Where the future of Jewish day school is debated, explored and celebrated.
Author: Jon Mitzmacher
Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School and co-founder of edJEWcon. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools. He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network. He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center. He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas. Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.
Firstly, it is hard to believe that we are already introducing the SIXTH Habit, “Synergize,” because there are only seven and where did all the time go!
When our school introduces a new “Habit of Kindness,” I take it upon myself to blog about it. (Last month was “Seek first to understand, then to be understood“.) We have been enlisting our students to prepare and present the new habit at our monthly Rosh Chodesh Assemblies. (You can stay on top of all our Community of Kindness activities by checking out its blog.) Here is how Mrs. Bertrend described it:
Habit #6 from Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Effective People’ was introduced to the students: Synergize. Synergize means to work together with others to accomplish a goal, while supporting one another and working to the strengths of each person.
Grade 4 students introduced the habit to the school and discussed how they had to synergize at a recent ‘Kindness Workshop’ with Mrs. B and Shannon LaValley from JFS.
I value other people’s strengths and learn from them. I get along well with others, even people who are different than me. I work well in groups. I seek out other people’s ideas to solve problems because I know that by teaming with others we can create better solutions than anyone of us can alone. I am humble.
What I would like to do is take this line by line, in the spirit of the haggadah, and offer a little midrash about why I think “synergize” is a habit our school has embraced.
“I value other people’s strengths and learn from them.”
As we have documented our innovative learning journey over the last year and change, one thing that has consistently been borne true, is that learning is no longer (if it ever was) about transferring knowledge from an adult to a child. One thing that I treasure about our school is the commitment our teachers have to lifelong learning and the willingness they have to learn not only from each other, but from their students.
“I get along well with others, even people who are different than me.”
We chose “Community of Kindness” as the initiative to ensure students feel welcome, protected, and loved within (and without) our walls. Each student, of course, is different from every other student because each is unique. But we know that we – not just our school, but each of us – should be ultimately judged by how we treat “difference”.
“I work well in groups.”
We learn better together (North Star alert!). One of the critical “now” literacies is the ability to work well in “groups”. It will be the rare job our students will grow up to perform, where working well with others will not be a key to success. It isn’t a skill you master in kindergarten and revisit in adulthood; it is an art form to be practiced daily so mastery ensues.
“I seek out other people’s ideas to solve problems because I know that by teaming with others we can create better solutions than anyone of us can alone.”
Here we really see collaboration in action; that by working with each other and learning from each other we will come up something better together than we could on our own. In addition to our “Genius Hour” projects, there are so many opportunities for students at OJCS to engage in project-based learning and the upcoming grand opening of our OJCS Makerspace is going to really help us take this to the next level.
“I am humble.”
We teach our children that each is made in God’s image and that we ought to remember that when we interact with each other. Humility is critical to collaboration because it assumes an attitude that one does not know it all and that there is wisdom to be found in each and every one of us if we are only willing to look and to listen. One way we have embraced humility is in the exploration to transition from Parent-Teacher Conferences to Student-Led Conferences and from Teacher Observations to Teacher-Led Evaluations. In both cases, we put the onus of responsibility on the learner to share growth rather than on the authority figure to ferret it out.
Next month we will finish up with “Sharpen the Saw”!
As we complete this year’s model sedarim, heading into Passover itself this weekend, should you wish to check out some Passover planning tips too good to, um…pass…over, check out last year’s post!
Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach…
Coming Blog Attractions:
Revised OJCS Homework Philosophy
OJCS Parent Survey (will be sent out the week we return)
We are thrilled to share that our school will be making a $50,000 investment to ensure an increasingly excellent French education, to grow the number of students who successfully transition into French immersion programs in Grade 9, and to increase the odds of their success once placed. This comes directly from the hard work of our French Language Faculty, the changes we began this year as a result of beginning this conversation last year, the leadership of our Board and the generosity of our donors. This is a great day for those who already know a Jewish day school education does not preclude an excellent French education; it is an even better day for those who want to believe it, but needed a little more than anecdotal evidence to go on.
If you are new to this conversation, I encourage you to read my blog post from last February which lays out a detailed history of French education in Ontario, how it impacts OJCS and what the state of affairs was like when we began this work last school year.
Here are a few reminders and updates:
We continue to acknowledge that small sample sizes make statistical analysis complicated. We remain committed to annual surveys of our alumni and frequent check-ins with the high schools in our community. We do know, for example, that 50% of the students who graduated OJCS last year from French Extended are currently in Grade 9 French Immersion in high school (the other 50% opted out). They report being successful and having been adequately prepared. It may not be statistically significant (this was not a large class), but it lines up with last year’s data and the ample anecdotal evidence we do have that OJCS students can and do successfully transition from “Extended” to “Immersion” in Grade 9.
