Update: Impact of $50K Gift to Strengthen the “J” at OJCS

As our Middle Schoolers write exams and our entire school gets ready for the triumphant return of “Winter Fun Day” heading into a “PD Day” and February Break, I thought it would be a great opportunity to provide a second “Update: Impact” post.  Two weeks ago, I provided an update on the impact of our French consultancy.  Today, I would like to provide an update on the impact of last spring’s $50,000 gift to strengthen the “J” in OJCS.

At the time, I described the possible impact in a blog post as such:

And now, thanks to today’s gift, we know that we will go into Year Three with an amazing opportunity to build on our successes and introduce new and deeper Jewish engagement for our students and our families.

What might this investment lead to in 2019-2020?

(W)e will be revisiting our leadership team.  I will have more to say about this when it becomes concrete, but we are very excited about the possibilities we are exploring.  We also have – similar to French – opportunities to import second-language acquisition professional development so that our teachers of Hebrew will have the same resources available to them as our teachers of English and French do and will.  Updated curriculum, more Hebrew-language books and materials, and expanding our Jewish Studies Resource are all worthy to consider for investment.

How is it going shofar?  (I know.  I am past that pun window, but I feel like in a post dedicated to Jewish Studies that I can pull it off.)

Well, some of what we had imagined has in fact come true.  We have purchased new and additional Hebrew-language books and materials. We have made connections to second-language acquisition experts to improve our pedagogy.  And we have added Hebrew resource teachers and contact time to better meet the needs of students.  And all of that has made a meaningful difference.  Other things, however, we could not have predicted because new people bring new ideas.

The biggest change this year in Jewish Studies at OJCS is the addition of our new full-time Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz.  Like our Dean of Jewish Studies Emeritus Rabbi Finkelstein, Dr. Marcovitz is a critical member of our Middle School Faculty.  Unlike Rabbi Finkelstein, Dr. Marcovitz does not have another important day job, but has the opportunity to focus all his energy and creativity at our school.  He may still be getting acculturated, but in addition to assuming leadership of our Jewish Studies Faculty and building relationships with synagogues and community leaders, he has also found time for launching new programs.

Parasha & Pancakes

“Parasha & Pancakes” now takes place on  Tuesdays (Grades 3-5) & Thursdays (Grades 6-8).  With great thanks to the OJCS PTA for providing support, we have students volunteering to come to school early to learn Torah!  Who knew?  Students are taking responsibility for the cooking and Dr. Marcovitz for the learning.  Tasty pancakes to feed the body with words of Torah to feed the soul – what a great way to start the day!

Rabbi Simes z”l Yom Iyun

This grew out of a wonderful assignment with our Grade 8s who have been exchanging questions (sh’eilot) and answers (t’shuvot) with rabbis in our community on hot button topics.  The work has been so rich that we got the idea to invite those rabbis to be with us for a day of learning, which we are dedicating to the memory of our beloved teacher and communal leader, Rabbi Yehuda Simes z”l.  We are looking forward to a special day on February 24th.  Contact the office for more information.

Do you want to see the amazing intersection between Jewish Studies and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math)?  Go no farther than Morah Ruthie’s Kitah Zayin (Grade 7) Hebrew II class!  They learned all about the Israeli city of Tzfat and showed what they learned by creating VR (virtual reality) projects.  The views below aren’t as cool as viewing them through VR goggles, but they are pretty cool.  I have left one sample for you to check out below, but if you want to see them all, please check out Morah Ruthie’s blog post:

What’s next?  Something really exciting…perhaps even a game-changer.

Based on a model I first experienced (not created, it was there before me) in my last headship at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, we want to launch a brand-new Middle School Jewish Studies Curriculum that is predicated on the idea that both Torah leads to deeds AND deeds lead to Torah (Kiddushin 40b).  We want to create an integrated Jewish Studies / Tikkun Olam (Social Justice) program in which the text our students learn Monday-Thursday gets put into action on Friday, each and every week.  Aligned with our North Stars, “We own our own learning,” and “We are each responsible one to the other,” we would create a committee of students, teachers, parents and community leaders to develop this curriculum which integrates key Jewish values, deep textual learning and practical hands-on projects.

