We Left As A School and Came Back As A Community

Wow.

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

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

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

Here’s a taste:

The OJCS Announces $72,000 Innovation Gift

This is not a flashback!  We are not reminding you of the “innovation gift” we previously received.  Nope.  This is to let you know that we are beyond excited to share with you that the Ottawa Jewish Community School has just received a $72,000 grant (over two years) from the Congregation Beth Shalom of Ottawa (CBSO) Legacy Fund to help ensure that the innovation work begun this year will only be the foundation upon which the continued work of innovation will build in the years to come.  We are grateful to the CBSO Legacy Fund for the opportunity to apply and even more grateful to be amongst the worthy recipients of their philanthropy.

Success begets success.  Numbers beget numbers.  A school in motion will stay in motion.  This is what having a great year feels like.  And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer 69 year-old Jewish day school in Ottawa…I am genuinely so happy for the teachers, parents, volunteers, board, donors, supporters and the community at large to have had this year happen as it happened.  The narrative of decline is behind us; the narrative of rebirth, revitalization and rejuvenation has begun.  You can measure it objectively through numbers – attrition down, enrollment up, survey data trends, fundraising dollars, etc.  You can also measure it subjectively – feelings in the walls, word on the street, buzz in the community, etc.  You can measure it however you like.  The outcome is the same.  The OJCS is laying the ground to become the innovative leader in education in our community.

What’s next up on our innovation agenda?

We have described and shared out the first phase of work with NoTosh. We will have a little more time with our NoTosh friends to bridge the gap into the next year to ensure that the culture of prototyping and design thinking takes hold and to set us up to steep in our core values (our “North Stars”).

Our second iPad cart is up and running.

We described the work we would be doing with my friend and former colleague Silvia Tolisano beginning in October, whose new book some of us (including me!) will be reading this summer.

We will be providing Chromebooks for all our faculty next year, with all the training and support they will need.  This will be a huge step forward in terms of our ability to work and function as a complex organization.

We will be launching a new website.

We will be exploring new platforms for teaching and learning, sharing, blogging, etc., which may come to replace Google Classroom.

We will be thinking about what kinds of technologies we want our students to have and to use in the years to come.

We will launch new seminars on digital citizenship, cyberbullying, digital footprints, online identity, etc., etc., that will help our children live healthy and safe online lives aligned with our Jewish values.

What kinds of spaces will we need to do all this innovative work?

  • Transform our “Computer Lab” into an “Internet Café”

Our current “Computer Lab” is filled with obsolete computers and even more obsolete outlets, cords and wires.  We need to empty the space altogether and replace it with a state-of-art presentation space, flexible furniture, hi-speed wifi, and space to park an iPad cart, laptop cart and other technology for students and teachers to use as needed.

  • Transform our “Library” into a “Media Literacy Center”

Our current “Library” consists of an old collection with even older furniture and technology.  We need to upgrade to new library software so that it is searchable and useable by both teachers and families.  We need to upgrade the collection.  We need appropriate library furniture with an appropriate presentation space and technology section for conducting research in the 21st century.  [Money raised from Grandparents’ Day is helping this begin to become true!]

Students own the learning at OJCS and that requires a space to make!  We are ready to transition into an appropriate OJCS Makerspace that blends new technology (projection space, laptop, audio equipment, etc.,) with old (tools, crafts, etc.).

 

To which of the above will the blessing of this $72,000 grant go?  We haven’t decided yet (and the CBSO Legacy Fund has given us the flexibility to decide).  We have other donors ready to give and even more we need to inspire.  [If you would like to be counted amongst those who might be ready or willing to be inspired, don’t be shy!]  I look forward to more blog posts highlighting more gifts leading to more innovation.  Success begets success.  Numbers beget numbers. Innovation begets innovation.

This is a school in motion that intends to stay in motion.

Let’s Talk About The Future: The 2018-2019 OJCS Sneak Peek Town Hall

It is hard to believe, but June is around the corner and with it comes a crescendo of closing experiences marking the end of a remarkable year of re-imagination and revitalization.  Looking back on the journey, I can honestly tell you that we are farther along than I could have hoped, and that the next year will bring us even closer to the school we are looking to become.  You can see it in the numbers and you can feel it in the building.  Enrollment is up and attrition is down.  We have officially opened up a second kindergarten class as we are cresting towards 30 new kindergartners next year.  And although we continue to pay very close attention to attrition from Grades 3 to 4 (largely due to French immersion) and Grades 6 to 7 (as we continue to watch the influence of high schools dipping down to Grade 7), and we will suffer some attrition, the percentages have decreased.  We also have new students joining many grades, including five new students joining Grade 1.

Numbers matter.  But feelings matter too.  And a time of year that used to be fraught with anxiety – whether about enrollment or funding – is now filled with enthusiasm as we look to celebrate the year that was, and plan the year that is to come.  There are big events still to come: Public Speaking Assembly, Entrepreneurship Day, Grade 8 Grad Trip, Girls & Boys Nights In, Walk-a-Thon, Yearbook Assembly, etc., all culminating in a celebration of our remarkable eighth graders at Graduation.  There are also a few more “Transparency Files” to come as we look forward to providing a more detailed look at next year’s daily schedule and sharing out the 2018-2019 OJCS Faculty.  That is a lot of activity for just five weeks!