Here is what we committed to for this school year:
Conversations with parents about their hopes and expectations for maximal French contact time will begin during the admissions process. Students who may require additional support to place into “Extended” need to be identified early.
The selection process in Grade 3 will be more rigorous, begin earlier, come with more parental engagement, etc., so that students who do continue into “Extended” for Grades 4 and higher are even better prepared for Grade 9.
We will increase the rigor and immersive experience of what contact time we presently make available. We need to squeeze every moment of immersive French possible. This includes a philosophical shift in K-3 that raises the bar – rather than aim towards the middle and wait to see who rises up, we will aim towards immersion and stream those who struggle.
We adjusted our schedule to increase contact time with French. Students in OJCS have more contact time with French in each grade (except K which was already frontloaded).
Here is how our French Language Faculty put it when we met with parents twice yesterday at our “French Q & A Sessions”:
Vivre en françaisà OJCS
At OJCS, the FSL (French as a second language) faculty has made a commitment to speak French with their students everywhere in the school, so if you walked through our hallways, you would hear us speaking French to our students, increasing the interaction and contact time with our students.
Our enhanced FSL program with its consolidated class time (blocks of periods), all within a trilingual school where the francophone culture is alive and regularly celebrated, produces students capable of successfully communicating and learning in French.
Students practice their language skills in various environments, such as on the playground, and during coaching on our various OJCS sports teams.
Our FSL faculty is committed to offering authentic OJCS learning experiences.
While we believe we are on a gradual path towards clarity around French outcomes and increased excellence in French education, we are also aware of how serious an issue this is for a meaningful percentage of our families. We have also seen how the use of consultancy has jumpstarted innovation and growth at our school. What we are announcing here is going to do for French what our other consultancies have done for OJCS – dramatically speed up the process of moving from good to great.
We have identified a few different consultancies that would provide OJCS with the following features:
One to two years of professional development for OJCS French Faculty from the same folk who train the Immersion and Francophone programs in the public boards, including multiple in-person observation and direct training.
Shareable tools for benchmarking and tracking individual students over time.
New and updated French curriculum.
Individualized paths forward for high achieving students from the OJCS “Extended” program to full Immersion programs at their next schools of choice.
The tools, the curriculum and the paths would be ours after the consultancy and would become part of the budget moving forward.
We are in the process of finalizing our consultancy and will share out additional information when confirmed. Additionally (not part of the $50K), we are also committed to adding French Resource. We feel this will bring much needed support not only for students who have IEPs, but for any student who struggles. [Yes, we are committed to adding Hebrew Resource as well.]
We enjoyed the opportunity to share our progress and our plans with parents. We appreciated the candor and the tough questions we were asked. We are pleased to share it more widely here. Interestingly, we heard similar feedback that we heard last year about three areas. One we tried to do something about and couldn’t get it off the ground; two we need to pay even closer attention to…
There was a very positive response to the idea of OJCS offering French enrichment as part of an after school program and/or as part of a summer day camp experience. We surveyed parents last year about it for this year and did not get a critical mass. We will try again.
There was a strong feeling that using Grade 4 as our arbitrary split into “Core” and “Extended” is unnecessary and that we are missing an opportunity to increase the immersive exposure in Grades K-3 when it could potentially have even more value. We addressed this issue this year with a philosophical shift (aiming higher), but we could also choose to address it structurally (actually streaming earlier). This will be worth exploring through consultancy.
There remains a meaningful percentage of our families (particularly ones who are from and/or are familiar with the model in Montreal) who would like to see us offer a full immersion track, if not embrace a full immersion model. Although our cultural context is different, we do have a responsibility to pay attention to these families. We will continue to survey and assess this need; we will also try to better calculate the opportunity cost of not having it – who is not coming to OJCS (and, thus, not getting a Jewish day school education) because we can’t offer it.
This is where you come in. We desperately want to know what you think…
…what questions did this answer for you?
…what questions did this raise for you?
…what do you want to know more about?
…what else do you want us to know?
We cannot encourage you more to email, comment or come in for a conversation. We need all voices heard as we work towards clarifying and enhancing our French mission and vision – next year and in the years ahead.
Man was endowed with two ears and one tongue, that he may listen more than speak. – Hasdai, Ben HaMelekh veHaNazir, ca. 1230, chapter 26
Although I did not purposely get behind in my “7 Habits” blog posts, it does work out nicely to land with this habit during the week of Parent-Teacher Conferences.
A lot of attention was spent before the last round of conferences on the new format for report cards and middle school conferences. We received a lot of positive feedback on those changes, but as we continue to try to be responsive to parent needs, we are going to try to take it up another level this round. Here is how we described it to our teachers:
As you finalize parent-teacher conference preparations, we remind you that successful conferences include artifacts, next steps and solutions. We encourage you to think through the lens of bringing solutions, not just problems, to the table. For any issue you need to raise with parents about academic progress or behavior, don’t just come with the issue, but with a practical solution to propose. Parents cannot be partners without clear expectations. We believe this mindset will go a long way towards having productive conferences and, more importantly, towards greater success in school.
