“Caught Being Kind” at OJCS: One Year Later

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote:

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!

A Trip Around The OJCS Blogosphere

You know what?  Enough about me!

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!

The Transparency Files: Why Do We Give Homework?

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.

Habits of Kindness: Think Win-Win

This time we will let our 7th Grade introduce this month’s habit:

Like others of the 7 Habits, I am struck by the paradox of simplicity the habits create. “Think Win-Win” seems so simple, right?  Yes, there are developmental examples where that not might be possible (thinking of my 10 and 13 year-old daughters) and, yes, there are issues that perhaps are not so easily resolved with two winners (someone has to win the basketball game).  But as a philosophy?  Sure – of course things are best if we viewed challenges as opportunities for everyone to win, not with an inevitable outcome of a winner and a loser.  We might not always achieve a full “win-win”, but striving towards it will always yield a kinder result than “winner-takes-all”.

So instead of using this blog to highlight a personal or professional “win-win” of my own, I want to make a brief comment on the power of transferability, utilizing the “Habits of Kindness” between home and school…

Members of our faculty have been and/or will be reading The Leader in Me, which is the book that helpsbooks schools begin the journey of bringing the 7 Habits into practice.  And as we have been reading, we are realizing the broader impacts, particularly the opportunity to strengthen the relationship between school and home.

From Chapter 3,

“…observe that the same principles and approach being taught at these schools can also be taught at home. One of the great things about the leadership approach is what it is doing to enhance the parent-school partnership.  For starters, it is bringing more parents into the schools to volunteer and support school and classroom activities.  But even more important is what is occurring as students apply the principles to their daily tasks and behaviors at home.  In other words, it is not just teachers who are reporting better behaviors and reduced discipline issues. Parents are reporting the same kinds of positive results. This is particularly true in families where parents have come to know the principles for themselves and have made conscious efforts to reinforce and teach them…If you are a parent, I promise that if you open your mind to it, you will have endless ideas of how you can apply what these educators are doing to your home.”

Excerpt From: Stephen R. Covey. “The Leader in Me.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/NPFVw.l

Now that we are a few months in, I do actually see – as a parent – my children beginning to use the language.  Eliana will say that she is “being proactive” or Maytal will say that she is “putting first things first” which has definitely allowed them to be better organized. Because we are currently working on “think win-win”, I am hopeful it will have a spillover to our family because I think this attitude could only help siblings navigate the everyday challenges of sharing time, people and stuff in a busy 21st century family.

In prior posts, I have given examples from our school of how we are putting the Habits of Kindness into effect…

…if you are a parent at OJCS and you are seeing the impact at home, please offer a quality comment!

…if you are a parent or educator at another school who utilize the 7 Habits, please share your experiences with us so we can continue to improve our implementation here!

We’ll keep sharing our successes and struggles…and if you keep offering advice and feedback…well, we just might achieve a “win-win” of our own!

Annual BlogCloud – A WordCloud to the Wise

It is that magical time of year!

That time where after having written many (many) long (long) blog posts on “very important topics” that with Winter Break approaching, even I am ready for a fun and simple post.  [Note: This will likely be my last blog post until we resume school in the new (secular) year.]

So.  If you missed last year’s post

I 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) takes 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.

What does my blog post look like in a word cloud this year?

Words that have increased their frequency that I love?  Transparency, prototype, blog, kindness, strategy, community and innovative.

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

If you see something interesting in the OJCS word cloud, let us know in the comments!

Wishing all our students, families, teachers, volunteers, donors, supporters and the entire OJCS community a safe and joyful Winter Break!  We are looking forward to big things in 2019!

Habits of Kindness: Put First Things First

So Rosh Chodesh Tevet will take place over the weekend, but never fear, we will hold our Rosh Chodesh Tevet Assembly on Monday morning!  And with another Rosh Chodesh comes the introduction, from our “7 Habits Prototype Team” and Knesset, of the third of the 7 Habits: Put First Things First.

As the song says, there are 525,600 minutes in one year.  However, when you consider that approximately 175,200 minutes of that time will be spent sleeping, 16,425 minutes spent eating, and if you’re a student, 72,000 minutes spent in school, you have less than half that total to spend on the rest of your life. Therefore, it is essential to do the important things first—if you leave them until last, you might run out of time.

