What happens online, not only doesn’t stay online, it follows your child to school.

I distinctly remember when it hit me.  I was hosting a large PTA-sponsored spaghetti dinner a year or so into my last headship and after everyone had settled into the room, I took a step back and zoomed out.  This event was taking place in a room about as large as our school cafeteria and as I panned back and forth, the “a-ha” came screaming out of my consciousness.  If you had taken a picture of a typical student lunch and mapped it onto a picture of this parent dinner, it would be a perfect match.  The parents of the same children who typically hang out together were hanging out together.  The parents of the same children who typically struggle to find friends to sit with were struggling to find friends to sit with.  The same groups, the same pairs, the same cliques – what was true for the students was true for their parents.

And of course it was.

As our school year is winding down and parents look forward to our sharing out the faculty lineup for next year (coming soon!), I want to revisit territory I first staked out, here, in a blog post titled, “Do I have a stake in who my students are when they are not in school?”

In that post, I asked the following question: “Do I or does the “school” have a responsibility to address behaviors that take place outside the bounded times and spaces of school?”

My answer was most affirmatively, “Yes,” and I will let you (re)read the post to see why.

But, I also qualified my answer in the following way: “Let me be clear that I am purposefully leaving parents out of this behavioral equation.  Not because I either blame parents for their children’s behavior nor because I abdicate parents of their responsibility to effectively parent.  I am simply asking a different question.”

Well…I think I would like an opportunity to ask that question: “Do I or does the “school” have a responsibility to address the role parents play in behaviors that take place outside the bounded times and spaces of school?

And, again, I think the answer is, “yes”.

But, boy, is that more complicated.

The simple issue to explore is how to help parents best partner with school to truly become a community of kindness.  The simple challenge is how to lovingly intervene when it becomes apparent that help may be required.

We are parenting in uncharted territory.  Our children have access to information and to each other in ways we, not only never anticipated, but in ways that continue to change – and we may, or not, even be aware that it is happening.  Whether it is through texting, chatting, or gaming, our children are in constant contact.  And just like in reality-reality, their behavior in virtual reality provides opportunities for kindness and opportunities for its opposite.  And parents play a crucial role in determining the outcomes.

Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, if it finds its way to me, it means the outcome was not-so-good.  When it finds me, it usually means that a child has been excluded or disparaged.  When it finds me, it usually means that a child has been exposed to language or content which may be inappropriate.  When it finds me, it usually means that a parent is concerned about which influences are following their children from school without an invitation.

And when it finds me, I have to ask myself what am I to do?

This is normally the point in my blog where I would proceed to ramble on for another 500 words or so and provide the answer to my own question.

But to be transparent, I can’t.  Because I actually don’t know the answer.

So, please, whether you are a parent, educator or concerned party, comment on this blog (or email me at j.mitzmacher@theojcs.ca or come in for a coffee if you are local) and let’s collaborate on an answer.  You can take the time it normally would have taken you to finish this blog post to formulate your response.

How do I address my fully accepted responsibility to care about the role parents play in behaviors that take place outside the bounded times and spaces of school?

Do I have a stake in who my students are when they are not in school?

Admissions seasons tend to bring up big-picture questions and spark big-picture conversations.  Which makes sense as parents – both new and returning – are making critical decisions about where, why and how they want their children to be educated.  Today, I want to take an opportunity to reflect on a question that bubbles up from time to time that I struggle to provide a clear answer to.  It gets asked in lots of different ways, but essentially boils down to the same idea: Do I or does the “school” have a responsibility to address behaviors that take place outside the bounded times and spaces of school?

Typically the question is specific to an incident of negative behavior, although it is just as fair to ask about positive behavior as well, and I intend to address both.

Jewish day schools are in the character-building business.  It is a significant motivation for parents to enroll their children in our schools.  We care at least as much about who our students are as we care about what they can accomplish.  We utilize Jewish value language across the curriculum to reinforce the idea that being a mensch is not something one does only in certain classes, but something one is all day long.  Our teachers work hard all day to ensure that our school lives up to the ideal of being a community of kindness.  And even during school we struggle to achieve our goal.  That’s precisely why we launched our new behavior management program anchored in the “7 Habits” in the first place.  [Click here for a recap.]  We recognized that in order to become that community it required all of us working together to build the safe, loving environment our children deserve. But even these new approaches emphasizes what happens under our watchful eye.

What about the text sent out at 9:00 PM?

