La fête de la Francophonie

For those of you whose historical memory of OJCS goes back 5 years or more, you may recall that for a number of years we invested lots of time, love and resources in all of our grades putting on French plays – or vignettes – each Spring as a way of both celebrating French and making clear how important French and French language are at OJCS.  I had one opportunity, during my first year, to watch those delightful plays and since they were retired – as happens in schools, programs cycle in and out – we have been patiently waiting to replace those plays with an updated program that serves the same purpose.

Well…that time has come!

We are so pleased to let you know that this Monday-Wednesday (March 21-23) will be our inaugural “La fête de la Francophonie” at OJCS!  The goals are simple – to spend three days marinating in French, celebrating the work of our students and teachers, highlighting the strides our French program has taken in the last few years, and elevating French beyond the boundaries of French class, into the broader OJCS culture.  Like any firsts, we expect things will go well, with some minor hiccups, but are eager to see this program develop into a significant milestone in our school’s annual journey.

So…what to expect at “la fête”?

To set the ambience, we will have a customized French music playlist to greet our students each day upon entry…

Different grades/cohorts will be assigned a different French-speaking region/country to learn more about including…

  • Franco-Ontario
  • La France
  • Acadie
  • Madagascar
  • Québec
  • La Suisse
  • Les Seychelles
  •  L’Égypte
  • La Belgique

…students will learn about their region/country, not just during French, but across their day, and will take what they learn to compete in a door-decorating contest.  The winners will receive a ‘dégustation de crêpes’.

Each French class will work on a presentation that will be presented in the grand finale of “La fête de la Francophonie” at an all-school assembly Wednesday afternoon.

And many more surprises…

So there you go…voilà!

Parents at OJCS will hopefully look forward to lots of opportunities to peek in and/or to see pictures and videos during this year’s celebration.  We’ll look forward to building on this in future years as we continue to emphasize French in our trilingual school.  Stay tuned for more updates about the future of French at OJCS in the weeks and months ahead!

(Re)Launching the OJCS Makerspace

As our school and community begin to gently ease itself slowly back to that elusive thing we once knew as “normal”, I am very pleased to share that we have completed the “Makerspace Consultancy” that I had announced earlier in the year, and that we are gearing up to finally establish the Makerspace (built with a gift from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund) as the hub of innovation for OJCS that it was designed to be.

To refresh…

Thanks to a generous grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa‘s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building, OJCS worked with Future Design School over the balance of this school year on a strategic makerspace consultancy.  The OJCS Makerspace Design Team included Josh Ray, our Middle School Science Teacher, Faye Mellenthin, our Grade 4 General Studies Teacher, Mike Washerstein, a Middle School Jewish Studies and Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher, and was headed up by Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator (and Grades 7 & 8 LA Teacher).  This was to ensure that the principles, the units, the standalone lessons, etc., cut across grades and languages and will allow us to not only build content that we can use right away, but to build capacity that we can use to develop curriculum and programming into the future.

We had our final meeting last week and received one of our deliverables – a slide deck that I am going to cherry-pick from below.  In a truly post-COVID world, we would have scheduled one of our World Famous OJCS Town Halls and presented there.  And we still may in the future, but for now, let my blog be the platform for sharing out the amazing work our team of teachers did in collaboration with our wonderful partners at Future Design School.

What were the goals?

What wound up being our “guiding principles”?

How do we get there?

How will we try to do this?

How about our students?

How will we do this?

When will all of this begin?

SOON!

The Makerspace Design Team – who I cannot thank enough for their time, commitment and passion – and I will be meeting during the Spring so that we bring all this excitement, creativity and innovation to life next school year, if not sooner.

As enrollment continues to come in – and thank you to the many, many parents who re-enrolled on time, and welcome to the many new families joining our OJCS Family for 2022-2023 – the relaunch of the OJCS Makerspace will help move our school that much closer to our North Stars and make learning that much more motivating and engaging for our students.  We can’t wait to see what our students invent and create!  And, yes, say it with me, this too is very much #TheOJCSDifference.

Do you want your child to benefit from all that an OJCS education provides?  It isn’t too late!  Please contact our Admissions Director, Jennifer Greenberg (j.greenberg@theojcs.ca) to set up a tour today!

