Radical Transparency: Finding Wellness Through Brazen Vulnerability

I was out of the office this past Monday and Tuesday attending an Alumni Retreat of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI).  DSLTI is the preeminent preparer for new heads of Jewish day schools and I was lucky enough to be in its fourth cohort.  In addition to the coaching and content that comes during your cohort experience, one of the greatest ongoing values of DSLTI is its robust alumni network.  That alumni network gathers annually for a retreat and is typically a peak experience for attendees.  The topic this year was “wellness” and I was asked to speak specifically  on the connection between “transparency” and “wellness”.  As those were concepts that I didn’t automatically connect, I spent some time proposing and then rejecting possible ideas.

Here’s what I did not talk about:

At first, I thought I would approach it from the angle of how blogs and blogfolios can actually promote wellness in our school culture through small, but meaningful acts of kindness.

Then I thought I would come at it from how my own blogging and social media usage embodies transparency as a personal value that promotes my own self-care – talking about my personal flaws, coping with the death of my father, setting health goals, etc.

My next rejected idea was to talk about how I blog transparently about what I want to be true with the hope that by putting it out into the universe, I set in motion making it actually come true.

Next idea was to explore blogging as a form of personal cheshbon ha’nefesh – a self-accounting to inspire me to do and be better.

My final rejected idea was to explore how we use the concept of the “nondiscussible” to build a professional culture that promotes wellness in the workplace.

The truth is that I could have told compelling professional anecdotes about any of the above slides/topics.  And since many of them are pulled from blog posts I have already written…I guess I already have. But because DSLTI is such an intimate environment, a safe place for heads of schools to get real with themselves and each other, I decided that I would go deeper and more personal.  And so I landed here…

Imposter Syndrome” is a common condition across all professions.  It can be defined as…

…a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field. High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence.

I can distill my “imposter syndrome” down to three anecdotes reflected in the slide above which served as the heart of my talk…

The handsome gentleman on the left is me at age 13.  I was yet even more handsome at age 10 when we moved from Edison, New Jersey to Fremont, California.  In addition to my amazing Jewish Neil Diamond hair, and owlish eyeglasses, I also brought with me to California an overbite of cartoonish proportions.  My overbite was so large that I could fit two fingers (sideways) comfortably inside.  The solution?  A bionator.

My Google search for a bionator reveals to my surprise its continued existence, since I had imagined it would have been banned by the Geneva Conventions as a source of torture.  In my parents’ great wisdom and to avoid my needing to wear braces until 35, not only did I get to wear the bionator for all of Grades 6 and 7, I also got to wear headgear 18 hours a day.  And one of those days was, in fact, the very first day of school.

In a new school.

In a new state.

I show up for the first day of Grade 6 with my bionator in, Jewish locks pouring through the headgear and owl eyes.  As just one example of how awesome that was, because the bionator took up every inch of space in my mouth, I had to take it out to speak.  And because I needed a toolset to take it out, I had to have prearranged times with my teachers for when I was going to be called on.  (I swear this is all true.) My Math Teacher would tell me that she was going to call on me at 10:45 AM and then at 10:30 AM I would take out my toolset and start unhooking myself.  My time would come, I would say, like, “5x,” and then I would hook myself back together.

How I ever met a friend is an enduring mystery…

That “first-day-of-school-in-a-new-school-wearing-a-bionator” is how I feel each time I walk into a new room with new people.

The hirsute gentleman in the upper righthand corner is me at age 23.  I had taken a year after university to try to figure out what path in the Jewish professional world I wanted to walk down and landed at Jewish Education.  Based on my Reform Jewish background, I should have wound up in the master’s program at the Hebrew Union College-Los Angeles.  And I likely would have if not for the friend of my mother’s who told her that if I was already going to down to LA for an interview at one seminary, that I might as well visit the Conservative one, the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University).  So I set myself up an interview…

They told me that my day was going to begin with “minyan” and I said, “Great!” even though I had no idea what that was.  To paint the full picture, I wore my hair that day in a ponytail (which I assumed was more professional), put modest earrings in my four piercings, wore the only long pants in my possession coupled with Naot (Israeli Birkenstocks).  That is how I looked when a grad student met me and escorted me to the school’s beit knesset for minyan.  That morning was the first time in my life I had ever seen tefillin or a Hebrew siddur.  It was the first all-Hebrew service I had ever attended and I was totally unfamiliar with the words and the tunes.

Why I wound up attending that school and the larger Jewish journey it took me on is a longer story…

That “first-time-in-minyan” is how I feel every time I enter a synagogue.