We look forward to facilitating solutions-driven conversations and we will look for feedback to see how well we did. But all of this is focused on what we are going to bring to the table. That’s only one part of the conference. We also have to be ready to listen – to really hear – what you are coming to tell us. And that’s why this month’s habit is so perfectly timed.
We have been thinking about this at OJCS for quite some time now. Last year, we spent a faculty meeting exploring examples of ineffective and effective communication from a related field to help us prepare:
Which doctor would you prefer? Which hospital would you entrust your family to? This led, at the time, to a very productive and ongoing conversation about listening that we hope continues to lead to better and better ways of interacting with parents in our school.
Between our best preparations and our parents’ best intentions, we are looking forward to healthy and productive parent-teacher conferences this week. We are coming to the table with artifacts, next steps and solutions. But we are also coming with listening ears and open hearts; we hope that both parent and teacher will use this time to “seek first to understand and then to be understood”. If we can, (we can!) we ensure that the holy work we do together to educate children will be advanced.
It has been a busy Shavuat Ha’Ruach (Spirit Week) here at OJCS! As we gear up to Purim (tonight and) tomorrow, I thought I would take a moment to pivot away from our children and spend a little time on us – Jewish parents.
When we think about Purim as parents, we probably think most about this: “What shall I dress my children as this year for Purim?”
But hopefully for many families, including ours, the question isn’t what are we going to dress our children as for Purim. Rather, we ask ourselves what are we going to dress as for Purim?
I would wager a bet that no more than 15-25% of families attending Purim services and/or carnivals this year will come in costume. Why?
The phenomenon is often referred to as “pediatric Judaism” and I find that Purim is its paradigmatic Jewish holiday. I Googled “pediatric Judaism” to see who should get credit for its coinage and the best I could come up with was the following from a Reform Judaism Magazine article:
Why, then, the emphasis on what Rabbi Larry Hoffman, professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, calls “pediatric Judaism”? “We have planned for our children only,” he wrote in 1996. “In our understandable anxiety to pass on Judaism as their heritage, we have neglected its spiritual resources for adults, leaving ourselves with no adequate notion of how we too might draw sustenance from our faith as we grow up and grow older.”
That sounds about right.
Far too often, even those who are the most engaged – the ones who do affiliate with synagogues and do try to provide their children with Jewish educational experiences – they work to ensure their children experience and participate, but neglect to include themselves.
When as a graduate student in Los Angeles, I first attended a synagogue in which adults participated in Jewish holiday celebrations as adults – active, joyous and engaged – it was almost surreal. That was not a Judaism for children – costume contests, parades, pony rides and candy (although that may all have been there as well) – but a Judaism that adults took seriously for themselves. They were not lining the walls watching the children within; they were celebrating the joy of being Jewish for themselves.
What’s the problem with “pediatric Judaism”?
For me it is the perpetuation of the idea that being Jewish, or perhaps more accurately doing Jewish, is something that is only for children. We are our children’s most powerful role models and teachers and they are surely paying attention. When they can see that we take something seriously, it is a signal to them that they ought to as well. Children learn how to be an adult by watching our adult behaviors. We understand this as parents and so we think carefully about how we behave in front of our children, what kind of language we use, and what kind of values we express and try to live by. So, too, it is with being a Jewish adult. Our children are looking to us to see what adult Jews do and it presents us with a big opportunity and a huge responsibility.
I don’t wish to pile on parents. We will all need to do more if we are ever to cure ourselves of “pediatric Judaism”. In our schools and our synagogues, we need to reach out to parents and provide them with the support, education, experiences and love they will need to find the courage to try on new ideas and behaviors. We will need to present a Judaism worthy of the education and sophistication of our parents. Luckily, Judaism contains within it all that and more.
So…what are you going to be for Purim? Don’t let your children have all the fun…and don’t let them think that the fun of Purim is only for children.
Does it refer to Jews who serve in leadership roles? Is it about Jews who lead in accordance with Jewish values?
The first is common; the second is rare.
We’ve been thinking about it a lot at OJCS. We have come to believe that Jewish day schools can serve as incubators for Jewish leadership because they have the opportunity to encourage and inspire both.
I had the privilege of addressing this topic last Shabbat when I spoke at Congregation Machzikei Hadas and it went well enough that I was encouraged to blog about it this week.
