How We Are Spending Your Summer Vacation (2019)

Happy Summer!

We hope everyone is enjoying the beginning to middle of summer!  While our teachers are cycling in and out, vacationing and thinking about the future, and while our administrative team is also taking some downtime and ramping up for the next school year, I wanted to take an opportunity to share some updates and exciting news.  (If all you are interested in is the hiring updates, you can scroll straight through to the bottom!  You will be getting updated handbooks and relevant information later on in August.)

Building Learning Communities Conference

Last week, I had the privilege of taking a team of OJCS Teachers to Boston for the the Building Learning Communities Conference.  It was equal parts validation and inspiration to see how far our school has come.  Our teachers had an opportunity to see just how innovative OJCS currently is, while being exposed to thinkers and ideas that will continue to propel us forward.  If you want a taste of what we learned and how we thought about it, I invite you to scroll through my Wakelet below:

Makerspace Update

Yes, we are still building the Makerspace!  And, yes, it has come with some of the inevitable delays of construction.  We will unlikely be ready to open on Day 1, but are working hard to get it done as quickly as we can.  We are planning to open with Science in a different space (TBD) and will provide updates as we get closer to the start of school.

OJCS & CBB

I am looking forward on Thursday to my annual visit to CBB to say “hi” to our OJCS students and alumni.  I’ll post pictures on social media.

Hiring Update

We are pleased to share with you an update of new hires as we are almost completely staffed up for 2019-2020!  We are thrilled that these new administrators are joining our amazing team of returning administrators and teachers to make next year our best yet!

  • Dr. Avi Marcovitz will be joining our Administrative Team as our new Head of Jewish Studies!  Avi comes to us with extensive administrative and organizational leadership education and experiences, including prior day school teaching and administration.  He additionally carries rich subject matter expertise, a passion for Jewish day school, alignment with our “North Stars” and an enthusiasm to help us on our journey to becoming the school we want to be.  He has already begun and looks forward to meeting everyone soon!
  • Rabbi Howard Finkelstein is being re-introduced as our Dean of Judaics Emeritus!  This is not merely an honorific, but a way of meaningfully engaging Rabbi Finkelstein as both advisor and rabbinic presence in the years ahead.  While he is still in town and even after he makes aliyah, we look forward to Rabbi Finkelstein’s wisdom and participation in relevant conversations as we move forward.
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter will be joining our teams as our new Development Director!  Staci is a trained social worker with years of development experience in the Atlanta Jewish Community who is coming into this half-time role with lots of ideas about how to make our fundraising dreams come true.  She will begin on August 1st and she looks forward to meeting everyone as well.
We are finishing up with final interviews and contracts for a Grade 6 EA, an additional Core French Teacher and a part-time Music Teacher, so stay tuned!

The Courage to Finish: My Charge to the Class of 2019

We had an amazing graduation last night at the Ottawa Jewish Community School – and I am not just saying that because I had a child in the class!   I was so proud of our students, our families, our school and our community.  It was really something special.  And, yes, I did say last week that I was kinda done with the weekly blogging for the summer.  And, yes, it does feel like I have delivered a speech a day these last few weeks.  And, yes, it runs the risk of being overly self-serving to say that a number of people asked if I could post my speech.

But they did.

And so I will (paraphrased because not everything translates into writing).

“There are many heroes in the story of a Jewish day school journey…

There are the teachers who put in untold hours of love and talent not only to nourish your brains, but your souls as well.  Our teachers are not just here to inspire a love of learning.  Our teachers recognize that our students are, in fact, our most important subject matter.  There is very little we can ever do to show our proper appreciation for our teachers, but we can directly prove the adage it takes a village and show our proper respect.  I’d like to ask every teacher who taught any of our graduates in any capacity over their years to rise…

 

There are the students who come to school each and every day (or at least many days) ready to learn and eager to lead.  And we have and will rightfully spend most of our time tonight celebrating you each…

 

But for me, tonight, I want to spend a little time celebrating who I think may be the most important heroes of the story, and that…is our parents.  And I think the adjective that best describes these heroes is “courage”.