You know how something is so obvious that you dismiss it?

That’s how I feel about this habit.

You have likely heard that song and/or seen that video numerous times in the past and you know that the moral of the story is to remember that your big rocks are your family and friends and to not get bogged down in the sands of workaholism and workaday concerns.

So why did I get to work yesterday at 7:00 AM and come home at 9:15 PM?

Why do so many of us struggle with finding balance when we know where our true priorities lie?

I don’t have an answer…but I do have an opportunity!

[Bonus Expat File Mini-Post:]

I really believe that Canada is a place that pays more than lip service to work-life balance and wellness.  It may not have quite rubbed off on me yet, but I welcome the opportunity to share and reflect with my Canadian colleagues about how we try to keep ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically prepared to passionately pursue our profession while remaining loving and present spouses, partners, parents, children and friends.

I have made two commitments to wellness this year that are a constant source of teasing…

…I purchased a mini-standing desk for laptop users.

…I purchased a seasonal affective disorder lamp.

I have seen the articles all about how “sitting is the new smoking” and if that is even partly true, I am sadly stage something with sitting.  So I am now standing a few hours a day at my desk and we’ll see what happens!

It is dark when I get to school and dark when I leave school.  And for fun, for about half the year it is pretty dark while I am at school too!  So I have decided to see if one of these SAD lights will keep me un-SAD during the long winter months.

What do you do to “put first things first”?  Feel free to share your secrets via a quality comment on this blog!

The Transparency Files: CAT*4 Results

In the lull between parent-teacher conferences, I spent my time reading and analyzing the results of this year’s CAT*4 testing.  [I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) my philosophy on test-taking and how we planned on both sharing the tests with parents and utilizing the data in our decision-making.]  We are in the process of providing 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.

In terms of sharing out the results publicly, which I will happily do, there are a few things worth pointing out:

  • Although we do have prior years, they are not “apples to apples” enough to plot as comparison data.  This is mostly because of our decision to change our testing window and partially because we don’t have enough grades taking the test often enough.  (I have data on spring tests from two and three years ago for grades 3 & 6.)  If that changes, part of this annual analysis will consist of tracking the grades over time 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.

One final caveat about why share out grade and class averages at all when so much of our focus is on personalized learning and individual growth…

Here, my thinking has been influenced by the work I was doing prior to coming to Ottawa, in my role as Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network and then part of the transition team which helped create Prizmah.  I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with colleagues about the different challenges Jewish day schools often have from their secular private school and high-achieving public (and/or gifted programs and in the States and/or magnet and/or charter) school neighbors.  The biggest difference comes down to a philosophy of admissions.  [Please note that although a primary audience for my blog are OJCS parents, other folk read as well, so I am including references to forms of public education that are commonly found in the States.]

Most Jewish day schools attempt to cast the widest net possible, believing it is our mission to provide a Jewish day school education to all who may wish one.  We do not, often, restrict admission to a subset of the population who score X on an admissions test and we do not, often, adjust birthday cutoffs or recommend grade repeating to maximize academic achievement. However, schools who we are most often compared to in terms of academic achievement often do one or both.  If you then factor in whether or not you exempt special needs students from the testing and whether or not you explicitly teach to the test, you may have quite an uneven playing field to say the least.

To reframe and reset the discussion:

Jewish day schools have an inclusive admissions policy, but are expected to compete equally with elite private and high-achieving public (and gifted and, in the States, magnet and charter and suburban public) schools who have exclusive admissions policies or homogeneous populations.

So, in light of all of that – if a Jewish day school with an inclusive admissions policy, a non-exempted special needs population, and a commitment to “not teach to the test” – if that kind of school could demonstrate that it was achieving secular academic excellence on par with elite schools; well to me that would be news worth sharing.

