You Can’t Count On Uncle Moishy This Year – NEW & REVISED Tips for Planning Your Pandemic Seder Too Good to Passover

In the rush to figure out how to work, study and live in this time of social distancing, it may just now be occurring to you that if your family is going to have a meaningful Passover Seder this year, that is actually going to be up to you to plan and lead it!  If you have been lucky (that may not be the right adjective for each family) enough to be a guest at someone else’s seder for years and years, you haven’t had to take responsibility for anything other than showing up (and hopefully helping to clean the dishes).  During this year’s Pandemic Passover, when each family is likely looking at an intimate family experience, whatever kind of seder is going to happen, is going to happen because of you.

But don’t worry!  This blog post that you have likely ignored each year, is right here again, ready and updated for just such an emergency!

The first time I took responsibility for leading the seder from my father (of blessed memory), I was in the middle of my studies at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) and deeply immersed in Jewish text and learning.  I was eager to discuss the history of the traditions, ready to parse language, prepared to study the midrash, excited to sing the traditional liturgy and totally misread the room.  I had a great seder, but I’m pretty sure no one else did!  But over lots of time and practice, I have mostly kind of figured out how to blend the traditional structure, text, prayers and songs along with newer innovations and customs into something that makes sense for the ranges of ages and backgrounds who come to my mother’s table each year in Las Vegas.

This year, however, our seder table – like most, if not all, of yours – will now be reduced to my immediate family and so even I am rethinking my plans.  The seder is still a wonderful opportunity for families to spend time doing something they still might not otherwise do—talk with one another!  The seder was originally designed to be an interactive, thought-provoking, and enjoyable experience, so let’s see how we might increase the odds for making that true, even in this most unusual of years.

Without further adieu, here are my revised top ten suggestions on how to make this year’s seder a more positive and meaningful experience:

1.  Tell the Story of the Exodus

The core mitzvah of Passover is telling the story.  Until the 9th century, there was no clear way of telling the story.  In fact, there was tremendous fluidity in how the story was told.  The printing press temporarily put an end to all creativity of how the story was told.  But we need not limit ourselves to the words printed in the Haggadah.  [This may be especially true if you have not been hosting Passover and don’t actually have haggadot.  Mine are with my Mom – so, we are dusting off some vintage ones this year.  If you Google “online haggadot” you will find lots of options.]  This could be done by means of a skit, game, or informally going around the table and sharing each person’s version of the story.

If there are older members at the table, this might be a good time to hear their “story,” and perhaps their “exodus” from whichever land they may have come.  If your older members are not able to be with you this year, you might wish to consider asking them write or record their stories, which you could incorporate into your seder (depending on your level of observance).  There will surely be lots of families who will be using technology to expand their seder tables to include virtual friends and families – again depending on your level of observance you could consider beginning elements of your seder before candle-lighting to incorporate this element.

2.  Sing Songs

If your family enjoys singing, the seder is a fantastic time to break out those vocal cords!  In addition to the traditional array of Haggadah melodies, new English songs are written each year, often to the tunes of familiar melodies.  Or just spend some time on YouTube! Alternatively, for the creative and adventurous souls, consider writing your own!

3.  Multiple Haggadot

For most families, I would recommend choosing one haggadah to use at the table.  This is helpful in maintaining consistency and ensuring that everyone is “on the same page.”  Nevertheless, it is also nice to have extra haggadot available for different commentaries and fresh interpretations.  Of course, this year, you may be getting by with whatever you can find around the house or what you can get from Amazon Prime!  But don’t let that inhibit you from moving forward – the core elements are essentially the same from one to the other.  Let the differences be opportunities for insight not frustration.

4.  Karpas of Substance

One solution to the “when are we going to eat” dilemma, is to have a “karpas of substance.”  The karpas (green vegetable) is served towards the beginning of the seder, and in most homes is found in the form of celery or parsley.  In truth, karpas can be eaten over any vegetable over which we say the blessing, “borei pri ha’adamah,” which praises God for “creating the fruit from the ground.”  Therefore, it is often helpful to serve something more substantial to hold your guests over until the meal begins.  Some suggestions for this are: potatoes, salad, and artichokes.

When candle-lighting times are late or children’s patience runs short, you should try to eat your gefilte fish before the seder.

5.  Assign Parts in Advance

In order to encourage participation in your seder, you may want to consider giving your partner and children a little homework.  Ask them to bring something creative to discuss, sing, or read at the table.  This could be the year you go all in and come in costume – dress like an ancient Israelite or your favorite plague – your kids can’t worry about being embarrassed in front of their friends this year!

6.  Know Your Audience

This one seems kinda obvious this year…if you don’t your family by now, we can’t really help you by Passover.

7.  Fun Activities

Everyone wants to have a good time at the seder.  Each year, try something a little different to add some spice to the evening.  Consider creating a Passover game such Pesach Family Feud, Jewpardy, or Who Wants to be an Egyptian Millionaire?!  Go around the table and ask fun questions with serious or silly answers.

