This Is (Not) A Test: OJCS (Doesn’t) Prep For CAT-4

From October 29th-31st, students at the Ottawa Jewish Community School in Grades 3,  6 and 8 will be writing the Fourth Edition of the Canadian Achievement Tests (CAT- 4).  The purpose of this test is to inform instruction and programming for the 2018-2019 school year, and to measure our students’ achievement growth over time.

Seems pretty non-controversial, eh?

These days, however, the topic of “standardized testing” has become a hot topic.  So with our testing window ready to open next week, this feels like a good time to step back and clarify why we take this test and how we intend to use and share the results.  But first, two things that are new this year:

  • We moved our test window from the spring to the fall to align ourselves with other private schools in our community.  This will be helpful for comparison data.  (This is also why we didn’t take them last year.)
  • We have expanded the number of grades taking the test.  We have not yet decided whether that number will expand again in future years.

What exactly is the value of standardized testing and how do we use the information it yields?

It sounds like such a simple question…

My starting point on this issue, like many others, is that all data is good data.  There cannot possibly be any harm in knowing all that there is to know.  It is merely a question of how to best use that data to achieve the fundamental task at hand – to lovingly move a child to reach his or her maximum potential.  [North Star Alert!  “We have a floor, but not a ceiling.”]  To the degree that the data is useful for accomplishing this goal is the degree to which the data is useful at all.

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.

Like any snapshot, the standardized test ought to resemble its object. The teacher and the parent should see the results and say to themselves, “Yup, that’s him.”  It is my experience that this is the case more often than not.  Occasionally, however, the snapshot is less clear.  Every now and again, the teacher and/or the parent – who have been in healthy and frequent communication all the year long – both look at the snapshot and say to themselves, “Who is this kid?”

When that happens and when there is plenty of other rich data – report cards, prior years’ tests, portfolios, assessments, etc. and/or teacher’s notes from the testing which reveal anxiety, sleepiness, etc. – it is okay to decide that someone put their thumb on the camera that day (or that part of the test) and discard the snapshot altogether.

Okay, you might say, but besides either telling us what we already know or deciding that it isn’t telling us anything meaningful, what can we learn?

Good question!

Here is what I expect to learn from standardized testing in our school over time if our benchmarks and standards are in alignment with the test we have chosen to take:

Individual Students:

Do we see any trends worth noting?  If the overall scores go statistically significantly down in each area test after test that would definitely be an indication that something is amiss (especially if it correlates to grades).  If a specific section goes statistically significantly down test after test, that would be an important sign to pay attention to as well.  Is there a dramatic and unexpected change in any section or overall in this year’s test?

The answers to all of the above would require conversation with teachers, references to prior tests and a thorough investigation of the rest of the data to determine if we have, indeed, discovered something worth knowing and acting upon.

This is why we will be scheduling individual meetings with parents in our school to personally discuss and unpack any test result that comes back with statistically significant changes (either positive or negative) from prior years’ testing or from current assessments.

Additionally, the results themselves are not exactly customer friendly.  There are a lot of numbers and statistics to digest, “stanines” and “percentiles” and whatnot.  It is not easy to read and interpret the results without someone who understands them guiding you.  As the educators, we feel it is our responsibility to be those guides.

Individual Classes:

Needless to say, if an entire class’ scores took a dramatic turn from one test to the next it would be worth paying attention to – especially if history keeps repeating.  To be clear, I do not mean the CLASS AVERAGE.  I do not particularly care how the “class” performs on a standardized test qua “class”.  [Yes, I said “qua” – sometimes I cannot help myself.]  What I mean is, should it be the case that each year in a particular class each student‘s scores go up or down in a statistically significant way – that would be meaningful to know. Because the only metric we concern ourselves with is an individual student’s growth over time – not how s/he compares with the “class”.

That’s what it means to cast a wide net (admissions) while having floors, but no ceilings (education).