About three, four, years ago I had the opportunity to visit Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton, Florida and I can still recall how each time we entered a new classroom, how a student would automatically pop up, come over, introduce themselves, tell us what was happening in the class, and then offer to answer any questions we may have. Class after class after class. No prompting from teachers. I further noted how each teacher had a personal mission statement on the doors of each classroom. The hallways were labeled in both Hebrew and English with each of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
That was how I was first introduced to the “7 Habits”. I further learned how CAJE-Miami helped provide training for many of the Jewish day schools in South Florida to receive training in The Leader in Me – which helps schools bring the 7 Habits to life – and provided some Jewish value translation work to ensure they could live throughout the Jewish day school experience. And, with some stops between then and now, that is how it came to be that OJCS began prototyping its own version of the 7 Habits this year.
I have been blogging about the details of this prototype as we have introduced each new habit (and, yes, I am actually now one behind) and in preparation for last Shabbat I came across an article from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks that helped me connect some dots. “Seven Principles of Jewish Leadership” is the title and the symmetry was too good to pass up. As a first step, I expanded upon a visual already created by CAJE-Miami and I created a visual that integrated Rabbi Sacks’ “Seven Principles” with the “7 Habits” with Jewish values. What I did conversationally, was link each of the “sevens” with Jewish text and real examples of what it looks like in a school or classroom. In a nutshell, I tried to answer the question of what happens when a Jewish day school moves Jewish leadership from the implicit curriculum to the explicit curriculum.
Here’s a graphic organizer to help you get oriented:
You may note that all of the “sevens” are further divided along Rabbi Hillel’s famous dictum from Pirkei Avot 1:14 (again borrowed from CAJE-Miami) – the first three focus on the individual, the second three on the relationship between the individual and community, and the final on, let’s say “timing”. So. How about we explore what this can look like in real life and in real classrooms?
#1: For me, the relevant texts are the juxtaposition between the lack of responsibility taken by Adam in the Garden of Eden (the serpent made me do it!) and Cain (Am I my brother’s keeper?) and how Moshe responds when he sees a Hebrew slave being beaten or when he discovers Yitro’s daughters being harassed by shepherds. In terms of examples, in our school being proactive and taking responsibility lives in both formal structures like Knesset (student government) and informal structures like prototyping. Two recent examples come to mind. A member of Knesset pitched us on letting a student co-own the school’s Instagram account to make it more student-friendly. Also, the entire Grade 4 pitched us on allowing them greater access to student blogging:
The prototyping culture we are creating encourages and incentivizes students to take responsibility, to be proactive and in the parlance of our “North Stars” to truly “own their own learning”.
#2: Here we look to Sefer D’varim (Book of Deuteronomy) in which during the last month of his life, Moshe sets out a vision and a set of laws to secure it. When we think at OJCS about the future, about “beginning with the end in mind,” we want our students to learn how to envision a future for themselves and then learn how to communicate and achieve it. We provide them with opportunities to develop these skills through a variety of student-led experiences with both high and low stakes. We collaboratively goal-set with each student around academic and behavioral outcomes, for example, as we head down a path that will likely end in student-led conferences (replacing parent-teacher conferences). We also provide students with opportunities to plan and run clubs such as our “Detective Club” and “Alien Club”.
#3: Thinking about “putting first things first” and an overall sense of timing leads me to Rabbi Tarfon who said in Mishnah Avot 2:16, “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” In the life of school, this resonates with all the ways we are trying to help our students navigate time management and executive functioning. We now offer a Study Skills Elective each week. We offer twice-weekly Study Hall. We are looking at an Executive Functioning Boot Camp model for next year. We are looking at tools like Google Calendar and Google Keep. Another way we think about “putting first things first” is building on the success of our Middle School Retreat in helping create a sense of community and shared expectations for our middle schoolers each and every year.
#4: This next one is a little dense, but is actually one of my favorite teachings about leadership. Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, a leading theologian and philosopher from the Reform Movement, wrote an article years and years ago in which he asserted that (religious) leadership should model itself on the kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum. “Tzimtzum” as described by Isaac Luria is the idea that in order to create the world, God had to contract Godself in order to make room for creation to take place. In other words, sometimes leadership is about making space for others to lead. These ideas are embedded in two of our North Stars – “We learn better together” & “We are each responsible one to the other” – and live in the commitment we have made to project-based learning and conflict resolution.
#5: The Torah teaches that a king must write his own Sefer Torah which “must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life” (Deut. 17:19). Leaders learn. At OJCS, this lives in the North Star of “A floor, but no ceiling,” and in our emphasis on personalized learning. This year we are prototyping “Genius Hour” projects as just one example of letting students lead with their passion and letting their passion lead to their learning. In terms of “seeking first to understand and then be understood” we are working with JFS to provide “Kindness Workshops” to our students to help them skill-build towards active listening.
#6: Here I am going to quote directly from Rabbi Sacks in his article when he says, “One of Judaism’s greatest insights into leadership: The highest form of leadership is teaching. Power begets followers. Teaching creates leaders”. We provide our students with lots of opportunities to learn through teaching and to learn leadership skills by “owning their learning”. Whether it is a Grade 6 WE Day project, leading a Rosh Chodesh assembly, designing a Hebrew Escape Room or interviewing residents at Hillel Lodge, our students develop the skills to see projects through, to dream dreams, to speak publicly, and to organize. These are all the building blocks of leadership.