What about the play-date on Sunday?  Or the ones some children are not invited to?

What about the hallways during Bar Mitzvah services?

Let me be clear that I am purposefully leaving parents out of this behavioral equation.  Not because I either blame parents for their children’s behavior nor because I abdicate parents of their responsibility to effectively parent.  I am simply asking a different question.  If I witness or discover noteworthy behavior of my students when we are not technically in school, what exactly are my responsibilities to respond or react?  Do I have a stake in who my students are when they are not in school?

The simple answer is “yes”.  I care deeply about who our students are when they are not in school because how they behave when no one is watching matters a whole lot more than how they behave under close supervision.  That’s the true measure of character. That’s derekh eretz.

OK, that part is simple.  I am proud when students behave well outside of school and disappointed when they don’t.  But do I share those feelings with them?  Do I share those feelings with their parents?  Is it my place to hold them accountable for those behaviors?  Those are the vexing questions I struggle to answer effectively – especially when the behaviors are grey.

The black-and-white ones are easy; they always are when the level of behavior is so significant it cannot be ignored.  We already engage parents when we discover social events where students are excluded. We already employ effective discipline when students bully outside school walls and times.  And on the positive end of the spectrum, we already celebrate students who are honored elsewhere.  We already praise students for their outside academic, artistic and athletic achievements.  We already highlight students who perform significant acts of lovingkindness outside of school.

The grey ones are more complicated; they always are when the level of behavior is insignificant enough that it can be, and often is, ignored. We don’t always engage parents to ensure all our students have access to frequent play-dates and smaller social opportunities.  We don’t always praise students for their random acts of lovingkindness outside of school. We often ignore disruptive behavior at Bar Mitzvahs and Jewish holidays because we are ostensibly “off-duty” and we rarely call those students to account for those behaviors when next back in school.

I am not comfortable simply standing on the sidelines.

With regard to being a “community of kindness” we say that we will know if the work we have done is taking hold if students on their own are willing to address their own behavior or that of their friends.  That children will be willing to say to themselves and to each other that “we do not behave like that here”.  To me this is no different.  We need to do a better job instilling pride of school and pride of self in our students so that they feel the responsibility of representation outside our direct reach.  An OJCS student simply does not behave like that.  An OJCS student behaves with derekh eretz whether they are in school, synagogue, the hockey rink, or the mall.

I have a role to play and I am working up the courage to empower myself to do it.  If I am made aware of discouraging behavior, I will share my disappointment regardless of when or where it took place.  If I am made aware of positive behavior, I will share my pride regardless of when or where it took place.  They will know that I have high expectations.   The older ones will know that I don’t issue a character reference or a principal recommendation lightly.  If you want me to recommend you to a high school, an honors society, or even to babysit, you will earn that recommendation by making for yourself a good name.

My students will know that I care who they are and that who they are matters.

A quick thought about teachers as we head into February Break…

One of my favorite books is Teaching & Religious Imagination by Maria Harris.  It is a wonderful book and I am grateful to my doctoral comps all those years ago for allowing me to become familiar with it.  What I love about it, is how it describes secular teaching in religious language. The very act of teaching – regardless of subject or location – is a religious act.  This is not just beautiful imagery, which it is, but an important truth to acknowledge as we head into another transition – this time from hyflex, back to in-person learning.

Those of us who have been charged with the sacred task of providing a child with an education recognize and are humbled by that holy responsibility.  It matters not in a school whether we are the teacher of prayer or the teacher of math or the teacher of French or the teacher of badminton.  Education is interactional and God can be found in the quality of our relationships.  How we treat our students and each other matters.

Teachers, like families, are looking forward to a much-needed break from the challenges and burdens of having pivoted from in-person learning to Winter Break to distance learning to hyflex learning to February Break; with a final two-week phasing out of hyflex as the circle rounds back to in-person.  Please know that just as it is vitally important that we find the opportunity to share the good with parents about their children, I cannot tell you how impactful it is when a parent shares something nice about or directly to a teacher.  These acts of lovingkindness are what sustains even the most dedicated of teachers during inevitable times of stress.  Thank you to all who do take the time…your kindness matters.

We are long past the point of predictions when the truest thing is our inability to know what is to come.  We know that when we return from break that the sun will rise on each new day.  We are hopeful for better/easier days, but prepared for all possibilities.  I am as anxious and excited as anyone to see what is to come.  If the saying, “Man plans; God laughs,” is true, I guess we’ll see who is laughing in the weeks to come.