8.  Questions for Discussion

Depending on the ages of your children, this one may be hard to calibrate, but because so often we are catering to the youngest at the table, it is easy to forget that an adult seder ought to raise questions that are pertinent to the themes found in the haggadah.  For example, when we read “ha lachma anya—this is the bread of affliction,” why do we say that “now we are slaves?”  To what aspects of our current lives are we enslaved?  How can we become free?  What does it mean/what are the implications of being enslaved in today’s society?

We read in the haggadah, “in each generation, one is required to see to onself as if s/he was personally redeemed from Egypt.”  Why should this be the case?  How do we go about doing that?  If we really had such an experience, how would that affect our relationship with God?

One assumes – and I’ll have more to say about this next week – that the current situation may raise new questions or may cause us to view familiar text and traditions in new ways.  As you read through the haggadah, push yourself to ask these type of questions, and open them up for discussion.

9.  Share Family Traditions

Part of the beauty of Passover, is the number of fascinating traditions from around the world.  This year, in particular, is a great opportunity to begin a new tradition for your family.  One family I know likes to go around the table and ask everyone to participate in filling the cup of Elijah.  As each person pours from his/her cup into Elijah’s, s/he offers a wish/prayer for the upcoming year.  What are you going try this year?

10.  Preparation

The more thought and preparation given to the seder, the more successful the seder will be.  That may feel challenging or overwhelming this year, but however much time and attention you can put into your planning, you won’t regret it.  If you are an OJCS (or Jewish day school family), lean on your children – you paid all this money for a high-quality Jewish education, put them to work!  Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.

Next week, we’ll revisit the tradition of adding a “Fifth Question” in light of current circumstances.

The Coronavirus Diaries: Distance Learning Amplifies Introverted Voices

Let’s say you have 20 students in a class and you have 1 hour available to teach.  If all that happened during that period was giving each student an opportunity to speak, each student would have three minutes of airtime.  That’s if the teacher doesn’t say a single word, if the entire lesson was given over to student voice, and each student spoke for the exact same length of time.  Since that never happens, if you did the math, how much time do you think a teacher actually spends hearing directly from his or her most shy/introverted/speech-challenged students during an average lesson?  Or during an average day, week, month or year?

I was chatting with a colleague yesterday and we were comparing notes about what good is coming from our schools being forced to go entirely virtual for an unknown length of time.  We were able to come up with a pretty robust list – facility with new pedagogies/platforms and increased emphasis on differentiation/personalization immediately leapt to mind.  But what I want to focus on here is another unintended benefit of going remote – a #COVID19SilverLining so says the trending hashtag – the opportunity to hear the voices that are oftentimes drowned out or kept silent by the normal course of schooling.  A lot of teachers are going get a chance to better know a bunch of their most interesting, funny, serious and creative students. Distance learning is going to unleash and amplify introverted voices to everyone’s benefit.

In a blog post a few weeks back where I (re)introduced you to our student blogfolios, I said that:

But what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.

And that is totally true.  But what is also true, is that reading student voices or watching student videos or viewing student artwork through their blogfolios unlocks voices and personalties that don’t always come through in face-to-face engagement.  There are students who have extraordinary senses of humor and who are brilliantly creative and I had no idea!  Blogs and blogfolios allow teachers and administrators to get to know our students more fully and through commentary allow us to relationship-build more meaningfully.  That is why they are powerful pedagogies in normal circumstances.  What is true for blogs and blogfolios normally is now true for much of distance learning for all our students for much of our day.

The nature of the beast is that distance learning reduces the amount of frontal and whole-class learning (although it still has a place) and increases the amount of small-group and individual learning.  Those latter forms of learning still happen across a variety of platforms – live in Google Meeting, independently at home, postings on blogs/blogfolios/GoogleDocs, etc. – but they all allow for, or really require, more individual contact time between teacher and student.

We are just three days into the OJCS Distance Learning Program. Our soft launch is concluding today with student and parent surveys. All that we learned this week will be factored into the launch of Phase I, which begins on Monday and will last for two weeks.  Our students and our parents and our teachers are overwhelmed and exhausted and proud and exhilarated all at the same time.  We have already gained so much from having this experience.  But one of the biggest gains has come in our teachers’ ability to better know and to spend more time with the students they not have the bandwidth to lean into when we have crowded rooms and limited time.

We are all anxious to know if and when we are going to return to brick-and-mortar schooling.  But what we are learning about how to reach all our students, how to ensure all voices are heard, and the enhanced relationships that come as a result of new methods – all of that has to come with us when we do return.  If we can learn from this experience how to unleash the passion and talents of all our students – loud and quiet – well, that would be one heckuva #COVID19SilverLining.

The Coronavirus Diaries: The Launch Begins!