Courage to Choose

In today’s world, we are all, in a sense, Jews by choice.  Choosing to be Jewish is counter-cultural by definition; choosing to attend Jewish day school is almost revolutionary.  We all chose Jewish day school for different reasons: some of us are alumni of Jewish day schools (including this one!), others were seeking the comfort of the family environment, some had a desire for personalized attention, others had a deep commitment to Jewish Studies, there were some who simply went where everyone else was going.  But each parent with their own unique constellation of reasons had the courage to choose Jewish day school.

Courage to Sacrifice

You have each sacrificed in many ways to be here this evening.  For many, it has been a financial sacrifice.  Jewish day school is not yet as affordable as we may wish it to be, and there are those in this room who have forgone both luxuries and necessities to be here.

You have all sacrificed your most precious gift – time.  Between the normal schlepping and carpools, you have volunteered at events and at PTA and in innumerable ways big and small.

Courage to Finish

In talking with the kids in New York [on our Grad Trip], I realized that for many of them – and you – I am the fourth head of school you have had on this journey; five if you count Mr. Friedman twice.  Each person, I am sure, had their own ideas of what makes a Jewish day school excellent and, I am sure, those ideas may not have always aligned.

With each new administration you had to choose and choose again, and for whatever complicated set of reasons you chose to come, you chose to stay and that, too, is a profile in courage.

The largest class I have ever graduated was 23 and the smallest was, but 4, but what I can tell you with 100% certainty is that not one parent on graduation night ever regretted the decision to finish.  And looking around this room tonight – and as one myself – I am confident that this remains true.

You have already given us the greatest gift we can have – the sacred and holy task of educating your child – let me give you the only gift tonight that I can, a brief gift of time.  To take just a brief minute or two not to document this experience, but to be in this liminal moment in our children’s lives.  I’d like to invite the graduates to rise and face your parents…

 

Returning to our graduates, my prayer for you as you graduate and head out into the world is that you come to experience and embody our school’s North Stars.  I pray that you continue to point in their direction as you continue to grow and develop into high school and beyond…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

You each are blessed more than you realize.  My blessing for you is that you never be content to merely count your blessings, but that you always be someone who makes their blessings count.”

The Transparency Files: The OJCS 2019-2020 Faculty

I realize that I may have squeezed out five blog posts over the last two weeks, but that for many of you, this is the annual post you have been waiting for…

It is amazing to note that we have reached this point in the calendar and that the final two weeks of school are in front of us!  It has been such an extraordinary year here at OJCS and we are already busy planning for the next one.  I can appreciate that no one – including me! – wants to wish their summer away, but we are so excited about what is in store that we almost cannot wait to begin again!

Speaking of next year…

As you hopefully have already heard, we are saying goodbye to Rabbi Finkelstein and Noga Reiss who will be retiring at the end of this school year after long and distinguished careers at OJCS. [Hopefully you are planning on attending their Retirement Tea on Sunday, June 23rd at 3:00 PM here at the school.  Email the office to RSVP.]  These two faculty members have contributed much to our school and each will be missed.

The search process to fill Rabbi Finkelstein’s and other existing and new positions is underway and we will continue to update you as we make hires between now and the beginning of next year.

Looking back at last year’s post, I am struck by how many new structures and departments we introduced and that here, a year later, how much more stable we have become.  Last year, we introduced new schedules, increased contact time with both Hebrew and French, a new Department of Special Education, and a new Educational Leadership Team.  This year, we are simply letting you know who the key ingredients to the meal we are cooking together will be…

It does not mean that we are content or don’t have lots of work still ahead of us in order to become the school we seek to become!  In order to reach those “North Stars,” our teachers are looking forward to a year to live them more fully, to make sure the strategies we have developed (such as “prototyping”) are understood, to give us all a chance to better understand the whys and hows of classroom blogs, to implement a new homework philosophy, to truly strengthen the “J” in OJCS, to open our makerspace, and to launch a powerful new partnership to enhance French language education.  This will be more than enough to keep us joyfully busy into next year and beyond…

Finally, you will see below a few places where we have decided to absorb the cost of splitting classes, not just because enrollment in those classes may be going up, but because our promise to parents of personalization requires us to staff according to need, not to numbers, and we intend to deliver on those promises.