The picture in the lower righthand corner of the slide is not a class photo.  That is the school photo from my first year as founding head of the recently closed Solomon Schechter Day School-Las Vegas.  Grades 1 & 2, 14 students, three teachers and me.  The story of how that school came into existence and how I came to be its founding head is long and complicated.  It is, in fact, the subject of my doctoral dissertation and should you wish to join the exclusive club of my dissertation committee, my mother and my wife, I invite you to look it up and read it.  Needless to say, I was not a typical applicant for this job having never attended, worked or virtually ever stepped foot inside a day school until applying to be a founding head.

I distinctly remember the part of my interview where I attended a parlour meeting for prospective parents at the home of the rabbi who was spearheading the school’s creation.  At that time there were only the 6 students continuing into Grade 2 and prospective parents for what would turn out to be 8 students beginning Grade 1.  Because of my utter lack of experience and network – I was only accepted into DSLTI after I somehow got the job – the only way I could prepare for the interview was to do some light internet research.  I landed on PEJE’s (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, now folded into Prizmah) PDF for launching new Jewish schools and tried to commit it to memory.

At this parlour meeting was a set of parents who had graduated from The Ramaz School, a very prominent Modern Orthodox Day School in Manhattan and they asked me a ton of very reasonable and practical questions to try to ascertain how on earth I was qualified to found this new school.  As I stood in the foyer sweating through my suit, stumbling to express my views on secular curriculum, Jewish curriculum, pedagogy, Hebrew, and anything and everything else about running a school, I was quite convinced that this was the beginning and the end of my career in Jewish day school education.

Why I wound up getting the job and the larger arc of my career that it launched is a longer story…

That  “sweating through my suit” is how I feel at all our town halls.

The feedback from my DSLTI peers when I gave this presentation was instructive.  Many shared with me that they had no idea that I felt that way – I seem so confident or I appear to have a strong leadership presence.  And like most people, I both do and I don’t.  I have obviously grown and learned and failed and succeeded and achieved and done a lot since I was 10, 23 and 33.  But that’s the way imposter syndrome works for us all.

So there you have it.  The simple truth is that I employ a kind of radical transparency not only because I think it creates healthy culture, leads to sound pedagogy, fosters parental buy-in and engagement – which I do.

In a sense “transparency” is my superpower.  It is the superhero cape I adorn that lets me be my best self.  I put it all out there because doing so makes me well and, I hope, promotes wellness in others.  Ken y’hi ratzon.

This will be my last blog post before we go onto Winter Break next week.  Wishing everyone a joyous Chanukah, a Happy New (Secular) Year and a relaxing break.  We look forward to welcoming everyone back to school in 2020!

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results

As apparently is my new annual tradition, I again in the lull between parent-teacher conferences reviewed and analyzed our CAT4 results.  [I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) our philosophy on test-taking and how we both share the tests with parents and utilize the data in our decision-making.]  We provided 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.  Those contextualizing conversations took place during conferences and, thus, we should be able to return all results to parents next week.

Before we get to the results, there are a few things worth pointing out:

  • This is now our second year taking this assessment at this time of year. However, we expanded our testing from last year’s Grades 3, 6 & 8 to this year’s Grades 3 – 8.  This means that although we now have “apples to apples” data, we can only track two of our grades (current Grades 4 & 7) from last year to this one.  Next year, we will have such tracking data across most grades which will allow us 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.

We do not believe that standardized test scores represent the only, nor surely the best, evidence for academic success.  Our goal continues to be providing each student with a “floor, but no ceiling” representing each student’s maximum success.  Our best outcome is still producing students who become lifelong learners.

But I also don’t want to undersell the objective evidence that shows that the work we are doing here does in fact lead to tangible success!

That’s the headline…let’s look more closely at the story.  (You may wish to zoom in a bit on whatever device you are reading this on…)

A few tips on how to read this:

  • We took this exam in the “.2” of each grade-level year.  That means that “at grade level” [again, please refer above to a more precise definition of “grade equivalent scores”] for any grade we are looking at would be 3.2, 4.2, 5.2, etc.  For example, if you are looking at Grade 6, anything below 6.2 would constitute “below grade level” and anything above 6.2 would constitute “above grade level.”
  • The maximum score for any grade is “.9” of the next year’s grade.  If, for example, you are looking at Grade 8 and see a score of 9.9, on our forms it actually reads “9.9+” – the maximum score that can be recorded.
  • Because of when we take this test – approximately two months into the school year – it is reasonable to assume a significant responsibility for results is attributable to the prior year’s teachers and experiences.  It is very hard to tease it out exactly, of course.

What are the key takeaways from this snapshot of the entire school?

  • Looking at six different grades through six different dimensions there are only two instances of scoring below grade-level: Grade 3 in Spelling (2.9) and Grade 5 in Computation & Estimation (4.1).
  • Relatedly, those two dimensions  – Spelling and Computation & Estimation – are where we score the lowest as a school (even if every other grade is at or above grade level) relative to the other dimensions.
  • What stands out the most is how exceedingly well each and every grade has done in just about each and every section.  In almost all cases, each and every grade is performing significantly above grade-level.