I promise that I will not be live-blogging each day of the OJCS Distance Learning Program!  But to the degree that it is helpful to document the soft launch – both for us and for fellow travelers – and because it is going to be a bit of “hurry up and wait” for the administration now that virtual classes have begun, I thought it would be good to show a little of what things actually look like.

The spine of our program is the OJCS Blogosphere.  This was in the process of becoming true before the pandemic because of all the things we believe to be true about teaching and learning in the 21st century.  It is really proving its worth now that we have had to transition to distance learning on a dime.  Just a quick look at the screenshot above – or a quick jump on the link – will show you how our teachers have immediately pivoted.  The action is going to take place online; the architecture is anchored in classroom blogs and student blogfolios.

How did Grade 8, for example, start its day?  Glad you asked!

How did our amazing Librarian already begin serving not just our school, but our entire community? #OJCSStoryTime anyone?

How does it look from a parent/student perspective?

And the sound outside my daughter’s “classroom”:

You get the idea; these are just from the first hours, more and more are coming as the day begins.  You can see it all on our different social media channels.

What else am I seeing?

I am seeing lots of teachers supporting other teachers.  Sharing live experiences with Google Meet, using internal Google Hangout for quick references, administrators popping in and out of “virtual” classrooms, etc.

I am seeing that in some families the anxiety starting to lift as the unknown becomes known.  But I am not naive enough to believe that this is true for all families.  Our concern and attention is going to move soon from the families and students we are engaged with to the ones we aren’t.  That will become more pressing as we move from the soft launch this week to Phase 1 after this week to the ever-more-likely Phase 2 after Passover.

What else is important during this week’s soft launch?

Preaching patience!  We chose a soft launch on purpose.  We know that some things are going to work well right away; some things are going to work once we’ve had enough time to practice; and some things aren’t going to work at all and we’ll have to adjust.  We are going to use these three days to figure out what belongs in which bucket.

  • Is Google Meet/Hangout going to ultimately prove successful with its limitations in muting and viewing the whole class?
  • How will we support students and/or parents for whom this transition proves to be more challenging?
  • How will we support teachers for whom this transition proves to be more challenging?
  • Will we need to add structured tutorials to our website/blogosphere on targeted topics (how to use Google Meet, how to submit work through GoogleDocs, etc.)?
  • How will we continue to live our North Stars?  We can see lots of examples of them already in play, but once the novelty and excitement (and stress and anxiety) wears off and we settle in, will we find opportunities for ruach?  Will we continue being “on inspiring Jewish journeys”?

In just the two hours or so since I opened this blog, I have been following the emails, tweets, Facebook posts, and chats of teachers, parents and students.  I remain in awe of what we have all managed to accomplish here in such a short amount of time.  Let’s keep sharing with each other and with the wider world.  Let’s keep creating space for mistakes and anxiety.  Let’s keep celebrating small victories and minor miracles.  Let’s combat the social recession with creative social experiences.  Let’s live our school’s North Stars and our community’s Jewish values in this new virtual reality.

We are definitely taking it one day at a time…but it has been a pretty special day one so far.

 

The Coronavirus Diaries: School-At-Home ≠ Homeschool

How quickly the world turns…

Four days ago, we were celebrating Ruach Week and I was dressed like a pirate.  Today, we are preparing to launch the OJCS Distance Learning Program and I am dressed like a teenager.  Four days ago, we weren’t sure if we were going to close.  Today, we aren’t sure if we are going to reopen.

I cannot believe how quickly things have moved and I cannot believe how quickly our school and our teachers have mobilized a response. Sure we had started talking about what would need to be true for us to go live with a distance learning program, but even I wouldn’t have thought we’d be able to switch tracks on a dime.  [I am just as impressed with how our entire Jewish Community has responded, led by Andrea Freedman and our Jewish Federation.]  But I am most impressed by our parents.  With all the challenges of transitioning to telecommuting, preparing for creative childcare, and just the nuts and bolts of being at home for a sustained period of time – plus balancing all the anxiety and concern that is so understandable – we have been so blessed to see such positive attitudes and growth mindsets.

Maybe I am still getting used to #CanadaNice, but to all the people who have found time to express their appreciation for the work the school has been doing, please know that it is greatly appreciated.  Please also know that it takes our entire team of teachers and staff to make this happen and they are just as worthy, if not more, for your appreciation.

If you thought 1,000+ words in a blog post is fun, you must really be enjoying my daily emails!  I imagine that once we launch that the email traffic (at least from me) will recede, but we are trying to strike the right balance between sharing too much and sharing too little.  I am also trying to find my balance between what information belongs here, in my blog, and what can remain contained to direct email.  I don’t want my blog to be repetitive for parents, but there is a wider audience I want looped into our work.  (Why?  Because of the “moral imperative of sharing”.  We learn from other schools and other schools learn from us.)

So in this section, I am going to cherrypick the most salient issues from parent emails.  If you have already read them, feel free to jump to the next section.