In the meanwhile, we wish all our OJCS Families a safe, restful, joyous and meaningful February Break.

#ShortestBlogEver #You’reWelcome

Reinventing Middle School: The (Soft) Launch of OJCS “Mitzvah Trips”

If you have ever moved from one place or organization to another, you know that the last thing people want to hear is, “In my last…”.  There is a reasonable shelf-life for looking back to prior experiences in service of carrying forward ideas and programs that work, but here at OJCS, as I sit halfway through my fifth year, we ought to be past the, “In my last school…”.  And if not for COVID, I’d like to think we would.  But there is one big idea that I have been so excited to bring to OJCS that has been on pause since we teased its arrival back in the halcyon days of almost exactly two years ago in February 2020.  But the time for waiting is no more, COVID notwithstanding, and I am beyond pleased and excited to share the next stage of reinventing and reimagining Middle School (Grades 6-8) at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

Beginning with a soft launch this March, we are pleased to introduce a new Middle School Social Justice Project – The OJCS Mitzvah Project – that is predicated on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, the idea that each of us are here to do our part to make our world a better place.  We will begin the work of integrating the formal Jewish Studies curriculum that our Middle School experiences on Mondays through Thursdays, with social justice experiences on Fridays, each and every week.  Aligned with our school’s core values [North Stars alert!] of “We own our own learning,” and “We are each responsible one to the other,” we will create a committee of students, teachers, parents, and community leaders to develop this project, which integrates key Jewish values, deep textual learning and practical hands-on projects.  

For example, during a week (or unit), students in Grade 6 would study on Monday-Thursday texts that describe the ethical treatment of animals, and then on Friday go out into the community and volunteer in animal shelters.  Students in Grade 7 would study texts that help us understand our responsibility to feed the hungry, and then on Friday go out into the community and either feed the hungry, or volunteer in both kosher and community food banks.  

This transition will require a “revolution” in our school that includes our schedule, our curriculum, our community partnerships and parent engagement.  It will require us to redo our middle school schedule so that all of our Jewish Studies classes would flip on Friday to the afternoon, so they can end their day with our weekly “Mitzvah Trip”.  It will require a brand-new curriculum (subjects, values, key ideas, Jewish sources, etc.) that is organized around the “Mitzvah Trip” experiences.  It will stretch our existing community partnerships and require us to invest time and energy in creating new ones, seeking a balance between Jewish and secular causes and organizations.  Logistics alone will require parent participation to help shepherd our students each Friday to the location of that week’s “Mitzvah Trip”.  However, the opportunity to transform parent participation into parent engagement is a huge value-add of their volunteerism.

We want to provide our students with Jewish experiences that inspire them to learn more Torah, and we want to help our students make personal connections between the Torah they learn in school, and the larger world around them.  We want our students (and families) to recognize that part of being Jewish is to make the world a better place, that doing so requires both learning and doing.  Locating this work in our Middle School allows for practical connectivity to the b’nei mitzvah process.  Providing these opportunities in a Jewish middle school where many parents are not looking towards Jewish high school, is critical to inspiring students and families to see and feel value to their Jewish learning beyond the walls of the school.

As a parent who had one child experience this program before and another one barely still eligible to experience it now, I can tell you firsthand how impactful it is and can be.  As a principal who watched families eagerly anticipate middle school so they can start going on “mitzvah trips” and watched alumni eagerly anticipate opportunities to come back and volunteer on “mitzvah trips,” I know this creates a wonderful opportunity for our school to retain and attract students through Grade 8.

Wouldn’t you want your child to have an opportunity to make the world a better place each and every week?

Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and OJCS is excited to celebrate – even if those celebrations (like everything else these days) has to continue to come filtered through COVID protocols and a hylex learning program.

“Inclusion” is not simply an issue to discuss once a year, of course, and as we began our formal discussions of how we would celebrate JDAIM this year at this week’s Faculty Meeting, we began where our Director of Special Education, Sharon Reichstein, always encourages us to – with a shift in our mindset about what “special needs” really is and what it means:

For teachers, it’s important to always be thinking with a lens of inclusion in order to support and meet the needs of all learners (Shift the Spec Ed Mindset!!)  It’s important for our students to be open, understanding, and inclusive to ALL members of our community.