Another Trip Around the OJCS Student Blogfolio-Sphere

I can assure you that this regular reminder of our student blogfolios with its concomitant plea for your visitation is not a function of my from time-to-time challenge in finding a prompt for blogging.  (Although that is definitely a challenge some weeks!)  It is also not a function of believing that blogging is the primary or most important thing that we do at OJCS – it is not.  But because blogs and blogfolios do makeup the spine of which much else is built around; because the pandemic has required us to lean into them more regularly; and because they are outward facing – available for you and the general public to read, respond and engage with – I do want to make sure that I keep them top of mind.

For most of my professional life, I have had two children in (my) schools where they maintained blogfolios.  I subscribed to them, of course, but I am not going to pretend that I read each and every posting, and certainly not at the time of publication.  So this is not about shaming parents or relatives whose incredibly busy lives makes it difficult to read each and every post.  As the head of school where blogfolios are part of the currency, I frequently set aside time to browse through and make comments – knowing that each comment give each student a little dose of recognition and a little boost of motivation.  But I am certainly not capable of reading each and every post from each and every student and teacher!

When I am able to scroll through, 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.

This year, with the building still largely sealed off due to COVID protocols, our classroom blogs and student blogfolios remain important virtual windows into the innovative and exciting work happening at OJCS.  In addition to encouraging families, friends and relatives to check it out, I also work hard to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time to visit our school’s blogosphere so as to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

So please go visit our landing page for OJCS Student Blogfolios.  [Please note that due to privacy controls that some OJCS students opt for avatars instead of utilizing their first names / last initials which is our standard setting.  That may explain some of the creative titles.]  On our last tour, I pre-selected a few examples, but we have WAY TOO many to do that now, so go…

Seriously go!  I’ll wait…

English, French and Hebrew; Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, Jewish Studies and so much more…our students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out all the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own – especially to our students.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball (no pun or passive-aggressive take on what is happening outside my window!) grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

If the days are growing short and (American) Thanksgiving is coming…#AnnualBlogCloud

Ah yes, here we are in mid-November.  We had our first super mild snowfall, the days are growing shorter and colder, my FOMO for American Thanksgiving is ramping up and my seasonal affective disorder lamp is shining that sweet, sweet Vitamin D in my direction.  That can mean only one thing – time to dust off the annual BlogCloud post!  (It is also true that if you are going to write 400 weekly posts and counting, you need to have some standard-issue content to fall back upon.)

If you missed last year’s punny post

I genuinely do enjoy this annual exercise in “word-clouding”.  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 fifth such annual post here at OJCS and I have done them each, as stated above, in November.  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 just put last and this years’ clouds side-by-side to do a little comparison.

“Jewish”, “Teacher” and “Student” still hold strong at about the same size, and even if “Parent” is still smaller, it is proportionately larger than last year.  That would lend credence to my conclusion that the increase in parent emails due to COVID explains “Parent”‘s waxing and waning.  Interestingly, although “Learning” and “Time” remain strong, “Community” is much smaller than in prior years.  I wonder if that is a casualty of COVID, in that we have many less opportunities to gather as and to function as a full community.  I take it is a warning and a reminder that we start to more fully occupy this “late COVID” or “post COVID” space, that one thing that has not yet snapped back is our emphasis on community.  (The fact that “COVID” is a bit smaller this year makes me so happy!)  Mission accepted!

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 me know in the comments!

OJCS Announces NEW Makerspace Consultancy

Again, for the second week in a row, I am tempting the fates by assuming that we have entered a period of somewhat normalcy and, again, hoping to avoid a jinx.  This week, it is to announce an exciting consultancy we have launched at OJCS that will – finally – allow us to truly roll out the Makerspace as it was originally intended to be.  Do you remember way back in March 2019, when we announced that thanks to a generous gift from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund, that we were going to take on our first major project to make our physical space as innovative as our educational program – namely designing and constructing the OJCS Makerspace?

It feels like a lifetime ago!  After design, came construction and after construction came furnishing and timing being everything, you may recall that it took until about a full calendar year later, January of 2020, that we were finally able – even though there were (are!) still some design elements and furnishings not yet in place – to begin using the Makerspace.  That means that by the time Middle School Science relocated to their new space, we had about a month or so of contact time and then…COVID.  Thanks to COVID we either could not use the space at all or had such limitations on its usage due to safety protocols that its functionality was severely compromised.  Long story short…we built this amazing space and still haven’t had much of an opportunity to use it the way that it was designed.