  • As previously stated, our Department of Special Needs is reaching out to each family of a child who has a support plan or IEP to discuss how we are going to continue to support and make accommodations during this transition.
  • We spoke today with Shannon Lavalley, our school’s psychotherapist, and she wanted to share out a few things…
…as JFS plans its transition to e-counseling, Shannon’s individual sessions with OJCS students is on hold.  She will be directly in contact with those families to discuss next steps once they have worked out their logistical concerns.

…we will be adding a blog for Shannon in the days ahead.  This is where Shannon can and will share out global advice and resources for OJCS families during this challenging time.  In the meanwhile, she recommends:

  • We are beginning to think about how our special school community can help ward off the coming social recession as social distancing kicks in.  Our PTA is brainstorming virtual social opportunities and calling on parents who have bandwidth to email the PTA (pta@theojcs.ca) with proposed day/time/subject.  We are thinking about things like, “PTA Happy Hour” on Thursday at 4:00 PM.  Or “Family Passover Baking” or “Adult Yoga” or “Managing Children’s Anxiety”.  We would love a blend of fun and practical ideas; #TheOJCSDifference isn’t just for students.

Our main story today, however, is about structuring a learning environment conducive to the OJCS Distance Learning Program.  Or as the blog post title suggests, what does it mean for students to participate in a “school at home” program and not homeschooling?

The biggest difference is that we do not wish for parents to have to serve as teachers.  The majority of our parents will, themselves, be trying to figure out how to perform their own jobs by remote and are not educators.  We aren’t putting together plans and activities for our parents to facilitate with their children.  We plan on providing schooling itself, albeit through a creative blend of live, remote and at-home experiences.

Let’s name that depending on people’s homes, access to devices, techno-comfort, childcare needs, etc., etc., that very few homes will be operating in what we would consider to be an “optimal environmental setting”.

What is an optimal environmental setting?

The ideal, which we imagine very few families will be able to navigate, has each OJCS student in your family logged in and actively engaged throughout his or her school day.  That they are alone in a room with a device that allows them to participate in all the live experiences, while having access to their books and materials to participate in all the remote experiences.  That when the schedule calls for breaks, that healthy snacks are available.  That when the schedule calls for physical activity, that materials or space is available.  That those who have enough executive functioning skills will be able to self-navigate and that those who do not will have enough access to an adult to find success.

Will that be equally true for each student in each grade in each family?

For sure no!  That’s why we are building care and concern, flexibility and freedom, attendance and accountability into the system.  It is also why we will be surveying families along the way to see what we can do to make things easier or more effective when we can.

Can we talk about screen time?

Let’s name that we will all need to be more flexible in our understandings of “screen time”.  Opting for a screen when lots of IRL (“in real life”) experiences were available was never our goal at OJCS.  But now that we are living in the “upside-down” it is possible that use of technology will provide our students with more and richer IRL experiences, that through technology we can combat social isolation with conversation, faces and laughter.  All “screen time” was not, and definitely now, is not equal.

Family Kabbalat Shabbat is best done with us all together in the Chapel.  But live-streaming it this Friday, through a screen, is going to be way better than not having it all!  (Hope you join me!)

Tomorrow, we launch a new chapter in our school’s journey.  Whether it winds up being a three-week, five-week or rest-of-the-school-year journey is not yet clear.  What is clear, however, is that because of the work that our talented teachers have been putting into their professional growth over the last three year, the Ottawa Jewish Community School is ready to meet this moment.  Let’s be sure to give each other permission to feel anxious or scared.  Let’s recognize that we will have both failures and successes in the weeks ahead.  Let’s create space for the messy learning and schedule challenges and conflicts.

This chapter in our journey may have been totally unexpected, but it does not delay us from our ultimate destination.  We have been saying for years that the “future of education” is happening at OJCS.   The future begins tomorrow.

The Coronavirus Diaries: And So It Begins…

Today was amongst the proudest of my entire professional career.  No one is looking for a pandemic to justify everything one believes to be true about teaching and learning and nothing about school closures is worthy of celebration.

But.

Our teachers and our school were made for this moment.

With only a few weeks of prior planning, we seamlessly transitioned into an entire day of PD and meetings to finalize the soft launch of our OJCS Distance Learning Program for next week.  We met both by grade level and by subject matter to lay out the when and the what as well as the how to navigate this new world that we are entering.  We met on Zoom and on GoogleHangout.  We created calendars, schedules, resources, links, folders and drives.  Our teachers were professional and prepared.  Sure, they – like you – are anxious, but they are also in good spirits because all the work we have done over the last two years and more have uniquely prepared us for moving to remote learning on a dime.  We did not invest time and resources in new platforms and pedagogies because we ever could have imagined a school closure of this nature.  We did not pioneer blogs and blogfolios because we thought we’d need to build a Distance Learning Program around them. But boy are we happy we have done all that and more in times like these…

For the non-OJCS parents who read my blog and who may already be in closure or preparing for it, here is a snippet of what we shared out today:

“(I)n light of the decision of fellow Jewish day schools in Ontario and to remain abundantly cautious, we have taken the step to close school through April 20th.  We will reassess as we get closer to Passover Break as to when and how to physically reopen.