#7: There are no shortage of examples of stressed out and overwhelmed leaders in the Bible. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and Jonah – just to name a few – all at some point prayed to die rather than carry on as a Jewish leader. That is certainly an extreme example of the toll leadership can take, but we acknowledge that stress is very real for our students and families. It is partly why one of our North Stars is “Ruach” – we have intentionally and explicitly named joy and spirit and wellness as a guiding value in our school. Studying in school (and teaching!) is supposed to be joyful. We do our best to provide wellness and mindfulness into the school day. It is why we remain committed to Art, Music and PE as part of a well-rounded experience. Students deserve to feel successful and joyful and not each student is going to find that in the traditional academic subjects. It is why we have a “Ruach Week” and a Middle School Retreat. It is also why we are looking at advisory and guidance models. The emotional and spiritual wellbeing of our students is important for them as human beings, and as future leaders.
We cannot take for granted that what was once true will always be true. It has been true for generations that the leaders of Jewish organizations, schools and synagogues have come from the ranks of Jewish day schools; and flourished as a result. If we want that to continue – if we want to secure the Jewish future – our schools will need to work to make what was once implicit, explicit. Jewish leadership requires Jewish leaders who know how to lead – not just as Jews, but Jewish-ly. Ken y’hi ratzon.
As we announced last year, thanks to the generosity of the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund, we were going to take on our first major project to make our physical space as innovative as our educational program. Or rather, we are now able to think about designing spaces that will best allow the unique vision OJCS has for teaching and learning to best come to life. [With a building as “seasoned” as ours, we don’t lack for options!] We intend to completely redo our “computer lab” and transform it into a tech-friendly collaborative workspace. We intend to completely redo our “library” and transform it into a 22nd century media literacy center. Etc. But we have decided to lead with a makerspace. Why? Glad you asked!
Although more and more schools have invested in makerspaces, it is still rare enough that it is okay if you are asking yourself an obvious question: What is a makerspace?
Makerspaces are popping up in schools across the country. Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.
A makerspace is not solely a science lab, woodshop, computer lab or art room, but it may contain elements found in all of these familiar spaces. Therefore, it must be designed to accommodate a wide range of activities, tools and materials. Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces.
When you think about many of the exciting prototypes in play this year at OJCS – Genius Hour, VR, 21st Century Judaica, Robotics, Blogs, Recreating Biblical Artifacts and QR Codes for Art Projects, just to name a very few – they share one feature in common. They all require our students (and teachers) to make something. These are all learning prototypes that include or result in a tangible (including digital or virtual) product. They are also projects that are both cross-curricular and collaborative. A classroom is not always designed to house learning of this kind. Our school needs a place where students can come as a class or in teams or on their own to be inspired. Our school needs a place where teachers can come with students or in their own teams or on their own to be inspired. Our school needs a learning commons designed as a hub of creativity. Our school needs an incubator of innovation. Our school needs a makerspace.
And so the work has begun! Our first step was to identify a partner to bring our dreams to life. We interviewed a few architecture firms, but found in our new friends Ryan and Wendy, from Project1 Studio, a partner who brings enthusiasm, creativity and expertise to the work. Our next step, which was this week, was to convene a group of teachers, students and administrators for a “Visioning Session” to allow them to begin to identify the kinds of activities we believe should take place in our new OJCS Makerspace. What will be the right blend of…
movie-making equipment (green screens, sound mixing, movie editing equipment, etc.)
state of the art presentation space (TED Talk-style),
…activities, tools and zones to maximize our space and enhance energy and enthusiasm for learning at OJCS.
[Where is this space going to be located, you might be wondering (if you are an OJCS parent)?
We are working with the footprint of our current Science Lab and adjoining offices. That gives us about a 1,300 square foot space to play with, but it does require that we factor in our current Science needs within the design.]
Once we settle on our priorities, we will move to design. From design we move to furniture and fixtures and from there we move to construction itself. Our current schedule has us breaking ground in July and on target for a grand opening on the very first day of the 2019-2020 school year!
It will be our pleasure to share out designs as they come in and it would be our pleasure to show any current or prospective families the spaces we are discussing. Although we know the building isn’t the most important factor in a quality education, we also know that the right kinds of spaces can have a meaningful impact on the educational experience. We are proud at OJCS to be creating innovative spaces to match our innovative program. It is just another example of how OJCS is becoming an educational leader in our community.
Nope! We teased it two weeks ago when we said that,
For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on. Stay tuned!
Well, as we head into our February Break with a Friday PD Day facilitated by our friends from NoTosh, this seems like a good opportunity to share out the amazing work our DocuMentors are doing. Which teachers are part of this cohort again?