But that’s about to change…

Knowing that for 2021-2022 we could return to the “soft launch” of the space, and believing that in 2022-2023 we ought to be able to officially launch, we decided to engage a consultancy to ensure that we wind up using the space in the best possible way.  And so I am pleased to share that thanks to a generous grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa‘s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building, OJCS will be working with Future Design School over the balance of this school year on a strategic makerspace consultancy.

What will we be doing?

Well, as was the case with our last two consultancies, we have identified a small cohort who will work with Future Design School to…

  1. Create a statement of principles, in collaboration with the OJCS team, that defines what the makerspace at OJCS is focused on, and how it will be leveraged.
  2. Provide scaffolded support to the Middle School Science teacher and two other teachers to develop an approach for designing lessons to be delivered in the makerspace.
  3. Provide recommendations in a final summary from consultancy on next steps to be taken with all teachers to integrate the use of the makerspace into their lessons.

The OJCS Makerspace Design Team will include Josh Ray, our Middle School Science Teacher, Faye Mellenthin, our Grade 4 General Studies Teacher, Mike Washerstein, a Middle School Jewish Studies and Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher, and will be headed up by Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator (and Grades 7 & 8 LA Teacher).  This ensures that the principles, the units, the standalone lessons, etc., cut across grades and languages and allows us to not only build content that we can use right away, but to build capacity that we can use to develop curriculum and programming into the future.

We have our first meeting next week and we will share results and updates as they start to happen.  Not only can we not wait to start using the Makerspace to its fullest potential, we also cannot wait to show you all that it can do and be.  Maybe even in person!  Stay tuned.

My 400th Post: Blogging “The Moral Imperative of Sharing”

I published my first blog post on July 27th, 2010, entitled “Southern Hospitality”.  It was during the summer that I transitioned from being the founding Head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas (z”l) to being the Head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, in Jacksonville, FL.

Why did I start blogging?

Our teachers are required to blog and, therefore, so should I.  So here I am.

If only I had remained that pithy!

What did I plan on blogging about?

We are a 21st century learning school invested in the continuity of a five thousand year-old tradition.  Our attempts to marry the past and the future into an engaging present will largely be the focus of my blog.

That still sounds about right.

Who did I imagine my blog’s audience to be?

Most of my blogging will center on experiences here at school, but I hope to be of interest to anyone interested in Jewish day school, Jewish education, education in general, and in the kinds of stuff I think happen to be interesting and worth sharing.  I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

Or I’ll still never really know if and who is reading!

Why did I call it “A Floor, But Not a Ceiling”?

Because it represents what I believe the purpose of education to be – to ensure each child fulfills his or her own individual maximum potentials in academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual terms.  For there to be no ceiling has direct implications about what we teach and how we teach it.  I hope to use this blog to discuss these ideas and more.

And so here I am…

…11 years, 399 blog posts, three jobs and one country later.

I did a little research into my stats and metrics, but because I didn’t actually take ownership of my own website until coming here to Ottawa, most of the stats and metrics are skewed towards recency bias.  But there are a few things that (at least) I find interesting.

…here are my “Top 5” categories (a post can be assigned multiple categories):

  1. 21st Century Learning (145)
  2. Jewish Education (133)
  3. Community Building (107)
  4. Thought Leadership (106)
  5. Teaching & Learning (92)

(Crowd favorite “Transparency Files” clocked in at 60.)

…here are my “Top 5” tags (a post can be assigned multiple tags):

  1. Transparency (28)
  2. COVID (21)
  3. Innovation (20)
  4. 7 Habits (9)
  5. Second-Language Acquisition (8)

My audience has grown each year I have been here at OJCS (just like our school!) and so it comes as no surprise that 4 of my “Top 5” posts all come in the last four years:

  1. The Disruptive Miracle of Silvia Tolisano (1,171)
  2. OJCS Announces $1,000,000 Gift (689)
  3. The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Plans for a “Five-Day, Full-Day” Safe Reopening (495)
  4. Choosing Ottawa Again: Writing My First Second Chapter (446)
  5. L’hitraot Y’all: A Farewell to Seven Years of SaltLife (432)

So, why do I still crank out 40+ blog posts a year with a completely absurd and unacceptable average word count of nearly 900 words?

Because last week a parent emailed me to share some thoughts about something I wrote and it meant something to both of us.

Because I still believe in Dean Shareski‘s “The Moral Imperative of Sharing“.