Here is what it means.

The school building will be open on Monday, March 16th.  This is to provide teachers and students with an opportunity to come and retrieve all the books, devices, materials, etc., that will be needed to navigate the OJCS Distance Learning Program that will launch.  The Library will be open from 9:00 – 2:00 PM for anyone who needs to stock up on library books.  We understand and respect that not everyone may feel comfortable reentering the building, but please know that according to Public Health there is no additional risk involved.  Please additionally know that the Campus took advantage of today’s closure to do a deep clean if that provides added comfort.  [Let me take a moment to personally thank Andrea Freedman and Federation who have been tremendous partners during this difficult moment.]

We will be sending out schedules for the soft launch of our OJCS Distance Learning Program by the end of day on Monday.

We will be holding a Virtual Parent Town Hall to explain the OJCS Distance Learning Program on Tuesday, March 17th at 7:00 PM.  (Link to follow.)

We will soft launch the OJCS Distance Learning Program on Wednesday, March 18th.

We will officially launch the OJCS Distance Learning Program on Monday, March 23rd.

Additionally, report cards will go home electronically on Monday and we will encourage families wishing for Parent-Teacher Conferences to either use the existing schedule for phone conversations or to reach out and schedule directly with your child(ren)’s teacher(s).”

I am so incredibly proud of our teachers who have put this program together professionally and quickly.  Each day will have structure, accountability, learning and experiences.  There will be a blend of live experiences, recorded experiences, links, etc., that are age- and subject-appropriate.  We recognize that there will be childcare and technological challenges to work through and are prepared to navigate both with the utmost flexibility and care.  Although we will need to lean into technology, please know that we do not expect any child to be in front of a screen or a device the whole day long.  There will be lots of structured activities that do not require technology, although the technology will likely be the jumping off point.

Most importantly, is that we will be providing high-quality secular, Jewish and French education and experiences that ensure that our graduates are prepared for success in Grade 9 and that all our students are adequately prepared to be promoted into their next grade level.

These are the times where I feel grateful to be part of such an extraordinary community of teachers, students, parents and institutions.  Working and pulling together, we will ensure that we are safe and that the learning continues.  And that is truly and emphatically #TheOJCSDifference.

I will be using “The Coronavirus Diaries” as a way of sharing out broader issues to our parents, our local community and the community of Jewish and secular educators who read my blog.  I will have thoughts and advice to share with parents about how to structure time and space to facilitate distance learning.  I will have thoughts and advice to share with teachers and colleagues about how to run an educational institution by remote.  (First tip – don’t let yourself go to the kitchen every time you are hungry.)  I will also hope that as people have no choice, but to be more engaged in use of blogs during these times, that people will begin to comment and share resources here and elsewhere.  It will take a virtual village to get us through and I believe deeply in the “moral imperative of sharing”.  I will share with you…and I hope you share with me.

Be safe.  Be smart.  But don’t panic.  We will come out of this stronger and better teachers and schools as a result.

Update: Impact of TACLEF on French Faculty

We are about 1/4 of the way through our major French consultancy with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  (Please know that our work with TACLEF is generously supported by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.)  We thought it was an appropriate time to share back a little about what impacts the training has had, thus far, on our French faculty and program.  If you want a reminder or a refresher on why we felt it necessary to engage this consultancy and what its aims and deliverables are, I encourage you to read the post from last year that describes it great detail.

Instead of my usual delivery, I thought it would be more helpful to frame this discussion as an edited “Q & A” that I had with our senior-most French teacher,  Mr. Cinanni, who teaches Middle School Extended French at OJCS.

How has the consultancy impacted your ability to assess students?

It has allowed us to focus on reading, writing and oral communication in equal parts, which we have not always been able to do (or even thought possible).  We have definitely adjusted evaluation methods since beginning with TACLEF.

How has the consultancy impacted your ability to differentiate or personalize the learning?

It completely supports us in doing so.  Each student has his/her own strengths and weaknesses, and TACLEF – if used properly as an assessment tool – will identify these and then offer (almost too) many suggestions on how to work on those weaknesses.  We have also noticed that there may be groups of students who share the same gaps (e.g. a lack of “enriched vocabulary”) which allows us to prepare activities/lessons that many students need and will benefit from together.

How has TACLEF impacted teaching and learning in your classrooms?

As stated, the greatest impact is ensuring that all three strands (reading, writing and oral communication) are built into almost every activity and evaluation.  It has also given us new resources and strategies for delivery of instruction, classwork, and homework (in addition to evaluation).

How might TACLEF help us best prepare students for French immersion in Grade 9?