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

This new program will be a direct and weekly application of Jewish wisdom.  It allows for individual choice (we imagine some of the “Mitzvah Trips” having choice for students), but more importantly through the experience of many “Mitzvah Trips,” students will make meaning of which mitzvot, which tikkon olam projects, etc., are personally meaningful.  They will also build connections to people and organizations that will strengthen their sense of peoplehood.

We want to provide our students with Jewish experiences that inspire them to learn more Torah and we want to help our students make personal connections between the Torah they learn in school and the larger world around them.  We want our students (and families) to recognize that part of being Jewish is to make the world a better place, that doing so requires both learning and doing.  Locating this work in our Middle School allows for practical connectivity to the b’nei mitzvah process.  Providing these opportunities in a Jewish Middle School in a community without a Jewish High school, is critical to inspiring students and families to see and feel value to their Jewish learning beyond the walls of the school.

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

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

OJCS Celebrates Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

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

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

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

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

Our student leaders wrote our faculty an email this week:

Dear OJCS Faculty,

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

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

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

Want to see the books?  Visit her post!

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

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

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

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

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

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Update: Impact of TACLEF on French Faculty

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

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

How has the consultancy impacted your ability to assess students?

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

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

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

How has TACLEF impacted teaching and learning in your classrooms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality Comments: Welcome to OJCS Student Blogfolios!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously.  Look at it.

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results

As apparently is my new annual tradition, I again in the lull between parent-teacher conferences reviewed and analyzed our CAT4 results.  [I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) our philosophy on test-taking and how we both share the tests with parents and utilize the data in our decision-making.]  We provided our teachers with the data they need to better understand their students and to identify which test results fully resemble their children well enough to simply pass on and which results require contextualization in private conversation.  Those contextualizing conversations took place during conferences and, thus, we should be able to return all results to parents next week.

Before we get to the results, there are a few things worth pointing out:

  • This is now our second year taking this assessment at this time of year. However, we expanded our testing from last year’s Grades 3, 6 & 8 to this year’s Grades 3 – 8.  This means that although we now have “apples to apples” data, we can only track two of our grades (current Grades 4 & 7) from last year to this one.  Next year, we will have such tracking data across most grades which will allow us to see if…
    • The same grade scores as well or better each year.
    • The same class grows at least a year’s worth of growth.
  • The other issue is in the proper understanding of what a “grade equivalent score” really is.

Grade-equivalent scores attempt to show at what grade level and month your child is functioning.  However, grade-equivalent scores are not able to show this.  Let me use an example to illustrate this.  In reading comprehension, your son in Grade 5 scored a 7.3 grade equivalent on his Grade 5 test. The 7 represents the grade level while the 3 represents the month. 7.3 would represent the seventh grade, third month, which is December.  The reason it is the third month is because September is zero, October is one, etc.  It is not true though that your son is functioning at the seventh grade level since he was never tested on seventh grade material.  He was only tested on fifth grade material.  He performed like a seventh grader on fifth grade material.  That’s why the grade-equivalent scores should not be used to decide at what grade level a student is functioning.

We do not believe that standardized test scores represent the only, nor surely the best, evidence for academic success.  Our goal continues to be providing each student with a “floor, but no ceiling” representing each student’s maximum success.  Our best outcome is still producing students who become lifelong learners.

But I also don’t want to undersell the objective evidence that shows that the work we are doing here does in fact lead to tangible success!

That’s the headline…let’s look more closely at the story.  (You may wish to zoom in a bit on whatever device you are reading this on…)

A few tips on how to read this:

  • We took this exam in the “.2” of each grade-level year.  That means that “at grade level” [again, please refer above to a more precise definition of “grade equivalent scores”] for any grade we are looking at would be 3.2, 4.2, 5.2, etc.  For example, if you are looking at Grade 6, anything below 6.2 would constitute “below grade level” and anything above 6.2 would constitute “above grade level.”
  • The maximum score for any grade is “.9” of the next year’s grade.  If, for example, you are looking at Grade 8 and see a score of 9.9, on our forms it actually reads “9.9+” – the maximum score that can be recorded.
  • Because of when we take this test – approximately two months into the school year – it is reasonable to assume a significant responsibility for results is attributable to the prior year’s teachers and experiences.  It is very hard to tease it out exactly, of course.