In addition to the overall snapshot, we are now able to begin sharing comparative data.  It will take one more year before we can accurately compare the same grade and the same class year after year.  But we can get a taste of it with Grades 3 & 6.  What you have below is a snapshot of the same class (the same group of children) from last year to this:

What are the key takeaways from this comparison?

For both classes in all categories save one (Grade 3 to 4 “Computation & Estimation”) you see at least a full year’s growth and in many cases you see more than a full year’s growth.  (The one that fell short only showed 8 months of growth.  And it comes in the category we have already recognized as being a weak spot.)

Let’s look at one more data point.  We can also get a taste of how the same grade performs from one year to the next as well.  Again, we only have Grades 3 & 6 to examine:

Now, remember that this represents a completely different group of children, so it is not unusual or surprising to see variances.  Teachers can only grow students from the place they received them and it is that annual growth that we are concerned with.  But over time you are looking for patterns.  If we believe that Spelling is a weakness, we will want to know whether it is a weakness in every grade or does it dip in certain grades.  We have no way to know that or much else new from the above graph. It simply confirms what we presently know.  But in another year or so, we will be able to plot the trajectory of both classes (the same students) and grades over time to see what additional stories they tell.

To sum up, we have a lot to be proud of in our standardized test scores. We have two areas to investigate: Spelling and Computation.  With regard to Spelling, since we noted this as a weakness last year we had already scheduled PD for our faculty.  It just so happens that we are holding a session on “Structured Word Inquiry” for our Language Arts Teachers on Monday!  With that and other efforts we would expect to see those numbers tick up next year.  With regard to Computation, we will – like with Spelling – have an internal conversation which may lead to PD for Math Teachers.  These are examples of how we use data to increase performance.

The bottom line is that our graduates successfully place into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling – they are all different – but working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools (private and public) and programs (IB, Gifted, French Immersion, Arts, etc.) that they qualified for.

And now each year, despite all the qualifications and caveats, our CAT4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them. And let’s be clear, this academic excellence comes with an inclusive admissions process.

Despite our focus on individual growth, our average growth continues to significantly outpace national percentiles and grade equivalency scores.  Does investing in reflective practices (like blogging) lead to achievement ?  Does being an innovative learning pioneer translate into high academic success?

Two years in a row may not be conclusive, but it may be heading towards it!

The Transparency Files: OJCS Middle School Parent-Teacher Conferences

Talk about a niche blog post!

I recognize that I am really narrowing my audience here, but I do think there is some value in sharing aloud (rather than just emailing the contents to our current middle school parents) our thought process around how we structure our parent-teacher conferences in our middle school.  Part of the value is that some of the big ideas live beyond that narrow lens, impacting how we view parent-teacher conferences as a school and – more widely – how we view parent engagement and parent partnership.  Part of the value – I hope – is that we get some feedback from our current parents and from other schools and school leaders that will positively impact our thinking.  It can sometimes feel like you are blogging into the wind, but every now and again, I do get meaningful feedback from a blog post.  Here’s hoping this is one of them!

Last year, in a blog post that was more focused on a new-and-improved report card format, we did introduce the following change to our middle school parent-teacher conferences:

With a large number of middle school students and a fair number of middle school teachers, we are going to try to provide a larger window of time with a more strategic number of mutually selected teachers.  Instead of signing up for individual conversations with any or all teachers, we are going to be asking for parents to sign up for a 15-minute window and a request for one or two teachers they feel strongly need to be present.  Then we will meet as a full middle school faculty and assign teachers to each middle school conference, using parental request and who we believe to be important in the conversations that should happen to best support each child.

I added the boldface above, because that sentence did not seem to be clear (enough) to many families last year and, thus, unintentionally became a source of tension.  That is something I am hoping to avoid this year…

Let’s start with the observation that the entire model and structure of traditional parent-teacher conferences is likely obsolete.  Why?  Let’s count the reasons…

  • Meaningful parent partnership requires frequent conversation.  Two high-leverage, really brief engagement points do not lend themselves to relationship-building.
  • If the mantra for parent-teacher conferences (and report cards) is “No surprises!” and we’ve done that work already (see above point), then what exactly are these brief encounters designed to accomplish?
  • How much can you really discuss/show/ask/learn in such brief windows of time?  With people running behind schedule, knocking on the doors, etc. – even if you are lucky enough to be having a meaningful moment of engagement, you will likely still wind up frustrated to have it truncated by an artificially imposed time limit.

So why do we still do them?