By providing us with a detailed roadmap, we can prepare all our students – particularly the ones who land in Extended French – as if they were going into French immersion.  It is too soon to be more specific, but over the remaining 3/4 of the consultancy we will have greater clarity about how to adapt our program (with what supporting curricular materials we will need) to prioritize that outcome.

Is there anything else of consequence to note at this time?

We have already been able to use TACLEF assessments to better answer questions and concerns from individual parents and to better meet the needs of individual learners.  It gives us a taste of what is to come, but we can already see that the quality of our conversations with parents has been elevated due to this work.  We believe it will make the decision-making around Core/Extended placements more objective, more scientific and more successful.

On a related note, our annual alumni surveys for students in Grades 9 & 12 are going out in the next week or so.  We like to wait until finals are complete because we think it helps (Grade 9) alumni (and their parents) better provide feedback on how well (or not) OJCS prepared them.  We include a number of questions about French in those surveys and we will report back (either an update to this post or in some other way) what we learn.

If you have more questions or concerns about French at OJCS, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We know how important this topic is for a meaningful number of current and prospective families.  It would be our pleasure to provide more detail in conversation.

On an unrelated note, with new admissions and re-enrollment packets now out, I want to strongly recommend that anyone who has questions about the financial side of things to please make an appointment with me to discuss. It is my role to shepherd families through the process and oftentimes I can help a family better navigate the system – particularly for folk who will be seeking tuition assistance.  It would be my pleasure to sit with anyone to help better understand how the system works and what, historically, has best positioned families to be viewed in the most positive light.  If this is a source of anxiety or concern for any family – or a reason why a family may or may not choose to enroll or re-enroll – I strongly urge you to come in for a private conversation.  We have a long history of generosity that our donors, supporters and Federation have helped ensure and we will continue to work hard to ensure that financial considerations not be the determining factor for whether or not a child can receive a Jewish day school education.

Quality Comments: Welcome to OJCS Student Blogfolios!

I spend about an hour each week commenting on our student blogfolios.

What’s a “blogfolio” you ask?  Well it is a term of art that (I think) my former colleague Andrea Hernandez created, and in her words:

Portfolios give students a chance to develop metacognition, set goals and internalize what “good work” looks like.  Blogs offer a platform for creativity, communication, connection and the practice of digital citizenship. “Blog-folios”are the best of both worlds- using a blogging platform to develop writing skills, provide opportunities to connect with an authentic audience and increase reflective practices. Instead of using the entire site as a portfolio, students will use the category “portfolio” to designate those selections that represent high-quality work and reflection.

Having begun last year with Grade 5, we have now added this year’s Grade 5 as well.  [Spoiler Alert: We will be expanding the use of blogfolios in both directions in the not-too-distant future.]

During the time I set aside for my reading, I typically start at the beginning of each blogroll and make my way through as many as I can. During that hour, I can see which spelling words are being emphasized in a particular grade.  I can see which kinds of writing forms and mechanics are being introduced.  I learn which holidays (secular and Jewish) are being prepared for, celebrated or commemorated.  I see samples of their best work across the curricula.

But what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.

This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.  It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work.  But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily.  When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it.  Look at how much time they spend editing.  Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect.  [Spoiler Alert: When we shift into “Student-Led Conferences” the blogfolios become a critical anchor.]

Seriously.  Look at it.

If you are a parent in one of these classes, we hope that you are already subscribed to your children’s blogfolio(s) and that grandparents and special friends are as well.  But if you are not a parent in one of these classes (or a parent in our school or a parent at all), but are (obviously!) reading my blog, I ask that however much time you would have spent reading one my typically overlong, 1,000-word (plus) posts, that you please use that time now to read one of their posts.  Even better, post a comment! It brings them such joy!  Just pick a few at random and make a burgeoning blogger’s day.

If you are interested in perusing the Grade 5 Blogroll, please click here.

If you are interested in surfing the Grade 6 Blogroll, then please click here.

With enrollment for 2019-2020 now fully open [Don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity to lock in this year’s tuition rates by enrolling on time!], I am looking forward in upcoming posts to providing meaningful updates on two major initiatives:

  • How has the work with TACLEF impacted French at OJCS?
  • How has the gift to strengthen the “J” in OJCS impacted Jewish Studies (and Life) at OJCS?

Stay tuned!

Annual BlogCloud – A WordCloud in the Hand…

Ah late November…

…while my internal thermometer still thinks it should be shorts weather and my internal clock still thinks it is almost time for turkey and football, the truth of things is that here, in wintry Ottawa, I am making my way through each and every report card as we gear up for Parent-Teacher Conferences.

In light of the season – Report Card Season – and in light of the many (long) serious blog posts I have been cranking out, it seems like it is just the right week for my annual word cloud post, complete with awful puns.

If you missed last year’s punny post

I do love to take an opportunity once a year to run my blog through a word cloud app or website.  If you are unfamiliar with the idea, in a nutshell, word clouds (through an algorithm only they know) take any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  Another great feature is that, not only can you cut-and-paste in any written document, you can type in blogs, websites, etc., and it will go back and search them for content, add it all up, and spit out a word cloud representing the sum of all its written content.