So with all those caveats in mind, in the spirit of full transparency, and with the attitude that all data is valuable data, allow me to present this year’s results:

The bottom line of this graphic is that each grade in the Ottawa Jewish Community School scored, with a few exceptions, at a mean grade equivalent a full year higher than their current grade.  There are a few (Grade 3 Writing, Grade 3 Spelling, Grade 6 Writing, Grade 6 Spelling and Grade 6 Computation) that are closer to their current grade.  [Part of our ongoing analysis and annual comparison would be to learn more about our current spelling and writing outcomes.  Part of our deeper investigation is whether there is a way to layer on standardized French and possibly Hebrew tests to learn more about those important outcomes.]  There are a lot of grades/topics whose averages are significantly higher than that, but let the boldface sink in for a bit.

Too much time dedicated to Jewish Studies?  Nope – a high-quality Jewish Studies program enhances secular academics.  Too much time dedicated to Skyping or blogging?  Nope – an innovative learning paradigm not only positively impacts student motivation, but leads to higher student achievement.

I can sense the tone of triumphalism in my writing and, although I am extremely proud of our students and teachers for their achievements, I do not wish to sound boastful.  But with the state of Jewish day school education being what it is, when there is good news to share…share it one must!  I firmly believe that Jewish day schools with dual-curricula (and in our case tri-curricula!) and innovative pedagogy and philosophy produce unmatched excellence in secular academics.  Here in our school, we will have to prove it year after year, subject after subject, and student after student in order to live up to our mutually high expectations, but what an exciting challenge it shall be coming to school each day to tackle!

Liveblog of OJCS 2018 Winter PD Day

Sure for some folk it is “Black Friday” or a “day off” – but at OJCS it is our Winter Professional Day and we are excited to spend a day together learning!  We want you to be as excited about what we are learning and what it will mean for our school as we are, so I will once again liveblog the day.

[A liveblog is as it sounds – I am typing live as it is happening.  Which means it will come even more unedited than normal!]

9:00 AM “Speed-Geeking”

We began the day with “Speed-Geeking” – a quick rotation (about 20 minutes a station) where the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano this year (our “DocuMentors”) have each chosen a tool they have begun learning about and think other teachers would be excited to add to their growing repertoire of innovative pedagogies.

Explain Everything

In this session, they are learning about how to use the “Explain Everything” app to create tutorials, to have students better show their work, etc.  Lots of great conversation about how this might apply in Math classes – not just showing me the answer, but how they got there.  What a great example of documentation not just of learning, but as learning!  Jewish Studies Teachers are brainstorming ways they could use the app to demonstrate ability to retell the narrative of holidays.  I can tell already that a lot of teachers are going to be looking to use this in the class – across subjects and grades.  Twenty minutes goes fast!  On to the next one…

Flipgrid

In this session, teachers are being wowed by what they can do with Flipgrid.   This has become a very hot tool in the education world and we have already begun using it at OJCS (as teachers and with students).  It is a very good tool for shared reflection, a really import skill if one is going to “own their own learning” (north start alert!).  You can also develop virtual “pen pals” through FlipPals – exchanging videos with students from all over the globe.  We definitely do “learn better together” (north start alert!)!  It is always exciting to watch teachers be excited and get excited.  Right now the teachers are using a QR code to take them to two live OJCS Flipgrids being used in Grade 5 – one for our new “Genius Hour” prototype and one to share about books they love. It is another example of how 21st century learning changes the where, when and how of learning.  Students can add new videos anytime and anywhere…and they are!  It is also a great tool for teachers – so we created our own Flipgrid for our teachers to share their ideas with each other and with the world.  Time is flying…

iMovie

Do you know how amazing it is to watch a teacher who was nervous and reluctant to try a tool wind up teaching other teachers about that tool?  I do!  Because I am watching it happen in real time…iMovie isn’t so much the chiddush here, but for teachers to better understand how using video as a tool for documentation of/as/for learning is so critical for developing the artifacts we need to better understand their growth and to better explain that growth for parents.  One issue that has come up is how great video is for helping students for whom writing is a challenge be able to better express all that they are capable of.  [Side note: Watching the cohort begin to use similar language from the work they are doing with Silvia shows you that the learning is beginning to stick.  It was the same from our last PD day when the NoTosh Design Team presented in a similar fashion and began to speak the new language.]  [Side side note: Considering how many years across so many organizations I have worked with Silvia, it is extra special.  I have missed all that Silvia has brought to my last three jobs.  And to me.]  [Super inside side side note: I see you Andrea Hernandez.  We’re not done with you!]