For today, however, I would like to close one loop by sharing out a “movie” of last night’s Town Hall, the topic of which was “A Sneak Peek at Next Year”.  I learned a new trick, which I am playing with here. I have converted the PowerPoint presentation into a movie.  When you hit “play” it will begin scrolling the slides and will automatically play the embedded videos.  You are welcome to hit “pause” at any point to give yourself more time to digest.

Because any good presentation consists of much more than you find on the slides, please know that you may not quite grasp the full meaning of each slide.  (That’s why you should have come to the Town Hall!)  To help make it a little more clear, however, I want to call your attention to the narrative flow…

You will find within, the four critical conversations we declared early in the year would be necessary for our school to take a leap forward: Transparency, Jewish Mission/Vision, French Outcomes and the OJCS Value Proposition.  The first, transparency, we attempted to launch on day one; the latter three have each taken their own path, ending with a “town hall”.  The presentation walks you through the highlights of those four journeys…

There is one slide that lays out for the first time our “North Stars” – the core values that came as a result of all the work we did with NoTosh.  You may not fully capture the meaning from just that slide.  There is an entire separate presentation of those North Stars that we will look to make at the beginning of next year.

The embedded videos try to make the case that change is necessary and that we never change for change’s sake.  We distinguish between that which is timely and that which is timeless.

Finally, we lay out some of the concrete changes for next year that come as a result of all the work, the conversations, the data collection, the consultations, the feedback, the recommendations, the surveys and the town halls.  These come from our students, teachers, parents, volunteers, donors, supporters, consultants and the wider world of education and innovation.  We believe that we are prepared to take that next leap forward…and we are blessed to have so many new and returning families joining us on that journey.

The State of the School: Midyear-ish Edition

What a busy time of year!

We came steaming out of February Break with Grades 7 & 8 Basketball Tournaments, Spirit Week, Purim (that’s me getting soaked by students during our Purim Carnival), our second site visit from NoTosh, and STEM Fair…and we are headed full speed towards Pi Day, Middle School Night, Grade 6 Leadership Class “Movie Night”, and then Passover takes us to break.

Whew!

Let me first offer congratulations to our STEM Fair winners:

Grade 8

  • Mimi B. (Gold): “Fluid Pods on Hockey Helmets”
  • Joseph N. (Gold): “Can We Re-Oxygenate Ocean Dead Zones?”
  • Julia S. (Bronze): “Which Listening Device is Safest for Your Hearing?”

Grade 7

  • Noah B. (Gold): “What Material Insulates Heat Best?”
  • Jacob S. & Samuel K. (Silver): “Can We Make an Eco-Friendly Spray to Prevent Rust?”
  • Tallulah B. (Bronze): “Do Standing Desks Improve Cognitive Learning and Accuracy?”

Their projects were diverse in topic, but united in excellence.  All OJCS students participated one way or another in STEM Fair and we thank all our teachers of Science, but especially Josh Ray our STEM Fair organizer and Grades 7 & 8 Science Teacher for all the work that went into coordinating the event.  Additional thanks to our fifteen illustrious judges, including alumni, for giving of their time.

Let me second inform you that enrollment for 2018-2019 is looking promising indeed!  Thanks to all of you who enrolled by the first deadline!  I’ll update you on numbers soon, but with great thanks to our Admissions Director Jennifer Greenberg, we have a robust and growing Kindergarten class and with great thanks to our entire amazing faculty and staff, we are looking at improving retention rates and adding new families.  Stay tuned!

Let me third catch you up on all the excitement of the year so far and paint a picture of all the excitement that is to come…

And just in case you didn’t make it all the way through the slides…

Save the Date: Town Hall on Strengthening the “J” in “OJCS” on April  26th at 7:00 PM in the Chapel.

Liveblog of OJCS EdCamp

Are you curious how we are spending our time during our “Professional Day” today at OJCS?

Well, the first part of the day will be an “EdCamp”!

What is “EdCamp”?

EdCamp is an “unconference” – an opportunity, without intense preparation or anxiety for teachers to “own” their professional learning.  Teachers will show up at edcamp and find a blank schedule – only time slots and locations.  They will then decide what topics they want to present on or which conversations they wish to facilitate and simply sign up until the schedule is complete.  And then the learning begins!

Sounds simple, which it is, but its power is in recognizing how much teachers already have to offer and how strong their desire is to learn from each other.  It is also an important acknowledgment that they are already experts in important topics and, thus, there is no need for intense preparation – simply share the work.

Today, I’m going to liveblog our first OJCS EdCamp to give you a taste…

9:00 AM Blank Board

9:30 AM OJCS EdCamp is Ready to Launch!

Session #1: A Conversation About Language Arts

OK…we are up and running!