This is my third such annual post here at OJCS and I have done them each at approximately the same time of year.  So, what does this year’s BlogCloud look like and what does it reveal?  [If it is too small on your screen/device you can go ahead and zoom in.  Or just scroll up!]

I love the nexus of time-Jewish-teachers-parents-students!  I like seeing words like “Community”, “Learning”, “Meaningful”, and “Forward” increase in size.  I think it is great to see “Questions”, “Conversations”, and “Feedback” make an appearance.

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

If you see something interesting in my OJCS BlogCloud, let us know in the comments!

Liveblog of OJCS 2019 Winter PD Day

Another PD Day is ramping up at OJCS and we are looking forward to a day of growth and a day of community-building with our teachers. Days like today are critical pitstops on our learning journey towards our North Stars; they give us the mini-break and the mini-boost we need to keep our rhythm and our momentum.  And, as always, it is my pleasure to give you a peek inside with one my seasonal “liveblogs”.

How are we beginning our day (after breakfast)?  Let’s check in with our Vice Principal, Keren Gordon:

9:00 AM “The OJCS Way” Strategy GooseChase

What is a GooseChase you may ask?  Well GooseChase is an app for creating your own online, collaborative scavenger hunt that allows you to create teams, develop missions, track live scoring, etc.  It is something we experienced in our work with NoTosh and are now using with our full faculty.  When used in an educational setting, you can create missions that require students – or in our case teachers – to learn something, do something, show something, etc., all in service of growth.

Our Faculty GooseChase today is to help our teachers better understand how to teach and learn according to “The OJCS Way”.  You have heard a lot over the last few years about our “North Stars” and they are really important.  Our North Stars are our core values and, as such, remain permanently fixed in the sky as our guide towards being the best school we can be.  But how do we get there?  What is our path?  Well.  Those are our Strategies.  If you want to see how the Good Ship OJCS sets sail towards its objective – guided by North Stars through Strategies – this amazing sketchnote by our Teaching & Learning Coordinator Melissa Thompson puts it all together:

So, in order to help our teachers better understand the Strategies…

  • Champion the Wellbeing of Each Person
  • Be Open to Critique
  • Challenge Assumptions
  • Work is Part of a Jewish Learning Journey
  • Include Student Voice

…what kinds of missions are our teachers running around the school trying to complete?  Here’s a sample:

Each time a team completes a mission, they upload the evidence – a text, a picture, a video, etc., – and they get points.  There is a live leaderboard that scrolls all the uploaded content and the scoring as you make your way through.  Our teachers are running around the school, taking pictures, making videos, learning, laughing and having a great time.

Want proof?

Mission: The Jewish Wedding
Mission: Artfully Strategic
Mission: Sparking Strategy
Mission: Speed Pineappling

There are lots and lots of hilarious videos and pictures that I cannot show here, but needless to say, our teachers had themselves quite the GooseChase!  We are excited to see how their deep dive into strategy will impact teaching and learning and we are excited to see how many of them will try a GooseChase of their own in their classrooms.  Stay tuned.

11:00 AM Structured Conversations

For the last part of our formal program, we divided our faculty into four structured conversations, differentiated by department:

  • TACLEF for French Faculty
  • ALSUP for Middle School Faculty
  • VoiceThread for Jewish Studies Faculty
  • STAR Reading for Language Arts Faculty

TACLEF for French Faculty

With all the professional development our French Faculty has been receiving through TACLEF (our work with TACLEF is generously supported by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa), we definitely thought it was a good idea to give them an opportunity to take stock and think together about how to move the work forward.  Today the team explored how to use our new assessment tool as part of our process for determining both original placement in our Core and Extended Programs, as well as when it may be appropriate to switch from one to the other.  Here’s what else was on the board:

ALSUP for Middle School Faculty

As part of implementing our new Behaviour Management program, our whole faculty are frequently asked to conduct an ALSUP for goal-setting purposes as we prioritize growth in all areas of their learning, including social-emotional wellness.  What is an ALSUP?  It is an Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) and it is used to help identify what is behind the behaviours we are seeing and how to strategically support the student with goal-setting that invites different outcomes.  Today Middle School conferenced about the ALSUP, the process for goal-setting and how to invite meaningful follow-up conventions with students and their parents.

VoiceThread for Jewish Studies Faculty

I led this one myself and so I have nobody to blame for not having take any pictures!  We spent time looking at VoiceThread – a sophisticated, versatile recording tool that creates lessons which include video, images and sound.  Although we already utilize a variety of other apps and tools that have some similar features, we really believe that VoiceThread may give us an easy and exciting way to provide students with opportunity to practice listening and speaking in Hebrew.  We brainstormed ways we could use VoiceThread in class, as personalized homework, to enrich, to remediate, and enhance second language acquisition.  We will be getting a license so that our teachers can begin to play – and perhaps prototype.  We also believe this could be a great tool for French as well.