Because it makes me a better educator, a better communicator and maybe, just maybe, a better person.

Because Silvia told me to.  [Read the post, I am still not able to talk about her in the past tense.]

Because I really believe in this stuff – that the act of putting stuff into the universe matters, even if when and how it matters is unseen or unknowable.

Because it is still true that “Our teachers are required to blog and, therefore, so should I.  So here I am.”

Here I am and here I plan to remain.  Even when I am not sure anyone is reading.  Even when I am sure that almost no one is going to comment (no matter how desperately I plead).  Here is where I will continue to plant seeds and sow dreams.  Here is where I will continue to be transparent, even when what needs to be said is difficult.  Here is where I will work out new ideas.  Here is where I will (occasionally) let my true personality be seen.  Here is where I will advocate for teachers, for students, and for Jewish schools.

Thank you to everyone who ever read a post, subscribed, shared, commented, encouraged or helped.  It is both a privilege and a responsibility to have a voice.  I feel blessed to have been able to share mine over these 400 posts and I look forward to showing up and sharing out over the next 400 posts.

[Under 770 words! Nailed it!]

#The65TweetChallenge – That I Totally Just Made Up

Yes, this is one of those blog posts that aggregates information from another source (this one being Twitter).

Yes, I 100% realize that not all our parents or stakeholders follow the school on Twitter (and you 100% do NOT have to, to be in the know).

No, it is not entirely because I am still barely recovered, let alone caught up, from the two-country, weeklong double Bat Mitzvah of my youngest daughter.

Yes, I intend to resume my normal style of blogging in the weeks ahead.  (Teaser alert: “The ‘COVID Gap’ is Real, But it is NOT Academic.”)

Yes, I totally made up #The65TweetChallenge to match that our school has sent out 65 tweets from the start of the school year until the day I created the visual below.  There is nothing magical about “65”.

However…

…with more and more OJCS Faculty utilizing Twitter to share thoughts, questions and observations with the larger educational world (as Twitter is the social media platform of choice for educators) and more and more OJCS Staff sharing ownership of the school’s Twitter account, I do think it is interesting to go through our school’s Tweets as a way of checking on our values and priorities.

I know what I see when I review the timeline below, but what do you see?

Evidence of our “North Stars”?

Artifacts of “The OJCS Way” or “The OJCS Difference” (how our school uniquely views teaching and learning)?

Diversity of subject, language, and grade?

Any other interesting patterns or meaningful absences?

Hit us up in the comments below or on Twitter (@the_ojcs) itself and let us know!

A (First) Trip Around the OJCS Student Blogfolio-Sphere

I can think of no better use of my blog on a snowy April day during a lockdown pivot of distanced learning than shining a light on the newest and fastest growing space on our OJCS Blogosphere, our Student Blogfolios.

For those who don’t like to click through, I’ll remind you that a “blogfolio” is a term of art that (I believe) 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.

We added “student blogfolios” to our blogfosphere a couple of years ago with a prototype in Grade 5 and now each current student in our school in Grades 3-7 has his or her own blogfolio.

I try to spend a couple of hours each week reading student blogfolios and 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.

This year, with the building largely sealed off due to COVID protocols, our classroom blogs and student blogfolios become even more important virtual windows into the innovative and exciting work happening at OJCS.  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, it is my pleasure to serve as your occasional tour guide of The OJCS Blogosphere.  I 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!]

This week I will focus for the first time on student blogfolios.  [Please note that due to privacy controls that some OJCS students opt for avatars instead of utilizing their first names / last initials which is our standard setting.  That may explain some of the creative titles below.]

From Audrey’s Blog (Grade 6 / click here for the full blog)

The Best Moment of My Life – Posted March 17

My class is learning all about sensory writing.

Sensory writing is really important to incorporate into your stories, paragraphs, etc. because it helps the reader imagine what you are trying to explain and it helps the reader picture the setting.

If I were to redo this assignment, I would try to make the writing longer and extend the paragraphs.

Here is my picture and my sensory writing

My Drawing

I had no idea where my parents were taking me that day. The suspense was overtaking me and I felt worried for what was to come. Was I walking into a trap or were they leading me to the most wonderful place I will ever go to? My parents refused to tell me where we were going which only fed my anticipation. The car slowed to a stop in a vacant parking lot, all I saw were willow trees around us. As I slowly stepped out of the car and my parents told me to walk through a path nearby. When I reached the other side of the trees I was flabbergasted with the sight.