What are the key takeaways from this snapshot of the entire school?

  • Looking at six different grades through six different dimensions there are only two instances of scoring below grade-level: Grade 3 in Spelling (2.9) and Grade 5 in Computation & Estimation (4.1).
  • Relatedly, those two dimensions  – Spelling and Computation & Estimation – are where we score the lowest as a school (even if every other grade is at or above grade level) relative to the other dimensions.
  • What stands out the most is how exceedingly well each and every grade has done in just about each and every section.  In almost all cases, each and every grade is performing significantly above grade-level.

In addition to the overall snapshot, we are now able to begin sharing comparative data.  It will take one more year before we can accurately compare the same grade and the same class year after year.  But we can get a taste of it with Grades 3 & 6.  What you have below is a snapshot of the same class (the same group of children) from last year to this:

What are the key takeaways from this comparison?

For both classes in all categories save one (Grade 3 to 4 “Computation & Estimation”) you see at least a full year’s growth and in many cases you see more than a full year’s growth.  (The one that fell short only showed 8 months of growth.  And it comes in the category we have already recognized as being a weak spot.)

Let’s look at one more data point.  We can also get a taste of how the same grade performs from one year to the next as well.  Again, we only have Grades 3 & 6 to examine:

Now, remember that this represents a completely different group of children, so it is not unusual or surprising to see variances.  Teachers can only grow students from the place they received them and it is that annual growth that we are concerned with.  But over time you are looking for patterns.  If we believe that Spelling is a weakness, we will want to know whether it is a weakness in every grade or does it dip in certain grades.  We have no way to know that or much else new from the above graph. It simply confirms what we presently know.  But in another year or so, we will be able to plot the trajectory of both classes (the same students) and grades over time to see what additional stories they tell.

To sum up, we have a lot to be proud of in our standardized test scores. We have two areas to investigate: Spelling and Computation.  With regard to Spelling, since we noted this as a weakness last year we had already scheduled PD for our faculty.  It just so happens that we are holding a session on “Structured Word Inquiry” for our Language Arts Teachers on Monday!  With that and other efforts we would expect to see those numbers tick up next year.  With regard to Computation, we will – like with Spelling – have an internal conversation which may lead to PD for Math Teachers.  These are examples of how we use data to increase performance.

The bottom line is that our graduates successfully place into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling – they are all different – but working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools (private and public) and programs (IB, Gifted, French Immersion, Arts, etc.) that they qualified for.

And now each year, despite all the qualifications and caveats, our CAT4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them. And let’s be clear, this academic excellence comes with an inclusive admissions process.

Despite our focus on individual growth, our average growth continues to significantly outpace national percentiles and grade equivalency scores.  Does investing in reflective practices (like blogging) lead to achievement ?  Does being an innovative learning pioneer translate into high academic success?

Two years in a row may not be conclusive, but it may be heading towards it!

The Transparency Files: OJCS Middle School Parent-Teacher Conferences

Talk about a niche blog post!

I recognize that I am really narrowing my audience here, but I do think there is some value in sharing aloud (rather than just emailing the contents to our current middle school parents) our thought process around how we structure our parent-teacher conferences in our middle school.  Part of the value is that some of the big ideas live beyond that narrow lens, impacting how we view parent-teacher conferences as a school and – more widely – how we view parent engagement and parent partnership.  Part of the value – I hope – is that we get some feedback from our current parents and from other schools and school leaders that will positively impact our thinking.  It can sometimes feel like you are blogging into the wind, but every now and again, I do get meaningful feedback from a blog post.  Here’s hoping this is one of them!

Last year, in a blog post that was more focused on a new-and-improved report card format, we did introduce the following change to our middle school parent-teacher conferences:

With a large number of middle school students and a fair number of middle school teachers, we are going to try to provide a larger window of time with a more strategic number of mutually selected teachers.  Instead of signing up for individual conversations with any or all teachers, we are going to be asking for parents to sign up for a 15-minute window and a request for one or two teachers they feel strongly need to be present.  Then we will meet as a full middle school faculty and assign teachers to each middle school conference, using parental request and who we believe to be important in the conversations that should happen to best support each child.