We have Language Arts teachers across the grades, along with the Librarian, are having a meaningful conversation about how we currently assess students in language arts – which assessments, which benchmarks, etc., – and how we have been and should use the data to help students.

Teachers are engaged in conversation around the CASI Reading Assessment that we currently use in Grades 4 and higher.  Teachers are sharing how they are currently using it.  The Librarian is sharing a little about the other kinds of reading assessments she has been exploring.  Our school also currently uses RAZ in Grades K -3.

What is great about the conversation is the attempt to connect the dots between the grades, between the assessments and about being clear about who the audiences are for the data – is this for students, teachers, parents, all of them, etc.?

I have to go peek in on the other sessions…but I look forward to seeing what emerges out of here and how it will enhance reading at OJCS!

Session #2: Exploring Collaborations Between STEM & Jewish Studies

What a great session!

We have Science and Jewish Studies Teachers exploring how to integrate our new 3D printer with Jewish Studies content.  This is what the magic of Jewish day schools is all about!  They are getting a tour of how the new 3D printer works and exploring fascinating opportunities for integrating Jewish Studies content.  What if we wanted to create a model of the Temple in Jerusalem?  What if we wanted to make a dreidel?

We can!  And imagine what it will do to inspire student engagement…

They are about to print a key just to see how it works, but the ideas that flow out of here are going to dramatically impact project-based learning at our school?  How?  Stay tuned!

Session #3: How Can Teachers, Parents & Students Learn Together?

Jumping in to the end of a session is always hard, but I can tell just from the layout of the table that the impact of the Design Team is already beginning.  They are engaged in data immersion as all those post-it notes will be created, synthesized and lead to new ideas and prototypes.  They have been engaged in design thinking around a prototype for Passover this year that leads to a family learning experience.

Teachers are sharing examples from prior years and are practicing the art of asking deeper questions.  For example, “What do parents really learn from some of our family experiences?”  If you want parents to be meaningfully engaged in the learning, you will need to consider them as learners in the planning.

Part of the conversation shifts to how to schedule best to accommodate parents…

But the most unexpected and amazing part of this conversation is listening to two non-Jewish teachers talking with passion about “derekh eretz” and how important the “Jewish” is for our families.  It reinforces a few things…

all teachers and staff at a Jewish day school are Jewish educators.

…that there is no reason for “OJCS” to exist, if not for the “J”.

…parent engagement is a critical component for making it true.

As the conversation moves towards the end, they are having a remarkable conversation about how religion and faith have changed in society at large and how it impacts parent engagement at OJCS.

Session #4: edpuzzle

Our Grade 6 General Studies Teacher is explaining her experiments this year in employing a flipped pedagogy for the teaching of mathematics.  She is showing them how she creates videos of herself teaching and how, using edpuzzle, she imports questions directly into the video so that after each concept is introduced, the video automatically stops and a quiz pops up that requires a student response.  She is then showing them how she can check the data the next day including…

…did they watch the video?

…how did they do on the quizzes?

The big idea being that she is then able each day, based on the data, to tailor that day’s work according to which students grasped which concepts.  She can group students together according to their exact needs, can assign more targeted schoolwork, decide who needs teacher attention, etc., and it can totally change day to day based on student needs.

Teachers are now asking great questions about how to use this pedagogy with other topics and other grade levels.  What does this look like in a Grade 3 Social Studies class?  Grade 8 Jewish Studies?

Teachers are now asking great questions about how to create the flipped videos (she uses the app “Explain Everything“).

I have a feeling we will see more flipping at OJCS in months ahead…

Session #5: A Conversation About the Whole Child

Walking into a great conversation about what matters most in education…

…is it about how much they know?

…or is it about who they are?

What kinds of memories are being created?

[By the way, I can observe how members of the Design Team have already been impacted by our first site visit by the language they are using, the kinds of questions they are asking their colleagues and the willingness to be risk-takers.]

The conversation has shifted towards how the school can touch souls as well as it touches minds…

Now there is a bit of a healthy debate about whether student-centered learning can work in early language classes…

As the conversation starts to shift towards sharing ideas, the sands are almost through the hourglass and we have to move on to the last round.

Session #6: Supporting Student Mindfulness & Wellbeing

Emerging from the data immersion captured by the Design Team, two members of the team are leading a conversation on how to help students in our school (re)gain “Composure” (one of Ken Robinson‘s 8 “C’s”).

A teacher shares how he marries meditation from Calm and tefillah to enhance kavanah (intentionality)…and how he is also experimenting with Headspace.

That leads to a great conversation with one of our Rabbis about traditional modes of meditation, the impact of meditation on prayer, etc., etc.

Session #7: Fakebook

I can’t believe I am popping into our last session!

This is a conversation on how one teacher is incorporating Fakebook as a pedagogy in the teaching of Grade 3 Social Studies.  She is explaining her own learning as well as how she is introducing it with her students.  Teachers are now sharing ideas about how to enhance the unit and creative ways to play with the pedagogy.

This is a lively conversation and it reinforces again (!) how much impact I can see from just one site visit on the Design Team…and the Design Team’s impact on the faculty.