I found myself standing on the beach, gazing at the outstanding sunset with a mix of yellow, orange and purple. The sun was low in the sky as if it was playing a game of hide and seek. The sun reflected on the waves that were crashing against the shore line, then very slowly creeping its way back to the water, creating a soothing noise. The air smelled like smoke from a hut in the distance. I could just imagine a family roasting marshmallows over a bonfire fire as they told scary stories. The sand was very soft on my feet as if I were standing on a pill of feathers. The sand was molding my feet making it a reasonable thing to decide to stand rather than sit. The taste of sea salt on my lips created the illusion that I was swimming in the water. As i sat down on the sand i could feel the warmth overfilling me. I could tell already that this was hands down, the best moment of my life!

I hope you enjoyed this story

Have you ever been to an outstanding place?

If so where? What happened while you were there? What were your feelings about the sight?

From TE’s Blog (Grade 4 – click here for the full blog)

Innovation Day – Pulley Project – Posted March 18

[Jon’s Note: TE’s teacher nominated this blog post in part because she is new to OJCS this year and is just learning English.  Part of the magic of blogfolios is how well it allows you to chart progress over time!]

ELEVATOR

What did I need for the elevator I built: wire, 2 long pieces of cardboard, a box, 2 short pieces of cardboard, and a stick
How I connected all the parts: I took the hot glue and the 2 long parts and the 2 short parts I put 1 of the long parts
And on both sides I glued the short parts
And over the short parts I glued the last long part
  1. How I started the structure of the elevator: I took the box and made 2 holes up the holes and inserted the stick into the holes.
  2. How I build the evaluator pulley: I take the string and fold it. At the end of the fold, I glued it to the dowl (wooden stick). at the other end, I glued the elevator box
  3. How I built the flag pole: take a large wooden pole and glued it to the base. I take more wooden sticks and glue them to the top. I take two small pieces of cardboard and make a square shape to make a pulley. Between the small cardboard, I put the rope through and on one end draw a ‘T’ and two swords on the square flag. I glue the flag to the rope.

From Maytal’s Blog (Grade 7 – click here for the full blog)

Hebrew/Photo – Posted April 20

[Jon’s Note: I never choose my own children to highlight; this came as a recommendation from her Hebrew Teacher.  However, as student blogfolios were a big part of my last headship, Maytal’s blogfolio shows what it looks like when you start in Kindergarten.  Any OJCS parent who wants to see what it will ultimately look like should take a peek.]

בכיתה שלנו לעברית מורה רותי נתנה לנו 3 תמונות לבחירה. היינו צריכים לבחור אחת ולכתוב עליה. אני בחרתי בתמונה הזאת. אני מתארת את מה שאני חושבת על התמונה.

In our Hebrew class Morah Ruthie gave us three options to write about. I chose this photo down below. I described what was happening in the photo.

בתמונה יש 5 חיילים ויש חייל אחד עם מדים עם דם. החייל הזה נהרג והחיילים מאחור זה הוא עצמו שמבקש לא לבכות לבכות עליו. הוא גם מבקש סליחה על מה שהוא עשה והוא מנסה לדבר אל החיילים שלא נהרגו.

In the photo there are five soldiers and there is one soldier who is a different colour with blood. The soldier was killed and in the background you can see the exact soldier asking not to cry for him. He is asking for forgiveness for things he has done, and trying to communicate to soldiers who are still alive.

From Hermione’s Blog (Grade 3 – click here for the full blog)

French Blog Post – Posted February 5

Quel est le nom du dernier film que tu as vu?

Lightning Mcqueen

Combien de lettres contient ton nom de famille ?

J’ai 6 lettres dans mon nom de famille.

Qu’as-tu mangé pour déjeuner ce matin ?

Des céréales avec du lait

As-tu des animaux à ta maison ? Si oui, lesquels ?

J’ai un chien.

Quel est ton sport préféré ?

Natation

Quelle est ta nourriture préférée ?

Pain dore

Quelle est ta couleur préférée ?

bleu

Nomme ton livre préféré.

Harry Potter

Quel mois est ton anniversaire ?

decembre

Quel est ton animal préféré ?

Lou arctic

Quel est ton sujet préféré à l’école ?