I added the boldface above, because that sentence did not seem to be clear (enough) to many families last year and, thus, unintentionally became a source of tension.  That is something I am hoping to avoid this year…

Let’s start with the observation that the entire model and structure of traditional parent-teacher conferences is likely obsolete.  Why?  Let’s count the reasons…

  • Meaningful parent partnership requires frequent conversation.  Two high-leverage, really brief engagement points do not lend themselves to relationship-building.
  • If the mantra for parent-teacher conferences (and report cards) is “No surprises!” and we’ve done that work already (see above point), then what exactly are these brief encounters designed to accomplish?
  • How much can you really discuss/show/ask/learn in such brief windows of time?  With people running behind schedule, knocking on the doors, etc. – even if you are lucky enough to be having a meaningful moment of engagement, you will likely still wind up frustrated to have it truncated by an artificially imposed time limit.

So why do we still do them?

Well, despite their challenges, they do tend to succeed in bringing more parents into the school and into conversation with their children’s teachers.    Brief conversations are better than no conversations.  Some opportunity for relationship-building is better than no opportunity for relationship-building.  So to the degree that they can and do lead to constructive conversations, it is worth continuing to try to improve upon them.

And that leads back to the changes we made last year for our middle school…

With our North Stars clarified and our culture evolving, we have an opportunity to revisit our programs and processes to be sure they are in alignment.  The move to adjust our middle school conferences was designed to ensure that we would land with a format which would provide parents with meaningful and actionable feedback, and provide us with the same in terms of inviting valuable feedback from parents – all in the service of helping our students “own their learning” and that there be “a floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.

Because we view this as a partnership, we believe it is important that both parent and teacher voice contribute to the conversation, and to determining who sits around the table.  Unlike the public board at the middle school and high school levels, we don’t believe a process which only honours parent choice serves our needs.  As we said above, when it is time to decide who should sit around the parent-teacher conference table, we “meet as a full middle school faculty and assign teachers to each middle school conference, using parental request and who we believe to be important in the conversations that should happen to best support each child.”

Why?  Why not just let parents decide who and how to spend their valuable, ever-so-short, window of time?

Well, it is the same reason we don’t do it in the Lower School.  We believe that each part of our curriculum is important and that who your child is – how they behave, how they are feeling, their academic growth, etc., – across different teachers is valuable for parents to know.  We don’t feel like you will have a full picture of your child and we don’t feel that we can get the feedback we need to serve your child, without having diverse representation.  If we had more time, we’d have the full 7-9 teachers around a larger table.  But we don’t.  So we give parents and teachers an opportunity to build a smaller team to meet in partnership.

It is worth noting that any parent at any time can request any meeting with any teacher.  It is not like this is your only opportunity to have 15 minutes with your child’s Math Teacher.  Or French.  Or Hebrew.  But for one of two nights a year, it is a wonderful (even with its structural flaws) opportunity to come together as a team of people who care deeply about your child to share what is working, discuss what might not be, plan for what could be, strengthen our own relationships, and chart a course for a successful  next term.

We are looking forward to a wonderful week of conferences.  See you there!

Liveblog of OJCS 2019 Winter PD Day

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

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

9:00 AM “The OJCS Way” Strategy GooseChase

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want proof?

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

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

11:00 AM Structured Conversations

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

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

TACLEF for French Faculty

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

ALSUP for Middle School Faculty

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

VoiceThread for Jewish Studies Faculty

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

STAR Reading for Language Arts Faculty

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

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

Another Trip Around The OJCS Blogosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a look…

 

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

Proud Teacher Moment – Posted on November 1

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

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

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

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

I am truely soooo proud!

TODA YELADIM! 😘

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

Student Vote 2019 – Posted on October 18

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

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

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

 

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

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

Nos futurs politiciens? – Posted on September 20th

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

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

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

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

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

NOT Preparing for the CAT4 – How OJCS Thinks About Standardized Testing

From November 5th – 7th, students at the Ottawa Jewish Community School in Grades 3 – 8 will be writing the Fourth Edition of the Canadian Achievement Tests (CAT4).  The purpose of this test is to inform instruction and programming for the 2019-202o school year, and to measure our students’ growth over time.  

  • If this is the first time you are visiting this topic on my blog, I encourage you to read my post on our philosophy of standardized test-taking.
  • If you are curious about how we share the results of our standardized test-taking (and what those results have been), I encourage you to read that post as well.