Glad you asked!
We are so pleased to have a diverse (grade level, subject & experience) group of new teachers (folk who were not part of the NoTosh Design Team; excepting Melissa, Keren & me) who are learning new paradigms, NOW literacies and innovative skills and practices which are not only impacting their work, but the larger work of the school.
Don’t believe me? Well…let the tour begin!
“Cohort 2018” has a home page where you can see summaries and insights from Silvia herself. “Cohort 2018” has a landing page where you can get links to each teacher’s professional blog. That’s where the magic lies.
From Ann-Lynn’s Blog (click here for the full blog)
Who Own’s the Learning? Daily 5 Chronicles – Posted on January 27th
Daily 5 is a literacy framework that instills behaviors of independence, creates a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers, and learners, and provides teachers with the time and structure to meet diverse student needs. Because it holds no curricular content, it can be used to meet any school, district, state, or national standards. ~ The Daily Cafe
This week I asked myself, “Is the Daily 5 literacy framework allowing my students to achieve the ultimate goal?” Are they a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers and learners? Do they truly own their learning? As my Grade 2s completed their literacy block this past Wednesday morning and headed off to their next class, I remained in the empty classroom long enough to browse through my phone and look at some photos I had recently added. Were they just photos of compliant students doing what was asked of them, or did I have a classroom of students who now own their learning? Let’s examine four components of the Daily 5 and the photos which I believe captured my students owning their learning.
Work on Writing
I will confess, if I did not take a few minutes to quickly walk around the room and ask questions, I might have deleted these photos, not truly understanding the evidence I possessed in my photo album. In the photos below, both students were working on their writing, yet neither student was getting their inspiration from a class list of topics. One was very eager to complete a biography on a famous basketball player, Kawhi Leonard and another student was busy completing a narrative on a special family event. Yet a third student, who sadly will be leaving us in a few weeks, took this opportunity to write an account of her experience here in Canada for the past two years. Who owns the learning?They do!
My students understand the importance of expanding their vocabulary. The photo below captures a student wanting to learn more and being self-motivated to do so. The student chose to spend our literacy block reading chapter 2 of our novel study “My Father’s Dragon”, stopping to jot down words she is unfamiliar with. I know I am hoping to see these vocabulary words added to our live dictionary on Flipgrid. The group photo below is evidence of two things; an example of Win Win, and a group of students who chose to play the competitive level of Osmo words. Before the Osmo spelling game could begin, however, the students had to resolve a conflict, brainstorming a solution where everyone wins.
Who owns the learning? They do!
Read to Self/Read to Someone
Finally, as all these wonderful things were taking place in my classroom, I had the opportunity to do some one-on-one conferencing with some students. Where were the others you ask? They took this opportunity to make a quick trip to the library to add to their book bins. They were using the Star Reading program to help them choose a “Just Right” book. This last photo in my post needs no words to describe what is taking place. But three words come to mind, highlyengaged readers.
From Chelsea’s Blog, “The Chrysalis Chronicles” (click here for the full blog)
Is it making my thoughts visible with symbols, pictures, arrows, ideas?
Could this be a way I have my students take notes to enhance their thoughts and learning about how math concepts are related?
Can I video/record the sketchnoting process (stop motion) to show my doodles and thoughts over time?
How will sketchnoting change my learning?
How will it change it and throw me to do something different?
How am I going to take my examples and practices of sketchnoting and use it to sketchnote for learning?
These questions are running through my head as we gear up to begin this new learning process.
Opening up and getting ready to begin my first Sketchnote using the Paper app.
Doodling has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing. ~ Suni Brown
And I’m off…
On my third sketchnote…getting the hang of this..as we learn and “live” sketch…it’s hard…very hard… listening and sketching at the same time…
challenging my multi-tasking skills….
Let’s keep going….
so…here I am…
…look at everyone else… They are doing so well! We are learning so much!
…but…how am I feeling…this is going on too long…I’m feeling very uninterested…not by my lack of artistic skills (Tip #1 You don’t need to be an artist)…but I’m starting to tune out and not enjoy this process..but I’m hanging in there.
What does this tell or say about me?
First, that drawing may not be for me…but I’m open to try new things and work through it…
Second, that as much as I am a visual learner…I’d much rather express my own thoughts through words to communicate my output. This makes me think to a colleague sharing their learning DNA. I can have more than one learning competency, and this means; so can our students!
Back to more questions…now with some answers!
would some of my students really enjoy this…YES!
is it a skill that may be helpful and beneficial for some students to grow…YES!
is this another avenue, tool, and skill to learn, and create from and with… YES!
So…back at it…and let’s try some more sketching…
I’m in this to learn…not just for me, but for my students…
Tip 8! WHY!?