Les sciences

Do you want more?  Here is a curated playlist from our Teaching & Learning Coordinator Melissa Thompson:

Grade 3

Grade 4
Grade 5
Grade 6 
Grade 7

English, French and Hebrew; Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, Jewish Studies and so much more…our students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out all the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own – especially to our students.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball (no pun or passive-aggressive take on what is happening outside my window!) grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

Where will our next tour take us?  Stay tuned!

The Coronavirus Diaries: When Spring Brings Another Lockdown

Looking outside my office window brings a smile to my face.  The sun is shining brightly, the birds are singing and the weather is warming.  Spring is (finally) here and the feeling it most conjures up is one of things opening up.  We associate this time of year with unbundling ourselves of our winter-wear and starting to be out there, more active, returning to life, stirring the soul and (re)activating the body.

Looking outside my office door, however, tells a different story.  Because we have just begun a four-week, province-wide stay-at-home order.  Schools remain open and, although, a meaningful number of parents are opting to have their children learn from home during this surge in cases, our teachers and our staff are here – bravely navigating their anxiety and safely caring for our children.

Pivoting my view from outside my window to outside my door presents a kind of emotional whiplash.  Our every instinct is to run out into the sun and put the past year behind us.  There are so many good reasons to believe that better times are coming and, in fact, are tantalizingly close.  And yet here we are, locked down again, doing our best to keep ourselves and everyone else safe as we try to get through this next (last?) wave.

Because we know that emotions and opinions are running high, this seems like a good chance to check in.  At this moment in time, with so many questions and concerns (in all directions) about school closures, I think it is helpful to break the year into three parts – what is true during this month-long lockdown, the rest of the school year, and how we are planning to open the 2021-2022 school year.  Let’s deal in this post with the here and now.

If there is one thing I have learned over the last year it is that I am not a doctor, a public health expert, nor a politician.  If there are two things that I have learned over the last year, the other is that when the views and recommendations of doctors, public health experts and politicians are aligned it is pretty straightforward to make decisions, when they are not…things can get dicey and uncomfortable.

Please know that we view the situation right now as extremely “day-to-day”.  We look to our teachers, our parents, Ottawa Public Health, our Health Advisory Committee and to the government to provide us with the feedback and information we need to make sound decisions.  I have had opportunity this week to meet with our school’s Health Advisory Committee and to participate in a meeting of Ottawa private school heads and Ottawa Public Health.  Another critical data point comes from Dr. Vera Etches who shared the following in a letter to the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board earlier this week:

I am writing to clarify that I am not asking for schools in Ottawa to close now. The situation with COVID-19 and schools in Ottawa is currently manageable, as
–          73% of schools have no people with an active COVID-19 infection where there was an exposure in school, and
–          98% of schools are free from an outbreak.
The vast majority of COVID-19 in schools originates with community exposures. Situations identified in schools where there was a possible exposure do not usually lead to transmission in schools. Child-to-staff and child-to-child transmissions remain rare in the school setting. At this time, schools are not a major driver of transmission of COVID19 and so closing them alone will not turn this current COVID-19 resurgence around. Though variants of concern mean we need to be more careful to avoid transmission, the local situation with variants in schools hasn’t been significantly more difficult to control. When Ottawa Public Health ensured everyone in a dismissed school cohort was tested for COVID-19 after a potential exposure to a variant of concern, no higher rates of transmission were seen in the exposed cohorts. There have been outbreaks associated with variants of concern and there have been situations where the variants of concern have not spread in schools.What is most needed is to decrease the nonessential places where people are coming into close contact with others. Until fewer businesses are deemed essential and people get the message to stay at home, closing schools may inadvertently lead to additional gatherings in environments with fewer control measures in place.I ask that teachers, administrators, school staff, parents and students all continue to do their part to strictly follow the COVID-19 precautions in schools and to limit close contacts before and after school to members of their household. This is not the time to let up on our diligence to keep each other safe. Please reinforce the daily screening and ask people to consider if any symptom of COVID19 is present before they enter their school. Adults, especially, should be supported to take care to maintain distance between each other in staff rooms and during break times with their colleagues.

Needless to say, each private school is struggling with the same calculus and have the same kinds of questions that we do.  Of course, we aren’t obligated to do or not to do what other private schools choose to do, but I do believe there is value in understanding what and why and how other schools are thinking and planning.  At this moment in time, the overwhelming majority of private schools are open and plan to remain open so long as circumstances don’t deteriorate and/or we are not mandated to close.