OK, I think I have given a lengthy enough preamble.  Let’s get excited about this gifted and loving group of teachers and administrators who will partner with our parents in the sacred work of educating our children.  I know I am!

The 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

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

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray
  • Kitah Dalet: Yardena Kaiman [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Hay: Gonen Sagy

Middle School Faculty

  • Grade 6 Educational Assistant: An Educational Assistant
  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  French Teacher
  • Hebrew: Gonen Sagy  (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: A Rabbinics Teacher

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: A Music Teacher
  • PE: Josh Ray, Faye Mellenthin (Grades 1, 2 & MS Girls) & Linda Signer (K)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Needs
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource
  • Shira Waldman/Sigal Baray, Hebrew Resource*
  • French Teacher, French Resource*

Education Leadership Team

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

Administration

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

We are moving full steam ahead with candidates for all the above positions and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of the candidates we have met thus far for new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

*New position for 2019-2020.

This likely ends my weekly blogging for the season.  I will be away with our Grade 8s next week on their GRAD Trip to NYC (follow us on social media!) and then it is OJCS Graduation, Last Day of School and Faculty Pre-Pre-Planning (our PD days where we pivot towards the next year).  I will blog through the summer if and when there is what to share.  Our office remains open, of course, but administration will take staggered vacation throughout the summer to make sure our saws are fully sharpened for 2019-2020.

My Charge to Kitah Bet Upon Receiving the Gift of Torah

I was very moved after this morning’s Mesibat He’Chumash that a number of parents asked that I post the dvar I shared with the families before giving each student the gift of Torah.  You may find it below…

“Before calling each student up by name to give them the symbolic gift of Torah, I just wanted to take a minute or two to say a few words…I know that I am the only thing keeping you from cake, so be assured I will be as brief as I am capable of being…

Have you noticed that our social media is eager to share memories with us? It seems like each day, a picture from years ago appears unprompted asking us to take moment to remember. Why? Why does Facebook organize itself with a timeline and Instagram by stories?

Because they know what we do – that human beings are hardwired to respond to stories.

We are storytellers by nature because that is how we make meaning of our lives. We weave together memories and events to create the narrative arc of our lives. As parents, we have the awesome responsibility for authoring the experiences that set that arc into motion. We provide them with the moments that shape their narratives and help them make meaning. As they get older, of course, they begin to write their own stories and – if we are lucky – they will continue to look to us for editing.

What is true for us as individuals is also true for us as a Jewish People. We are a collection of stories that extend backward to Creation and through our collective authorship of the present, serve as a bridge to the future. We are the People of the Book because we acknowledge our spiritual heritage and take responsibility for moving our part of the story forward…

That’s what makes a day like today special. Your decision to provide your children with a Jewish education gives them moments and experiences that will shape the narrative arc of their lives even when they assume primary authorship. Today is one of those moments. And by linking it to the gift of Torah – as we prepare to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates our original receipt of Torah – we link our children’s stories to the story of the Jewish People.

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

Thank you.

Thank you to the parents who have sacrificed in ways known and unknown to give your children the gift of Jewish day school. Thank you for your schlepping and your partnership. Thank you for entrusting us with the sacred responsibility of educating your children. It not something that we take for granted.

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

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

And on a final note, I know you don’t need me to tell you quickly time flies. But. For some of you this is your first Mesibat Chumash and for some it is your last. You have given us the gift of your children and we have together given your children the gift of Torah. Let me give you the gift of time, just 30 seconds, to soak in the moment. Not to document it, but to be in it. Because as a parent of a child who will be graduating from this school in just a few weeks, I could swear it was just yesterday that she received her chumash in Kitah Bet.

Pause

It is now my pleasure to invite our teachers to join me as we celebrate each of our students…”

Chag sameach…

Philanthropy is a Learned Behavior: Introducing the OJCS Maccabiah Games

At the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we believe that philanthropy is a learned behavior.  Each month as part of our Rosh Chodesh assemblies, we introduce the object of the upcoming month’s philanthropy.  That usually comes with at least one class taking a specific action, as well as the loonies and toonies we collect for that month’s “dress down day”.  Ideally, of course, our students would choose to bring tzedakah to support these charities out of an intrinsic motivation.  But it isn’t uncommon to use extrinsic rewards with children to encourage behaviors you hope get replaced by intrinsic motivation as they develop and mature.  In the same way that we would hope students would choose to participate in the Reading Challenge without competing for a reward, we know that for some students the reward encourages positive behavior.

