And the winner is…all of us! (Part II)

It was wonderful to hear the positive feedback from both parents AND teachers to the publication of the results from our First Annual Parent Survey (found here)!

Continuing with the theme of transparency, I want to now follow up and share results and ideas about how our school performed on its standardized testing.  (We take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS)).  I actually find the Wikipedia description easier to understand than the company’s own website summary.)  I began this conversation here during the time we were actually taking the tests.  I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) my philosophy on test-taking and how we planned on both sharing the tests with parents and utilizing the data in our decision-making.

We have already gone ahead and done that which we said we would – mail out to parents all test results which fully resembled the children who took them AND met privately with parents whose children’s results required expert contextualization.  All conversations we have had with parents about testing have been fruitful.  All the data has been tabulated, filed, and prepared for dissemination with next year’s faculty who look forward to utilizing it to help each student in our school reach their maximum potential.

I wasn’t prepared to show grade and school results – not because I was concerned we might not have done well (but if I don’t show them again next year, you’ll know why!  🙂 ) – but because I really do believe that individual growth is the most appropriate metric for our school to use.  However, after our 21st Century Learning Consultant, Siliva Tolisano, put together a few infographics about our results, one was so striking that I changed my mind.  Here’s why:

My thinking has been influenced by conversations I have been having with colleagues about the different challenges Jewish day schools often have from their secular private school (and/or magnet and/or charter and/or suburban public school) neighbors.  I sometimes think biggest difference comes down to a philosophy of admissions.  Most Jewish day schools attempt to cast the widest net possible, believing it is our mission to provide a Jewish day school education to all who may wish one.  We do not, often, restrict admission to a subset of the population who score X on an admissions test and we do not, often, adjust birthday cutoffs to maximize academic achievement. However, the schools who we are most often compared to in terms of academic achievement often do one or both.  Then, if you factor in whether or not you exempt special needs students from the testing and whether or not you explicitly teach to the test, you may have quite an uneven playing field to say the least.

To reframe and reset the discussion:

Jewish day schools have an inclusive admissions policy, but are expected to compete equally with elite private (and magnet and charter and suburban public) schools who have exclusive admissions policies (or homogeneous populations).

In light of all of that – if a Jewish day school with an inclusive admissions policy, a non-exempted special needs population, and a commitment to “not teach to test” – if that kind of school could demonstrate that it was achieving secular academic excellence on par with elite schools; schools who advertise as “grade ahead schools” and often use the birthday cutoff as a means to achieving it, well to me that would be news worth sharing.  And so…without further adieu:

The bottom line of this graphic is…each grade in the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School is operating at least a grade and a half ahead in core secular academics.  There are grades whose averages are significantly higher than that, but let the boldface sink in for a bit.  Too much time dedicated to Jewish Studies?  Nope – a high-quality Jewish Studies programs enhances secular academics.  Too much time dedicated to Skyping or Tweeting?  Nope – a 21st century learning paradigm not only impacts student motivation, but leads to higher student achievement.

I can sense the tone of triumphalism in my writing and, although I am extremely proud of our students and teachers for their achievements, I do not wish to sound boastful.  But with state of Jewish day school education being what it is, when there is good news to share…share it one must!  Yes, this is just one isolated case of one Jewish day school at one moment of time – our school has to continue to excel year after year in order for the data to take on statistical significance.  [And there are amazing Jewish day schools achieving excellence throughout North America – I am a zealot to the cause and freely admit it!]

I firmly believe that Jewish day schools with dual-curricula and 21st century pedagogy and philosophy produce unmatched excellence in secular academics.  Here in our school, we will have to prove it year after year, subject after subject, and student after student in order to live up to our mutually high expectations, but what an exciting challenge it shall be coming to school each day to tackle!

So…in Part I we discussed parents and in Part II we discussed students.  Coming next week in Part III?  The teachers.  Stay tuned!

And the winner is…all of us! (Part I)

This will be Part I of making sure we keep the transparency promises we made back at the beginning of this extraordinary year…first up: The Annual Parent Survey!