Twitter

What’s the best way to do PD in 2018? Get on Twitter and join the conversation.  Connecting with other schools and communities?  Twitter. Expand our learning networks? Twitter.  Learn from leading international educators?  Twitter. Free, open and a sharing community?  Twitter.  Learning about Twitter from a teacher who just recently joined Twitter and is super-excited about it?  Well that’s OJCS. #TheOJCSDifference indeed!  We are being walked through a tweet, hashtags, replying, etc.  Teachers are seeing how easy it is to use and I have a feeling there will be a few more members of the Twitterverse by the time the morning comes to and end!  We’re almost done…one more to go!

Skype

Skype isn’t just for connecting with grandparents!  (Actually that’s kinda FaceTime these days, but still…) There is so much happening on Skype these days, especially for education. That’s why they call it “Skype in the Classroom“!  Between Mystery Skypes and Skype Virtual Tours and Skype Collaborations and Skype Guest Speakers there is really no end to the where in the world the learning can take you.  As has been true in other sessions, teachers of every age and every subject are beginning to dream what could be true for them.  Kitah Hay can take a virtual tour of a a kibbutz.  Grade One can have a book read to them by a famous author.  Middle School can have a Mystery Skype in Hong Kong.  And I have a feeling they will!

10:30 AM “Strong Connections Through Personalization”

This is probably the most traditional and formal of our sessions today.  Our new Director of Special Needs Sharon Reichstein is leading a session on how by beginning with relationships we can better meet the diverse needs of all our students.  As a school committed to being as inclusive as our resources allow for, and a school committed to moving towards a personalized learning approach for all its students, using one (personalization) to help achieve the other (inclusion) is both natural and super complicated.  Or rather, it might make sense philosophically or in the abstract, but the magic or the artistry is in what happens at 9:15 AM on a Tuesday in a French class with a specific group of children.

It is hard to capture a session like this appropriately and it might be the case that we share out the slides or do a version of this with our parents and community.  After watching a video of students describing what it feels like for them to live with various learning needs, our teachers are engaging in a simulation that shows them what a reading disability feels like.  And it is eye-opening to say the least…

And then a video of students struggling with organizational issues and a simulation…

And then a video of students struggling with attention issues and a simulation…

And then a video of students struggling with math issues and a simulation…

And then a video of students struggling with writing issues and a simulation…

What is important to name is that it isn’t that our teachers are being exposed to anything they don’t already know – at least intellectually. And it isn’t that our teachers don’t already make all kinds of accommodations for all kinds of students – they do.  But a radical dose of empathy is always healthy to swallow.  And I love how our teachers are responding to it…

And I love what it is going to mean for our students…

1:00 PM “The Prototype Protocol Fishbowl”

For our last session this afternoon, we went back to reconnect dots with the “Prototype Protocol” our NoTosh Design Team created to help our teachers understand how to translate the many innovative ideas they come up with into specific prototypes as part of the design-thinking culture we have created here at OJCS.  To help make it real, we created a “fishbowl” and had teachers volunteer to act out the first couple of steps in the protocol which deal with finding a peer to test assumptions.  It was great on two different levels.  It was great to hear more about some of the amazing prototypes that are in varying phases of work.  And it was great for the teachers to see real examples of how to move the work forward.  When you plant seeds, it takes time, water, sunlight and a little luck to bring forth flowers.  At OJCS, there are a lot seeds in the ground..imagine how beautiful it is going to be when they bloom.

 

So that’s it!  Another innovative PD Day has come and gone.  And we even have an hour or left to hit the “Black Friday” sales before Shabbat.  Days like today remind me how lucky I am to work in this field.  Schools like ours remind me how revolutions in education don’t happen in think-tanks or large membership organizations; they happen in schools – big and small, in large cities and small towns. They happen in Jewish day schools.  It is happening here.  And we are just getting started…

 

 

The Transparency Files: The OJCS Report Card Prototype

The season is upon us!  We are busily filling out report cards and eagerly preparing for parent-teacher conferences.  We are also continuing to innovate and to prototype, so it should be no surprise that a few changes to both are in store.