There is a bit of a delicate dance we do with issues like “inclusion”.  To the degree that we state that “everyone has special needs,” you run the risk of only focusing on who you presently serve and not look to see who you do not / cannot and then explore why.  To the degree that we state “every month is about inclusion,” you run the risk of missing a critical annual opportunity to reflect, to learn, to grow and to change.  We want to acknowledge the daily, weekly, and yearly work that we do to incrementally become better able to meet the needs of current students and to increase the circle of inclusivity.  But we also want to use JDAIM as a measuring stick and an inspiration – to have our thinking challenged, our minds opened and our hearts stirred.  We are blessed to be part of an interconnected Jewish community with partners to lovingly push and support us on our journey.

Even as we navigate a complicated set of safety protocols, here are just a few examples of how we are gearing up to make JDAIM a special month at OJCS…

…Sharon Reichstein, along with our Grade 2 General Studies Teacher Lianna Krantzberg , rolled out a set of “choice boards” for both Lower & Middle Schools, as well as a Padlet to our entire faculty that includes all the links and ideas that have been collected, thus far.  As they put it, “While we spend time each day fostering kind and inclusive communities in our classrooms, it is our hope that you can add a spotlight to JDAIM in your classrooms throughout the month of February- pick and choose from the choice boards, the Padlet activities and/or create your own.”

…Brigitte Ruel, our Librarian, has a post on books that focus on “inclusivity”.

…we will again participate in Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN)’s “Youth Leadership Award Challenge” with an eye towards not only goosing individual participation but class participation as well.

…this year continues the exciting opportunity for our students to participate in the Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) Speaker Series for students in Grades 5-8.  Every Monday through Thursday this month there will be a different and free JDAIM guest speaker.  The lineup of speakers is incredible!

Classroom blogs and student blogfolios will be a great place to find examples of how OJCS lives JDAIM this year.

It bears mentioning that our ability to meet existing needs with enhanced COVID safety protocols is only possible thanks both to generous supplemental grants from Federation and from its “Emergency Campaign” that provides flexible furniture, assistive technology, and diagnostic software to benefit learners of all kinds whether they are learning in-person or at-home.  As increased personalization is carried forward from all our COVID pivots, OJCS aspires to live a pedagogy of personalization that allows each student in our school to find the appropriate floor and to fly as far as their God-given potential permits without a ceiling.

This Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, let us be reminded that to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  The work of becoming more inclusive has no beginning and has no ending. Inclusivity is both a process and a journey, one that OJCS has proudly been on for a while and one that we intend to keep walking with our community into the future.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

There Is A “COVID Gap” But It Isn’t (Just) Academic

This is the jinxiest and most hubristic, fate-tempting opening thought, but as things seem to have settled into what I am now thinking of more as “late-COVID” times rather than “post-COVID” times, this feels like the right time to share some thoughts about what we are experiencing with students, teachers and parents who are simply not used to this much daily face-to-face (or rather mask-to-mask) human interaction.  Whereas much of the chatter in the wider educational world this summer focused on concerns about academic gaps – how far behind academically might many children be due to a combination of lengthy pivots to distance learning and individual learning challenges in distance learning – and we at OJCS will know more as we prepare to return to standardized testing in the months ahead; what I want to focus on here, are socio-emotional gaps, which we are seeing, are real and are worthy of unpacking.

I’d wager that our school did as good a job as any in terms of navigating the multiple pivots between in-person, at-home and hyflex learning from March of 2020 up until today.  I’ve written multiple blog posts (like this one) that goes into depth about the educational challenges and opportunities COVID has presented schools and how our school has adapted and responded.  I wrote just one post that tried to deal with the socio-emotional impacts of COVID, focusing on what it means to be a “trauma-aware” school – knowing that for many of our students, teachers and families, that living through COVID is a kind of trauma that has obvious impacts on schooling.  It is worth revisiting the key idea from that post to set the stage for what I want to share here:

Classic Trauma Reactions

Engagement                       dissociation ←→ vigilance

Control                                 passive ←→ urgent 

Empowerment                  victimized ←→ hyper-resilient

Emotion                              withdrawn ←→ hyper-arousal

Patterning                          amnesia ←→ recall & repeat

I see these responses all around me, all the time.  I see it in the normally vivacious student who is unusually withdrawn.  I see it in the normally laid back parent who has grown helicopter wings.  I see it in the normally contained teacher for whom everything is now on fire.  I see all the reverses as well.  I see different reactions from different people at different times in the face of different circumstances.  I see it in the parking lot and I see it in emails and I see it on social media.  And I most definitely see it in myself.