Well, despite their challenges, they do tend to succeed in bringing more parents into the school and into conversation with their children’s teachers.    Brief conversations are better than no conversations.  Some opportunity for relationship-building is better than no opportunity for relationship-building.  So to the degree that they can and do lead to constructive conversations, it is worth continuing to try to improve upon them.

And that leads back to the changes we made last year for our middle school…

With our North Stars clarified and our culture evolving, we have an opportunity to revisit our programs and processes to be sure they are in alignment.  The move to adjust our middle school conferences was designed to ensure that we would land with a format which would provide parents with meaningful and actionable feedback, and provide us with the same in terms of inviting valuable feedback from parents – all in the service of helping our students “own their learning” and that there be “a floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.

Because we view this as a partnership, we believe it is important that both parent and teacher voice contribute to the conversation, and to determining who sits around the table.  Unlike the public board at the middle school and high school levels, we don’t believe a process which only honours parent choice serves our needs.  As we said above, when it is time to decide who should sit around the parent-teacher conference table, we “meet as a full middle school faculty and assign teachers to each middle school conference, using parental request and who we believe to be important in the conversations that should happen to best support each child.”

Why?  Why not just let parents decide who and how to spend their valuable, ever-so-short, window of time?

Well, it is the same reason we don’t do it in the Lower School.  We believe that each part of our curriculum is important and that who your child is – how they behave, how they are feeling, their academic growth, etc., – across different teachers is valuable for parents to know.  We don’t feel like you will have a full picture of your child and we don’t feel that we can get the feedback we need to serve your child, without having diverse representation.  If we had more time, we’d have the full 7-9 teachers around a larger table.  But we don’t.  So we give parents and teachers an opportunity to build a smaller team to meet in partnership.

It is worth noting that any parent at any time can request any meeting with any teacher.  It is not like this is your only opportunity to have 15 minutes with your child’s Math Teacher.  Or French.  Or Hebrew.  But for one of two nights a year, it is a wonderful (even with its structural flaws) opportunity to come together as a team of people who care deeply about your child to share what is working, discuss what might not be, plan for what could be, strengthen our own relationships, and chart a course for a successful  next term.

We are looking forward to a wonderful week of conferences.  See you there!

Annual BlogCloud – A WordCloud in the Hand…

Ah late November…

…while my internal thermometer still thinks it should be shorts weather and my internal clock still thinks it is almost time for turkey and football, the truth of things is that here, in wintry Ottawa, I am making my way through each and every report card as we gear up for Parent-Teacher Conferences.

In light of the season – Report Card Season – and in light of the many (long) serious blog posts I have been cranking out, it seems like it is just the right week for my annual word cloud post, complete with awful puns.

If you missed last year’s punny post

I do 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) take 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.

This is my third such annual post here at OJCS and I have done them each at approximately the same time of year.  So, what does this year’s BlogCloud look like and what does it reveal?  [If it is too small on your screen/device you can go ahead and zoom in.  Or just scroll up!]

I love the nexus of time-Jewish-teachers-parents-students!  I like seeing words like “Community”, “Learning”, “Meaningful”, and “Forward” increase in size.  I think it is great to see “Questions”, “Conversations”, and “Feedback” make an appearance.

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

If you see something interesting in my OJCS BlogCloud, let us know in the comments!

Liveblog of OJCS 2019 Winter PD Day

Another PD Day is ramping up at OJCS and we are looking forward to a day of growth and a day of community-building with our teachers. Days like today are critical pitstops on our learning journey towards our North Stars; they give us the mini-break and the mini-boost we need to keep our rhythm and our momentum.  And, as always, it is my pleasure to give you a peek inside with one my seasonal “liveblogs”.

How are we beginning our day (after breakfast)?  Let’s check in with our Vice Principal, Keren Gordon:

9:00 AM “The OJCS Way” Strategy GooseChase

What is a GooseChase you may ask?  Well GooseChase is an app for creating your own online, collaborative scavenger hunt that allows you to create teams, develop missions, track live scoring, etc.  It is something we experienced in our work with NoTosh and are now using with our full faculty.  When used in an educational setting, you can create missions that require students – or in our case teachers – to learn something, do something, show something, etc., all in service of growth.

Our Faculty GooseChase today is to help our teachers better understand how to teach and learn according to “The OJCS Way”.  You have heard a lot over the last few years about our “North Stars” and they are really important.  Our North Stars are our core values and, as such, remain permanently fixed in the sky as our guide towards being the best school we can be.  But how do we get there?  What is our path?  Well.  Those are our Strategies.  If you want to see how the Good Ship OJCS sets sail towards its objective – guided by North Stars through Strategies – this amazing sketchnote by our Teaching & Learning Coordinator Melissa Thompson puts it all together:

So, in order to help our teachers better understand the Strategies…

  • Champion the Wellbeing of Each Person
  • Be Open to Critique
  • Challenge Assumptions
  • Work is Part of a Jewish Learning Journey
  • Include Student Voice

…what kinds of missions are our teachers running around the school trying to complete?  Here’s a sample:

Each time a team completes a mission, they upload the evidence – a text, a picture, a video, etc., – and they get points.  There is a live leaderboard that scrolls all the uploaded content and the scoring as you make your way through.  Our teachers are running around the school, taking pictures, making videos, learning, laughing and having a great time.

