number is up, fairly significantly, from 7.11 to 8.0.  This marks the first time we have reached that threshold.
  • Both learning “LEVELS” and learning “STYLES” have also crossed the threshold from the less healthy high 6’s into the mid 7’s.  It would be nice to know how much of this is attributed to improvement in general and how much to how the school has responded to distance learning, but we will have that same question to answer with almost all the data.
  • I am very pleased to see that every single category is up from the prior year and that all, but one, in this section are now firmly in the healthy 7-9 range.
  • I am thrilled to see such a high score (8.25) for “creative and critical thinking skills”.
  • Our lowest score (again) is again in “Homework” although it has climbed from 6.56 to 6.91, putting it just outside the healthy band.  As I wrote about in my self-evaluation, it is hard to know if the full implementation of our new Homework Philosophy was hindered by COVID-19, but we will look to see if this score goes up with another year of implementation under our belts.

  • Hereto, every metric is higher than last year and we still want to see each one climb a little higher.
  • The topline number has moved from 6.61 to 6.97, which is so close to being a 7, but for such an important metric, I would really like to see it closer to 8.  It would be interesting to peg this question to the grade of the student captured in the data (which I cannot do in order to protect anonymity) to see if parents’ perceptions of their child(ren) as being well prepared for high school grows higher as they get closer (which would be good) to graduation.
  • So thrilled to see all three of our metrics that deal with resource and IEPs to have grown and to all enter the healthy band!  Kudos to Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs Education, and her team for all their work this year – work that I believe has proven even more valuable during this time of distance learning.  This is a clear example over time where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

  • Thrilled to see that our topline number has moved from 7.24 to 8.17!
  • Very happy to see that every metric in General Studies is well into the healthy band and each one is up from the prior year:
    • Math: 7.09 to 7.60
    • Science: 7.09 to 7.72
    • Social Studies: 7.41 to 7.96
    • Reading: 6.93 to 8.0
    • Writing: 6.51 to 7.07
  • I would happily attribute the meaningful increase in reading to all the work our Language Arts Teachers have done with STAR Reading / Accelerated Reader, incentivizing reading in general with the “Annual Reading Challenge” and the Scholastic Book Fair, and better integrating our Library with the Classrooms.

  • I am of two minds when it comes to our French metrics.  The positive is that all three metrics are HIGHER than they were last year at this time.  That’s good news!  Our OVERALL metric went from 5.66 to 6.54.  French reading grew from 5.58 to 6.36.  French writing went 5.35 to 6.07.  Those are all meaningful jumps in the right direction.  The negative, of course, is that they all still fall below the healthy band.  However, another year of growth like this one would put all those categories firmly there.  That should be great cause for optimism since this year’s growth can fairly be attributed to the first year of our consultancy with TACLEF – a year that got truncated by a third due to COVID-19.  Immediately before we pivoted to distance learning, we posted an update on the progress we had made this year due to TACLEF.  Knowing that we have another full year of consultancy ahead of us, should inspire greater confidence that our French outcomes will soon be on par with the rest of General Studies.  That will be quite an accomplishment considering the narrative around French outcomes that the school has been working to flip during the last three years.  Bon travail to the French Department!
  • Sticking with the theme of this section, all three of our specialty classes are up as well!  Congrats to the PE Teachers for leading PE from 6.84 to 7.75, to Morah Shira for lifting Art from 7.20 to 8.33, and to new Music Teacher, Mr. Goddard, for guiding Music from 6.80 to 7.56.  It is good to know that even with a rigorous, trilingual curriculum, that we continue to offer the kinds of high-quality PE/Music/Art experiences that make a well-rounded education.