Whether we consider ourselves to still be in the trauma of late-COVID or whether we consider ourselves to be in the post-trauma of post-COVID, the impact of COVID and the trauma it created is both real and ongoing.  And my various claims of “I see it…” from when I wrote that post last year, carried forward into this one.  What I want to do here is name a few that feel the most urgent, believing that naming something is a great first step towards meaningfully addressing it.

The New Teacher Gap

As someone who moved here five years ago, I have heard and experienced the way our community – Ottawa, Ottawa Jewish, OJCS, etc. – welcomes newcomers and most people tend to feel like “we” could do a bit better.  It can be hard breaking into an established community and the more intimate the culture, the more double-edged the entrée can be.  In a still small (but growing!) school, the size breeds an intimacy that is a huge value add…until it isn’t.  So when a new teacher joins the OJCS Family (and I am using “family” on purpose), there is so much s/he has to learn and be acculturated towards!

One thing that we have seen in the past, but has intensified through COVID, is that our students and our parents are not always as welcoming – or PATIENT – with new teachers as we might otherwise wish.  New teachers at OJCS, in addition to everything else they need to learn, are also at a bit of a disadvantage as they work to build the deep relationships with their students and their parents that their colleagues have had years to invest in and benefit from.  Change can be exciting and inspiring.  Change can also be scary and breed resentment.  I am seeing less patience for new teachers to find their footing than I had seen a few years ago.

The Parent Separation Gap

Like it or not – and many actually did like it – in many of the younger grades, parents played a pivotal role in at-home learning.  However much independent learning was fostered in school, however much time was invested in cultivating our youngest students to be self-directed – with much more success than we would have imagined pre-COVID – it is true that for lots of individual students, a parent’s role as “partner” in the learning expanded to include tech support, guidance counselor, tutor and even co-teacher.  In many families, COVID led to way more contact time and more quality time spent together.  A full-time return to in-person learning has meant revisiting the kinds of separation anxiety that is more typical to the beginning of a child’s school journey (only).

So it is no surprise that we are seeing all kinds of behaviour from both children and parents that have this post-COVID separation anxiety at its heart.  We are seeing a lot more angst and tears at drop-off, including in grades where we typically wouldn’t.  We are seeing a lot more “homesickness” or expression of “just wanting to be home”.  We are also seeing parents much more invested in the daily goings-on of school than we would typically expect.  We all agree that it is better for everyone, but especially our students, to be back in school.  We just haven’t (re)learned exactly how to do that, which comes with challenges.

The Stamina Gap

The school day at OJCS has the opening bell at 8:30 AM and the closing bell at 3:45 PM.  That is a longer-than average school day (although many Jewish day schools have longer ones, and that is without French, but that is a blog post for another day) and you can definitely see which of our students struggle as the day goes on.  And it is reasonable to assume that children who have attention issues will potentially struggle even more to maintain their focus across the many classes, teachers and material they encounter.  That was true before COVID!  One feature of hyflex and distance learning is that it provided many students with some flexibility over time – it was the rare student who was expected to be on screen and engaged on a full-day schedule.  It was more common to create blocks of online engagement that came with long periods of offline engagement.

This means that the return to full-day, in-person learning presents for many students, particularly the younger ones and those who struggle with focus, a stamina gap.  Students are simply not used to being in school all day and we didn’t exactly build in a slow return to build stamina.  In most cases, we simply assumed things would go back to “normal”.  But they have not quite yet, resulting in feelings and behaviours that we are working through.

The Empathy Solution

What’s the solution to filling in these gaps?  Well, in that same post I posited that “empathy” was the most likely solution, or at least the best possible response to the behaviors we are experiencing.  What would empathy look like in response to the gaps I have named here?  I think that when it comes to new teachers, it is understanding how challenging it may be coming into a new community and a new culture – especially a community as tight-knit and a culture as intimate as ours.  Let’s give our new teachers a reasonable amount of time to find their feet and build their relationships.  When it comes to separation anxiety, all of us – students, parents and teachers – will need to alter our short-term expectancies while keeping our eye on the long-term picture.  It isn’t that we don’t maintain high expectations for appropriate behaviour or that we don’t issue outcomes in its absence – it is that our approach for managing them comes with empathy, which we need to make explicit.  And the same is true with the “stamina gap” – it isn’t that we stop teaching earlier in the day, it is that we plan with an empathetic eye towards those students who struggle to keep it together during their long (for them) days as they build back their stamina.

Naming something is just the first step to meaningfully addressing it, and so that will be true here as well.  Are there other gaps you see other than the ones I mentioned?  Let us know.  Are there other solutions?  Let us know.  As partners in this learning journey, we have a sacred responsibility to lean into challenges as the first step to overcoming them.  This guided our path before COVID…so shall it guide our steps through and past it.

The Scholastic Book Fair is fast approaching!  This year it will be in-person for students and remains virtual for parents, grandparents, family and friends.  Please pay attention to the information coming home from classroom teachers and the school.  We thank you in advance for helping to build out our classroom libraries, for supporting our Library and for celebrating literacy!

After being unable to conduct a proper search for a new Head of Jewish Studies the last two seasons due to COVID – this position being too important to be decided over Zoom – we are cautiously optimistic that this season will be different.  So we will be posting the position in the coming weeks and hopeful to find the best candidate possible to join our team!

Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and OJCS is excited to celebrate – even if those celebrations (like everything else these days) has to come filtered through COVID protocols.  “Inclusion” is not simply an issue to discuss once a year, of course, and because it might have gotten lost earlier in the year, I actually want to start by highlighting an extraordinary post from way back in November by our Director of Special Education, Sharon Reichstein.  Entitled “Shifting the Spec Ed Narrative,” the posts opens by declaring the term “special needs” somewhat problematic:

The mere word ‘Special Education’ comes with a whole series of preconceived notions and ideas, often different for each person who hears it. For me, Special Education is a gift, a passion, and a commitment to ensuring every child gets what they need in order to succeed. I’ve spent my entire career building on this concept. For others, Special Education is viewed as something negative, something to hide, to be embarrassed about, or even ashamed of, and I hate that! For others,  Special Education is something placed in a box over to the side, an ‘other’, a silo, something that is about them and shouldn’t have anything to do with me. But what if we shifted that narrative so that everyone – administrators, teachers, parents, and most importantly, students – felt pride, empowerment, and understanding when they heard the term Special Education. I love to imagine a world and a school where Special Education becomes so ingrained in the normal, that no one sees it as “extra work” on the part of the teacher, something to “be ashamed” of on the part of the student, or something to “be worried” about on the part of the parent.

After a lengthy post that you should really read, she concludes with

At the OJCS we are well on our way with this shift. We strive to personalize instruction and encourage students to own their own learning. Understanding how each student learns and using their strengths to improve weaknesses is what we aim to do.

There is a bit of a delicate dance we do with issues like “inclusion”.  To the degree that we state that “everyone has special needs,” you run the risk of only focusing on who you presently serve and not look to see who you do not / cannot and then explore why.  To the degree that we state “every month is about inclusion,” you run the risk of missing a critical annual opportunity to reflect, to learn, to grow and to change.  We want to acknowledge the daily, weekly, and yearly work that we do to incrementally become better able to meet the needs of current students and to increase the circle of inclusivity.  But we also want to use JDAIM as a measuring stick and an inspiration – to have our thinking challenged, our minds opened and our hearts stirred.  We are blessed to be part of an interconnected Jewish community with partners to lovingly push and support us on our journey.

Last year, we were a little more easily able to celebrate in big ways and small.  (Here is a link to last year’s post if you are curious.)  This year, we have to be a little more careful, but the month is getting started with a few initiatives…

…Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator, rolled out a Padlet to our faculty that includes all the links and ideas that have been collected, thus far.  As she put it, “While we spend time each day fostering kind and inclusive communities in our classrooms, it is our hope that you can add a spotlight to JDAIM in your classrooms throughout the month of February- pick and choose from the Padlet activities and/or create your own.”

…Brigitte Ruel, our Librarian, has a post on books that focus on “inclusivity”.

…we will again participate in Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN)’s “Youth Leadership Award Challenge”:

…new this year is the exciting opportunity for our students to participate in the Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) Speaker Series for students in Grades 5-8.  Every Monday through Thursday this month there will be a different and free JDAIM guest speaker.  The lineup of speakers is incredible!

Classroom blogs and student blogfolios will be a great place to find examples of how OJCS lives JDAIM this year.

It bears mentioning that our ability to meet existing needs with enhanced COVID safety protocols is only possible thanks both to generous supplemental grants from Federation and from its “Emergency Campaign” that provides flexible furniture, assistive technology, and diagnostic software to benefit learners of all kinds whether they are learning in-person or at-home.  As increased personalization is carried forward from all our COVID pivots, OJCS aspires to live a pedagogy of personalization that allows each student in our school to find the appropriate floor and to fly as far as their God-given potential permits without a ceiling.

This Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, let us be reminded that to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  The work of becoming more inclusive has no beginning and has no ending.  Inclusivity is both a process and a journey, one that OJCS has proudly been on for a while and one that we intend to keep walking with our community into the future.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

OJCS Celebrates Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and the Ottawa Jewish Community School is proud to be celebrating in ways big and small!  We actually kicked things off in January when current OJCS Parent Dr. Madelaine Werier met with our Knesset to introduce them to the Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN) and to brainstorm with them ways that they could raise awareness and advocacy for inclusion at our school.  Here’s how Jenny, our Knesset Communications Rep, put it in her blog post:

Maybe we can create a mission to show the other students in our school that everyone can do something to help one another. Maybe we could do a class challenge to bring awareness to the importance of inclusivity. Donating money can be part of awareness campaigns but giving time is even more important. Even just holding the door for the person behind you can make a big difference in their day. How about a video? Making a video is a really easy way to make someone feel welcome, especially to a new environment. Maybe you don’t even have to do something special, by just asking them to do something with you could make them feel more welcome. The person you are spending time with doesn’t even have to be in your grade, branch out, talk to people from the grade above or below you. I know that if someone I didn’t know came and played with me I would feel much better.

Madelaine did mention that a very important word is advocacy for us to learn about and think about how to incorporate it into Jewish Disability and Inclusion Month at OJCS. This Knesset meeting was very helpful and meaningful to our Knesset team. Thank you so much Madelaine- you definitely gave us some really amazing ideas.

And our Knesset didn’t just listen, they took action.

Our student leaders wrote our faculty an email this week:

Dear OJCS Faculty,

The month of February is JDAIM- Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, and we would like to bring more awareness about the month to the school.
There are 3 ways we want to do this:
1. We want to have a door decorating challenge. Each homeroom class can choose a door to decorate around the theme of ‘Being Inclusive & Kind’. We would like to showcase photos of all the doors at our February Rosh Chodesh assembly so please have your beautiful doors all finished by February 24th. Gather the materials that you need, ‘begin with the end in mind’ with a class plan, and you can get started anytime! We can’t wait to see them!
2. The Shinshinim activities throughout the month of February are going to be run with Knesset too! The workshops will focus on the big idea that it’s important to be inclusive and celebrate & support one another’s differences.
3. When your reading buddy group meets in February, focus on books around the themes of kindness and inclusivity. We encourage you to have a class discussion or activity after the reading around these themes.
These are our school-wide initiatives, but you’re welcome to plan other activities for your class. Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN) is having a youth leadership challenge that you could enter with your class. See the poster below.
Please let us know if you have any questions. We are excited to incorporate JDAIM into our learning at OJCS.
Want to see “the poster below”?

And how can our teachers and students focus on books around the themes of kindness and inclusivity?  Well they can turn to our incredible librarian, Brigitte Ruel, who just put out a post of her own:

The month of February is JDAIM- Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.  The right book can really help foster more awareness and kindness in our students.  I have created a book bin with books on this topic for reading buddies that you can find at any time in the library.  I have also created a short list of some of our most on-point titles.

Want to see the books?  Visit her post!

Want to see an example of a teacher who was “excited to incorporate JDAIM into our learning at OJCS”?  Look no further than Grade 2!

Below is our video project that we have created in order to celebrate World Read Aloud Day (which is today!) and Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month, also known as JDAIM, (which takes place through the whole month of February).

These are just a few examples of what is presently happening and what is to come in the weeks ahead.  I invite you to visit the OJCS Blogosphere and the OJCS IRL (in real life!) to see how else we celebrate JDAIM this February.

Of course, however important dedicating months to raising awareness are (and they are!), working hard to include children with unique and diverse needs is something we do each and every day at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  Thanks to generous supplemental grants from Federation we have been able to provide flexible furniture, assistive technology, and diagnostic software to benefit learners of all kinds.  We have grown our Department of Special Needs to include a part-time director, our Vice Principal, and two full-time and a variety of part-time resource teachers in English, Hebrew and French.  We have adopted a pedagogy of personalization that allows each student in our school to find the appropriate floor and fly as far as their God-give potential permits without a ceiling.  For a Jewish day school of our size and resources, we have a lot to be proud of when it comes to meeting the needs of diverse learners.

This Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, let us be reminded that we strive to meet the needs of children because we recognize that each child has special needs.  That to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  The work of becoming more inclusive has no beginning and has no ending.  Inclusivity is both a process and a journey, one that OJCS has proudly been on for a while and one that we intend to keep walking with our community into the future.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Shofar, So Good!

I realize that anything might sound anticlimactic after yesterday’s exciting announcement.  But the truth is, that as meaningful as that gift is for both today and tomorrow, it is the actual work of teaching and learning that inspired it and us.  And this is definitely the season for inspiration!

It is also the season for my most favorite and best/worst pun!  How are things going at OJCS finishing our fourth week of school and headed into Rosh Hashanah you may ask?

Well.  Shofar so good.

Our “Shofar Patrol” has been making the rounds, apples are being cut, and honey is being poured.  Let me take a moment to congratulate all our new teachers and all our new parents on a wonderful first month of school.  Your enthusiasm and your passion are welcome additions to our growing school and inspire our hopes not only for this year, but for the years to come here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  While our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb, our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.

Echoing my thoughts about the calm before the calm, I looked back on my last two years of “Shofar So Good” posts and in each one there were major systemic changes necessary to explain in response to lived experience and parent feedback.  We had changes to carpool and dismissal (twice!), changes to our schedule, changes in online platforms, etc., etc., all (ultimately) positive changes, but all significant enough to warrant detailed conversations.  What has been wonderful shofar this year, is how smooth and calm things are.  I have been so impressed with how prepared our teachers have been, how positive our parents have been, and how enthusiastic our students have been to start the year.

Although, outside of French, we are not launching any major initiatives this year, what is bubbling up are major programmatic advances to align our practice with our “North Stars”.  Hopefully those of you who were able to join us for this week’s “Parent Night” saw evidence of that firsthand.  After conducting our AGM (Annual General Meeting), Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator, led us through our online spaces to help parents know exactly how to find the information about their child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests parents want and need to know about to be wonderful partners and advocates.  We did touch briefly on the whys of blogs, blogfolios, use of technology, etc., but have scheduled a “Parent Workshop” on October 24th (8:45 AM & 7:00 PM) for exactly that conversation.

For our final session, we gave parents the choice of four different topics.  Some stayed with Mrs. Thompson for a little more hands-on support.  We had a conversation led by Keren Gordon, our Vice Principal, about how our new Homework Policy is taking shape.  We had a conversation about our new school-wide behavior management program (based on the “7 Habits“) led by Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs, and Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator.  Our new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz hosted a discussion on connecting the Jewish living and learning at OJCS with life at home.

If you missed any of those sessions and want more information, you can find the slides uploaded to our website and you are welcome to contact any of the above to find out more.

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special school- thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  5780 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year!

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

2019 OJCS Middle School Retreat

Woo-hoo!

That’s pretty much all I can say.  We left exactly one week ago for our second annual three-day 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, white-water rafting, and a campfire to boot!  It was like we squeezed a summer’s session of camp into just three days…and we were all tired enough to prove it!

After having spent a good chunk of time putting together a video of our experience, I will let the video do the talking.  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 has 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:

Here is a final reminder about September 25th…

In order to encourage attendance in both parts of the evening, we are (for the second year) combining our AGM (Annual General Meeting) with a hands-on parent workshop to ensure parents are able to be meaningful partners in their child(ren)’s education.

The evening will begin at 7:00 PM in the CHAPEL with an approximately 30-minute AGM.  We will begin the Hands-On Workshop at 7:30 PM, beginning in the GYM, where we will start with some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will help you know exactly where to find the information about your chid(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects that you want and need to be wonderful parents and advocates.  We will then move into a choice of topics for parents to attend featuring “Homework”, “Behavior Management” & “Extending Jewish Learning” – all facilitated by members of our Educational Leadership Team.  The evening is intended to conclude by 8:30 PM.

This evening is about ensuring that parents know how to find, access and use all the tools we have available to help keep them in the know.  We are scheduling a different day – October 24th (8:45 AM & 7:00 PM) – to engage in a more substantial conversation about the what and the why of our approach to technology and innovation.  Why is the school moving to BYOD and what does it (really) mean?  What are blogs and blogfolios and how are they used in service of learning?  What role should schools play in developing media literacy and digital citizenship?  What does the latest research tell us?  If these questions, or others, are on your mind, we hope that you are able to join us at one of these conversations.