Want proof?

Mission: The Jewish Wedding
Mission: Artfully Strategic
Mission: Sparking Strategy
Mission: Speed Pineappling

There are lots and lots of hilarious videos and pictures that I cannot show here, but needless to say, our teachers had themselves quite the GooseChase!  We are excited to see how their deep dive into strategy will impact teaching and learning and we are excited to see how many of them will try a GooseChase of their own in their classrooms.  Stay tuned.

11:00 AM Structured Conversations

For the last part of our formal program, we divided our faculty into four structured conversations, differentiated by department:

  • TACLEF for French Faculty
  • ALSUP for Middle School Faculty
  • VoiceThread for Jewish Studies Faculty
  • STAR Reading for Language Arts Faculty

TACLEF for French Faculty

With all the professional development our French Faculty has been receiving through TACLEF (our work with TACLEF is generously supported by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa), we definitely thought it was a good idea to give them an opportunity to take stock and think together about how to move the work forward.  Today the team explored how to use our new assessment tool as part of our process for determining both original placement in our Core and Extended Programs, as well as when it may be appropriate to switch from one to the other.  Here’s what else was on the board:

ALSUP for Middle School Faculty

As part of implementing our new Behaviour Management program, our whole faculty are frequently asked to conduct an ALSUP for goal-setting purposes as we prioritize growth in all areas of their learning, including social-emotional wellness.  What is an ALSUP?  It is an Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) and it is used to help identify what is behind the behaviours we are seeing and how to strategically support the student with goal-setting that invites different outcomes.  Today Middle School conferenced about the ALSUP, the process for goal-setting and how to invite meaningful follow-up conventions with students and their parents.

VoiceThread for Jewish Studies Faculty

I led this one myself and so I have nobody to blame for not having take any pictures!  We spent time looking at VoiceThread – a sophisticated, versatile recording tool that creates lessons which include video, images and sound.  Although we already utilize a variety of other apps and tools that have some similar features, we really believe that VoiceThread may give us an easy and exciting way to provide students with opportunity to practice listening and speaking in Hebrew.  We brainstormed ways we could use VoiceThread in class, as personalized homework, to enrich, to remediate, and enhance second language acquisition.  We will be getting a license so that our teachers can begin to play – and perhaps prototype.  We also believe this could be a great tool for French as well.

STAR Reading for Language Arts Faculty

Our Language Arts Faculty looked at Star Early Literacy/Star Reading Assessments and learned how to read reports to find the focus skills that will help guide lessons, as well as plan differentiated, personalized lessons for individual students based on their personal reading comprehension needs.  They had a great discussion around reading for the love of reading and reading to grow.  There’s a time and a place for both and both can be true in our classrooms and at home. This diagnostic is ONE tool that exists for our teachers to help learn a little more about our students and support their ever-growing journey as life-long learners.

For the rest of our day, we gave our teachers the most precious gift of all…time!  Time to finish those report cards, to plan for meaningful parent-teacher conferences, time to catch up and time to get ahead. We are looking forward to resuming school on Monday renewed, rejuvenated and ready to reach for those (north) stars!

Another Trip Around The OJCS Blogosphere

With all the workshops and meetings and slides and conversations about our blogs, it is sometimes easy to forget (at least for me) that the best way of showing the power, the impact, and the learning on the blogs is to actually show it!  Recognizing that it still may be a new routine for families and that most families surely don’t have the bandwidth to visit all the blogs, let me serve as your occasional tour guide of The OJCS Blogosphere.  I hope to do this a few times a year to inspire OJCS families to invest a little time, to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time-to-time, and to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

From the OJCS (Middle School) Mathematics Blog (click here for the full blog)

Math Escape: Grade 8 Dinner Party! – Posted on October 28th

Grade 8 participated in their first Math Escape Room of the year on Friday.

They got a taste last year, and loved it so much, that I had to put together another one and bring it back to life this year!

October’s theme: a Dinner Party! How much food? When to start each recipe? How to set the tables? ….and picky eaters!

Students were “Trapped in Math Class” for 60 minutes in small groups. They had to beat the clock to correctly answer four tough and tricky questions that pushed them to squirm and struggle. Topics included logic problems, algebra, and area of circles.(had to figure this out from notes and clever resources-since we haven’t learned it formally yet!)