A couple of months ago, parents in our school had an opportunity to provide anonymous feedback through an online survey.  We anticipate this being a yearly occurrence and an important one at that.  Beyond the opportunities I have had to meet collectively and privately with families all throughout the year; beyond the admissions and exit interviews performed by our Admissions Director; beyond the feedback picked up at Parent-Teacher Conferences; even beyond all the fun things that get discussed in the parking lot – it is important to also offer a totally anonymous opportunity for parents to share their thoughts and assess the school.  I look forward making this a yearly event AND to begin to chart our results over time to even better assess our performance.

Parents were asked to fill out separate surveys for multiple children in the school and we received back responses from 55% of current students in the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.  Without further ado…let’s begin!

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, responses are skewed towards the younger grades not only because that’s were most of our students are presently located, but also because of the enthusiasm newer families often bring (not that we’re not all enthusiastic!).  OK – so we know who took the survey…how did we do?!

Let’s first look at the BIG PICTURE:

That’s pretty great!  On scale of 1-10, our average score wound up being 7.7.  We’d love to be a 10 out of 10 for every parent in each facet of schooling, but this both tells us we are doing pretty well and that we have some room to grow.  Let’s dig deeper.  Next up…Communication.

When it comes to communication, we have pretty high marks altogether – with the highest marks coming in communication via electronic means and the lowest marks coming in providing opportunities for parents to be involved in student learning.  We look forward to new ideas for improving parent partnerships coming from this data.   Let’s move on and look at our Administration.

You should know that I am engaged in my own evaluative process – this data along with surveys from my teachers and colleagues as well as my own self-evaluation are being compiled as we speak.  I appreciate the high marks, but recognize that I still have a lot of room to grow as a school leader and the candor many of you provided in your open-ended responses will be a useful tool towards that end.  Although it is still a fairly high number (7.62) [Don’t be fooled by the X-axis!], I will work harder next year to ensure there is even greater confidence in our application of the student code of conduct.  And now most importantly…academics!

This first part is non-subject specific:

(Hopefully you can read it or you can blow it up if it is a tad small…)

Our highest marks in this area came in 21st century technology…this is no surprise with the amount of emphasis we put on it.  I was pleased by the high mark (7.77) for individualized attention.  One area of (relative) concern and something I expect to be much higher next year is teaching in different styles (6.98).  Differentiated instruction is a core philosophy of our program and I expect this number to rise and rise each year.

Next up!  General Studies:

Overall, we scored very well.  Where public perception is slightly lower, we find one of those happy confluences where our own internal assessment mirrors the parents.  Our lowest marks in General Studies came in Math (6.71) and Science (6.87). With a move to Singapore Math next year, we fully expect that number to climb.  We also intend to provide more regular Science Lab opportunities to children in the elementary school next year.  This should help in that area as well.

We will be revisiting General Studies academics in next week’s Part II…when I will be sharing how we did in our standardized testing this year and now to best understand the results.  (Spoiler Alert: We did great!)

Here are the results for Jewish Studies, Resources and Extracurricular activities:

We are thrilled with high marks for Jewish Studies and our wonderful PE, Music and Art departments!  Field trips and service learning scored excellently as well.  Our lowest mark was in Afterschool Activities (6.19).  We are hoping that two new programs we are launching next year – an Enhanced Kindergarten Program and a new partnership with the JCA (that’s right…stay tuned!) – will help to even better serve this population.

And so there you have it.  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.  They added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  But please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern as we use this data to make enhancements and improvements headed into next 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 fully expect these numbers to be (say it with me!) just “a floor, but no ceiling”!

Mentor in a Speedo

I have seen a lot of tweets, likes, and comments to this March 30th NY Times op-ed article, “What I Learned at School” by Marie Myung-OK Lee.  In light of the heated national conversation about education and teachers currently taking place – those of us who care about education feel compelled to make the case in a variety of ways.  The most personal way is to share stories.  Sharing stories is amongst the most unique and special things human beings have to offer each other and the world.  I was asked this week to share a story about a day school teacher who touched my life…which I cannot do because I am not a product of the day school world.  [See my prior blog posts here and here for a more intimate look at my Jewish upbringing.  See here for my thoughts on current events.]  But I have been deeply influenced a particular mentor in the field of Jewish education and I thought in the spirit of the moment, I would write about that relationship.

[As a side experiment, I have looked up my mentor on Google, but have not contacted him in at least five years or more.  I’ll be curious to see if this blog post finds him…and even more curious if he appreciates the portrait I have painted!  In the spirit of transparency, I’m taking risks and naming names!  If I hear anything, I’ll update the post.]

[As an aside to the side experiment, I am going to forgo blogging convention and not muddle the portrait with a zillion links to the websites of all the organizations I am about to shamelessly namedrop.  They can all be researched should you wish to know more.]

[As a postscript to the aside to the side experiment, I’ll return next week with some thoughts about adventures in standardized testing and getting ready for Passover…probably not in the same post.]

 

I have many fond memories of my foremost professional mentor, Dr. David Ackerman, but unfortunately the one that leaps out is the image of him sporting a Speedo at the pool or on the beach during the two and a half weeks we traveled together in Israel during the summer of 1998.  At the time, I was the Director of Teen Programs for the Bureau of Jewish Education-Greater Los Angeles, and as such responsible for the BJE-LA Ulpan Summer-in-Israel program.  Dr. Ackerman was my immediate supervisor at the Bureau – a relationship that had already repeated itself in a remarkable variety of work and educational settings over just three years.

My first memory of Dr. Ackerman was on my tour of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, where I was applying for a Masters in Education.  Truthfully, I was really only there because I was already in town applying for the same degree at Hebrew Union College (HUC).  Not to repeat myself and to make an exceedingly long story as short as I can, I had been raised in the Reform community of Fremont – a suburban town in the East Bay of Northern California.  My parents were (and are) committed liberal Jews who prided themselves on synagogue affiliation, attendance and participating, but found ritual practice largely unnecessary.  I followed in their footsteps as an active member of our NFTY chapter, avid Reform summer camp attendee, and then as I moved into college, Reform summer camp staff person.  During my senior year at UC Berkeley, I decided that I enjoyed engaging in Jewish activities not only during the summer and that perhaps it would be a fulfilling career indeed to become a Jewish professional.  After a wilderness year, I decided that Jewish Education was the career for me, and then began to think about graduate school.  Hebrew Union College was the logical destination as the Reform movement’s graduate school, so application and interviews for HUC-LA were made.  It was only as an afterthought that I decided to visit LA’s other Jewish seminary, the University of Judaism which was more closely aligned with Conservative Judaism.

And so, straight out of mid-90’s liberal Northern California, I arrived on the campus of the University of Judaism.  I went small “c” conservative by wearing actual pants, putting my long hair back into a ponytail, and opting for studs instead of hoops in my multi-pierced ears.  I had only been paying mild attention to events until it was time for my one-on-one with Dr. David Ackerman.  He was in his first year as the Dean of the UJ’s Fingerhut School of Education at the time and what struck me most in our first meeting and has stayed with me ever since is his incredible capacity for inflicting calm.  His demeanor is almost always mild-mannered and unassuming.  I would learn later as colleagues that there is a degree calculation in his affect, but that came later.  In his calm way, in the course of a thirty-minute meeting, he convinced me to leave my comfortable Reform surroundings behind and embrace the risk, challenge, and excitement of living and learning a completely different way of being Jewish.

Over the next five years, Dr. Ackerman was there to mentor me academically, personally, and professionally.  I was the only student in my class to have Dr. Ackerman as his or her student teaching advisor.  I was placed in the school he had most recently run before assuming the deanship.  As I struggled to fit in at the UJ, he was there to smooth out my many, many rough edges.  He used to regale us with stories of crazy students and out of control parents from his former professional life and again and again impressed upon us the need for maintaining outward calm in the face of all sorts of chaos.

We were the only class that Dr. Ackerman recruited and graduated in his too-brief time at the UJ.  Fortunately, for me, upon leaving the UJ, Dr. Ackerman took a position at the BJE in LA and promptly hired me in my first full-time position in the field.  And that is how I found myself amused to see my mentor strutting on the beach in Tel Aviv in a Speedo.  It is also how I got new insights as to how he really thought and worked.  I got to see moments of candor, episodes of anger, and the occasional profane word or story.  They were all object lessons that I would try to bring into my own work in the field.

Time went on and I eventually left the BJE to move to New York and began the career that led me here to Jacksonville, with five wonderful years in Las Vegas sandwiched between.  Occasionally during my time in New York, I would check in with Dr. Ackerman – David, I guess by now, for advice on this issue or the other.  He helped me decide on my next educational step and even provided thoughts on possible dissertation topics.  If I ever write a book, he is sure to get a shout-out on the dedication page.

We have very different personalities to be sure.  But whenever in my career I am confronted with a difficult parent or a challenging student or concern over enrollment bubbles up or when board members worry over lack of fundraising (none of which, of course, happen here!), there is a piece of Dr. David Ackerman instilled in me that allows me to channel an outward calm that would otherwise not be there.  It doesn’t always come through and it doesn’t always work, but when it does, I think about him and silently thank him.  And hope he has moved on to more appropriate swimwear.

Watching Wisconsin

Achoo!

I have been suffering through allergies here in my new hometown of Jacksonville and the sleepless nights have provided me a window to watch an inordinate amount of cable news.  The budget fight in Wisconsin, whatever you may think of it, has shined a spotlight on the teaching profession in America and I have been astounded by the degree of hostility being displayed towards teachers and the fundamental misconceptions of what teachers actually do.

I am biased.

I am married to a public school teacher.  My mother was a public school teacher.  I went to public schools and attended a public university with the intent of becoming a public school teacher.  But as much as this particular debate is to do with the costs of public education, the brush being painted of the teaching profession tars all – public, private, charter, and alternative.  And I think it does real damage.

To me this is not terribly complicated or at all political.  If we ever want to get serious about new forms of education (not reform, but new forms) we will need to hold the teaching profession in high regard.  I don’t know how tearing it down can lead to anything productive.  No one goes into education for the money.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t well-compensated educators (and by the by, why would there be something wrong with that?), but those whose sole purpose in choosing a profession is making money surely do not choose to be teachers.

Teaching is noble, but not all teachers may be noble.  I am not naive.  There should be accountability in teaching and I don’t pretend to know how to address that in public schools with union contracts because that simply is not my world.  It is hard enough to do in a private school.  But I do know that whatever legitimate frustration there is about a lack of accountability in the public sector ought not delegitimate the entire profession.

I wrote in an early blog post of my belief that teaching is a sacred profession.  I mean that literally; I believe that teaching is a religious act.  I believe this to be true of all teaching – not the teaching of religious subjects or by religious people – that an inner-city math lesson is as much a religious act as is a Rabbinics Class in a Jewish Day School.  Because so much of teaching is relational (with your students, your parents, your colleagues, etc.) and because in order to relate you must acknowledge the divine in others, I really believe that teaching is in and of itself “religious”.  [You can substitute “spiritual” if it makes you more comfortable.]  I do not think it is an accident that many teachers consider their work a “calling” and not a “career”.

And so to the teachers who have been called and the parents who partner with them, I offer words from one of my most favorite books on teaching:

“One of the great sorrows in human life is the discovery, too late, of our own beauty and of the beauty of much that we do.  Such is often the case with teachers, as we contemplate ourselves and our vocation.  At the deepest level, every teacher wants to become a better teacher, even a great teacher; in moments of insight, every teacher is aware of hidden gifts of creativity and imagination.

“But often the pressures, deadlines, and exigencies of dailiness keep teachers from standing back and viewing their work with the care both they and their work deserve.  Often when there might be times at faculty meetings or on in-service days, demands for the newest, the latest, and the updated can get in the way and preclude the possibility of standing back, of being still and recalling the excitement and lure which drew us to teaching in the first place.

“We need an arena, a context, and an occasion to contemplate our teaching and to recover, if we have lost them, the dreams and the hopes, the vision and the grandeur that lie at the core of teaching.  We need an opportunity to rediscover the creative, artistic teachers we are and were meant to be.” – Maria Harris, from Teaching & Religious Imagination.

I hope teaching on our faculty provides such an opportunity…

 

 

Wordle Up!

The smell of crispy latkes and sugary doughnuts is starting to slowly recede from the building as another Chanukah has come and gone.  We are now in that unique window between Chanukah and Winter Break – when both student and teacher eagerly anticipates a much-needed vacation after all the hard work and effort that has been poured into a most exciting and successful beginning to our year.  A few interesting threads are coming together at a moment when our secular calendar affords us an opportunity for reflection. (The nice thing about a shared identity is that we have plenty of holidays, new years, and chances to reflect!)

Under the leadership of our 21st Century Learning Team of Silvia Tolisano and Andrea Hernandez we hosted a conversation of local (and not-so-local) Technology and Curriculum Coordinators this past week at our school.  [The meeting grew out of our recent experience at the FCIS (Florida Council of Independent Schools) Conference of having so many of our teachers present on how we are utilizing a 21st Century Learning approach at our school and receiving such positive feedback.]  We are proud, especially for a school our size, to play a leadership role in our local community.  So…the thread of “21st Century Learning” and “Curriculum 21” was made more explicit for me this week.

Another thread has been the beginning of our formal observation period.  I am in the midst of observing and conversing with all our teachers about the work that they do.  It is amongst my favorite (and, yes, time-consuming) tasks because we get to focus in on what we all are here for – teaching and learning.  So far I have been pleased with what I am seeing and enjoying the opportunity for dialogue.

I am also finishing up the first “semester” of my “Parent University” class for parents of students in our school.  It has been a wonderful first experience and I promise that I am learning at least much as I am teaching.  I am looking forward to continuing to study with my two groups and hopefully adding some new people after Winter Break.  Another thread…

What I will use to tie it together will be a Wordle

I realize that I am late to Wordle, but having seen a few teachers make use of it during their observations, I’m discovering it for the first time and loving it.  In a nutshell, Wordle (through an algorithm only it knows) takes any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  What is great about it, is not only can you cut-and-paste in any written document, you can type in blogs, websites, etc., and it will go back and search them for content, add it all up, and spit out a Wordle representing the sum of  all its written content.

So…as an experiment in the spirit of reflection, I created a Wordle of this blog:

How awesome is that?

Is it a perfect reflection of the blog?  Probably not (mine has “Christmas” larger than “Chanukah”!), but it hits most of the high notes.  It helps me realize what I’ve been emphasizing (or over-emphasizing) or what is missing that perhaps I thought was there.  Either way it really gets you thinking…

Of course, I immediately thought of a thousand fun ways to use Wordle – should I check every classroom blog that way?  My dissertation?  The Torah?  Our school’s Behavior Code of Conduct?

How fun!

So…let’s Wordle Up!  Find a text that is meaningful to you, create a Wordle, and find a way to share it.  The wordle is waiting!

Putting Your Cards On The Table

We have our first Professional Day coming up in January and our team is preparing for a wonderful day of reflection and collaboration.  As this day approaches, we also find ourselves in the middle of our first round of formal observations.  This is my opportunity to formally visit classrooms, observe teachers in action, reflect with them about their lessons to deepen the dialogue on what we are all here for – teaching and learning.

In the meanwhile, our students are busy working on our digital portfolio project – with a heavy emphasis in Grades K, 5 & 8.  In the older grades, as part of the project, they are beginning to identify and express that which is most important to them at this age and stage.  They are learning to label and share their core beliefs.

There is an exciting conflation of ideas between these activities – reflective practice and digital portfolios – that will serve as the foundation for our upcoming Professional Day. We are going to spend some time identifying our own core beliefs about education – what do we really believe is at the heart of teaching and learning?  Before we can move forward with a shared vision, we have to be clear about what we presently believe to be true.  I am looking forward to candid conversations and surprising connections as we collectively make explicit our implicit beliefs about education.