  • We are again thrilled to see all our Jewish Studies metrics continue to climb higher after another year.  We are especially pleased to see the OVERALL metric move from 7.29 to 8.08.  With another year’s commitment to immersive Hebrew pedagogy, another year of meaningful prayer experiences, the leadership of Dr. Avi Marcovitz as our new Dean of Judaics, greater engagement of our community’s clergy, etc., we are clearly headed in the right direction.  Kol ha’kavod to the Jewish Studies Department!
  • We are pleased to see our extracurricular activities and athletics climb into the healthy range this year!  We are pleased to see field trips go up, with the hope to see it over 7 in the year to come.
  • Although our hot lunch program and our after school metrics trail behind the others, they are both UP significantly from the last year.  We will continue to work with our partners and vendors and look forward to continued growth in the year ahead.

From our experimental section, we yield these two data points (and two sets of meaningful commentary).  As we see it as almost an inevitably that schools will be required to pivot back and forth from school in a bricks-and-mortar building to school through distance learning, our ability to navigate that pivot with minimal disruption and maximal academic progress – not to mention with the continuance of meaningful Jewish experiences – will be powerful value-adds for OJCS in the years ahead.

  • I noticed that I did NOT include this section (Communications) in last year’s analysis (even though I am pretty sure the questions were asked), so we will let this year’s data serve as a baseline from which to judge future metrics.
  • All of these scores are high into the healthy range!  I like to see our “open and welcoming atmosphere” come in at 8.60, our regular communication at 8.73 and the front office’s responsiveness to concerns at an 8.80 – all of our highest scores.  I think we all know that we have Ellie to thank for a lot of those high scores!
  • I will be interested to see what the impact of “Student-Led Conferences” will be on the “parent-teacher conferences” metric once launched.

  • I have already shared my thoughts on my own job performance in my prior “Transparency Files” post.  I will simply state here my pleasure in seeing all these numbers climb from the prior year.
  • The one metric that I am very pleased to see climb is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Last year we scored a 6.69 and I stated that, “we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.”  Well, it came in this year at a 7.65.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.  Our school has climbed from last year’s 4.14 to this year’s. 4.44.  I truthfully don’t know how much more there reasonably is to grow this, but we’ll keep doing our best to find out!

So there you have it for 2019-2020!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys!  In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses and a couple of experimental sections.  Your written responses added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  Please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern.  (This includes a full set of unedited and unredacted results which goes to the Head Support and Evaluation Committee of our Board of Trustees.)  As you can see each year, we really do use this data to make enhancements and improvements each year.

We want to reverse this year’s trend in terms of parent participation, but very much wish to continue this year’s trend in increasing positive outcomes and satisfaction.  To mix school metaphors, each year simply becomes the higher “floor” we stand upon to reach towards our North Stars.  With no ceiling, we aim to reach a little closer each time.

“Going Forward to School” – Republished from eJewish Philanthropy

[The following contains ideas from a prior blog post, but this version was published on 5/12/20 on eJewishphilanthropy.com.]

Going Forward to School

The simple truth is that we don’t know when we will return to school.  We are hopeful that the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year will take place in our classrooms.  We know that at some point in the future that we will return.  But as Heidi Hayes Jacobs recently said, “We have to start thinking about how we don’t go back to school, but how we go forward to school.”

This extraordinary moment we are living, teaching and learning through will eventually end, but it would be a huge mistake to go back to school as it was when we have an opportunity to go forward to school as it ought to be.  Here are four ways we should begin thinking about going forward to school:

Amplifying Quiet/Introverted Voices

A lot of teachers are getting a chance to better know a bunch of their most interesting, funny, serious and creative students.  Distance learning is unleashing and amplifying introverted voices to everyone’s benefit.   A lot of teachers are going get a chance to better know a bunch of their most interesting, funny, serious and creative students.  Chats, backchannels, blogs and blogfolios allow teachers and administrators to get to know our students more fully and through commentary allow us to relationship-build more meaningfully.  That is why they are powerful pedagogies in normal circumstances.  What is true for chats and blogs normally is now true for much of distance learning for all our students for much of our day.  Distance learning may have forced us into these techniques, but our core values require us to continue to amplify quiet voices when we go forward to school.