That’s it!  Our first OJCS EdCamp has come to a close.  I can’t wait to see how these conversations will impact teaching and learning at our school.  I look forward to more creative opportunities to harvest the excellence that already is, while adding new ideas to create the future that will be.

The OJCS Announces $50,000 Innovation Gift

“An older couple walk into a Jewish Federation…” is not the beginning of a borscht belt joke…but it just might be the beginning of the future of education in Ottawa.  I am not normally the b’sheret type of person.  I don’t often subscribe to the notion that the “universe” responds to what you put out there.  I am not even sure I believe that you “make your own luck”.  But I am paying attention now…

When I got an email from our Jewish Federation’s Executive Director, Andrea Freedman, that an older married couple had expressed interest in contributing to the future of Jewish education in Ottawa and did I have anything to propose, I tempered my enthusiasm.  Not due to their age, simply out of having had the prospect of a meaningful gift floated many times without landing.  But I definitely had ideas…

I just so happened to be sitting on two innovation proposals and with much help from Andrea and her team, we managed to put something compelling in front of the couple (they have expressed a preference to remain anonymous) in short order.  And thanks to Andrea’s stewardship, not only did they agree to fund them both…they also agreed to do more.

We have consistently described the school as being engaged in three critical conversations in this year of transition.  The first is a clarification of our Jewish mission and vision, the work of which continues to be shared out.  The second is an honest examination of our French outcomes, the work of which is ongoing with a first deliverable expected in early February.  The third is (probably) the most important of the three and if schools were not living creatures, would likely have launched first.  However, since change management in schools is analogous to fixing an airplane whilst flying it, it had been parked on the runway.  This conversation cuts to the heart of the very value proposition of the school and attempts to answer one very simple and consequential question: “What does the OJCS believe to be true about teaching and learning?”

The answer to this question lives in the messy world between mission statement and curriculum (both of which we presently have).  The answer to this question serves as the connective tissue between our pedagogical choices and our academic benchmarks and standards (both of which we kinda-mostly have).  The answer to this question anchors the school in a vibrant present while leading with clarity, strategy and purpose towards an innovative future.

The answer to this question is the work and the work just got real.

It is important to know your limits.  Is something I try to remind myself of in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, night-dreaming of all I want to do.  Here in my third headship, with all the lessons learned working with schools all across North America and a deep-dive into innovation, I have tried on patience.  I know that the system can only manage so much change in a given year and that it takes time to lay the ground for what’s to come.  I know what I believe to be true about teaching and learning, but that simply imposing that on a school is doomed to failure.  That is why so much of my focus this year is on systems and structures and processes.  I am in the weeds with the nuts and the bolts and the fire-putting-outs.

We have introduced “bandwidth” to our shared vocabulary here at OJCS because its maintenance is an important reality check against all proposed change.  And I have it as well.  So when it became clear to me early on that in order to get us from here to there we’d need a little help from our friends, I knew exactly who to turn to for proposals. You are going to get to know them all much better in the months ahead, but let’s introduce the partners who are going to help the Ottawa Jewish Community School become the most innovative school in Ottawa.

Sometimes it’s the haystack you need to find, not the needle.

NoTosh is a global consultancy with a passion for learning and a conviction that innovation and creativity can change the way people think, the way they learn and the way they work – as individuals, teams, organizations and communities.  NoTosh was established in 2009 to improve student engagement by challenging the status quo of teaching and learning in schools.

Beginning in January, NoTosh will work with the OJCS leadership team and faculty to:

  • Unpack some of the big questions that need answered to achieve its ambitious goals;
  • Co-design some of the nuts and bolts that will help get the school up and running with design thinking at the heart of its approaches;
  • Unpack what the unique value proposition of the school is and how does it stand apart from all other schools in the area.

Research has proven that a reflective learning culture is one of the best indicators to increase student learning.

Silvia Tolisano is a leading global educator and proponent of the documentation of learning as part of the learning process.  [She has also been a colleague and inspiration during my last three stops.  As part of my faculty at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, part of my team at the Schechter Day School Network and at Prizmah, and cofounder (along with our third partner Andrea Hernandez) of edJEWcon, I can attest firsthand to what an extraordinary educator she is.]   The work we will do with Silvia beginning in the Fall of 2018 will be a powerful learning opportunity allowing teachers to experience that shift in their learning and make documentation, reflection and sharing part of their practice.

Selected faculty will build a learning network, and share their practices, successes and failures to benefit the school community, including parents, colleagues and students.  While there is no one magic solution to excellence and this process will take time, developing a culture of shared documentation is the key to building an innovative school ready to tackle the challenge of preparing students to be successful in the 21st Century.  It creates the spine upon which student, faculty and parent culture and communication thrive.  It sets the conditions for project-based learning, collaboration and integration of new literacies.  This is the future of education and we are ready to lead.

What’s this “more” you were referring to in the opening?

Great question!

In addition to funding these two amazing proposals which will transform teaching and learning at our school, this remarkable couple is also enabling us to double the number of iPads in the school. The great news is that our teachers are already doing such wonderful work with them that we can take advantage of this blessing immediately…and will.