School:

If we were to discover that as a school we consistently perform excellently or poorly in any number of subjects, it would present an opportunity to examine our benchmarks, our pedagogy, and our choice in curriculum.  If, for example, as a Lower School we do not score well in Spelling historically, it would force us to consider whether or not we have established the right benchmarks for Spelling, whether or not we teach Spelling appropriately, and/or whether or not we are using the right Spelling curriculum.

Or…if we think that utilizing an innovative learning paradigm is best for teaching and learning then we should, in time, be able to provide evidence from testing that in fact it is.  (It is!)

We eagerly anticipate the results to come and to making full use of them to help each student and teacher continue to grow and improve. We look forward to fruitful conversations.

That’s what it means to be a learning organization.

Let’s Talk About Blogs: The OJCS Blogosphere Town Hall

Early in the year, I blogged about coming attractions and shared that…

With the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, and due to significant and overwhelming feedback from parents, teachers, and students, the OJCS is transitioning away from Google Classroom and launching school-wide class blogs.   Our new blogging platform will make it a whole lot easier for parents and students to know what is happening in their classes and for teachers and students to share pictures, videos, examples and reflections of the incredible work they are doing.

We learn better together” is one our North Stars;  school blogs will help us expand the concentric circles of “we” to amplify and share the learning.

We held a “Town Hall” on October 3rd (delayed once due to the tornado) in which we laid out our big picture vision for moving towards a blogging platform and to take a tour of the “OJCS Blogosphere”.  So.  Now that we have made it through the Jewish holidays, essentially restarted school and have finished our first (!) five-day week, it seems like a good time to check in to see how this whole blogging prototype is going.

The first thing that is important is to know that the OJCS Blogosphere exists!  There are Lower School Blogs for each class K -5, a Middle School landing page with a calendar of major projects/tests, individual Middle School Teacher Blogs (Math, Language Arts, etc.), School Activities and Special Interest Blogs and Leadership Blogs. You will find increasing and increasingly exciting content on them all. You may also find navigating the blogosphere new, confusing, or frustrating, depending on what you are looking for, how easy it is to find (or not) or whether it is there (yet) at all.

The use of “prototype” to describe our launch of blogs is intentional. It is to remind us that we are trying something new, seeking feedback, and making changes as we go.  We are learning what works and what doesn’t.  We are also learning what works as a vehicle for education and what works as a vehicle for communication. Recognizing there is no one platform that does everything we want in terms of both education and communication, we are working to fill the gaps.  We have appreciated your comments and your suggestions and are meaningfully considering them as we go.  For now, however, I thought it might be easier to frame where we currently are as a hypothetical FAQ built on real email questions we have received thus far:

What are the minimum expectations of what is supposed to be where?  Is everything on the blogs or do I need monitor email, the website, The Hadashot, etc?  

We are in the beginning of a major shift, but the consistency is not yet there.  Each teacher/grade-level team was given a rubric for their blogs with the minimum “must-haves” and they include homework, class events, quizzes, and major projects.  There are some distinctions between Lower School and Middle School – the Middle School Calendar we created on the homepage for Middle School is intended for major tests/projects (only) for example, but where we are headed is a place where the blogs become the primary (only) source for information.

It is a major transition in two ways.

The first is for students.  As they get older and take on greater executive functioning, learning to manage their workloads, where to find homework, etc., transitions from teacher/parent to teacher/student(/parent).  There will likely become a point where providing physical agenda books becomes obsolete (with exceptions of course). We are learning as a faculty how to function this way and learning how to help students make the transition.

The second is for parents. With a new website (finally!) going live this week, we can finally reorient our entire communication system.  If we treat the website as a blog (for school-wide and/or community-wide communication), then we can start using our Hadashot and all school social media to direct people to the right blog to find the rest of the story.  A picture, a headline, and a link should suffice to get people where they need to be.

What do I do if I have children in multiple grades?  Do I have to go into each blog and find each relevant thing?