This month, as we reinvent and reintroduce both our “Color War” and our “Walk/Run” into the new “OJCS Maccabiah Games,” our students have essentially chosen the school as the object of this month’s philanthropy.  Yes, we are for sure encouraging more active philanthropy than simply bringing a loonie or toonie, and yes, perhaps, it is different to make the school the object rather than outside charity.  But we don’t think it is out of bounds or off message to encourage our students and families to give back to the school.

Essentially what is being asked from our families is no different than what has been asked in prior years.  Children/families were encouraged to support the school through soliciting friends and family to sponsor them in the “Walk/Run”; this is no different.  What has changed, we hope, is that the event itself will be much more successful, fun and meaningful for our students.  The “Walk/Run” had essentially outlived its usefulness and so we have taken activities that were no longer functioning as we liked and repurposed them, simplifying our calendar and hopefully improving the events themselves.  Our first annual “OJCS Maccabiah Games” will bring together our North Stars of “Ruach” and “We are each responsible one to the other,” in a wonderful day of sport, sportsmanship, joy and philanthropy.  And we can’t wait!

So how will it work?

[Adapted from the OJCS Student Life Blog:]

On June 4, 2019 the OJCS Maccabiah Games will begin and our theme is “4 Teams, 1 Heart,” modelled after the actual Maccabiah Games theme of “80 Countries, 1 Heart”.

Who are the 4 teams?

  • Jerusalem- Team Blue!
  • Tel Aviv- Team Green!
  • Haifa- Team Red!
  • Netanya- Team Orange!

Which city will win the cup?  Teams will earn points throughout the day for event wins, showing sportsmanship, team cheers and RUACH!

We are excited to share that OJCS has partnered with Maccabi Canada for the event and Maccabi Canada athletes will join us for the opening and closing ceremonies.

As this is a fundraiser, please know that each student will have their own fundraising pages on CanadaHelps.org.  For each $25 raised, students will receive a ballot for a weekly draw on Fridays for prizes such as frozen yogurt gift cards, bookstore gift cards, and  movie night baskets.

Families are welcome to join us at the school from 3:00 – 5:00 PM on June 4, 2019 for our Family Maccabiah Games!  Bring your loonies and toonies and join us for some cold treats, meet Maccabi Canada athletes and learn more about Maccabi Canada, and try our 65′ inflatable obstacle course with your child(ren).

By the way, you don’t have to be an OJCS Family to contribute!  Pick your favorite team and contribute to the event simply by following the links:

Special “thank you” to the companies who are sponsoring this exciting event!

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!

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!

Habits of Kindness: Be Proactive

We have been having a conversation as both a staff and a board about the difference between “values” and “strategy”.  Now that we are living our North Stars and about to unveil (stay tuned) a powerful strategy document and presentation, all the energy we are generating and all the prototypes we are launching are dedicated to bringing us closer towards our values.

Values define who we are and why we exist. They guide us, like a moral compass for all in the community. They are the foundations of what we do and the ultimate test of whether our goals and strategy have a ‘fit’, now and in the future.

Any strategy we undertake, therefore, is to provide us with the actions and behaviors – habits – we need to adopt in order to best live our values. Today, I want to introduce a new strategy with its attendant prototypes that we have begun at the Ottawa Jewish Community School to help us truly become a Community of Kindness, where we are “responsible each to the other” and “we learn better together”.

Something I often say is that if you really want to know what a school values, you only need to look in two places- the budget and the schedule.  How we spend our two most precious resources is the clearest way to reveal what we truly value.  If we want to live our values, if we want to build a true community of kindness, not simply a catchphrase, we will need to allocate time and money.  So the first strategic decision was to position this work in the portfolio of our Student Life Coordinator, Deanna Bertrend.  We believe this strategic combination of personality and position will help ensure we are dedicating the proper resources to an initiative of such great import. As important as staffing is a plan…

“Community of Kindness” makes a great slogan and a lousy call to action.  We all recognize the need to be more “kind” and to ensure that our community act with increased “kindness” to all…but what exactly do you do?  To answer that question and to provide us with a common vision, language and set of behaviors, we are turning to a well-researched set of habits, seven of them to be exact.