I am certainly part of the equation and in the spirit of being the first one to jump in the pool, I thought I would use this opportunity to share my vision (at least of this static moment).  To stimulate my thinking, I tried to make explicit my vision of an “MJGDS Graduate” and my vision of “How to Lead a School”.  There could be other prompts, but these were the ones that spoke to me.  Let me share mine first and then provide some closing thoughts after…

Vision of a MJGDS Graduate

I believe that Jewish Day Schools, including the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, should strive to achieve three overarching goals for its graduates:

  • Students will be academically prepared for advanced and rigorous study at the next school of their choice.
  • Students will see education and Jewish education as lifelong endeavors in which they are active participants.
  • Students develop a sense of independence, positive self-esteem, and are encouraged to reach their truest and highest potential.

MJGDS with its commitment to differentiated instruction through an integrated curriculum is uniquely qualified to provide its students with the critical thinking skills necessary to be successful in their high schools of choice upon graduation.  With a proven track record of placement into independent high schools, magnet high schools, and a variety of honors and gifted programs, MJGDS demonstrates that not only does a high-quality Jewish Studies program not hamper students’ secular academics, but rather it provides a unique opportunity to enhance them.  The ability to integrate critical thinking skills across multiple disciplines helps ensure that MJGDS graduates possess a foundation for future academic success and a lifelong love of learning.

American values are not necessarily Jewish values and vice versa.  Integration cannot be imposed by the school; it is constructed by the student.  Jewish education does not reflect a synthesis of the secular and Judaic, but rather an interaction.  Academic excellence within the disciplines only serves as a prerequisite.  Schools have a responsibility to let students struggle with authentic examples of these interactions as they exist in the world around them.  Jewish education has a stake in the choices students make.  Schools must make clear which choices are considered more preferable than others and why.  What those desired choices are and why they should be so desired will naturally differ from school to school.  The basic pedagogic principle, however, ought to be consistent.  Students learn best by doing.  Jewish students learn to make Jewish choices best by choosing.  MJGDS’ commitment to bringing Jewish values and repair of the world to life for our students is reflected through formal Jewish studies, living Jewish ritual practice, and hands-on social programs.  This surely sets the stage for future Jewish connectedness and communal participation on behalf of its graduates.

Vision of How to Lead a School

To be a Head of School is to have primary responsibility for enacting the mission of his/her school as determined by its primary stakeholders: board, parents, professionals, students, donors, and community partners.  Being a Head of School requires infinite pragmatism and the ability to actualize a varied set of skills across ever-shifting contexts.  One has to see both the forest through the trees (focus on the mission) and the trees through the forest (focus on the details) in order to be successful.  The job requires one to be comfortable functioning as a bundle of contradictions – knowing when to listen and when to speak; when to inspire and when to be inspired; when to act and when not acting is the best course of action; when to lead and when to allow others to lead; etc.  Context – and the ability to recognize contextual cues – is paramount.

The context of MJGDS is unique and leading it will be different from leading any other school.  Active listening, an important skill in any school, will be particularly important when coming into an established school with a track record of success and institutional memory.  I  will look to bring all my passion and enthusiasm for education and Judaism to bear in order to maintain all that is already excellent and to explore all that may be possible.

So…for teachers and staff, the questions might be “What would a graduate of your your class and program look like”?  “What is your vision for a Third Grade Jewish Studies Teacher”  “What is your vision for a Librarian?”

For parents, it would be fascinating to know what their vision for their children’s educations would be.  It would also be fascinating to have parents share their “Vision for How to Be a Day School Parent”.

For students, it would be a exciting to hear their visions for their own educations and how they envision what it means to be a student.

Our teachers and staff will have their opportunity to work on these vision statements come January (hint, hint!).  But I encourage everyone and anyone – parent, student, lay leader, donor, community stakeholder – to spend a few minutes thinking about your dreams and hopes for the school and for your role in the school.  And then take that extra step and SHARE it – post a comment, send me an email, pop by my office for a cup of coffee, raise a flare, anything – because the first step in sorting and organizing our cards into a shared vision of the future is to put them on the table.

Does it matter what school a student attends?

Last night we had a wonderful first recruiting session for the 2011-2012 school year! Woo-hoo!  We had a nice turnout from prospective parents as well as current parent ambassadors and teachers.  It was our first opportunity to tell the good news about all the exciting things going on in our school.  The primary focus was on Kindergarten and we were proud to be able to premiere two exciting new items:

Thanks to the hard work of our Admissions & Marketing Director, Talie Zaifert, we debuted a brand new video of a “A Day in the Life of Kindergarten”.