Depending on what you are interested in, you can subscribe (there is a box on each page) to as many blogs as you wish (at which point you will receive an email when each subscribed blog has a new post) or use the social media (email and Constant Contact included) of your choice as a cue to click on what you are interested in.  We would highly suggest that you subscribe (at a minimum) to your children’s primary blog(s).  [We would love if you subscribed to all the blogs, but that depends on how much email you would like to receive.]  It is kind of like the difference between subscribing to my blog or waiting for me to use Facebook/Twitter to share the headline of this week’s post and choosing whether you want to click or not.  Of course the school can’t use email or social media to prompt you for everything.  You will need to rely on your discretion and your children as well.  There is also a piece of this which is about where your children need to go to find what they want/need and where you need to go.  Depending on your child (and you) those could be different things.  Having lived through this in other schools, I can assure you that you will eventually (sooner than you think!) adapt and adjust.

Did this help answer some of your questions or concerns?  If you have additional ones, I encourage you to comment on this blog post or email/call/drop in.  I will happily answer your questions and happily share out in future posts additional FAQs.

 

How will we know if a move to the blogosphere is right for OJCS?  The same way we (now) measure any significant initiative – do they bring us closer to our North Stars?  Does utilizing blogs help us…

…own our learning?

…learn better together?

…inspire Jewish journeys?

…provide a floor, but not a ceiling?

…experience ruach?

…be more responsible each to the other?

I would argue emphatically that it does.  But don’t take my word for it. Go see it for yourself!   The future is here and it is open, collaborative, reflective, transparent, personalized, transformative and limitless. Students coming out of OJCS will not only be prepared to participate in this world, they will be prepared to thrive and to lead.

The OJCS Announces $165,000 Professional Growth Gift

In our first faculty meeting this week, members of our NoTosh DesignTeam share our “Prototype Process” with the rest of the faculty.

This is not a flashback to a flashback! We are not reminding you of the $72,000 Innovation Grant we received from the Congregation Beth Shalom of Ottawa (CBSO) Legacy Fund to help fund some of the physical spaces we’ll need to continue to bring our innovative vision to life.  We are also not reminding you of the $50,000 Innovation Grant we received around this time last year from an anonymous family which helped fund the transformational work we recently finished with NoTosh (which lives on this year in the many powerful prototypes presently being prepared for pitches to bring teaching and learning at OJCS into greater alignment with our “North Stars”), the opportunity to double our iPads available in the school, the exciting shift towards providing teachers with Chromebooks so they can collaborate more effectively and model what learning looks like, and beginning just this week, our work with this year’s consultant, who happens to be my friend and former colleague Silvia Tolisano, whose new book the cohort of teachers working with Silvia have begun to read.

Silvia Tolisano beginning her work with a new cohort of teachers – and the full faculty – as we examine what learning is, where to find it, how to document it and learning to learn.

[I will have a lot more to discuss about Silvia’s work next week as it ties into the launch of our OJCS Blogosphere…]

No, this post is yet another example of how the work we are doing at the Ottawa Jewish Community School is not only transforming teaching and learning in our classrooms, but transforming the role of the school in our larger Jewish and educational communities.  The ripple effect of this work is not only inspiring current and prospective parents, but current and prospective donors.  We noticed this back in June when we observed:

Success begets success.  Numbers beget numbers.  A school in motion will stay in motion.  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.

And wow has that been true!

With over 170 students and our largest Kindergarten class (28) in years, and all the other optimistic indicators I wrote about at the very beginning of the year, we are off and running.  So what is going to keep us running to meet and surpass all our ambitious goals?

A school is only as great as its teachers, and its teachers can only excel if they are given opportunities to engage in meaningful, sustained, personalized, professional growth.  Twenty years of educational research shows that an investment in teachers is a (if not the) key lever in determining excellence and is among the few variables a school can completely control.

We know it is true

Part of our recent success can be attributed to how we have raised the bar of expectations for our teachers while providing them with coaching, resources and support they need to reach new heights.  In the course of a single year, even our veteran teachers have found renewed commitment to lifelong learning and our new teachers are brimming with ideas. What unites them in bringing our mission to life is a comprehensive commitment to professional learning.

Customized professional development

At OJCS, we believe what is good for our students is also good for our teachers.  In the same way we recognize that students are individuals with their own learning styles and motivations, we acknowledge that our teachers can also benefit from a similar action plan.  There are no “one-size-fit-all” approaches for meaningful growth. That is why, though still in its nascent stages, our goal is that each teacher has a well-developed individual Professional Growth Plan, developed in partnership with the administration and consisting of clear deliverables for mutual success.  These plans then allow the administration to understand common needs and determine what outside resources should be made available to our faculty.

Professional growth at OJCS is achieved through a blended and customized approach with various elements, from participation in conferences, to purchasing individual books and learning tools.

Importance of expert consultants

We have already discussed the impact of NoTosh and the beginnings of the work of Silvia.  In addition to those large initiatives, we have also begun smaller initiatives :

  • Teachers visit other schools
  • Teachers are assisted in achieving new degrees
  • New books are being purchased for our faculty library
  • Webinar access is being purchased for teacher training

Building a brighter future

Thanks to the generosity of one amazing family and the ongoing participation of our partners at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, this new gift of $165,000 over the next five years, the work will continue with customized development (e.g. webinars, conferences, site visits, etc.), and the best practices learned from the consultants will be implemented.  These are likely to include curriculum mapping and enhanced mentoring/coaching. Examples include: providing opportunities for Jewish and French Teachers to further develop their skills as teachers of second (and third) languages; and connecting teachers of Jewish Text to coaches through Prizmah.

For a school of our current and future size, an enhanced and sustained focus on professional development is required as a primary lever for future success.  This extraordinary gift will ensure that the OJCS Faculty has access to the latest research, current trends, coaching, conferences and materials necessary to provide the Jewish children of Ottawa with an innovative, world-class education and help secure the future of our Jewish community.

And, as we say…that’s #TheOJCSDifference

Not Another Article About Jewish Camping & Jewish Day School

This is typically the time of year when we wax philosophic about Jewish camping and lament that Jewish day schools can’t seem to capture the efficacy, niche, demand and profitability of our educational first cousins.

This is not that article.

(I did my version of that article a few years ago.)

This is not a knock on Jewish camping.

My personal story and Jewish journey are inextricably linked to Jewish camping.  But having just had occasion to visit many of our OJCS students at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa Summer Camp and to visit my own wife and children at Camp Ramah Darom, and being reminded of just how powerful those experiences can be, I want to name a few challenges that Jewish camping presents for families and for the Jewish day schools who enthusiastically support them.

I am convinced that one of the greatest challenges in Jewish education is identifying the vehicles of transferability from powerful experiences to meaningful Jewish choices.  And although I am partial to Jewish camping and Jewish day school as the two most likely candidates to produce said experiences, I have participated in amazing supplemental school classes, transformative youth group retreats and excellent adult education seminars.  There are opportunities abundant in Jewish education for creating connections – connections between people, connections to history and ideas, and connections to God.  However, the difficulty lies in linking those experiences to an ongoing engagement with Judaism between and after the power of those peak experiences fade.

Let’s look at a stereotypical peak Jewish camping experience.

Havdalah is a transcendent highlight for children (and teens and adults) attending Jewish summer camps.  It is amongst the most powerful events that take place at camp and for many Jewish children it takes place exclusively during the summer.  The same is true for daily/weekly prayer, Shabbat observance, kashrut (of some form or another) observance, etc.  For many Jewish children (and teens and adults) these rituals only exist during the summer months when they are not only viewed as normative, but as ultimate.   Likewise, for many day school kids, kashrut, blessings, prayer, speaking in Hebrew, study of Jewish text, etc. – these activities are imbued with meaning and purpose within the confines of the school walls, but for many they end with the closing school bell.  The power in camp and day school experiences lie in their ability to make normative [or even better “cool” – which camp particularly excels at] Jewish rituals and practices that are anything, but normative in children’s family, synagogue and Jewish communal lives.