Our strategy is to go ahead and adopt and adapt The Leader in Me:

The Leader in Me helps to create a common language within a school, built on proven principle-based leadership skills found in Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

  • Habit1: Be Proactive® • You’re in Charge
  • Habit2: Begin With the End in Mind® • Have a Plan
  • Habit3: Put First Things First® • Work First, Then Play
  • Habit4: Think Win-Win® • Everyone Can Win
  • Habit5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood® • Listen Before You Talk
  • Habit6: Synergize® • Together Is Better
  • Habit7: Sharpen the Saw® • Balance Feels Best

It is important to note that there has also been work in the Jewish day school field work on translating the habits into Jewish settings and value language.  Our friends at CAJE-Miami who work in this area offer the following helpful chart:

Introducing “Be Proactive” at our Middle School Retreat.

We began at Faculty Pre-Planning when we spent time in “Book Club” with those teachers who chose to read The Leader in Me as their summer reading and then later that week in a full staff briefing on the new program.  We had a soft launch at our Middle School Retreat where we introduced each of the habits to our middle school students with fun, informal activities to help them understand how these habits could positively impact them.  Our plan for the whole school will have us, beginning last month, introduce and focus on a new habit at our Rosh Chodesh assemblies.  There will be a role to play from Knesset (our student council) and as we ramp up there will be grade and age appropriate activities, including stories, lessons and resources. Parents should look for evidence of how the habits are coming to life on the website and blogs.  In fact, we even have a dedicated 7 Habits page on our OJCS Student Life blog!

Introducing the 7 Habits at our Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan assembly.

This month, we have been focusing on the first habit – “Be Proactive”.  For my part, I am going to try to “be proactive” by dedicating a post each month – this being the first – to its habit.  And we will need your help!  If you are a parent at OJCS, you are welcome to read and learn along with us.  Incorporating the habits at home will only make what we do at school that much more powerful.  So you can “be proactive” as well!

As we aim towards our (North) Stars, let’s make this the year that kindness ceases to be a slogan and starts to be a habit.

Marching With Fruits & Vegetables (5779 Remix)

What’s that giant sukkah you ask?  That’s our brand new (to be finished today) OJCS Sukkah – thanks to the Zaret Family & Gemstone – which we look forward to eating and celebrating in as a school community when we resume school during Chol Ha’Moed next Wednesday.  The timing of the holidays with the start of school has been crazy/amazing as we are doing our best to launch all our new procedures, initiate all our new projects AND prepare for/experience the joy of our fall Jewish holiday season!  We have come out of Yom Kippur and are headed straight for Sukkot on Sunday evening…and hopefully I will find time to put mine up before the holiday!

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

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

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

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

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

But don’t lose the forest through the trees…

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

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

Chag sameach.

We Left As A School and Came Back As A Community

Wow.

That’s all I can say.  We got back exactly one week ago from our three-day inaugural Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa (CBB) and it was everything we could have hoped for in a Jewish informal educational experience.  We had learning, games, athletics, prayer, social bonding, community building, hiking, zip lines, and a campfire to boot!  It felt like we squeezed a summer’s session of camp into just three days…and we are all tired enough to prove it!

After having spent a good chunk of time, in between catching up with the rest of the school and planning through the rest of our holiday experiences, putting together a video of our experience, I will let the video to the talking. I will likely have more to say after the holidays when I’ve had a chance to properly process and reflect.

We didn’t necessarily know what we would come out with, so I apologize to parents and students that not everyone may have made it in – it is not a reflection of anything other than happenstance.  We will more than make up for it with photos and videos throughout the year.  It is, I hope, a taste of why this retreat will become an important part of our middle school.  Our relationships are forever changed – for the good.  We will be able to do things within the walls of the classrooms that we never would have without having spent time together outside of them.

Here’s a taste: