Habits of Kindness: Synergize

Welcome to blog post #299 (!)

Firstly, it is hard to believe that we are already introducing the SIXTH Habit, “Synergize,” because there are only seven and where did all the time go!

When our school introduces a new “Habit of Kindness,” I take it upon myself to blog about it.  (Last month was “Seek first to understand, then to be understood“.)   We have been enlisting our students to prepare and present the new habit at our monthly Rosh Chodesh Assemblies.  (You can stay on top of all our Community of Kindness activities by checking out its blog.)  Here is how Mrs. Bertrend described it:

Habit #6 from Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Effective People’ was introduced to the students: Synergize.  Synergize means to work together with others to accomplish a goal, while supporting one another and working to the strengths of each person.

Grade 4 students introduced the habit to the school and discussed how they had to synergize at a recent ‘Kindness Workshop’ with Mrs. B and Shannon LaValley from JFS.

As for my reflection, let’s start with what it says from the “Leader in Me: 7 Habits for Kids” page:

Habit 6 — Synergize

Together Is Better

I value other people’s strengths and learn from them.  I get along well with others, even people who are different than me.  I work well in groups.  I seek out other people’s ideas to solve problems because I know that by teaming with others we can create better solutions than anyone of us can alone.  I am humble.

What I would like to do is take this line by line, in the spirit of the haggadah, and offer a little midrash about why I think “synergize” is a habit our school has embraced.

“I value other people’s strengths and learn from them.”

As we have documented our innovative learning journey over the last year and change, one thing that has consistently been borne true, is that learning is no longer (if it ever was) about transferring knowledge from an adult to a child.  One thing that I treasure about our school is the commitment our teachers have to lifelong learning and the willingness they have to learn not only from each other, but from their students.

“I get along well with others, even people who are different than me.”

We chose “Community of Kindness” as the initiative to ensure students feel welcome, protected, and loved within (and without) our walls.  Each student, of course, is different from every other student because each is unique.  But we know that we – not just our school, but each of us – should be ultimately judged by how we treat “difference”.

“I work well in groups.”

We learn better together (North Star alert!).  One of the critical “now” literacies is the ability to work well in “groups”.  It will be the rare job our students will grow up to perform, where working well with others will not be a key to success.  It isn’t a skill you master in kindergarten and revisit in adulthood; it is an art form to be practiced daily so mastery ensues.

“I seek out other people’s ideas to solve problems because I know that by teaming with others we can create better solutions than anyone of us can alone.”

Here we really see collaboration in action; that by working with each other and learning from each other we will come up something better together than we could on our own.  In addition to our “Genius Hour” projects, there are so many opportunities for students at OJCS to engage in project-based learning and the upcoming grand opening of our OJCS Makerspace is going to really help us take this to the next level.

“I am humble.”

We teach our children that each is made in God’s image and that we ought to remember that when we interact with each other.  Humility is critical to collaboration because it assumes an attitude that one does not know it all and that there is wisdom to be found in each and every one of us if we are only willing to look and to listen.  One way we have embraced humility is in the exploration to transition from Parent-Teacher Conferences to Student-Led Conferences and from Teacher Observations to Teacher-Led Evaluations.  In both cases, we put the onus of responsibility on the learner to share growth rather than on the authority figure to ferret it out.

Next month we will finish up with “Sharpen the Saw”!

As we complete this year’s model sedarim, heading into Passover itself this weekend, should you wish to check out some Passover planning tips too good to, um…pass…over, check out last year’s post!

Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach…

Coming Blog Attractions:

  • Revised OJCS Homework Philosophy
  • OJCS Parent Survey (will be sent out the week we return)

Habits of Kindness: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Man was endowed with two ears and one tongue, that he may listen more than speak.  – Hasdai, Ben HaMelekh veHaNazir, ca. 1230, chapter 26

Although I did not purposely get behind in my “7 Habits” blog posts, it does work out nicely to land with this habit during the week of Parent-Teacher Conferences.

A lot of attention was spent before the last round of conferences on the new format for report cards and middle school conferences.  We received a lot of positive feedback on those changes, but as we continue to try to be responsive to parent needs, we are going to try to take it up another level this round.  Here is how we described it to our teachers:

As you finalize parent-teacher conference preparations, we remind you that successful conferences include artifacts, next steps and solutions.  We encourage you to think through the lens of bringing solutions, not just problems, to the table.  For any issue you need to raise with parents about academic progress or behavior, don’t just come with the issue, but with a practical solution to propose.  Parents cannot be partners without clear expectations.  We believe this mindset will go a long way towards having productive conferences and, more importantly, towards greater success in school.