Let’s first talk about what will not be different about report cards and then what is different…

As we have discussed, the arc of our journey to reinvent and revitalize our school has begun to take shape.  Last year was about values.  We spent significant time clarifying our value proposition which is now expressed in our North Stars.  As we begin to live those values, we are spending this year focusing on strategy.  The strategies we put in place are designed to help bring us closer to our North Stars – they are how we bring “The OJCS Way” to life.  The “7 Habits Prototype” is a strategy that will help us create a community of kindness, drawing us closer to being a place where “each person is responsible one to the other” and where “we learn better together”.  Increased informal educational experiences like the “Middle School Retreat” are a strategy for infusing our community with “ruach”.  The use of Silvia Tolisano and the “Silvia Cohort” is a strategy.  Etc.

What we have launched our journey with, is time spent on the why and how of learning – what do we believe to be true about teaching and learning and what does that look like in a classroom or a school?  What we have not spent time on – nor will we in this year – is the what we are teaching (with the exceptions of Lower School Jewish Studies, which has a new curriculum and Middle School Jewish Studies, which has new benchmarks).  So the one thing that has not changed in our new report card prototype is the what.  You will find the exact same topics and subjects from last year.

Let’s focus on what is really the only meaningful change, the commentary.

Report cards are not the best place to summarize activities or curriculum.  For as long as we use the ministry standards as a floor for General Studies, we can provide parents with more detail than they would ever need about what we are teaching.  Furthermore, our handbooks, our website and classroom blogs provide parents with all the information about topics and activities they need to stay current.  And even if, with all that, there are some curricular highlights we want parents to have top of mind, we can share them at the Parent-Teacher Conferences.  Report cards, therefore, are a place for providing parents with meaningful feedback about their child’s growth.  We are looking for a “less is more” approach that breaks the commentary into two sections: “Feedback” and “Next Steps”.   This approach is a strategy for ensuring “a floor, but not a ceiling” for our students and to give them an opportunity “to own their own learning”.

Let’s give a few concrete examples:

Rachel has earned an “E” in Grade 2 Jewish Studies.

Feedback:
  • Rachel has excelled in her quizzes, homework and projects this term.  She consistently uses Hebrew in class and shows mastery over Jewish Studies content.
  • Rachel has a particular passion for Tefillah and frequently volunteers to serve as prayer-leader.
  • I’ve noticed that Rachel has some difficulty working in groups – when given the choice, she almost always prefers to work alone.
Next Steps:
  • I would like to see Rachel push herself even more with her conversational Hebrew.  I am going to create a Voicethread account for Rachel so that I can give her a few conversational prompts a week for her to orally respond to.
  • Next term, I am going to assign Rachel a few more complicated prayers that I know she is capable of learning.  
  • We are going to spend time next term skill-building around group learning so that Rachel can benefit from others and others can benefit from her.
 
Michael has earned a 65% in Grade 5 Language Arts.
 
Feedback:
  • Michael was benchmarked at a 4.2 (Grade 4, Two months) reading level on his last reading assessment.  This represents appropriate growth for Michael based on his end of Grade 4 assessment (4.0) and is consistent with his IEP.
  • Michael’s oral expression continues to surpass his written expression, but he is finding success with the voice-to-text accommodation we have made this year per his IEP.
  • I am concerned that based on his homework, quizzes, and tests – even with accommodations – that Michael is not putting in enough time at home to be as successful as he is capable of being.
Next Steps:
  • I would like to see Michael expand his reading repertoire to include more just-right books and more genres (he tends to stay with graphic novels).  This will help him continue to grow as a reader next term.
  • While we continue to make appropriate accommodations, I do want to see Michael take the next steps with his writing, which will focus on writing strong paragraphs, with a topic sentence and supporting sentences.  
  • I would like to work with you and Michael on establishing successful study habits at home so that he has every opportunity to present his best work.
Solomon has earned a 78% in Grade 7 Math.
 
Feedback:
  • Solomon received an 83% on his Unit Test, averages 74% on his quizzes and tests, and dutifully completes homework and participates in class.
  • I’ve noticed that Solomon’s written work doesn’t always reflect his ability to explain math concepts.  I have observed in class that he does not always check and recheck his work before turning in assignments and tests.
  • Solomon is having particular difficulty with multistep word problems.  He has the necessary computational skills, but sometimes cannot unpack word problems into their appropriate steps.
Next Steps:
  • I will encourage Solomon to employ new strategies for checking his work (such as putting a check mark next to each one he has rechecked) to ensure he is putting forth his best effort.
  • I am going to provide Solomon with individualized word problems this term – and will conference with him – to help him build skills.
  • Here is a link to a section of Kahn Academy that I encourage Solomon to visit if he is interested in pushing himself.  I believe Solomon has the ability to be an “A” student if he puts in the time!
Last thing…based on strong feedback we will be emailing report cards to parents on Friday, November 23rd.
The Bonus Middle School Parent-Teacher Conference Prototype

We are also very excited to introduce a new prototype for Middle School Parent-Teacher Conferences that we think will go a long way towards ensuring that these important conversations are aligned with our “North Stars”.  This new format will 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.

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.

We are very excited about this change and the kinds of conversations we believe it will yield.  Please know that our parents are always welcome to schedule meetings with any and all of our teachers – before or after parent-teacher conferences.  If you have additional questions or concerns, you are encouraged to let us know!

Habits of Kindness: Begin With the End in Mind

So I guess I should have checked the Jewish calendar when I decided last week to share that we had launched our “Community of Kindness” initiative  by bringing the “7 Habits” to OJCS, beginning with Habit 1: Be Proactive.  Because today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev! Which means that at our Rosh Chodesh Assembly, members of our Knesset along with some of the teachers on the “7 Habits Prototype Team” introduced Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind.  The good news is that it really will now be a full month before I blog out the next habit.

“Begin With the End in Mind” is all about having a plan, having goals. It is actually a great month for this habit as we look forward to introducing new report card templates and a slightly new format for parent-teacher conferences.  (I will be blogging much more about that soon!)  As individual goal-setting is a key strategy for helping us reach the North Star of “a floor, but not a ceiling,” we look forward to meaningful conversations with parents about academic and behavioral growth.  As we believe that not only should our students aim towards the North Star of “owning their learning,” but so should we all, our teachers too have their goals, some of which they will be sharing with their students so they understand that these habits are not just for them, but for us all.  Since it is my goal to use my blog to share and model the habits as well, I thought it only fair that I use this opportunity to share some of my goals for the year.

Typically, I wait until the spring to share a self-evaluation that includes what my goals were for the year that is finishing.  And I will again in the spring cycle through my annual “Transparency Files” posts, be sharing out parent and faculty survey data, my self-evaluation, etc., but since I, too, need to “begin with the end in mind,” let me share just a few of the goals I have set for myself this year along with my Head Support & Evaluation Committee.

Jon’s Goals for 2018-2019

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population:

  1. Establish and drive a recruitment plan to promote the school and attract new students
  2. Design and execute a retention strategy and plan.
  3. Strengthen pipeline with Ganon & Early Beginnings.
  4. Deepen relationships with synagogues.

OJCS is a school of excellence:

  1. Translating our “North Stars” (“The OJCS Way”) into a strategy document.
  2. Connecting the dots between our work with NoTosh and our work with Silvia Tolisano.
  3. Clarify what role the CAT-4 plays in evaluating academic “excellence”.
  4. Prototyping “Teacher-Led Evaluation”.
  5. Create a technology plan for teachers, students and school.
  6. Develop a comprehensive PD plan.
  7. (Constantly) improve faculty morale.

OJCS is financially sustainable – now and into the future:

  1. Staff the Strategic Fundraising Steering Committee and steward its plans for Annual, Capital and Endowed Giving.
  2. Improve Grandparents Day & Walkathon.

OJCS inspires Jewish journeys in its students, families and community:

  1. Leverage personal relationships with holiday and Shabbat experiences.
  2. Expand holiday family experiences.
  3. Thought-leadership

 

Hopefully, by better using the 7 Habits this year, when it does become time for me to share my evaluation I’ll be able to say that because I “began with the end in mind” that I reached my goals and then some!

How about you?  What are your big goals this year?  Let us know!