As we enter Winter Break and the end of a (secular) calendar year, it is natural to look a bit back and dream a bit forward…

With a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears from our talented and loving faculty, administration, and board, it is starting to happen.  We can feel it in the walls and hear it in the parking lot.  We see it in the new students joining us this January and the tours being booked for next year.  The blessing of this gift will accelerate and amplify what has already begun.  We meant it when we said that the future of education will be written at the OJCS.  That future just got closer…

A WORD in the Hand is Worth Two in the CLOUD

My last few blog posts have been long and heavy…so, let’s switch gears.

Readers of this blog know a few things…

…I will make bad puns.

…I will take 200 words to say something better said in 20.

…I will use a complicated word to say something better said simply.

…I love ellipses.

…I will worry aloud that only my mother and the people she shares with on Facebook read my blog.

…I will insert a punny Spotify playlist.

…and

…I love word clouds.

If you are unfamiliar with the idea, in a nutshell, word clouds (through an algorithm only they know) takes 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.

For many years, I have used word clouds to visually summarize the content of this blog and compare it to years past in order to reflect on whether I am living up to its goals.

I will have to wait a bit longer to do a comparison on how things evolve here at OJCS, but even a quick glance at the current state of things is illuminating.

 

It is definitely not perfect, but it hits many of the high notes.  The two most important mission/vision issues under exploration?  Jewish mission/vision and French outcomes.   The most important paradigm shift?  Transparency. Digging deeper, you can see interesting patterns in what we are emphasizing (time, new, share, etc.) or what might be missing (innovation, technology, personalization, etc.).  Either way it really gets you thinking…

If you see something interesting in the OJCS word cloud..let us know in the comments!

Quick Pedagogy Epilogue:

Who is using word clouds in their schools, classrooms or organizations?  You can check classroom blogs, school websites, the Torah, your mission statement, a behavioral code of conduct and so on.

How fun!

So…let’s word cloud up!  Find a text that is meaningful to you, create a word cloud, and find a way to share it.  If I can write a post with less than 400 words, you can do it!

Les Fichiers de Transparence: Parlons français à OJCS

OK, I cheated.  My French has barely made it past, “Bonjour,” but I wanted to set the right tone for this conversation and asked for a translation.  You’ll forgive me for conducting this conversation about French in English, but this will sadly be one aspect of the job where I cannot lead by example.  At least not yet…

This blog post marks the third in a series of “Transparency Files” posts designed to lay out the significant conversations we are engaging in this year in order to become the best OJCS we can be. The first was about “transparency” itself and the kind of culture we are creating.  The second was about reimagining and clarifying our Jewish mission and vision.  [Quick update: We held our first Rabbinic Advisory Committee meeting this week.  Pulpit rabbis from across the spectrum participated.  The meeting was serious, engaging and meaningful.  I look forward to offering a more substantial update, including how other stakeholder groups will begin to launch their conversations, soon.)  Here, I want to lay out the beginning of a conversation about French so we can finally put to bed what either is or is not true about French at OJCS, its outcomes, and what it prepares you for, or not, for Grade Nine.

What I find most interesting about this conversation is how frustratingly frequent it has taken place in recent years despite how incredibly knowable the outcomes actually are.  Unlike our Hebrew and Judaic standards, which are entirely our own to determine and whose outcomes are entirely ours to assess, our French standards come from the Ontario Ministry of Education and the schools our graduates attend perform assessments.  So why is this so confusing and chronically debated?

I have spent some time learning a lot more about French education in Ottawa than I ever would have imagined and still have much more to do in order to be as authoritative as I will need to be as the conversation evolves.  But here is what I (think I) know…

Our current French studies program is built upon a public school model that increasingly no longer exists.  The majority of public schools in Ottawa used to operate three tracks for French: Core, Extended and Immersion. OJCS, as a Jewish day school with an entire Jewish Studies curriculum to manage – including a third language – reasonably adopted Core and Extended into its program. Over time, however, as public schools continued to feature greater and greater immersion, the middle track – Extended – began to be dropped.  More and more public schools (writ large) now only offer both a Core and an Immersion track, and there are more public schools who specialize in French immersion. “Extended” is ceasing to function as a meaningful distinction, at least in terms of how French functions in any of the next schools of choice. Graduates of OJCS’ Extended French program may soon only have two choices in high school – Core or Immersion.

And this leaves us with the critical question for families who view French fluency as defined by the ability to pass the bilingual exams in Grade Twelve: Does OJCS’ Extended French program prepare students to successfully transition into a high school’s French immersion track in Grade Nine?

And the answer to that question leaves us with the critical question for OJCS, if meeting the need for French fluency is non-negotiable for a critical mass of Jewish parents: What should OJCS do about it?

Let’s pause for a moment to name some things that feel important.

This is an important issue for the families for whom it is an important issue.  Without current survey data, it is hard to know exactly where to peg the number, but let’s assume it is significant enough to represent an existential threat to the school’s long-term viability.