Developing Self-Directed Learners

Distance learning – as many of our parents can vouch for – is helped tremendously when students have the skills necessary to be self-directed learners.  And these skills are not exclusive to certain grades or subjects or even learning styles.  According to Silvia Tolisano the skills of self-directed learning – Heutagogical Documentation, Web & Information Literacy, Choice & Voice, Curation, Tutorials, Personal Learning Network (PLN) – can and should be embedded across ages, stages, styles and curricula.  They can make as much sense in a Kindergarten English lesson as they can a Grade 4 Science lesson as they can in a Grade 8 Hebrew lesson.

One could argue that the only real aim in schooling is being sure that students are capable of being able to learn how to learn.  What the move to distance learning forced on us was explicitly teaching these skills to students who not have adequately mastered them yet.  We are making up for lost time now out of necessity.  But we should embed these skills more deeply in our curriculum when we go forward to school.

Personalized Learning

Almost more than anything else, the move to distance learning has proved the necessity and the power of personalized learning.  We have no choice, but to lean into individualized instruction, personalized curriculum, and self-directed learning.  To do that well, to do that at all for that matter, requires you to spend meaningful time building relationships.  It can be hard to do that in a crowded classroom, but its importance comes screamingly clear through distance.  The amount of time we are now spending in direct communication with students and parents about their learning, the care that is now being put into personalized learning programs will help ensure that when we do go forward to school that we will come that much closer to treating each student as if they have unique and special needs…because they do.

Strengthening (Global) Connectedness

Jewish day schools, in general, emphasize global connectedness.  We’ve always maintained connections to schools in other countries and to personalities from other cultures.  We leverage those relationships to speak in our languages, to engage in active citizenship, to perform acts of social justice and lovingkindness and to foster our love for the People, Land and State of Israel.  In a time of social distancing, however, not only have we had to lean on our global connectedness, but we have had to learn how to foster local and school connectedness through platforms as well.  When we gather as a community for a virtual Family Kabbalat Shabbat or our students learn with and from a Holocaust survivor or when we celebrate Israel’s independence as part of a global audience, we feel the power of a connected community.

But when we go forward to school, what I’ll be thinking about is how much joy our students have each (virtual) day when they get to see each other’s smiling faces.  How can we use what we have learned about connectedness when distance was imposed on us all, to address school and community needs when distance is required for a few?  How could we incorporate our sick classmates into daily learning?  How could we incorporate parents or grandparents who are unable to be physically present, but want to be connected and involved into the life of the school?

We will – at some point – return.  At that time, I hope to see lots of schools promoting “Welcome Forward” activities in recognition of all the lessons learned during these difficult times that will continue to make our schools hubs of innovation in our local and wider educational communities.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

The Transparency Files: Self-Evaluation

Although it feels like COVID-19 is the only thing we experienced this year, it will -at most – constitute a third of our school year.  So even though we continue along with our Distance Learning Program, even though things continue to be unpredictable, it is still true that when the calendar turns to May and June, you can count on me to deliver a series of “Transparency Files” blog posts!  This year, I am beginning with a self-evaluation, and will continue with the sharing out of results from this year’s Annual Parent Survey, results from this year’s Annual Faculty Survey (which is shared directly with them), and will conclude with a discussion of next year’s new initiatives and an introduction of the 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty.  [Things being what they are, these posts may not follow weekly.]

So let’s lean in…

We are in that “evaluation” time of year!  As Head of School, I have the responsibility for performing an evaluation of staff and faculty each year.  Fittingly, they have an opportunity to do the same of me.  Our Annual Faculty Survey presents current teachers and staff with the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback of my performance as Head of School.  Our Annual Parent Survey presents current parents with an opportunity to do the same (as part of a much larger survey of school satisfaction).  Please know that the full unedited results of both are sent onto the OJCS Board of Trustees Head Support & Evaluation Committee as part of their data collection for the execution of my annual performance review.