For now, if you are an OJCS parent you should choose to do whatever you feel safest and most comfortable doing.  With the change in weather, please know that we are able to go back to enhanced ventilation practices (wide open windows) and we are using our outdoor space more liberally.  Please know that as teachers patiently wait for vaccinations to roll out, for those for whom the variants present an added risk and/or stress that we will have staff who begin to wear additional PPE, we may see use of N95 masks and extra plexiglass around teacher desks.  We are all doing our very best.

In the meanwhile, we have already reworked all our distance learning schedules based on parent, student and teacher feedback from January and have briefed our faculty.  We are completely ready for the next pivot if and when it comes.  And we will be perfectly okay if we never have to use them…

Stay tuned for a post that lays out our vision and our plans for how we will safely open the 2021-2022 school year, which we know is on people’s minds.

Speaking of the 2021-2022 school year…

…thanks to our amazing parents, for the first time in recent memory we are completely finished with re-enrollment by the first week in April and we have our highest retention rate in years!  Woo-hoo!  We are also welcoming many new families to our OJCS community next year and we know that only happens because so many of you do such a great job spreading the word.  So thank you to everyone who turned in their paperwork on time.  Thank you to everyone for being such great ambassadors for the school.  Thank you to our teachers whose work inspires your ongoing confidence.  Thank you to Jennifer Greenberg, our Admissions Director, and the whole team for crushing it during a second challenging admissions season.

Annual Parent Survey coming soon!

Tips for Planning Your Pandemic Seder 2.0 Too Good to Passover

If it was weird a couple of weeks back to note that Purim was the last holiday that we celebrated before COVID, it is equally as weird (and a bit depressing) to note that Passover will be the first holiday we are preparing to celebrate a second time during COVID.  I am surely not the only one who made a gallows humor joke at the end of last year’s seders around “L’shanah ha’ba-ah…” and where I assumed I would be spending next year’s seders.  Little did I know that I would be spending it in exactly the same place…in my house, with my immediate family and a Zoom.

Each year, I issue one or two blog posts in service of helping people take the process of planning for seder more seriously.  Why?  Because I believe (know) that like anything else, good planning leads to good outcomes.  As I noted last year,

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.

No pressure!  I got you.

One thing that I noticed when reviewing last year’s post is that I kinda forgot that if anyone were to be truly be inspired and wish to adequately prepare, that it would be helpful to give them enough time to actually do it!  I typically post too close to Passover itself to allow anyone to put any of these ideas into practice.  So, this year, I am going combine my Passover posts into one (long) helpful guide and I am going to push it out with a little more lead time.

So if this is your year to lead – whether it is something you do annually or if you are being pressed into service for the first or second time – let’s see what we can do.  Even if you have a Zoom guestlist, 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 talk-feast of an experience, so let’s see how we might increase the odds for making that true, even during Pandemic Passover 2.0.

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 – this year’s timing with Shabbat makes it harder for those who might normally try to sneak some of this in before candle-lighting.

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 again 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.

In a year when Passover comes right out of Shabbat and candle-lighting times are late or children’s patience runs short or you are trying to accommodate varying time zones, 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, I 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?!  (Again, depending on your observance level, you could also incorporate apps like Kahoot into your experience.)  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?  How has the experience of being “locked down” during COVID and/or our impending “freedom” from COVID impacted our sense of things?

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?

Jon’s “Fifth Questions” for Passover 5781

Head of the Ottawa Jewish Day School: Why is this conversation about OJCS different than all other ones?

Jewish Day School Practitioner: How will I take the things that were positive, successful, innovative, relationship-building, personalizing, differentiated, globally-connected, quiet/introvert-amplifying and meaningful about working in a hyflex learning program and incorporate them into schooling when we fully return to in-person learning?

Israel Advocate: How can I be inspired by the words, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” to inspire engagement with Israel as we hopefully prepare for things to start to open up a bit?

American Expatriate in Canada: What can I learn from how my current home is approaching COVID-19 that would be of value to colleagues, family and friends in the States?  What can I learn from how my former home is approaching COVID-19 that would be of value to colleagues, family and friends in Canada?

Parent: How will my parenting be informed with what I have learned during all these months of intense family time?  What new routines will I try to incorporate into my parenting when things go back to normal?

What are some of your “Fifth Questions” this year?

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.

Wishing you and your family an early chag kasher v’sameach