Our current Core French program is exactly the same (at least in time allocated and curricular benchmarks) as all other schools, with the same outcomes, tracked in the same ways all the way through Grade Twelve.  Families for whom Core French is sufficient are presently having their needs met.

Our current Extended French program isn’t something to sneeze at! It is not an immersion program, but it is an immersive experience. Families for whom Extended French is sufficient are presently having their needs met.

The connection between Grade Four and French fluency is a function of the evolution of French immersion in Ottawa public schools. There are currently programs offering a “Middle Immersion” entry point at Grade Four.  [The other entry points are “Early” (Grade One) and “Late” (Grade Nine).]  There are no guarantees as educational pendulums continue to swing that those will continue to be the (only) entry points.  The fact that for some number of parents the Grade Four entry point has become their critical decision-making window is absolutely important, but not necessarily determinative.  Our responsibility is to be clear about our Grade Eight French outcomes to ensure our current and prospective families have all the options available for Grade Nine, including French immersion.

Our graduates begin their next schools of choice in the French program that we recommend them for.  If we recommend a student graduating out of our Extended French program for French immersion in Grade Nine, that student is in French immersion if they choose to.  That’s a fact.

Let’s return to our two critical questions.

Does OJCS’ Extended French program prepare students to successfully transition into a high school’s French Immersion track in Grade Nine?

Here is where data counts.  There is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that the answer to this question is “yes”.  I have read years’ worth of testimonials from graduates and have spoken with numerous parents whose kids did, in fact, successfully transition from our Extended French program to high school’s French immersion, stuck with it through Grade Twelve, and earned their bilingual certificate.  And yet, there is a persistent narrative that this cannot be true.  I have spoken with many current parents who share this belief.  They genuinely believe that if we don’t offer an apples-to-apples French immersion program, then you cannot, by definition, successfully function in a high school French immersion program.

So how can we find out?

By doing some research – both quantitative and qualitative.  We are going to survey our graduates in both Grades Nine and Twelve to see how many of the students we recommend for French immersion…

…opt to stay in French immersion.

…feel prepared to be successful in French immersion.

…are successful in French immersion.

…earn their bilingual certificate in Grade Twelve.

We are going to explore whether there are other key variables which may impact a successful path from here to there such as…

…coming from a French-speaking home.

…participation in French-langauge extracurricular activities.

…use of a French tutor either during their time at OJCS or in high school.

We have also begun direct conversations with high schools.  I have met with the heads of Sir Robert Borden High School and Ashbury College (to begin with) and they are providing us with data about our French outcomes.  I have meetings scheduled with a variety of other schools as well.

The bottom line is that this question is eminently answerable.  Our graduates are either capable (with or without conditions) of transitioning into French immersion in high school or they are not. They are either successfully prepared or they are not.  We can and will answer the question.

If it turns out that the answer is, “yes,” then we have a serious responsibility to improve our marketing.  Schools are only as good as the stories they tell and the stories told about them.  And right now the story of OJCS is that it lacks adequate French to achieve fluency with all that that means in Ottawa.  If that isn’t the story, then we better start telling the true story as loudly and as often as possible.

If it turns out the answer is, “no,” then we have a serious responsibility to revisit our school’s mission and vision.  There are French immersion Jewish day schools in Montreal, I’ve been to see a few.  If it turns out that we actually cannot provide adequate French to achieve fluency, then we better figure out what that means so we can be transparent with families about what you can and cannot expect from your OJCS education.  And we’ll have to decide what kinds of French programs we need to have in order to remain viable.

This is an urgent issue and we are addressing it with due urgency.

The research is ongoing and the deliverable is intended to be shared out in writing when complete and discussed in a Town Hall setting that we are looking to schedule in January/February for current Grades Two-Three families and any Francophone family for whom this is an important discussion.  Stay tuned.

In the meanwhile, we have an incredibly talented French department who pour their hearts and souls into our Core and Extended French programs.  They take great pride in their work and in the accomplishments of their graduates, as should we all.

Can OJCS answer the critical questions about its French outcomes? Will OJCS effectively share the answers to those questions with all its stakeholders?  Are current, former and prospective families invited to share their feedback with us as we do our work?

As they say…J’en mettrai ma main au feu!

Shofar So Good!

It has been wonderful to walk the school, to feel the positive energy oozing through the walls and see the smiling faces of our students and parents.  As we say this time of year, “Shofar so good!”

Our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb and our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.  Hopefully those of you who were able to join us for last night’s “Back to School” night saw evidence of that firsthand.  The focus of the evening was appropriately on the teachers, but we did break some news during the sweaty opening in the Gym that I want to make sure didn’t get lost in the mix and/or gets to all the parents who were unable to be with us.

New Parking Procedures for Morning Drop Off

We briefly described what our new parking procedures will be for morning drop-off and shared that they will begin as soon as we make a few adjustments to the parking lot to make things as clear and as simple as possible.  It should not be more than a week or so before we begin.  The new rules are not that much different than the old ones, but will require some adjustment from parents to ensure the safety of our children.  You will have two choices upon arrival to the lot in the morning.