You are welcome to review last year’s self-evaluation post before moving onto this year’s…

This year’s self-evaluation is based on goals created for this year (which was done at the beginning of the year in consultation with that same Head Support & Evaluation Committee).  You will not find a complete laundry list of my day-to-day responsibilities.  [I typically focus in this blog post on more of my “principal’s” responsibilities, and not as much on my “head of school’s” (i.e. fundraising, marketing, budgeting, etc.)]   This means that you are only going to see selected components [there are more goals in each area than I am highlighting here] for the 2019-2020 OJCS academic year:

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population

  1. Leverage parlour meeting(s) w/host families.
    1. Meet ahead of scheduled parlour meetings with host families to discuss an invitation strategy as well as salient points that better target the invited families.
    2. Meet after with host families to discuss follow-up strategy with a goal of converting 95% of attendees into scheduled tours.
  2. Work with Admissions Director to introduce a more data-driven approach to the entire admissions cycle.
    1. Explore data management programs (analogous to development) to  better collect and sort relevant data for the entire admissions cycle (inquiries, tours, applications, follow-ups, admissions, etc.).
    2. Introduce metrics (i.e. “touches”) into the regular moves management process.

OJCS is a school of excellence

  1. Working with French Faculty to integrate TACLEF training (year one of two).
    1. Assign a veteran teacher to shepherd the process and calendar all relevant training sessions.
    2. Meet with French Faculty after each round of training to see how teachers are faring.
    3. Encourage use of diagnostic tools as part of the process of preparing for both report cards and parent-teacher conferences.
    4. Share out with families (whether in a meeting and/or blog) updates of the work and its impact on the schools.
  2. Prototyping student blogfolios in Grades 5 & 6.
    1. Work with IT to establish the blogfolios.
    2. Work with the Educational Leadership Team (ELT) (Mrs. Thompson in particular) to help the Middle School Team understand the value of student blogfolios and how to best utilize them.
    3. Engage in proactive parent education with the families in Grade 5 (Grade 6 families began this last year) to best prepare them to be active partners.
    4. Aim for Grade 5 to prototype Student-Led Conferences for the Spring (b/c/ they tie naturally to student blogfolios).
  3. Actualize new HW Philosophy across K-8.
    1. Prepare and present new HW Philosophy (focusing on implementation strategies) to faculty during Pre-Planning Week.
    2. Facilitate a session on “Homework” at Parent Night.
    3. Work with the ELT to address ongoing issues through the implementation phase.
    4. Solicit feedback from parents, students and teachers as to how the new philosophy and policies are working.
  4. Launch new behavior management program anchored in 7 Habits / North Stars.
    1. Prepare and present new behavior management program (focusing on implementation strategies) to faculty during Pre-Planning Week
    2. Facilitate a session on “Behavior Management” at Parent Night.
    3. Work with the ELT to address ongoing issues through the implementation phase.
    4. Solicit feedback from parents, students and teachers as to how the new philosophy and policies are working.

Public  & Community Relations

  1. Introduce “Parent Workshops” (instead of “Town Halls”) around areas of intent interest (i.e. use of technology).
    1. Solicit feedback from parents as to what kinds of workshops would be meaningful to invest parental energy in participating in.
    2. Launch 1-3 Parent Workshops (either scheduled at multiple times and/or w/virtual options to accommodate busy schedules).
  2. Prototype family educational experiences.
    1. Gather feedback from parents and teachers as to what kinds of family experiences (whether in school like a “Family Kabbalat Shabbat” or outside of school like a “Family Retreat” would be meaningful.
    2. Launch 1-2 Parent Family Experiences.

 

So.  It would neither be fair nor true to blame any unfinished business or any unaccomplished goals on COVID-19, in fact in some cases it may have actually accelerated our path.  But it is both fair and true to name that it surely was and is a complicated factor.  Nonetheless, I am pleased to say that we managed to hit many of the above goals and are on our way to hitting the rest!

Here are some things to focus in on…

…we regard to Admissions, we were in the middle of a new outreach initiative to the Israeli community (championed by current OJCS Israeli parents) and had an event scheduled to bring new Israeli families to OJCS for a Lego Robotics activity, but it got canceled due to COVID-19.