So with the room set, and the students eager with positive attitudes they took on the challenge…and as the struggled through, they came out on the other side all escapees from this month’s escape room!.

Here’s a peak into their “struggle,” and now thanks to my over using my “dontstealthestruggle”phrase, students are often heard saying back to me, “Mrs Cleveland, no, don’t help, don’t steal my struggle, I can figure it out.”

Could I be more proud?!  Let’s see what they got what it takes to escape in November’s room, I’m already preparing it! Bring it, grade 8! Show me what you’ve got!

…stay tuned….grade 7 takes on their first escape room tomorrow! They’re ready for the challenge!

Take a look…

 

From the Grade One – Kitah Alef Blog (click here for the full blog)

Proud Teacher Moment – Posted on November 1

What an amazing feeling it is to walk in on my students during recess and find  a few of them playing (IN HEBREW) a game I used with them yesterday to practice hebrew vocabulary.

They truly exemplify OJCS’s star – “We own our own learning. We own our own stories.”

And to make matters BETTER. As I was writing about this, I heard my students using the Hebrew song I taught them for lining up during transition time in another class.

My heart feels so fulfilled at this moment! My dream (having OJCS students using Hebrew NOT ONLY in Hebrew class) is coming true…

I am truely soooo proud!

TODA YELADIM! 😘

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

Student Vote 2019 – Posted on October 18

We had a great turnout for our Student Vote yesterday! The grade 5 students prepared and delivered! It was a long morning, where lots of patience was needed, but they stepped up to the challenge and were true model students and citizens.

We started the morning learning how to fold and initial the ballots to ensure they were all “kosher” and hadn’t been tampered with. They also witnessed and confirmed that the ballot boxes were empty before they were sealed.

And then the fun began! We welcomed all the classes from grades 3 to 8 into our room, presented important information on the main party platforms, and then worked as Poll Clerks and Deputy Returning Officers to guide voters through the voting process.

 

We can’t wait to share the results with you, after the polls close for the rest of the country, on Monday evening. We will be counting the votes on Wednesday so stay tuned!

From the OJCS (Middle School) Francais Blog (click here for the full blog)

Nos futurs politiciens? – Posted on September 20th

Nos étudiants et étudiantes de la classe de la 8e année de Mme Bertrend et de Mr. Cinanni ont eu l’honneur de participer à deux tables rondes, avec le Parti Conservateur et le Parti Vert, respectivement.  Les élèves ont pu vivre une expérience unique, en écoutant des politiciens répondent des questions auxquelles font face la communauté juive, à Ottawa et à travers le Canada.

Ils ont aussi la chance de poser une question aux deux partis, en trois langues !  Vive le trilinguisme à OJCS !

Our teachers and students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly 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 is happening with our Grades 5 & 6 student blogfolios.  Stay tuned!

NOT Preparing for the CAT4 – How OJCS Thinks About Standardized Testing

From November 5th – 7th, students at the Ottawa Jewish Community School in Grades 3 – 8 will be writing the Fourth Edition of the Canadian Achievement Tests (CAT4).  The purpose of this test is to inform instruction and programming for the 2019-202o school year, and to measure our students’ growth over time.  

  • If this is the first time you are visiting this topic on my blog, I encourage you to read my post on our philosophy of standardized test-taking.
  • If you are curious about how we share the results of our standardized test-taking (and what those results have been), I encourage you to read that post as well.

What’s new for 2019-2020?

We have gone from offering the exam in Grades 3, 6, and 8 to Grades 3 – 8 in order to ensure that the data is actionable on all four levels – that of the individual student (is there something to note about how Jonny did in Mathematics from last year to this year?), individual classes (is there something to note about how Grade 5 scored in Spelling compared to when they were in Grade 4?), grades (is there something to note about how Grade 3 performed in Reading  this year when compared to how Grade 3 did last year?), and the school as a whole (how does OJCS do in Vocabulary across the board?).  Without testing the same students in the same subjects at the same time of year on an annual basis, we would not be able to notice, track or respond to meaningful patterns.

Reminder:

Standardized tests in schools that do not explicitly teach to the test nor use curriculum specifically created to succeed on the tests – like ours – are very valuable snapshots.  Allow me to be overly didactic and emphasize each word: They are valuable – they are; they really do mean something.  And they are snapshots – they are not the entire picture, not by a long shot, of either the child or the school.  Only when contextualized in this way can we avoid the unnecessary anxiety that often bubbles up when results roll in.

Last year it took about six weeks to get results back, analyzed and shared out – to parents with individual results and to community with school metrics.  We hope to be in that window of time again and look forward to making full use of them to help each student and teacher continue to grow and improve.  We look forward to fruitful conversations.  And we welcome questions and feedback through whatever channels they come…

OJCS Parent Connect: The Future of Learning

Who is excited about having a full week of school?