We also debuted the first of what will be a nine-part rollout of complete benchmarks & standards for each grade in our school.  Our teachers have been hard at work and the first one, Kindergarten, is now available!

Martin J. Gottlieb Day School Kindergarten Benchmarks & Standards

The rest will be ready to hit enrollment packets in the next few weeks.  We are pleased to be able to begin to live up to the high bar that has been raised for us – we consider this under the category, “Promises Made; Promises Kept”.  Hopefully, it will be the first of many.

During my spiel last night, I found myself repeating something that I say often to parents during recruiting events: that the research indicates that 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.  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).  I say this year after year, and I wholeheartedly believe it is true.  I also believe it is one of my more convincing talking points which resonates with parents.  Of course it would be useful if it was in fact empirically true as well!

Well, it just so happens that as I was going through some old files, I found a paper that I wrote in 2003 while finishing my doctoral coursework entitled “Does it matter which school a student attends?”  Who knew?  (Apparently not me!)  At the time, I was taking advantage of the consortium between the Jewish Theological Seminary and Teachers College and took a class in the “Sociology of Education”.  This is long before I ever considered working in Jewish Day School!

I wonder if it somehow stuck in my head all these years (as things tend to do in this head of mine), but it is nice to know that there is some actual research to back up what I’ve been telling parents all these years.  I would never inflict an old academic paper on anyone (I cannot find the grade, but I suppose it was least passing!), but if you would like to see for yourself the proof behind the anecdote (or just some light reading to help you fall asleep), by all means enjoy!

Does it matter which school a student attends?

In the meanwhile, 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.  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.

Transparency as Pedagogy

“A Floor, But No Ceiling?”  Sure…but what about walls?

I had an interesting conversation this morning with our Admissions & Marketing Director and one of our 21st Century Learning Teachers…

We believe we are striking out on a relatively uncharted path when it comes to 21st Century Learning because we believe it is the (only) best way forward to improving the quality and relevance of what we do.  There are many facets to this approach which have been blogged about by me and certainly much better and with much more detail by others (start with our own school’s blog for 21st century learning and dig as deep you wish).  One important component of the paradigm shift is the emphasis on transparency. What does it mean to be transparent?  Transparency can mean more than one thing, but you cannot tear down the walls and expect that people will only peer in.

This came up because we are struggling to apply a 20th century media release to a 21st century school.  It was simple to know which students could be included in newspaper and bulletin articles and which could not.  It was simple to know which names you could publish with a photo and which had to be left nameless.  When “media” was exclusively print, it wasn’t complicated.  And even when websites were created, they were largely static and so it wasn’t much different.  But now?  What happens when a student wants to comment on a teacher blogpost?  What happens when a student’s voice is captured in a podcast?  What happens if in order to participate in a 21st century learning experience you have to be part of a global conversation?

What I think it boils down to is this…transparency is no longer an expression of customer service or an opportunity for savvy public relations.  Transparency is now pedagogy – and that is where the paradigm shift occurs.  When you tear down the walls, you encourage interactivity not just because it is fun to know that other people may see or read or hear or watch what you are doing, but because their feedback to your work becomes part of the process of doing your work.  Transparency becomes pedagogy.

There are implications and they are not all easily resolved.  Take for example the digital portfolio.  We are piloting a digital portfolio program in all of our grades, but focusing in particular in Grade K, 5, & 8.  In each grade, however, the emphasis is on allowing students (in a developmentally appropriate way) to be co-creators of their digital footprint – they help decide what are the authentic artifacts of their best work that should become part of their permanent record.  Those artifacts will look dramatically different for different students at different grades for different subjects.  But if one goes all the way, they also become part of the public record.  Are we ready to honor the moral imperative of sharing?  Are we ready to view the authentic work of children not our own and not worry about how it compares to our own?  (Am I as a Head of School ready for all the unintended consequences of such a thing?)