Havdalah with your parents at home on a Saturday night while your friends are waiting for you to meet them at the movies cannot hold a candle (even a braided one) to havdalah under the twinkling stars in a redwood retreat, arm-in-arm with your newfound closest friends and a guitar strumming away.  The day school student who cannot use his/her Hebrew outside of school with friends and family will only find it so meaningful for so long.  It is difficult to replicate a magical sukkah experience at a home without one.  Etc.  The potential dissonance between what is lived in Jewish educational settings and what is lived in the family is well-known and is as difficult to breach now as it has been for the last half-century or more.

Jewish schools are on the front lines of this conversation.  Although there is a meaningful percentage of families whose primary concerns are Jewish Studies, there many families enrolled in our school because they are looking for a variety of things, a topnotch secular education being at the top of the list.  The fact that it also comes with a high-quality Jewish Studies program and is housed in a Jewish setting emphasizing Jewish values can mean anything from “also important” to “nice” depending on the family.  Even in the Jewish educational setting where families are arguably the most invested, we still struggle to find the motivation and vehicle for transference.

What can we do?

In our school, where we have explicitly named “We are always on inspiring Jewish journeys,” as one of our “North Stars” it begins with admissions and carries through to graduation.  During initial family interviews, we are candid with parents about our school’s agenda for the inculcation of Jewish ritual and practice.  It is really no different than the agenda we have for the inculcation of any other facet of our program.  We want our children to go home from school excited about everything they are learning and seeking to find meaningful ways of incorporating lessons learned into lives lived.  Unlike math or reading, however, we need to be willing to reach into families’ lives to provide encouragement and education to bring the Jewish Studies curriculum to life.  Nurturing the relationships that allow that process to occur is, perhaps, the most important, fulfilling, and sacred aspect of our work.

Finding the way to sow the seeds for Jewish journeys is the secret sauce that can connect the dots from summer’s peak Jewish experiences to the school-year’s rich and rigorous Jewish education to families’ Jewish lives, enriching and enhancing each in turn.  As we prepare in the weeks ahead to welcome our children home from camp and to welcome them back to school, let’s work together to help our children appreciate that being actively engaged Jewishly is a year-round and lifelong endeavour.

Pre-Pre-Planning for 2018-2019

Happy summer!  This is a peek at what the building looks like without students, parents, and most of our teachers.  We are very excited about what it is going to look like by the time y’all come back in September. But that is another story for another blog post…

While we hope our students are enjoying the beginning of their summers, we at the school are enjoying the beginning of our plans to make 2018-2019 our best school year yet.  And to kick it off, I wanted to share a little of what we did together on your first two days of summer vacation.  After spending a day cleaning out rooms and wrapping up 2017-2018 with an amazing Staff Party, we officially opened the 2018-2019 school year with two days of what we call “Pre-Pre-Planning”. Let’s take a peek at what we did.

Thursday, June 28

9:00 AM – Welcome Activities

We opened our time together with a fun mixer and ended with our co-constructing an official OJCS Faculty Summer Playlist: “Looking to find your teacher groove this summer?  Here are some tunes to inspire reflection, relaxation, rejuvination as you celebrate a well-deserved summer break and begin dreaming next year’s dreams. Brought to you by the 2018-2019 OJCS Faculty…”  Listen along with us this summer!

9:30 AM  – Steeping in our Values: North Stars  

Having ended the year with greater clarity around our value proposition and having shared out our “North Stars” we can take a breath and prepare to begin to live our values.  So with our friends from NoTosh we spent some together thinking through important questions: What are they?  What do they mean to you?  How might they guide decision making now and in the future?  What aspects of current practice will we start, stop or keep doing?

We ended the session with our teachers making “mud maps” – three-dimensional visual representations of how they can connect their practice to the stars and how to connect the stars to each other. This was a chance for the full faculty to do an activity that we did as a design team.  We used data from the earlier conversation and a selection of toys to represent connects, insights, problems, questions.  A lot of creative ideas were generated which will surely translate to prototypes for the fall.

11:00 AM – The OJCS Book Club

Each member of the faculty will choose (at least) ONE book from the list to read this summer that will contribute to professional growth.  We will each bring ONE artifact from that learning (a blog, a PowerPoint, a video, etc.) that describes how it will impact our practice next year to be used in a pre-planning activity when we resume in August.  Want to read along with us?

1:00 PM – Chromebooks, Desktops, & SMART Boards (Oh My)!

We look forward to welcoming our teachers to the 21st century next year when we are able issue faculty laptops to all our teachers!  Our ability to work more efficiently and collaboratively will have tremendous impact on teaching and learning next year.  Next conversation?  What kinds of devices should the school expect students to have and what kinds of devices should the school be providing to students?  Stay tuned.

2:00 PM – Spiritual Check-In

It is always important for us to engage in torah lishmah as a faculty and Rabbi Finkelstein led us on an engaging and meaty text study to round out a great first day together.

Friday, June 29th 

9:00 AM – The Prototype Feedback Loop 

A number of our teachers ran mini-prototypes during the last months of school.  We took some time together for those teachers to share more broadly with the full faculty what happened and to solicit feedback.  It was very important to signal that no matter where they were at by this time, that taking the lead and sharing their successes and failures is crucial for the school to demonstrate that the values that have been established will continue to be our north stars for years to come.  We were inspired by just how much got accomplished in such a short time and how much is to come in 2018-2019.

2:30 PM – Lower School Team & Middle School Team Meetings

We ended our days together by meeting in these groupings.  It may not seem significant, but our ability next year to meet in these groupings regularly is going to make a huge difference in terms of overall behavior management and social engineering, coordination of homework/tests/projects, and improving the quality of communication.

All in all it was a wonderful two days and we left inspired about what is to come…

What have we been up to since then?  All the fun stuff we can’t do when we are busy enjoying students, parents and teachers!  Working on the building, working on curriculum, revising handbooks, revisiting procedures, working on the WEBSITE, investigating new virtual platforms, growing ourselves, and, of course, taking some time to rest and relax as we, too, need to recharge our batteries.

Four quick updates to close:

  • We are very close to being finished with hiring for next year!  So instead of doing it piecemeal, we will wait until it is complete and then look forward to sharing out the good news of who is joining our team next year.
  • We apologize for any confusion or frustration at not having our report cards ready to go by the last day of school.  I won’t go into an explanation or offer excuses.  They have now all gone out and we will ensure that this does not happen again in future years.
  • Returning and new families can look forward to a July mailing that will include all the important dates and information needed to ease back to school in September.
  • I am looking forward to seeing many of your children when I go up to Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa (CBB) next week.  I am prototyping an “OJCS @ CBB” experience to show a little love for our students and to build a stronger bridge between our community’s school and our community’s camp.  Look for pictures on social media!

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.

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.

Taking a Leap of Fact

There they are…these are some actual members of our current Class of 2030.

All the talk and rhetoric about what we could be, what we ought to be – it is all for these children.  They are not an educational theory to be debated; they are flesh and blood children to be educated.  What we do now matters not in the abstract realm of philosophy, but in the practical realm of whether these girls and boys will be prepared for success in the 21st century in all the ways academic, social and Jewish that can be defined.  They – and all of the children in our school – are what it is really about.  They are the reminder and the inspiration; the goal and the promise.

January this year brings us a wonderful confluence of events – the publication and mailing of enrollment materials for the 2018-2019 academic year and the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat – a holiday celebrating, among many things, the planting of seeds and the harvesting of fruits.  I always marvel when the rhythm of Jewish living intersects with the rhythm of school life – it never fails to create meaningful and new connections.

And so the time has come to see how well we have sown the seeds of confidence and competence; love and caring; rigor and renewal; energy and enthusiasm – have we begun to deliver on the rightfully lofty academic, spiritual, emotional and social expectations our children and parents have for us?