In addition to the joy of restarting our year and restoring our routines, we also had an opportunity this week to reconnect to our parents.  As promised back in September, we took some time this week to offer what we hope will be the first in a series of “Parent Connect” workshops to better inform parents, to solicit feedback from parents and – in the future – to help parents with hands-on guidance for navigating the educational journey at OJCS.

This week’s focus was following up on specific questions and concerns that have arisen as a result of our embrace of innovative technology, online platforms, etc., as part of our larger work of preparing students for their next schools of choice and beyond.  The slideshow below guided these conversations.  Although not everything may be perfectly clear from the slides alone, you will hopefully note that we attempted to anchor the conversation in our “North Stars” and in ongoing changes in education.  We then pivoted into ways those changes are taking shape at OJCS and ended with targeted conversations about issues of parental concern such as “Privacy”, “Screen Time”, and “Supervision”.

We are grateful to the parents who attended for their feedback!  We also welcome your feedback – either by commentary here on the blog, or email, phone calls, etc.  With what we have heard, thus far, we believe there would be continued value in providing interested parents with hands-on advice on how to navigate the internet at home (firewalls, apps for supervision, etc.), and a dedicated workshop to homework support.  Stay tuned.

We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish with five whole days of school!

Marching With Fruits & Vegetables (5780 Remix)

As promised, after having shofar-ed into Rosh Hashanah and leaned into Yom Kippur, it is time to hop into my favorite holiday of them all…Sukkot!

We are looking forward to celebrating this holiday at school with the assistance of our OJCS Sukkah [to be finished this today] (with great thanks to the Zaret Family & Gemstone), in which we look forward to eating, celebrating, shake-shake-shaking and hopping in as a school community when we resume school during Chol Ha’Moed next Wednesday.  [By the way, it seems like whenever we discuss the timing of the fall Jewish holidays relative to the start of the school year, we always describe them as coming “early” or “late”.  They don’t ever seem to come “on time”!]  Great thanks to all our teachers for the hard work that goes into holiday preparation/celebration and keeping the normal routines of school moving forward as per usual.

As I mentioned above, Sukkot is absolutely my favorite holiday of the entire year.  There is nothing else like it on the Jewish Calendar – sitting outside in a sukkah you built yourself (which is pretty much the one and only thing I actually can and do build), with handmade decorations from your children, enjoying good food with friends and family in the night air, the citrusy smell of etrog lingering and mixing with verdant lulav – this is experiential Judaism at its finest.

But here is a complicated truth: Even though our school will be closed on Monday and Tuesday for Sukkot, it is reasonable to assume that a significant number of our students will neither be found in a synagogue nor a sukkah enjoying what is known as “The Season of our Rejoicing”.  But I know that many, if not most, were in synagogue a couple of days ago for Yom Kippur.  So when it comes to “atoning” we have a full house, but for “rejoicing” we have empty seats?!

If our children – if we – only experience the Judaism of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and not the Judaism of Sukkot, the simple truth is that we are not exposing them to the full range of beauty and joy that our tradition has to offer.  So why, in fact, is this such a common occurrence?

lulavI’m not entirely sure, but I think it has to do with the exotic nature of the holiday.  As someone who did not grow up celebrating this holiday, upon coming to synagogue as an adult and watching a congregation march in circles waving fruits and vegetables – well this was not the Judaism I knew!  But for me, that is precisely what makes it so unique, special and not-to-be-missed!

No one likes to feel uncomfortable, and adults especially, are wary of feeling under-educated or unprepared.  I know how I felt encountering new Jewish rituals for the first time as an adult – it was scary.  I, however, was lucky.  I was pursuing a degree in Jewish education and, therefore, had all the support and resources I needed to learn and grow.  I realize that most adults coming at new Jewish practices for the first time (or the first time in a while) are not so lucky.  The amount of “stuff” Judaism asks of us to do – building the sukkah with precise specifications, shaking the lulav and etrog in the proscribed way, chanting less-familiar prayers, coming to synagogue on unfamiliar days – can be overwhelming.

But don’t lose the sukkah through the trees…

I’d simply ask you to consider this: When building your child’s library of Jewish memories, which memory feels more compelling and likely to resonate over time – sitting in starched clothes in sanctuary seats or relaxing with friends and family in an outdoor sukkah built with love and care?

You don’t have to choose just one, of course, that is the beauty of living a life of sacred time – there is a rhythm to the Jewish calendar, evocative and varied.  Come to synagogue for the High Holidays, to be sure.  But don’t miss out on Sukkot (or Simchat Torah or Shavuot or “Add Jewish Holiday Here”).  Let this Sukkot truly be the season of our great rejoicing.  I hope many students find their way to synagogue and into sukkot this Sukkot.  I hope many parents push themselves out of their comfort zones and join the parade.  [Next year under the guidance of our new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Marcovitz, our school will take a more active role in providing families with the tools they may need to get started through parent workshops and community sukkah-building parties.]  But if you are curious or inspired…go ahead…pick up your fruit and vegetables and join the parade!