STAR Reading for Language Arts Faculty

Our Language Arts Faculty looked at Star Early Literacy/Star Reading Assessments and learned how to read reports to find the focus skills that will help guide lessons, as well as plan differentiated, personalized lessons for individual students based on their personal reading comprehension needs.  They had a great discussion around reading for the love of reading and reading to grow.  There’s a time and a place for both and both can be true in our classrooms and at home. This diagnostic is ONE tool that exists for our teachers to help learn a little more about our students and support their ever-growing journey as life-long learners.

For the rest of our day, we gave our teachers the most precious gift of all…time!  Time to finish those report cards, to plan for meaningful parent-teacher conferences, time to catch up and time to get ahead. We are looking forward to resuming school on Monday renewed, rejuvenated and ready to reach for those (north) stars!

Another Trip Around The OJCS Blogosphere

With all the workshops and meetings and slides and conversations about our blogs, it is sometimes easy to forget (at least for me) that the best way of showing the power, the impact, and the learning on the blogs is to actually show it!  Recognizing that it still may be a new routine for families and that most families surely don’t have the bandwidth to visit all the blogs, let me serve as your occasional tour guide of The OJCS Blogosphere.  I hope to do this a few times a year to inspire OJCS families to invest a little time, to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time-to-time, and to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

From the OJCS (Middle School) Mathematics Blog (click here for the full blog)

Math Escape: Grade 8 Dinner Party! – Posted on October 28th

Grade 8 participated in their first Math Escape Room of the year on Friday.

They got a taste last year, and loved it so much, that I had to put together another one and bring it back to life this year!

October’s theme: a Dinner Party! How much food? When to start each recipe? How to set the tables? ….and picky eaters!

Students were “Trapped in Math Class” for 60 minutes in small groups. They had to beat the clock to correctly answer four tough and tricky questions that pushed them to squirm and struggle. Topics included logic problems, algebra, and area of circles.(had to figure this out from notes and clever resources-since we haven’t learned it formally yet!)

So with the room set, and the students eager with positive attitudes they took on the challenge…and as the struggled through, they came out on the other side all escapees from this month’s escape room!.

Here’s a peak into their “struggle,” and now thanks to my over using my “dontstealthestruggle”phrase, students are often heard saying back to me, “Mrs Cleveland, no, don’t help, don’t steal my struggle, I can figure it out.”

Could I be more proud?!  Let’s see what they got what it takes to escape in November’s room, I’m already preparing it! Bring it, grade 8! Show me what you’ve got!

…stay tuned….grade 7 takes on their first escape room tomorrow! They’re ready for the challenge!

Take a look…

 

From the Grade One – Kitah Alef Blog (click here for the full blog)

Proud Teacher Moment – Posted on November 1

What an amazing feeling it is to walk in on my students during recess and find  a few of them playing (IN HEBREW) a game I used with them yesterday to practice hebrew vocabulary.

They truly exemplify OJCS’s star – “We own our own learning. We own our own stories.”

And to make matters BETTER. As I was writing about this, I heard my students using the Hebrew song I taught them for lining up during transition time in another class.

My heart feels so fulfilled at this moment! My dream (having OJCS students using Hebrew NOT ONLY in Hebrew class) is coming true…

I am truely soooo proud!

TODA YELADIM! 😘

From the Grade Five – Kitah Hay Blog (click here for the full blog)

Student Vote 2019 – Posted on October 18

We had a great turnout for our Student Vote yesterday! The grade 5 students prepared and delivered! It was a long morning, where lots of patience was needed, but they stepped up to the challenge and were true model students and citizens.

We started the morning learning how to fold and initial the ballots to ensure they were all “kosher” and hadn’t been tampered with. They also witnessed and confirmed that the ballot boxes were empty before they were sealed.

And then the fun began! We welcomed all the classes from grades 3 to 8 into our room, presented important information on the main party platforms, and then worked as Poll Clerks and Deputy Returning Officers to guide voters through the voting process.

 

We can’t wait to share the results with you, after the polls close for the rest of the country, on Monday evening. We will be counting the votes on Wednesday so stay tuned!

From the OJCS (Middle School) Francais Blog (click here for the full blog)

Nos futurs politiciens? – Posted on September 20th

Nos étudiants et étudiantes de la classe de la 8e année de Mme Bertrend et de Mr. Cinanni ont eu l’honneur de participer à deux tables rondes, avec le Parti Conservateur et le Parti Vert, respectivement.  Les élèves ont pu vivre une expérience unique, en écoutant des politiciens répondent des questions auxquelles font face la communauté juive, à Ottawa et à travers le Canada.

Ils ont aussi la chance de poser une question aux deux partis, en trois langues !  Vive le trilinguisme à OJCS !

Our teachers and students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what is happening with our Grades 5 & 6 student blogfolios.  Stay tuned!