You are welcome to park in a legal parking spot and spend as much time with your children (before the door opens) or your friends as you like.  You can then physically escort them (or they can escort themselves if old enough) through the crosswalk or on the back sidewalk onto school grounds as you like.

Or you can drop-off in the carpool lane.  There will be painted, designated spots (most likely four) at the front of the carpool lane where you may stop your car to let your child(ren) out on the school-facing side of your car (only).  Once the designated stops empty their carloads, we will wave the next cars down and so on until the carpool line is complete.  You may not turn your car off and park in the carpool lane.  You may not unload your car in the carpool lane unless you are in a designated spot.  The carpool lane is designed to give parents a safe and expeditious way to drop off children.  The parking lot is designed to give parents as much time and space to drop off children as they prefer.

You will be notified when the new rules will go into effect and there will be plenty of security and administrative staff outside to ensure a smooth launch.  Your cooperation with these new procedures is appreciated.

Hot Lunch Program

We are pleased to announce the launch of a hot lunch program at OJCS!  The food will be provided by Babi’s Restaurant and delivered each day directly to your child(ren)’s classroom.  This is a pilot so your feedback on any part of the program is welcome.  Please pick up a November menu from the Main Office and/or look for menus both coming home and soon online.

Google Classroom

So.  The good news is that our entire teaching faculty has embraced the use of Google Classroom in new and exciting ways that enhances our students’ experiences and engages our parents’ participation.  The bad news is that we totally bungled the roll out of new student email accounts making it extremely frustrating for parents to ensure their children’s and their subscriptions.  The good news is that we have largely fixed the problem.  The bad news is that we will likely need y’all to re-activate new accounts and re-subscribe.

What happened?

Our normal student formula for student emails is “first name.last name@theojcs.ca”.  But we mistakenly issued them in the same formula as our faculty emails, which is “first initial.last name@theojcs.ca”.  So each student in Grades K-3, plus each new student in Grades 4-7 was accidentally given the wrong email addresses.  Some succeeded in activating; others failed.  Some succeed in joining Google Classroom; others failed.

What have we done?

We have/are re-issuing correct student email addresses to each student in Grades K-3, plus each new student in Grades 4-7 with default passwords.  Please provide your child(ren)’s teacher(s) with new passwords, should you choose to change them, so that we can assist at school should a child forget his/her password.

OK, so my child has an active OJCS email account.  Now what?

From here it should be easy…

There are two ways families engage in Google Classroom.  Each child will be subscribed into the appropriate Google Classroom(s) as a student.  Each parent will be subscribed into their child(ren)’s Google Classroom(s) as a guardian.  [If a parent does not have a Gmail account, s/he will be prompted to create one.  You cannot subscribe to Google Classroom without a Gmail account.]

Here’s what it looks like from the guardian perspective…

If I click “Accept”…

If I have a Gmail account, I click “Sign In”…

…and select my preferences for the digest.

If I don’t have a Gmail account, I create a new account and it will then update and take you the page above.

What about class codes?

If you receive a prompt for a class code, something has gone amiss.  Each Google Classroom does have a class code, but if your child was correctly invited as a student with their correct and activated OJCS email address and you were correctly invited as a guardian, you will not need to enter a class code.

What does it all mean?

The student subscription provides you with full, unfettered access to the Google Classroom.  The guardian subscription provides you the choice of a daily or weekly digest of new postings (minus the bells and whistles of pictures/videos).  Therefore, if a parent wishes to see all that is there, that parent must either sit with their child who is logged on or must log on as their child.  Families can decide together what makes the best sense both to instill responsibility and accountability in our children.  As a rule of thumb, parents may want to begin sharing their children’s accounts at the K-3 level and begin to separate into student/guardian at the 4-8 level, but this decision is entirely up to each family.

Why are we doing all of this?

Our goal for this year is to really be sure Google Classroom is the best platform for all that we want to do at OJCS and the only way to be sure is to really use it.  So we are.  Once the technical issues are behind us and we are fully engaged in its use, we are going to transparently decide whether or not the future of OJCS will be on Google Classroom or not.  Regardless, the skills that our students, teachers and parents are learning to use Google Classroom will be easily transferred to any other kinds of online educational platforms, so this training will not be for naught!

I invite you to speak with your child(ren)’s teachers or me should you continue to have questions or issues with Google Classroom. We will be happy to individually troubleshoot what lingering issues we have until we are all 100% up to speed.

And now for something completely different…

unnamedThe Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins next week and is the most well-known of the Jewish “New Year’s” (we actually have four different ones, including Tu B’Shevat). Additionally, since most of us also follow the secular calendar, we have an extra one each year on the eve of December 31st.  And finally, the start of school provides yet another “new year”.  Putting it all together, suffice it to say, we have ample opportunities each year to pause and reflect on the year that was and to hope and dream about the year that is yet to be.

This is the time of year that schools engage in all sorts of creative ways to perform tashlikh – a ceremony in which we cast off the sins of the past with an eye towards improving our behavior for the future.  A common activity for our youngest students has them draw a picture and/or write about a behavior they want to avoid doing again – mistreating a sibling, being disobedient to a parent, not being a good friend. etc.  After they make their project, they crumble it into a ball and throw it into the trash. Bye-bye bad behaviors!

Were it only that easy!

All schools count “character education” as part of their mission. All educators consider it part of their already challenging jobs to help children grow and develop as human beings. Part of what I enjoy about Jewish day schools is that we get to make that part of our curriculum explicit.  We are in the business of making menschen and during the High Holiday season, business is good!

So who will we become this year?  Beyond all our academic hopes and dreams, will this be the year we become who we were meant to be?  Will we live up to our own lofty expectations?  Will we be better children, better students, better teachers, better siblings, better partners, better spouses, better colleagues, better friends – will we be a better “us”?

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special school- thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  5778 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year! From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

Trifurcation: Three Paths Forward From “Innovation Alley”

[Originally posted in my final Prizmah blog post in “Innovation Alley“.]

As I linger one last time in Innovation Alley, permit me the opportunity to bookend this blog post with a few, brief personal thoughts…

What a blessing these last four crazy years of professional life has been for me!  Truly.  From a headship I treasured at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, to an executive directorship I was just figuring out at the Schechter Day School Network, into a vice presidentship I never anticipated here at Prizmah – with overlapping timelines and characters, I feel like I’ve enjoyed an entire compressed career without a forwarding address.  It is dizzying to think about, but the feeling that best captures my attitude as I prepare (again!) to shift lanes is simply gratitude.  I am forever enriched for the experiences and relationships these last years have brought me.

“Gratitude” is also an appropriate word to describe how I feel about my year at Prizmah.  To have had a chance to dig deep in the world of innovation, if only for a year, has opened my eyes as to what is possible and has inspired me to play my part to help the possible become reality.  At the heart of things, that’s what this work is really about – helping Jewish day schools transform teaching and learning to the greater good of the Jewish People.  All the rest is commentary…

Do I wish we had accomplished more in Year One?  Yes.

It is certainly the case that the most obvious, externally-facing work we did this year was the “Playground” at Prizmah’s inaugural conference.  There were smaller successes in terms of edJEWcon (which I’ll discuss below) and there were/are a ton of internal conversations that have contributed to other of Prizmah’s work, but in terms of the larger catalyzing contributions that we described upon launch, it is perfectly fair to note that we simply didn’t get there…at least not yet.

Trifurcation

Since sharing back in January both Prizmah’s plan to reincorporate “Innovation” back into the corpus (instead of it remaining as a distinct department) and my plan to continue my career path elsewhere once my transition responsibilities were complete, we’ve been sorting through how (some of) the distinct components of the “Innovation Department” will move the work forward in the year to come.  I am pleased to share with you how three of these components are taking shape for the year to come: Prizmah, edJEWcon, and…well…me.

Prizmah

The story of innovation at Prizmah will no longer be mine to tell, but I can assure you that it will continue.  In addition to the innovative work which will now weave itself into the fabric of the whole, I am hopeful that three of the current vehicles for sharing and discussing innovation will not only continue, but grow and evolve in the hands of my current (and perhaps new) colleagues moving forward.  This includes the blog you are now reading, a standing column of the same name in HaYidion, and Reshet Innovation (for Prizmah members).  I look forwarding to seeing how these vehicles are improved (or changed/replaced) with new thinking and new leadership.  Furthermore, Prizmah plans to continue advancing the powerful insights framed by edJEWcon – notably the approach to active capturing, documenting, reflecting and sharing around use of technologies and innovation.  Finally, it is my hope and expectation that entirely new innovative ideas and opportunities for uplifting the field will come from the work Prizmah will share, launch, link, catalyze and support in the years to come.

edJEWcon

As you likely gathered from the last paragraph, edJEWcon itself will no longer continue as a branded program of Prizmah.  We are pleased that the work of edJEWcon has made a positive impact on Prizmah and will live on not only as described above, but also in the person of edJEWcon co-founder Andrea Hernandez who continues on as part of Prizmah’s team with “innovation” part of her ongoing portfolio.  This does not mean the end of edJEWcon!  As has been the case (more times than we could have guessed!) in the past, we (Andrea, co-founder Silvia Tolisano and I) will revisit edJEWcon’s value proposition with funders and the field and look forward to sharing our thoughts on edJEWcon’s future contributions to thought leadership, social media, and work in the field on its website soon.  We look forward to active collaboration with Prizmah when possible in future endeavors.

Me

As for me, I am preparing to take all that I have learned these last three years and apply it to my return to the headship as the incoming Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  I don’t know how “innovative” I’ll be on Day One, but you can continue to follow my journey on my website or on social media.

As it says in the Mishnah: “Lo alecha ha’mlacha legmor…” – “It is not incumbent on you to finish the work, neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.”  (Mishnah: Avot, 2.16)  It has been an honor and a career highlight to have had the chance to help birth Prizmah and be part of its first year of life.  I look forward to watching it grow and succeed with, perhaps, a few more degrees of separation, but no less pride and joy.

Kol tuv and l’hitraot…