…with regard to TACLEF, in addition to what I posted right before we had to pivot towards distance learning, with the (small) sample of (strategically selected) students who were used to train the teachers on the diagnostic tools, data was used not only for report cards and parent-teacher conferences, but also to navigate questions about French level placement.  If not for COVID-19, there should have / would have / will be a French Town Hall with more concrete findings and next steps.  Our last in-person training session for this year has been postponed into the already planned second year of this consultancy.

…with regard to Student Blogfolios, work was done with the ELT, but we did not get as far with the full Middle School Team as we would have liked.  Use of blogfolios in Grade 6 was pretty scattershot until we were forced into our Distance Learning Program.  Use increased out of necessity and we look forward to a carryover effect when we return to normal schooling.  Working with the Grade 5 Team, we successfully onboarded Grade 5 Parents – at least more successfully than the last cohort.  We were headed towards a prototype of a Student-Led Conference, although it is possible we may not have gotten all the way there, before COVID-19, but now this too must wait until next year.

…with regard to the new Homework Philosophy, I think, as expected, that implementation has been the trickiest part.  We will need to continue to spend meaningful time with faculty to ensure a shared understanding of how the philosophy ought to live across grades and subjects.  It is also going to be hard to know how the shift towards Distance Learning for the last third of the school will color feedback on this (and the next one below).  We will get some sense from Faculty and Parent Surveys, but not as targeted as it otherwise might have been.

…with regard to the new behavior management program, as with the new homework philosophy, implementation is the trickiest part.  We had greater success in the Lower School than in the Middle School, but good progress was being made right up until COVID-19.  More work will need to be done into next year.  Hereto, it is going to be hard to know how the shift towards Distance Learning for the last third of the school will color feedback.  As above, we will get some sense from Faculty and Parent Surveys, but not as targeted as it otherwise might have been.

…and, finally, with regard to parent and community relations, this still feels like an area for growth.  We held one workshop on “Technology” and then the move towards Distance Learning led to additional workshops specific to the pandemic.  Our virtual Family Kabbalat Shabbats and PTA virtual experiences have played a meaningful role during this time of distancing.

Those are just highlights.

If you have already contributed feedback through our surveys, thank you.  Your (additional and/or direct) feedback – whether publicly commented here, privately shared with me through email or social media, or shared through conversation – is greatly appreciated.  As I tell our teachers, I look forward to getting better at my job each year and I am thankful for the feedback I receive that allows me to try.

If You Really Want to Appreciate Teachers, Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt.

We will be celebrating “Faculty Appreciation Week” next week and with the overwhelming majority of schools making their ways through their versions of distance learning we will – rightfully – hear all the ways that having school at home (which is not homeschooling) has brought newfound appreciation for all the things that teachers do to facilitate learning, inspire growth, foster imagination, support development, catalyze innovation, nurture spirits and souls and otherwise care for and love their children.  We will prepare treats, send gift e-cards and even invite our students to capture their messages of appreciation.  And we should!  But if we genuinely want to show our appreciation for faculty, perhaps we should give them the one gift they most surely want and have most truly earned – the benefit of the doubt.

I wrote a torrent of words (even for me) last week about all the ways we should carry the lessons of distance learning forward to school; that there are important lessons and platforms and pedagogies and ideas that should carry forward into school whenever we do return.  We don’t want to go back to school, we want to go forward.  But in terms of teacher appreciation, I would argue the opposite.  The lesson we want to learn from distance learning about appreciating and valuing teachers is that we actually do want to go back – way back – to a time when we gave our teachers the benefit of the doubt.

Teachers are not infallible.  Teachers make mistakes.  Teachers can do the wrong thing.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean blind faith.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t advocate for their children.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t meant that sometimes parents don’t have a better solution to an issue than their teachers.  The best of schools foster healthy parent-teacher relationships explicitly because of these truths.  Both partners are required to produce the best results.  But somewhere in between my time as a student to my time as an educator, the culture changed.  Respect for teachers went from being automatic to being earned to being ignored.

So this year for “Teacher Appreciation Week” absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media.  Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades.  Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to make this transition to distance learning as successful as it has been.  Please.

But let’s also try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.