Sketchnoting For…. This is it! This is why I’m continuing to do this…through my personal frustration and disengagement: for the students!
…to contribute, to give skills, to make meaning, to enhance memory, to tell a story, make connections, to reflect, to display content….to CREATE!
Here is my final sketchnote from…the big reveal…
10 Tips for Sketchnoting from a Sketch”novice”
I’ll continue to try sketching more…and provide an update of my progress.
If you want to try to sketchnote yourself, I encourage you to try it out! If you’re looking for inspiration and ideas.. check out the following places and links.
You may surprise yourself, learn something about yourself, and perhaps a new skill to surprise and encourage others!
From Shira’s Blog, “Finding the Light” (click here for the full blog)
Capturing Resilience – Posted on January 16th
Today the Documentors were invited into a Grade 3 math class with the goal of making learning visible. The students were assigned open-ended multiplication problems, and demonstrated their knowledge of 1 or 2 digit multiplication, using pictures, words, and numbers to demonstrate their thinking.
During the pre-documentation phase, I decided to focus on capturing the students resilience. How do they continue when they hit a barrier? What tools do they use? Do they persevere or do they give up? Resilience has been proven to be a strong measure of students success.
This trait is also attached to one of our school’s North Stars…We Own Our Own Learning.
The students were amazing! They were eager to get to work and tackled their problems with enthusiasm. Even with 9 extra adults in the room snapping photos, taking videos, and writing notes, they weren’t deterred. Even the first demonstration began with a student detailing how she began again as her first trial wasn’t working.
Then they broke into groups of two and the work began. It was beautiful to see the students working together, listening to each others ideas, and using trial and error multiple times to figure things out.
When some groups got stuck, they raised their hand for help or patiently waited for their teacher to come and support them. She reminded them to break the question down and use trial and error. They immediately got back to work.
I observed students continuing to work to figure out what was missing. They kept trying even though it was hard, and when one group felt down, with a little encouragement they continued to work with enthusiasm.
During the gallery walk we had a chance to ask the student leading questions. The resilience shone through in each and every group I spoke to.
When explaining her work, one student told me that there were lots of possibilities for the answers. I asked if she was finished and she said:
“There are still more possibilities. I am working on the math.”
Another pair explained that they tackled the problem by just starting to experiment different ways to solve the problem. When they got stuck their strategy was:
“We kept experimenting stuff.”
When there were problems one group said:
“We each did half.” When they got stuck, “We talked to each other, we erased it and did it another way.”
Was resilience evident?
I want to share examples of Bethany, Josh, Melissa & Keren’s blogs as well – which I will do on our next tour – but you can view all their blogs by starting at the landing page and diving in.
Do you see how excited our teachers are about learning? Can you imagine how exciting it is for our students to have teachers like this?
We can! Because that is what life is (now) like at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.
If each time the school calls is to inform the parent that their child has misbehaved (or is sick or forgot their lunch), one imagines that when the phone rings and the school’s phone number comes up on the “caller ID”, the parent is not exactly excited to pick up. But what if just every now and again we are calling to let them know how proud we are of their child?
How often do principals or heads of school get to call parents with good news?
And that was before we had clarified our “North Stars” or launched our “7 Habits“. It was simply a desire to flip the script.
If each time you were sent to the “principal’s office” was because you were in trouble, you probably wouldn’t want to be hanging out in that part of the building. And if a principal only spent his or her time with students referred for misbehavior, there would be a significant gap in relationships.
We made a commitment that our teachers would start sending students to us when they do something kind. That way when the phone rings in the home of an OJCS parent and the school comes up on the “caller ID”, the emotion it triggers is excitement and not dread.
So, how’s it going?
It actually took a bit longer than expected to get going, but it has been slowly building this year. The above is just from the last few weeks…so…pick up the phone when we call…your child may be next!
How about this week, we take a trip through The OJCS Blogosphere and kvell about some of the excellent projects our students and teachers are engaged in. Perhaps it is too much to expect folk to check all the blogs all the time – especially if they are not parents in a particular class. So allow me to serve as your tour guide this week and visit some highlights…
From the Grade Three – Kitah Gimmel Blog (click here for the full blog)
Grade 3 Introduces Blogging to Grade 1 – Posted on January 23rd
After all their hard work and preparation, Grade 3 presented their blog posts to Grade 1 and taught them about how to comment in an effective and meaningful way. The grade 3 blogging group prepared a ‘stations’ layout and the grade 1 students were split into groups and visited each station. Upon arrival at each station, the grade 3 blogging group had prepared a speech, introducing their blog and how one may go about commenting. They shared rules and a model example, alongside comment sentence starters and comment boxes.
Grade 3 even took the time to reflect and reply to the comments, responding to questions and developing answers.
They were mini teachers in action, with their lesson plans, resources and differentiation. Well done Grade 3! And thank you Grade 1 for being such good commentators, we really appreciate your kind and encouraging words!