The reason why the answers should be “yes” is because it is inevitable – this is where the world is heading.  The reason why the answers should be “maybe not” is because we are human – change is scary.  And so we continue to talk and share and read and teach and ultimately to lead.  The future is coming and it will be a transparent one whether we think it is a good idea or otherwise.  The schools which will ultimately viewed to be successful will be the ones who were ready for the shift when it occurs.  Let’s be ready.

In other news, I am off with members of our leadership team to the PEJE (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education) Assembly in Baltimore on Sunday.  PEJE brings together every strand and flavor of Jewish Day School education and its Assembly typically draws the best and the brightest from education at large.  I am looking forward to a stimulating conference and to sharing the new ideas I am sure will impact my thinking moving forward.  I plan to take advantage of the opportunity to explore how to best utilize Twitter so for the tens of you following me @Jon_Mitzmacher don’t be surprised if my tweeting activity suddenly mushrooms.  Let the twitterscape be forewarned!

The Business of Making Memories

I have more than my share of educational degrees and consider myself a lifelong learner.

I have not the slightest idea what I learned in Third Grade.

That is not a slight at my Third Grade Teacher, whoever she may have been.  I am quite confident I had an excellent Third Grade Teacher and learned all that I should have in Third Grade.  But I have no recollections of the experience.

In Jewish Education, we speak often of the necessity for “creating Jewish memories” – that layering memorable Jewish experiences one on top of the other leads to deeper identification, higher affiliation, and greater participation in ritual and practice.  The science of how that happens, of course, is somewhat inexact.  No one knows the exact combination of experiences required for the desired outcome – probably because it is entirely idiosyncratic.  For me, it was some combination of summer camp, strong peer identification, supportive parents, Israel experiences, positive supplemental school experience, etc. that has guided me down my Jewish journey.  [I strongly (hopefully not preachily!) suggested in my last blogpost that the holiday of Sukkot represented one such powerful opportunity for creating lasting Jewish memories and have been pleased to see many students and their families enjoying the holiday.]

But the roller coaster of Jewish holidays reaches climax this weekend as we move from Sukkot to Simchat Torah, after which we’ll come back down to earth and the reality of full weeks of teaching and learning.  And with that will come the weighty expectations of moving each child along his or her own unique path of potential – there is serious work ahead…

This school does not belong to me.  It belongs to us all and requires a shared vision to successfully accomplish all its hopes and dreams.  Putting some of these themes together along with my ongoing desire to juice the level of interactivity, leads me to ask a series of semi-connected questions to which I encourage you to respond in whatever manner suits you best.  If you are ready to dip your toe into the blogosphere and respond right here, please do.  If that seems too public for you, please feel free and email me at jon.mitzmacher@mjgds.org.  And if even that seems intimidating and you are part of our local community, feel free and actually talk to me!  (I still do believe in face-to-face interaction!)  I will report back on your collective wisdom and how it can and should shape the direction our school takes moving forward.

What are the educational memories (good, bad or otherwise) that contributed to make you the kind of learner you turned out to be?

What are the Jewish memories (good, bad or otherwise) that have shaped your Jewish journey thus far?

What memories do you wish for your children?

How can (our) school help contribute to making the memories you wish for your children?

I look forward to hearing your voice…

All Teaching is a Sacred Act

One of my favorite books is Teaching & Religious Imagination by Maria Harris.  It is a wonderful book and I am grateful to my doctoral comps for forcing me to become familiar with it.  What I love about it, is how it describes secular teaching in religious language.  The very act of teaching – regardless of subject or location – is a religious act.  This is not just beautiful imagery, which it is, but an important truth to acknowledge as we head back to school.

Those of us who have been charged with the sacred task of providing a child with an education recognize and are humbled by that holy responsibility.  It matters not in a school whether we are the teacher of prayer or the teacher of tennis.  Education is interactional and God can be found in the quality of our relationships.  How we treat our students and each other matters.

Teachers officially report for duty come Monday morning.  The sun rises on a new year.  I am as anxious and excited as anyone to see how it will all play out.  “Man plans; God laughs.”  We’ll see who’s laughing next week…

…a restful Shabbat and weekend to all!