You are likely familiar with the phrase, “leap of faith”.  A “leap of faith” is predicated on the notion that one cannot really know (at least in scientific terms) religious truth and so in the end it is a matter of faith.  You believe…because you believe.

However, as admissions and enrollment packets find their ways into parents’ hands, all of us involved in the sacred and holy task of educating children look to this time of year and hope that we have nurtured the seeds we have sown with success.  We are not looking for parents to make a leap of faith and enroll their children in our schools. We are looking for parents to make a leap of fact and enroll their children in our schools – confident that our school is the right place for their children to receive the education they want and deserve.

The seeds were planted during the summer.  They were watered and nurtured during the fall and into the winter.  As winter moves on (and on and on) and slowly moves towards spring, the faculty, staff, administration, lay leaders, donors, and supporters of the Ottawa Jewish Community School look forward to a rich and satisfying harvest.

We look forward to many, many leaps of fact.

Speaking of facts…

…our work with NoTosh – which we described at length prior to Winter Break launched this week with a first site visit.  We debriefed the project with the full faculty and had our first Design Team meeting.  We look forward to sharing more as the work develops!

…our Grade 9 Alumni Survey has closed (our Grade 12 has another week of collection to go) and we look forward to sharing the results. We are working  on the “French outcomes” deliverable first announced here, but there are other important data points about how well (or not) OJCS prepared students for all aspects of high school that we’d like to share out as well.  [All current Grades 2 & 3 Families, any current francophone families or any prospective family who has questions or concerns about French at OJCS should “save the date” for February 8th.  Our “French Town Hall” will take place that evening; still tweaking the time.  Stay tuned.  Or restez à l’écoute.]

…our work with the Rabbinic Advisory Committee is moving forward as well.  We are currently working through elements of tefillah that will ensure we deliver on our promises of strengthening the “J” in “OJCS”.

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…

Thinking About Kindergarten? Readiness + Fit = Success

With the temperature dropping and Winter Break looming, we are entering prime time for parents – particularly parents of pre-kindergarten aged children – to explore and make decisions about schooling.  With this age in particular, these conversations typically focus on two important ideas: “readiness” and “fit”.  With regard to “fit” the research is clear: the most important factor in determining a child’s future academic success isn’t the school, but the fit between the child and the school.

“Readiness,” however, is more slippery.

Young children’s development is irregular and episodic, and difficult to accurately assess, particularly using conventional tests at a single point in time.  Their performance is highly susceptible to immediate and transitory circumstances and can also be affected by physical health, nutrition, and living conditions.  Over time, these contextual factors may also affect their knowledge, skills, and behavior. Children’s pre-kindergarten experiences are highly unequal, whether in the home and community or in preschool programs.  Thus, the “supply” of readiness skills children bring to kindergarten varies widely.  However, the impact of these variations depends on the demands that kindergarten and grade one place on children, and these also are variable.  There is a lack of agreement regarding the implicit and explicit demands of teachers, schools, provincial standards, and readiness tests.  Children who are seen as ready in one classroom or community—whether the result of a cutoff date or specific assessment—may not be similarly viewed elsewhere.

Let’s bring “fit” and “readiness” together.  A definition of readiness must encompass what is “good enough” in each domain, while recognizing the unevenness of early development.  Every child need not meet the highest readiness standard in every domain, and a distribution of abilities is to be expected.  Despite our best efforts, some children will be less well-prepared than others.  By carefully defining readiness in terms of expectations for children and schools, it may be possible to improve the preparation of both, and create a much better match between children and schools so that more children succeed and maximize their learning during the kindergarten and grade one years.

That’s why it is so important for parents to really get the feel of the different schools they are considering for their child(ren).

Here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we are excited to think about all the wonderful new faces we are meeting and will be meeting as parents go about their due diligence to discover which is the right school for their child(ren).  We are always honored to be included in the search and we are confident that for many children, we will be that right choice – that best fit.  We are confident that no one will know your child better than us and no one will be better able to ensure that there truly will be a floor, but no ceiling for your child.