We look forward to facilitating solutions-driven conversations and we will look for feedback to see how well we did.  But all of this is focused on what we are going to bring to the table.  That’s only one part of the conference.  We also have to be ready to listen – to really hear – what you are coming to tell us.  And that’s why this month’s habit is so perfectly timed.

We have been thinking about this at OJCS for quite some time now. Last year, we spent a faculty meeting exploring examples of ineffective and effective communication from a related field to help us prepare:

Which doctor would you prefer?  Which hospital would you entrust your family to?  This led, at the time, to a very productive and ongoing conversation about listening that we hope continues to lead to better and better ways of interacting with parents in our school.

Between our best preparations and our parents’ best intentions, we are looking forward to healthy and productive parent-teacher conferences this week.  We are coming to the table with artifacts, next steps and solutions.  But we are also coming with listening ears and open hearts; we hope that both parent and teacher will use this time to “seek first to understand and then to be understood”.  If we can, (we can!) we ensure that the holy work we do together to educate children will be advanced.

“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!

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!

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.

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:

Go to the Principal’s Office! You’ve Been “Caught Being Kind”!

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?

We are on a mission at OJCS to inspire acts of lovingkindness by building a community of caring.  We want to be a school where we proactively avoid unkind behavior through explicit skill-building and incentivizing menschlichkeit, not (only) reactively addressing unkind behavior through meaningful consequences.  Our students are engaged in the work through Knesset (our student government) and our faculty are engaged in the work through its “Minds Up!” committee.  And the administration is eager to play its part as well…

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.

As part of developing this spirit of leadership and a community of caring in our school, how wonderful would it be if each of our students – and our parents and teachers – held the additional title of “Kindness Ambassador”!

One step we look to take right away is to empower our teachers to start sending students to us when they do something kind.  We look forward, as an administration, to focusing on positively rewarding kind behavior as much, if not more, than applying consequences to unkind behavior, so that when the phone rings in the home of an OJCS parent and the school comes up on the “caller ID” that the emotion it triggers is excitement and not dread. Pick up the phone when we call…your child may have been caught in the act of being kind!

As promised

The Inclusive Jewish Day School

jdaim_hires1People who know our family know that since we moved to Florida six years ago, we will take any opportunity to maximize our proximity to Disney.  So it should be no surprise that with a daughter’s birthday nearly conflated with a three-day weekend, that I found myself in line for Space Mountain yesterday people-watching with my ten year-old.  A few families ahead of us was a tween who exhibited a variety of tics, both physical and auditory, who, thanks to the 50-minute wait, attracted his fair share of glances both furtive and obvious.  I observed my daughter and watched her split her gaze between the tween and the watchers and felt myself grow tense as I wondered what she was thinking, what she might say and whether I had prepared her for encountering difference with grace and acceptance.

But beyond the living parenting litmus test the situation created, the question shifted as it often does for me from the personal to the professional and I wondered if this tween had been a student in a school I had headed, would he have felt safe, appreciated, loved and, perhaps most importantly, included?

It made me ask myself, as a leader of schools, “Are we providing our schools with the resources and support they need to tackle issues of difference in ways that accord with our highest Jewish values?”

I am not sure that we are.

And sadly, as a number of articles that have come out in response to this being Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, a significant number of parents and organizations would agree.

We recognize that Schechter schools, Jewish day schools, private schools, etc., are not always capable of handling each and every situation appropriately.  We are not always the “best educational setting” for each Jewish child of difference, disability or with special needs.

But.

We also recognize that if our starting point was “how can we make this work for this child and our school” instead of “here are all the reasons why this cannot work” that a lot more Jewish children and their families would be included.  Our philosophical and moral starting point must be that difference or disability ought not preclude a Jewish day school education for those who wish it.  And then a conversation about how can begin…

 

This Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, let us declare that our schools have a passion for meeting the needs of all Jewish 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.  And each time our resources prevent one Jewish family from joining our Jewish day school family, let us be resolved to secure the resources so that not one more family share a similar fate.