From the Grade Five – Kitah Hay Blog (click here for the full blog)
Une tempête de neige! – Posted on January 17th
Il fait tellement froid dehors qu’il a commencé à neiger à l’intérieur! Aujourd’hui en 5T, nous avons eu une bataille de “boules de neige» pour mettre en pratique notre nouveau vocabulaire!
From the Grade Seven – Kitah Zayin Science Blog (click here for the full blog)
Grade 7 Virtual Reality Presentations – Posted on January 14th
Grade 7 students building their communication, collaboration, digital media, researching, and coding skills as part of their CoSpaces Ecosystems presentations for judges.
From the Grade Four – Kitah Dalet Blog (click here for the full blog)
Guest Blogger of the Week – Shylee – Posted on January 18th
I hope you have fun looking at what Grade 4 did this week. Our class is doing the school reading challenge, and so far we have read 396 books. Our goal is to read 600 books. We might even have to make our goal higher.
In English class we have been practicing our interviewing skills. This week we interviewed our reading buddies from Ganon on what they liked to do, their hobbies, etc…. We are going to be interviewing the residents of Hillel Lodge for an upcoming project.
We also took part in a Research Workshop about using key words instead of typing long questions into Google. We have also been practicing our research skills in class too.
In French, we have been working on a new unit. The new unit that we are working on is sports. We have been doing a little project at home about an athlete.
In Art, we have been doing a project about a fox. We will be putting the artwork in the hall of the school.
In Hebrew we have been practicing for the Tu B’Shevat Seder that we will be having at Hillel Lodge. We have been practicing a play to perform for the residents. Liam and Inbar have been helping us get ready. We will be performing a song as well. This is a video of some of my classmates singing (notice Dr. Mitzmacher listening in the background)
Today we did a special activity with Morah Ada. For ‘Ivrit Be’Kef (fun in Hebrew) Devorah (Joey) and Ma’ayan (Mia) translated a recipe to Hebrew and gave us the instructions of how to make the cookies.
This is Mrs. Bertrand who helps us organize with all the Knesset meetings. I am the class rep for Grade Four, and I love going to all the meetings and helping organize activities at the school.
Being a blogger was an awesome experience. It was hard taking the pictures during the classes because people were moving a lot. Putting it together on the blog taught me how to embed pictures and videos and learn how to type better and edit my work. I am looking forward to being a blogger again.
Pretty amazing stuff, eh?
I encourage you not only to check out all the blogs on the OJCS Blogosphere, but I encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own. Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.
For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on. Stay tuned!
That’s not rhetorical. It is an actual, live question that we are finally ready to begin answering here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, as promised.
It is reasonable to conclude that there are various philosophies about what the purpose of homework ought to be and that there is ample research to be found supporting just about all of them. For our school, however, the conversation comes with a context. Considering who we are and what we believe to be true about teaching and learning, what ought to be the role of homework here?
What is our current homework policy?
We have a simple 10 minutes that incrementally increases by grade level (outside of reading) formula for estimating the appropriate time it should take a typical student to complete his or her homework.
Part of the impetus for taking this on is that not only does that policy seem not to hold true often enough, it fails to address the whys and whats of homework. It only speaks to, “how much?” We can do better.
The purpose of an OJCS Homework Policy, once re-imagined, will be to provide guidelines for teachers, provide for consistency through the grades, and to educate parents who have questions about homework. A school policy regarding homework, along with clear expectations for teachers as to what constitutes good homework, can help to strengthen the benefits of homework for student learning.
This policy will need to address the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators. The OJCS Homework Policy will be based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework.
Without having had all the conversations we will be having, I do think based on the conversations we have had, that there are philosophical conclusions consistent with who we are that we can put up front that will inform the policy once complete. The philosophy at the Ottawa Jewish Community School regarding K-8 homework is that it should only be assigned if it is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate. Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding. Homework should be consistent with the school’s “North Stars” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.
There are also some commonsense practices we believe will help to increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.
Homework is more effective when:
…..the purpose of the homework assignment is clear. Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.
…..it does not discourage and frustrate students. Students should be familiar with the concepts and material (unless a flipped pedagogy is being employed).
…..it is on a consistent schedule. It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.
…..it is explicitly related to the classwork.
…..it is engaging and creative.
…..it is authentic.
…..feedback is given. Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.
…..it is personalized.
This is not to suggest that we are not presently trying to live up to the above in our current practice. But it is to suggest that our written policy fails to provide teachers, parents or students with sufficient guidance to ensure that all students in all grades are doing appropriate homework – appropriate quality, appropriate content and appropriate length.
As with every other initiative or project we undertake at OJCS, our conversation and conclusions about homework will be done collaboratively and transparently. We look forward to these conversations, to doing the work, and to sharing it out when done.