What’s new for 2019-2020?

We have gone from offering the exam in Grades 3, 6, and 8 to Grades 3 – 8 in order to ensure that the data is actionable on all four levels – that of the individual student (is there something to note about how Jonny did in Mathematics from last year to this year?), individual classes (is there something to note about how Grade 5 scored in Spelling compared to when they were in Grade 4?), grades (is there something to note about how Grade 3 performed in Reading  this year when compared to how Grade 3 did last year?), and the school as a whole (how does OJCS do in Vocabulary across the board?).  Without testing the same students in the same subjects at the same time of year on an annual basis, we would not be able to notice, track or respond to meaningful patterns.

Reminder:

Standardized tests in schools that do not explicitly teach to the test nor use curriculum specifically created to succeed on the tests – like ours – are very valuable snapshots.  Allow me to be overly didactic and emphasize each word: They are valuable – they are; they really do mean something.  And they are snapshots – they are not the entire picture, not by a long shot, of either the child or the school.  Only when contextualized in this way can we avoid the unnecessary anxiety that often bubbles up when results roll in.

Last year it took about six weeks to get results back, analyzed and shared out – to parents with individual results and to community with school metrics.  We hope to be in that window of time again and look forward to making full use of them to help each student and teacher continue to grow and improve.  We look forward to fruitful conversations.  And we welcome questions and feedback through whatever channels they come…

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

This is probably a couple of weeks later than I had hoped, but I am pleased to share with you the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey!  If you want a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or toggle back and forth.  What I will try to do here, is to capture the highlights now that we have a baseline for comparison.

The first thing to name is that the percentage of students represented in this year’s survey is lower than last year, even if it captures slightly more students.  Last year’s survey covered 81 students and this year’s covers 84.  Also, the survey is per student, not per family, which means that it is even less representative than that.  In the service of anonymity, we have no way to know how many families the survey actually represents.  Finally, for most of the sections below, only 70 students – or roughly 40% of the school – is represented in the results.  (Surveys of 14 students did not include data outside the opening and closing questions.)  We would love to see that number at 70% or higher in the future to be more sure that the results are valid, but as always, we believe that all data is valuable data.

Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, the truth is that it would only strengthen these numbers, because by and by they are pretty good!  More than being worried about the motivations for why families do or don’t fill out surveys, we are most concerned that our families feel that they have an opportunity to provide us with feedback and, even more important than that, that the school factors in parent voice as it makes decisions.  We can only hope that we prove to families each year that we do take voice seriously, we do lean into healthy critique, and we do want to hear from them.  We will revisit when we give the survey, how long we keep the survey window open and how we could incentivize folks to fill them out.  We will aim for over 50% next year and 70% in the years to come.  In the meanwhile, let’s celebrate the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.

As was the case last year – and is usually the case everywhere – it is the parents of our youngest students who are the most invested with decreasing participation as the years go on.  It is, however, a bit more representative than last year’s group.

This percentage is higher than last year and is confounded a bit by the fact that families who are moving out of Canada for example, or who are graduating would sit in the same “No” with families who attritting before Grade 8.  That the percentage is higher has some logic because our attrition rates are down again heading into next year, but I cannot unpack the “No” box while maintaining anonymity.  All of this to say is, if it is true that our most critical parents are filling out this survey, the overwhelming majority intend to continue at OJCS.  That says a lot about them and about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

So I will remind/tell you that for this and all categories, we look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than 7, and looking for numbers to go up each year.  Last year, our score was 7.13 and this year it is 7.20.  Is it healthy?  Absolutely, although still closer to the low end of the band than we would prefer.  Did it go up?  Yes, although not as much we would like considering how much better a school we have become by a variety of other measures.  Is there a disconnect between what the school believes is true and what parents see and believe?  Is this a failure of communication?  These will be important questions for us to chew on.  Let’s dig deeper…

A few things jump out…

  • The topline number is essentially unchanged (7.17 to 7.11), while remaining lower in the healthy band than we would like to see.
  • Unlike last year, the score for “learning LEVELS” and “learning STYLES” is exactly the same, which leads me to wonder if people understand what we’re actually asking about (are these actually good or clear questions).
  • Even the ones that are below the healthy range (in the 6s) are actually all up from last year, which hopefully means they will enter that range soon.
  • I am pleased to see parents have pushed the question about individualized attention into the healthy range (7.09) as it is a core value of the school.
  • Our lowest score (6.56) is connected to homework, which we had already identified as a critical concern.  We hope that the new Homework Philosophy we shared out just a few weeks ago will help see that score rise when it is implemented next year.