Chag sameach!

Leaning Into Forgiveness

I don’t know if it is the schedule, the calendar or my unconscious, but I noticed today, that in just about each year that I have blogged, that I skip from some kind of “Shofar, So Good” blog post heading into Rosh Hashanah right into some kind of “Marching With Fruits & Vegetables” blog post heading into Sukkot (spoiler alert for next week).  Is it just timing or bandwidth that causes me to skip over Yom Kippur?  Is there something about the “Day of Atonement” of which I struggle to find words?

In the hope of answering those questions, at least for myself, I’m going to use this week’s blog post to lean into forgiveness…

Repentance (Hebrew: תשובה, literally, “return”, pronounced “tshuva” or “teshuva”) is one element of atoning for sin in Judaism. Judaism recognizes that everybody sins on occasion, but that people can stop or minimize those occasions in the future by repenting for past transgressions. Thus, the primary purpose of repentance in Judaism is ethical self transformation.[1]

The Mishnah states: To a man who says, ‘I will sin and repent, I will sin and repent’, Yom Kippur brings no atonement. For sins against God, Yom Kippur brings atonement. For sins against one’s fellow man, Yom Kippur brings no atonement until he has become reconciled with the fellow man he wronged.[3]

Before we can ask God to forgive us for how we treat each other, we have the responsibility to not only ask those we have hurt for forgiveness, but to go the extra mile to work on ourselves, so that we are less likely to behave in unkind or unethical ways in the future. That is the “ethical self-transformation” referred to above, and that is the work of this season.  It is easy (and sometimes not so easy) to say “I’m sorry,”; it is hard to grow yourself into the person you want to be.  But that is what this time of year asks us to try to do…

Without falling guilty to oversharing or self-psychologizing, in the spirit of these עשרת ימי תשובה‎ (ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), I thought I would pick one thing general enough to my work with students, teachers, parents, colleagues, community, etc., to name as an area for personal growth this year. Doing this publicly, I hope, will inspire others to think about how they wish to grow this year and will provide me with a little public accountability to keep me honest.

A confession.

I am painfully shy.

That is either completely obvious to you or a complete surprise to you, depending on the kinds of interactions you are used to having with me or how well you (think you) know me.  But it is true regardless.  I am really shy and that can leave me a bit awkward in some kinds of social situations.  Sadly, that shyness oftentimes reads as aloofness at best, arrogance at worst.  Of course, sometimes I am just being aloof or arrogant, but oftentimes, I promise that I’m not!  I’m just uncomfortably shy and rendered speechless by that discomfort.  This is not new (to me) and I have, through the years, worked out all kinds of coping mechanisms and developed workarounds that help me do what I need to in order to keep myself and my work moving forward. There are lots of ways that I would love to “self-transform” in this area and I’d like to think that I have been on a journey of self-transformation for quite a while.  But there is one specific way I want to grow this year, anchored in both an apology and a promise.

I want to be more curious.

When I reflect on conversations I have with lots of folk I encounter in my life, I find that I am easily more expressive when asked a question. I can be quite comfortable sharing my opinions, my feelings and my experiences.  In that sense, I am quite transparent.  Where I fall short is asking questions of the other.  I struggle to convey my genuine curiosity about your opinions, feelings and experiences – especially in unplanned face-to-face moments –  and it can leave the opposite impression, that I am only focused on myself and incurious about others.

So during this time of introspection, let me take this opportunity not only to ask forgiveness in general for anything I have done – purposely or unknowingly – to cause offense or upset during the last year, but let me specifically apologize for any moment in which I didn’t convey my interest or concern in you.  If you left an interaction with me not feeling heard, I am sorry.  If we had a conversation and I didn’t seem as invested in learning more about you than I was in talking about myself, I am sorry.  If you were looking to make a genuine connection and I appeared disinterested, I am sorry.  To say, “It isn’t you, it’s me,” in this case is both trite and true.

I take seriously the responsibility to role model the values and ideals of our school.  Part of what it means to “learn better together” is showing care and curiosity in the other.  Part of what it means to “take responsibility each to the other” is being aware of the concerns and needs of the other.  And part of what it means to “own our learning” is being accountable for one’s shortcomings and seeking to grow.

As you ponder the purpose of this season for you and your family, I hope you find the time for introspection and the inspiration for the teshuva you are seeking.  From my family to yours, wishing you a tzom kal (easy fast) and a day of meaning.

G’mar chatimah tovah.