  • So here is where having comparison data is actually helpful.  Each score in this section is lower than we want it to be and each score in this section is higher than it was last year.  (Remember that we think 7-9 is the healthy range; a “5” still means “satisfied” on the scale).
  • The topline number is still below a 7 and that still remains unacceptable.  It may round up, but next year it has to get there on its own.
  • The biggest improvements in this section are connected to our ability to meet the needs of students with IEPs and we know it is connected to our having hired a Director of Special Education this year.  We also know that it is not yet where we want it to be, but this is a clear example of where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

As was the case last year, there are no huge bombshells, but there are some things worth pointing out…

  • The topline number is essentially the same (7.27 to 7.24).
  • Our lowest scores (and we added two new sub-questions in this category) deal with French and we are excited to see those numbers begin to approach healthy levels as we move forward next year with the intense professional development for our French Faculty that we announced earlier this week.  We are a bit disappointed that the added contact time and rigor have not yet registered, but we know they were steps in the right direction.  Our newest families have the same high expectations of us that we have for ourselves, and now it is time for the school to deliver on its promises.  This is another clear example of where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.  We even wrote it twice to be sure you noticed!)
  • From the comments in the experimental section on French outcomes, it is very clear that we do, in fact, have three populations at OJCS.  We have families who are satisfied with what we presently offer with a “Core” and “Extended” program.  We have many families who want to see the quality of those programs increase, especially the ones who are counting on our ability to graduate students out of “extended” into Grade 9 immersion programs.  We also, however, have families who would like to see us – at least as an option – provide an analogous immersion experience to the public board.  This conversation, as we said, is just beginning.
  • We noted last year that we were counting on Art, Music and PE to be improved by assigning them teachers who could focus more exclusively on these specialties and we are pleased that each score has gone up!

  • With regard to Jewish Studies, we are very pleased that all our numbers are significantly up from last year and have entered the healthy range (one score needs a little rounding to get there, but still)!  Reading last year’s results, I said that, “I fully expect that the changes we proposed for Jewish Studies – emphasis on Hebrew fluency, reinstitution of structured tefillah, etc. – will lead to higher scores in the year to come.”  Well…we made those changes and it is wonderful to see that they landed with our families.
  • We clearly have work remaining to bring our hot lunch program, our field trips (both quantity and quality), and helping our friends at the JCC with feedback about after-school programming to bring those scores into the healthy band…speaking of after-school programming…

From our experimental section, we gain this data point.  If we have at least 40 students, as is indicated, expressing interest in a French after-school experience, we have a responsibility to figure out the how and the what.  Stay tuned.

  • I will hold most of my comments on my own scores for an upcoming “Transparency Files” with my full self-evaluation.  Here, I will simply say that I am relatively pleased with stable scores in the healthy range.
  • My lowest score is in providing learning for parents…and I agree!  I am legitimately struggling to figure out how to do this better with the busy lives of our parents.  Last year I tried to teach a weekly class, but we couldn’t carry a critical mass week-to-week to make it viable.  I’m open to suggestion (like, please do) on how to do this better.  Help me to help you to help me.
  • Our lowest score in this area (ticked slightly down from last year’s 6.97) is about our “code of conduct” and we are pleased to share that we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.  Our score is interestingly unchanged at 4.14.  I’m not sure how much more room to go up there is, but it is a windmill we will gladly tilt at.

So there you have it for 2018-2019!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys!  In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses and a couple of experimental sections.  Your responses added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  Please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern as you have seen that we really do use this data to make enhancements and improvements each year.  By the by, we are pleased with how well satisfied our parents are with how the school is going…but be assured, just like with everything else, we expect to see growth and progress in a school where there is “a floor, but no ceiling”.

In the next few weeks, I will look forward to sharing my self-evaluation, an exciting enrollment update, and to introducing the 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty!