The Courage to Finish: My Charge to the Class of 2019

We had an amazing graduation last night at the Ottawa Jewish Community School – and I am not just saying that because I had a child in the class!   I was so proud of our students, our families, our school and our community.  It was really something special.  And, yes, I did say last week that I was kinda done with the weekly blogging for the summer.  And, yes, it does feel like I have delivered a speech a day these last few weeks.  And, yes, it runs the risk of being overly self-serving to say that a number of people asked if I could post my speech.

But they did.

And so I will (paraphrased because not everything translates into writing).

“There are many heroes in the story of a Jewish day school journey…

There are the teachers who put in untold hours of love and talent not only to nourish your brains, but your souls as well.  Our teachers are not just here to inspire a love of learning.  Our teachers recognize that our students are, in fact, our most important subject matter.  There is very little we can ever do to show our proper appreciation for our teachers, but we can directly prove the adage it takes a village and show our proper respect.  I’d like to ask every teacher who taught any of our graduates in any capacity over their years to rise…

 

There are the students who come to school each and every day (or at least many days) ready to learn and eager to lead.  And we have and will rightfully spend most of our time tonight celebrating you each…

 

But for me, tonight, I want to spend a little time celebrating who I think may be the most important heroes of the story, and that…is our parents.  And I think the adjective that best describes these heroes is “courage”.

Courage to Choose

In today’s world, we are all, in a sense, Jews by choice.  Choosing to be Jewish is counter-cultural by definition; choosing to attend Jewish day school is almost revolutionary.  We all chose Jewish day school for different reasons: some of us are alumni of Jewish day schools (including this one!), others were seeking the comfort of the family environment, some had a desire for personalized attention, others had a deep commitment to Jewish Studies, there were some who simply went where everyone else was going.  But each parent with their own unique constellation of reasons had the courage to choose Jewish day school.

Courage to Sacrifice

You have each sacrificed in many ways to be here this evening.  For many, it has been a financial sacrifice.  Jewish day school is not yet as affordable as we may wish it to be, and there are those in this room who have forgone both luxuries and necessities to be here.

You have all sacrificed your most precious gift – time.  Between the normal schlepping and carpools, you have volunteered at events and at PTA and in innumerable ways big and small.

Courage to Finish

In talking with the kids in New York [on our Grad Trip], I realized that for many of them – and you – I am the fourth head of school you have had on this journey; five if you count Mr. Friedman twice.  Each person, I am sure, had their own ideas of what makes a Jewish day school excellent and, I am sure, those ideas may not have always aligned.

With each new administration you had to choose and choose again, and for whatever complicated set of reasons you chose to come, you chose to stay and that, too, is a profile in courage.

The largest class I have ever graduated was 23 and the smallest was, but 4, but what I can tell you with 100% certainty is that not one parent on graduation night ever regretted the decision to finish.  And looking around this room tonight – and as one myself – I am confident that this remains true.

You have already given us the greatest gift we can have – the sacred and holy task of educating your child – let me give you the only gift tonight that I can, a brief gift of time.  To take just a brief minute or two not to document this experience, but to be in this liminal moment in our children’s lives.  I’d like to invite the graduates to rise and face your parents…

 

Returning to our graduates, my prayer for you as you graduate and head out into the world is that you come to experience and embody our school’s North Stars.  I pray that you continue to point in their direction as you continue to grow and develop into high school and beyond…

“Have a floor, but not a ceiling” – be your best self.  Have high expectations at a minimum and unlimited aspirations at a maximum.  We hope you learned at OJCS to be comfortable in your own skin and to carry that confidence with you when you head out into the wider world.

“Ruach” – be joyful.  School – and life – is supposed to be fun, even when it may seem hard or have difficult moments.  We know you had many moments of joy at OJCS and know that you have many more moments of joy ahead of you in the years to come.

“We own our own learning” – learning isn’t something that happens to you, it is something you choose.  We hope you take the sense of ownership for your learning that we strive towards at OJCS into your next schools of choice and that you not merely be satisfied with gathering information, but that you take a growing sense of responsibility for what you learn and how you learn.

“We are each responsible one to the other” – make the world a better place.  Take what you’ve learned (Torah) and do great deeds (Mitzvot); do great deeds and be inspired to learn more.

“We learn better together” – we are stronger and more successful together than we can be alone.  Judaism has always been communitarian in this way and what is old is new again as we live in a world where collaboration is not simply advantageous, but required.

“We are on our own inspiring Jewish journey” – keep choosing Jewish.  One can argue that the next years of your Jewish lives are more important than the ones you are celebrating tonight.  In your own ways – continue.  Whether that is in formal Jewish learning, youth group, summer camps, Israel, synagogue attendance, social action – you are no more fully formed Jewishly at your Grade 8 Graduation than you were at Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  We pray that you build on this foundation and that you embrace the Jewish journey that continues after tonight…

 

You each are blessed more than you realize.  My blessing for you is that you never be content to merely count your blessings, but that you always be someone who makes their blessings count.”

My Charge to Kitah Bet Upon Receiving the Gift of Torah

I was very moved after this morning’s Mesibat He’Chumash that a number of parents asked that I post the dvar I shared with the families before giving each student the gift of Torah.  You may find it below…

“Before calling each student up by name to give them the symbolic gift of Torah, I just wanted to take a minute or two to say a few words…I know that I am the only thing keeping you from cake, so be assured I will be as brief as I am capable of being…

Have you noticed that our social media is eager to share memories with us? It seems like each day, a picture from years ago appears unprompted asking us to take moment to remember. Why? Why does Facebook organize itself with a timeline and Instagram by stories?

Because they know what we do – that human beings are hardwired to respond to stories.

We are storytellers by nature because that is how we make meaning of our lives. We weave together memories and events to create the narrative arc of our lives. As parents, we have the awesome responsibility for authoring the experiences that set that arc into motion. We provide them with the moments that shape their narratives and help them make meaning. As they get older, of course, they begin to write their own stories and – if we are lucky – they will continue to look to us for editing.

What is true for us as individuals is also true for us as a Jewish People. We are a collection of stories that extend backward to Creation and through our collective authorship of the present, serve as a bridge to the future. We are the People of the Book because we acknowledge our spiritual heritage and take responsibility for moving our part of the story forward…

That’s what makes a day like today special. Your decision to provide your children with a Jewish education gives them moments and experiences that will shape the narrative arc of their lives even when they assume primary authorship. Today is one of those moments. And by linking it to the gift of Torah – as we prepare to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates our original receipt of Torah – we link our children’s stories to the story of the Jewish People.

As was true with the Siddur they received at the end of Kitah Alef, the Chumash they receive at the end of Kitah Bet is not a trophy to sit upon a shelf, but a tool to continue the Jewish journey they are just beginning. It is our hope and our prayer that the work we have begun together as partners – parents and teachers; home and school – continue in the years ahead to provide our children with Jewish moments of meaning and Jewish experiences of consequence so that they can write the chapters of their lives and that of the Jewish People that they are intended to – uniquely their own, infused by a love of Judaism, informed by Jewish wisdom and aligned with Jewish values.

Thank you.

Thank you to the parents who have sacrificed in ways known and unknown to give your children the gift of Jewish day school. Thank you for your schlepping and your partnership. Thank you for entrusting us with the sacred responsibility of educating your children. It not something that we take for granted.

Thank you to the teachers who give of their love, their time and their talent each and every day. On a day like today, special thanks to Morah Batya who has poured herself into your children and into this day. Our teachers play a significant role in shaping our children’s stories and we are grateful for the care they attend to that holy task.

Thank you to the students who show up each day as authentic selves. Your passion and enthusiasm for learning and for Judaism is why we wake up each day at OJCS with a spring in our steps and a smile on our faces. We can’t wait to see who you will become!

And on a final note, I know you don’t need me to tell you quickly time flies. But. For some of you this is your first Mesibat Chumash and for some it is your last. You have given us the gift of your children and we have together given your children the gift of Torah. Let me give you the gift of time, just 30 seconds, to soak in the moment. Not to document it, but to be in it. Because as a parent of a child who will be graduating from this school in just a few weeks, I could swear it was just yesterday that she received her chumash in Kitah Bet.

Pause

It is now my pleasure to invite our teachers to join me as we celebrate each of our students…”

Chag sameach…

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

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

A few things jump out…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last data point:

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

So there you have it for 2018-2019!

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

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

OJCS & CFORP Launch 1st Private School Partnership

As a follow up to the announcement OJCS recently made to invest nearly $50,000 to enhance French education, we promised to share back once we actually signed the contract to let our families and community know how we plan to spend that investment.  It took a little longer than anticipated to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”, but now that everything is signed, we are thrilled to let you know that the Ottawa Jewish Community School will be the first private school in Ontario to partner with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program.

CFORP will introduce TACLEF, La Trousse D’acquisition de Compétences Langagières en Français (loosely translated as a “French language acquisition ‘kit'”) to the French teaching staff at the Ottawa Jewish Community School and to offer individual mentoring in its use for a period of two school years.  This approach strengthens team building and permits a better understanding of a skills-based teaching/learning approach as it develops language proficiency in French language learners.

Here are the highlights from the contract:

The plan entails a gradual implementation of TACLEF covering two school years that targets the use of the resource tool through the two processes presented on the TACLEF website:

  • la précision initiale des acquis langagiers (Initial Assessment of Language Proficiency)
  • la planification des interventions ciblées (Planned Intervention)

Implementation supposes:

  • a detailed implementation plan for the school,
  • graduated training sessions for staff,
  • individual coaching sessions for each teacher using the resource tool in his or her classroom (focus on skills such as use of resources, planning and choosing strategies based on data, communicating outcomes, curriculum alignment, etc.),
  • an open dialogue based on commitment, strategic planning of learning outcomes, data analysis, reflective practices and professional dialogue.

At the end of the consultancy, the OJCS will have built the staff’s capacity to assess, support and guide French language learners in the development of their French language skills and in improving outcomes in all subjects taught in French.

Approach

The following steps will ensure the efficient implementation of TACLEF:

  • initial planning session between project leader and the school’s leader and/or administrative staff to determine details;
  • technical integration of the website into the school’s system with the CFORP;
  • two full day training sessions during the first school year;
  • on site coaching for each teacher attending the training sessions;
  • follow up meetings between the project leader and school leader (on or off site) to assess needs during implementation;
  • coaching follow-up (on or off site) according to assessment,
  • year-end meeting between project leader and the school’s leader to review success of implementation, modify according to needs and plan the next steps.

Deliverables

  • detailed implementation plan;
  • two training sessions on the use of the resource tool: (September – October or according to school calendar);
  • individual coaching for each teacher attending the training session:
    • year 1: ½ day following each session and the equivalent of ½ day during the rest of the year (on or off site); total of 1½ scheduled days per teacher,
    • year 2: equivalent of one full day during the year, scheduled according to the second-year plan, total of 1 scheduled day per teacher,
    • follow up support with curriculum planning and resource selection as they pertain to the skills and strategies used during the implementation of TACLEF;
  • planning session at the end of year one (May 2020);
  • activity report during implementation (June 2020);
  • identification of benchmarks and key performance indicators;
  • final report at the end of the contract (June 2021).

 

To take it out of jargon, what is most important to us is that this consultancy provides two years of professional development for OJCS French Faculty from the same folk who train the immersion and Francophone programs in the public boards, including multiple in-person observations and direct training.  It gives us shareable tools for benchmarking and tracking individual students over time.  We will end the consultancy with new and updated French curriculum and with the tools to build individualized paths forward for high achieving students from the OJCS “Extended” program to full immersion programs at their next schools of choice.  These tools, the curriculum and the paths would be ours after the consultancy and would become part of the budget moving forward.

I’d like to give a lot of credit to our current French faculty who invested a lot of time and energy researching growth opportunities and have shown a willingness for honest reflection that is both rare and refreshing.  It takes strength to make yourself vulnerable and to be open to critique.  It is a quality we have to model if we are to ask it of our students, and here, with a topic that can elicit strong emotion, I am proud to have a school where we can name we are a work in progress – and, more importantly, chart a path towards greater excellence.  We look forward to walking that path towards greater excellence in French education, informed by parent voice, in the years ahead.

I did want to take a moment to provide a bit more data with regard to how the hours of French instruction are divvied up at OJCS and the French immersion programs that our graduates of “Extended French” are eligible to transition into when they get to Grade 9.  There were, understandably, a lot of questions from parents (particularly parents at the younger grades) at our last gathering and, disappointingly, we did not have all the answers at the time.  We have spent (a surprising amount of) time on websites and on the phone to confirm both the hours and how they are spent and just so folk can have accurate data upon which to inform opinions, we did want to report back.

Our understanding, if we want an “apples to apples” comparison, is that students in French immersion at SRB in Grades 7 and up have 750 weekly minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 200 min
  • Physical Education / Dance 200
  • Health 40
  • Science 150
  • History / Geography 150

In comparison, students in “Extended French” at OJCS in Grades 7 and up  have 400 minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 240 min
  • History / Geography 160

Clearly, 750 is more than 400, and no one is making an educational argument that when it comes to language acquisition that more isn’t better.  However, if we are looking to see how to close the gap and/or what best prepares our graduates for success in the high schools that 90% or more of them will attend, what jumps out is “Science” and “PE” for different reasons.  We have always understood that use of PE, Music, Art, etc., could provide an easy opportunity for additional language support and could provide an easy way to close the French gap.  (Even if we haven’t always capitalized on the opportunity.)

Science is more complicated (both because we appear to offer more contact time in Science than SRB and because it would require additional staffing/tracking), but knowing that it is essentially science vocabulary that our students are lacking to bridge the gap may, through the consultancy, open up solutions that don’t automatically require us to reinvent the school.

What remains clear – and I’ll have more to say when I share back the Annual Parent Survey data – is that we actually have three groups of parents when it comes to French education.  There remains parents for whom this is not their most pressing issue and remain satisfied with “Core French”.  There are parents who are primarily invested in seeing their children be successfully prepared for Grade 9 French immersion in their next school of choice.  That has, up until now, been the stated goal and that outcome has been the one that has perennially been questioned.  In many ways, this consultancy was originally conceived to address that challenge.  But what came through in the French Town Halls (and survey data) is that we additionally have parents who are as concerned, if not more, by French outcomes arguably more significant than high school readiness.  Meaning, that although it might be necessary that our graduates be adequately prepared for high school, it may not be sufficient for the French education they believe their children should receive.

Part of our desire to use this consultancy is because of the work they do with Francophone schools in our province.  We will have the opportunity to better understand what we presently do and to chart a path forward to wherever we believe we should be headed.  This conversation is just beginning and we are excited to see where it goes…

Postscript: This will not be my only blog post this week!  The promised post on the Annual Parent Survey is still coming out.  I thought it important to close this loop, as promised.

The Transparency Files: NEW OJCS Homework Philosophy

In January, I blogged about what was then a pending conversation our faculty was going to have in order to revisit and realign our school’s homework philosophy with our “North Stars”.  In that post, I suggested some likely ideas that I imagined would make their way in, based on all the work we have done these last two years making our beliefs about teaching and learning more explicit.

We created a “HW Task Force” consisting of both teachers and administrators.  We surveyed parents, teachers and students to better understand what currently is and what each stakeholder group is looking for in the future.  We examined current research.  We met multiple times and then drafted a document for the full faculty to review and edit, which they have now done.

So without further adieu, I am pleased to share out…

OJCS Homework Philosophy & Guidelines

  1.  Introduction
  2.  Philosophy
  3.  General Homework Principles
  4.  Homework Guidelines in Lower School Grades
  5.  Homework Guidelines in Middle School Grades
  6.  Characteristics of Effective Homework Practice
  7.  Parent, Student, Teacher, and Administration responsibilities
  8.  Homework Philosophy & ‘7 Habits’
  9.  Implementation Strategy [To Be Created]

1.   Introduction

The purpose of the OJCS Homework Policy is to provide guidelines for teachers, provide for consistency through the grades, and to educate parents who have questions about homework.  A school policy regarding homework, along with clear expectations for teachers as to what constitutes good homework, can help to strengthen the benefits of homework for student learning.

This policy addresses the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.   

The OJCS Homework Policy is based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework. 

2.  Philosophy

The philosophy at the Ottawa Jewish Community School regarding K-8 homework is that homework should only be assigned that is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate.  Most learning will take place during the school day (except when utilizing an explicitly “flipped pedagogy”). Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding.  Homework should be consistent with the school’s “North Stars” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.

Legitimate academic purposes for homework include:

  • practicing a skill or process that students can do independently, but not fluently,
  • elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen students’ knowledge,
  • enabling students to finish classwork that they were unable to complete in class, and
  • providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest. 

Non-academic purposes for homework include:

  • developing better study habits and skills,
  • developing independent problem-solving skills and better time organization, and
  • greater parental appreciation of, and involvement in, schooling.

We understand today’s busy schedules and demands on parent and student time.  Most learning is done in school, but like learning a foreign language or learning to read, reasonable and age-appropriate practice and repetition is exceptionally beneficial in certain subject areas.  We also recognize that in the 21st century the barriers between bounded times and spaces for learning are ever-shifting and, so, we remain flexible to new ways to provide our students with authentic opportunities to learn and to explore.

3.  General Homework Guidelines for all Grade Levels

  • Homework is not to be used to teach a new skill (with the exception of explicitly “flipped pedagogy”).
  • Teachers may not assign regular homework if it is not purposely enhancing their program expectations.  
  • An average amount of daily homework – not including nightly encouraged reading, but including daily/weekly homework assignments, preparing for quizzes/tests/exams and work on long term projects – should not exceed:
    • 20 minutes for Kindergarten
    • 30 minutes for Grades 1 – 3
    • 45 minutes for Grades 4 & 5
    • 60 minutes for Grades 6 – 8.
  • Homework should be purposeful and meaningful to students.  Legitimate purposes for homework include practicing a skill or process that students can do independently but not fluently, elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen student knowledge, and providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest.
  • Reading is an integral part of learning should be encouraged separate, above and beyond required homework.
  • Practicing second-language and third-language skills is a consistent part of homework in a trilingual school.
  • Homework will reflect the accommodations and modifications of curriculum that are stated in a student’s IEP or Support Plan.
  • Homework will not be assigned over holidays.
  • Teachers should distinguish for students (and parents) between homework that is required and work that is recommended to support learning.

4.  Homework Guidelines in Lower School (K-5)

In these grades, with the exception of reading and being read to, there is little proven correlation between homework and achievement.  

  • In the primary grades (K-3), homework should consist primarily of reading, plus a limited number of independent exercises to reinforce previously taught basic skills.
  • At the upper grades (4-5), homework may additionally consist of completing, practicing, preparing, or extending core academic skills and is designed to build independent study habits.
  • It is recommended that homework assignments in the Lower School be given out on a weekly basis for the following week.  (For example, the week’s assignments are given on a Monday and are due the following Monday.) This allows families to coordinate schedules and identify the blocks of time for homework that make sense.
  • Except for reading, homework at the elementary level should not be given over holidays or extended school breaks.
  • Long-term assignments should be limited in number and duration.  Project-based assignments should primarily be undertaken and completed in the classroom. These tasks should not require significant assistance from parents or costly materials.  These assignments should include clear checkpoints to monitor progress toward completion.
  • If your child is becoming frustrated or not able to independently complete the homework, please indicate this in an email to the teacher so that additional support can be offered the following day.
  • Please note that in order for homework to be authentic, to be meaningful, personalized, etc., that the amount of homework will likely ebb and flow naturally during the year.

  5.  Homework Guidelines in Middle School Grades (6-8)

In the Middle School grades, in addition to reading, research indicates that there are benefits to a moderate amount of meaningful, specific and deliberate homework to develop independent work habits, cultivate a sense of responsibility and help reinforce and enhance learning expectations.  

  • Homework should be assigned during the school week on a regular basis.
  • Teachers should coordinate scheduling of tests and projects.
  • Long-term assignments for Middle School grades should be limited in number and duration. These assignments should include clear checkpoints to monitor progress toward completion.  All deadlines will be posted on the class blog.
  • When assigning group projects, teachers should allow in-class collaboration time with specific tasks to be completed independently; however, these tasks should not require significant assistance from parents or costly materials.  [We recognize that projects like STEAM Fair and/or Genius Hour can sometimes inspire a desire to do more. Our commitment is to manage expectations with students to keep this within reason.]
  • Except for reading, daily/weekly homework at the middle school level should not be given over holidays or extended school breaks.  [There is some discretion for students to use breaks towards longer term projects, but without any expectation of work being done on religiously proscribed days.  This is especially important for group projects.]
  • Adjustments to a homework program can be made for middle school students preparing for their b’nei mitzvot as they are spending (at least) 10 minutes per night during the year leading up to their b’nei mitzvot and more than that in the month prior.
  • Study Hall, with teacher support, will be offered during Nutrition Breaks as an added support, should it be needed.

  6.  Characteristics of Effective Homework

This section addresses practices to help increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.  Homework is more effective when…

  • …the purpose of the homework assignment is clear.  Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.
  • …it does not discourage and frustrate students.  Students should be familiar with the concepts and material (unless it is an explicitly “flipped” pedagogy, i.e. Math).
  • …it is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.  (Of course, it must be necessary and not just because “it’s Wednesday”.)
  • …it is explicitly related to the classwork.
  • …it is engaging and creative.
  • …part of the homework is done in class.
  • …it is authentic.
  • …feedback is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.
  • …it is differentiated and, ideally, personalized.
  • …it reviews past concepts to help retention over the course of the year.
  • …it provides student choice (when applicable) and distinguishes between required homework and recommended homework.

7.  Responsibilities

Students are responsible for:

  • knowing where to find homework on the blogs and sharing with parents.
  • ensuring understanding of homework expectations and asking for clarification or help when needed before leaving the classroom.
  • keeping track of what is expected through an organization strategy (agenda book, e-agenda, calendar, etc.)
  • regularly completing assigned homework in a timely manner.
  • managing time by staying focused, on task, and planning effectively for long-term projects.
  • bringing home all necessary materials
  • putting forth their best effort to produce quality work.
  • completing or making up missed assignments and tests if required by the teacher.
  • contacting a teacher in advance of a due date to request an extension and to provide a valid explanation.

Parents/Guardians are responsible for:

  • helping to oversee what is for homework as child develops habits (this could be checking their agendas, e-agendas, classroom blogs, etc.).
  • being an advocate for their child, while encouraging the child to advocate for himself/herself.
  • encouraging reading, which might involve accessing audiobook to accompany the book, at all grade levels.
  • providing an appropriate environment, including necessary supplies, for homework to be done.
  • providing a healthy balance between homework, extra and co-curricular activities, and family commitments.
  • contacting the teacher if their child is not consistently able to do the homework by himself/herself within the time guidelines, or if challenges or questions arise.

Teachers are responsible for:

  • sharing expectations for homework with students and parents early in the school year.
  • designing homework assignments that clearly articulate their purpose and expected outcome, allowing for student questions and planning.
  • providing timely feedback to students.
  • ensuring any homework assigned is directly related to the classroom instruction and consists of clear, purposeful, and authentic activities.
  • assigning homework that is appropriate and differentiated as needed.
  • teaching the skills necessary for the students to complete the homework and become successful independent learners.
  • being careful not to assign too much homework or homework that frustrates or discourages the students.
  • communicating with other teachers of the same grade to be mindful of their overall workload.

Administrators are responsible for:

  • monitoring homework quality and quantity.
  • communicating homework expectations with parents.

8.  The OJCS Homework Philosophy & Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits’

At OJCS, we want to empower students with key leadership and life skills through our continued adoption of Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

The chart below outlines how our homework policy and philosophy is aligned with each habit:

  9.  Implementation Strategies

And this section was – and still is blank.

Why?

Because this is the hard part!  It is easy(-ish) to write out a philosophy and guidelines.  Putting it into practice in a way that is consistent and clear to all?  That is hard work!

This is why the task force is still moving forward!  Our goal is to finalize an implementation strategy in time for it to be shared with our faculty as part of preparing for the 2019-2020 school year, along with additional information for parents.  The conversations so far have been especially rich and I am looking forward to seeing how the project comes to conclusion.

Watch this space…

Philanthropy is a Learned Behavior: Introducing the OJCS Maccabiah Games

At the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we believe that philanthropy is a learned behavior.  Each month as part of our Rosh Chodesh assemblies, we introduce the object of the upcoming month’s philanthropy.  That usually comes with at least one class taking a specific action, as well as the loonies and toonies we collect for that month’s “dress down day”.  Ideally, of course, our students would choose to bring tzedakah to support these charities out of an intrinsic motivation.  But it isn’t uncommon to use extrinsic rewards with children to encourage behaviors you hope get replaced by intrinsic motivation as they develop and mature.  In the same way that we would hope students would choose to participate in the Reading Challenge without competing for a reward, we know that for some students the reward encourages positive behavior.

This month, as we reinvent and reintroduce both our “Color War” and our “Walk/Run” into the new “OJCS Maccabiah Games,” our students have essentially chosen the school as the object of this month’s philanthropy.  Yes, we are for sure encouraging more active philanthropy than simply bringing a loonie or toonie, and yes, perhaps, it is different to make the school the object rather than outside charity.  But we don’t think it is out of bounds or off message to encourage our students and families to give back to the school.

Essentially what is being asked from our families is no different than what has been asked in prior years.  Children/families were encouraged to support the school through soliciting friends and family to sponsor them in the “Walk/Run”; this is no different.  What has changed, we hope, is that the event itself will be much more successful, fun and meaningful for our students.  The “Walk/Run” had essentially outlived its usefulness and so we have taken activities that were no longer functioning as we liked and repurposed them, simplifying our calendar and hopefully improving the events themselves.  Our first annual “OJCS Maccabiah Games” will bring together our North Stars of “Ruach” and “We are each responsible one to the other,” in a wonderful day of sport, sportsmanship, joy and philanthropy.  And we can’t wait!

So how will it work?

[Adapted from the OJCS Student Life Blog:]

On June 4, 2019 the OJCS Maccabiah Games will begin and our theme is “4 Teams, 1 Heart,” modelled after the actual Maccabiah Games theme of “80 Countries, 1 Heart”.

Who are the 4 teams?

  • Jerusalem- Team Blue!
  • Tel Aviv- Team Green!
  • Haifa- Team Red!
  • Netanya- Team Orange!

Which city will win the cup?  Teams will earn points throughout the day for event wins, showing sportsmanship, team cheers and RUACH!

We are excited to share that OJCS has partnered with Maccabi Canada for the event and Maccabi Canada athletes will join us for the opening and closing ceremonies.

As this is a fundraiser, please know that each student will have their own fundraising pages on CanadaHelps.org.  For each $25 raised, students will receive a ballot for a weekly draw on Fridays for prizes such as frozen yogurt gift cards, bookstore gift cards, and  movie night baskets.

Families are welcome to join us at the school from 3:00 – 5:00 PM on June 4, 2019 for our Family Maccabiah Games!  Bring your loonies and toonies and join us for some cold treats, meet Maccabi Canada athletes and learn more about Maccabi Canada, and try our 65′ inflatable obstacle course with your child(ren).

By the way, you don’t have to be an OJCS Family to contribute!  Pick your favorite team and contribute to the event simply by following the links:

Special “thank you” to the companies who are sponsoring this exciting event!

OJCS Announces $50,000 Gift to Strengthen the “J” in “OJCS”

We are thrilled to share with the community that an anonymous family has stepped forward to allow OJCS to continue to keep the promises it has made by making a new $50,000 gift to strengthen the “J” in OJCS.  This gift feels extra special considering it has come during this liminal moment in the Jewish calendar between meaningful Jewish holidays.  As we reflect on what our People has experienced throughout its history, as we celebrate our collective triumphs and as we commit to securing the Jewish future of our children and our community – it is a blessing and a sacred responsibility for our school to receive a gift of this magnitude.  This will allow us to further strengthen and deepen our commitment to the Jewish studies and Jewish experiences that help make our school a laboratory for Jewish living and help ensure our community continues to have Jewishly literate and committed leaders into the next generation and beyond.

This now makes the third and final commitment that connects the dots between the three major areas we designated for attention in Year One, invested resources and made significant changes in Year Two and now stand ready to go deeper and farther in Year Three: the OJCS value proposition, French outcomes and Jewish mission/vision.

Each of these three has had its own cycle of candid honesty of what was, an exploration of what could be, an investment to clarify and move the work forward to what presently is and now set up for a new round of investment to continue to shape what will be, as we move together into a third year of an OJCS reimagined and revitalized.  In a nutshell…

In Year One, we identified the need to define what OJCS uniquely believes to be true about teaching and learning, we secured an anonymous gift (in partnership with Federation) that allowed us to begin a consultancy with NoTosh which led to our “North Stars”.  In Year Two, benefiting from a different anonymous gift (also with help from Federation) we were able to complete our work with NoTosh, begin our work with Silvia Tolisano and have launched a ton of innovative prototypes to transform teaching and learning at OJCS.  In Year Three, thanks to a grant from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Foundation we will open the first Makerspace in any school in Ottawa, among other new and returning prototypes that will help us live our North Stars.

In Year One, we identified the need to clarify our French outcomes.  We conducted research and held an initial Town Hall.  We made certain commitments to changes in the schedule and the program that we have been living in Year Two, while continuing to add to our research.  We reported back to our parents recently on our progress and then announced a huge investment in French Language PD to ensure that we take significant steps in Year Three to better address ongoing questions and to make long-term strategic planning decisions.  [We are finalizing contracts now and will share out very soon in greater detail as to the who we are partnering with and what the partnership will consist of…stay tuned.]

In Year One, we identified the need to better determine our Jewish mission and vision.  We formed a robust Rabbinic Advisory Committee with active participation from our entire, diverse rabbinic community.  We conducted research, did work, and held a Town Hall to declare our plans to strengthen our program for Year Two.  We have been living those commitments this year – daily minyanim in each grade with options in the Middle School to satisfy differing needs, increased contact time with Jewish Studies, increased rigor and immersiveness in Hebrew Language, introduction of a revised, text-based Middle School Jewish Studies Curriculum, prototyping Torah Trop classes in Grades 5 & 6, and so much more.  And now, thanks to today’s gift, we know that we will go into Year Three with an amazing opportunity to build on our successes and introduce new and deeper Jewish engagement for our students and our families.

So.

What might this investment lead to in 2019-2020?

We have only begun to dream the new dreams, but we do have ideas!  As we prepare to say goodbye to our beloved Dean of Judaic Studies Rabbi Finkelstein, we will be revisiting our leadership team.  I will have more to say about this when it becomes concrete, but we are very excited about the possibilities we are exploring.  We also have – similar to French – opportunities to import second-language acquisition professional development so that our teachers of Hebrew will have the same resources available to them as our teachers of English and French do and will.  Updated curriculum, more Hebrew-language books and materials, and expanding our Jewish Studies Resource are all worthy to consider for investment.

This gift reminds us that it is important not only to count your blessings, but to make your blessings count.  We have a responsibility to steward these gifts with care and to ensure that they are being invested strategically.  We have to have clear expectations, measurables and deliverables to be sure that we are not only charting an exciting and innovative course towards the future, but actually finding our way there.

Spoiler alert.

We are.  And, yes, say it with me, that’s “The OJCS Difference”.

OJCS Parents: I emailed out the Annual Parent Survey this morning.  Please do fill it out!  Due back May 10th if you want your feedback included in reporting.

This is my 300th blog post!  There are no words to express to Silvia Tolisano and Andrea Hernandez how much they have impacted my journey as an educator and as a professional.  I have tremendous appreciation to the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (MJGDS), the Schechter Network and Prizmah for letting me carry my blog from organization to organization and to use it as a platform for learning and connection.  Special thanks to my Mom, my Aunt Donna and Nancy Davis for ensuring that at least three people read it.

In all seriousness, to anyone who has ever read, commented, or shared my blog…thank you, thank you, thank you.

Habits of Kindness: Synergize

Welcome to blog post #299 (!)

Firstly, it is hard to believe that we are already introducing the SIXTH Habit, “Synergize,” because there are only seven and where did all the time go!

When our school introduces a new “Habit of Kindness,” I take it upon myself to blog about it.  (Last month was “Seek first to understand, then to be understood“.)   We have been enlisting our students to prepare and present the new habit at our monthly Rosh Chodesh Assemblies.  (You can stay on top of all our Community of Kindness activities by checking out its blog.)  Here is how Mrs. Bertrend described it:

Habit #6 from Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Effective People’ was introduced to the students: Synergize.  Synergize means to work together with others to accomplish a goal, while supporting one another and working to the strengths of each person.

Grade 4 students introduced the habit to the school and discussed how they had to synergize at a recent ‘Kindness Workshop’ with Mrs. B and Shannon LaValley from JFS.

As for my reflection, let’s start with what it says from the “Leader in Me: 7 Habits for Kids” page:

Habit 6 — Synergize

Together Is Better

I value other people’s strengths and learn from them.  I get along well with others, even people who are different than me.  I work well in groups.  I seek out other people’s ideas to solve problems because I know that by teaming with others we can create better solutions than anyone of us can alone.  I am humble.

What I would like to do is take this line by line, in the spirit of the haggadah, and offer a little midrash about why I think “synergize” is a habit our school has embraced.

“I value other people’s strengths and learn from them.”

As we have documented our innovative learning journey over the last year and change, one thing that has consistently been borne true, is that learning is no longer (if it ever was) about transferring knowledge from an adult to a child.  One thing that I treasure about our school is the commitment our teachers have to lifelong learning and the willingness they have to learn not only from each other, but from their students.

“I get along well with others, even people who are different than me.”

We chose “Community of Kindness” as the initiative to ensure students feel welcome, protected, and loved within (and without) our walls.  Each student, of course, is different from every other student because each is unique.  But we know that we – not just our school, but each of us – should be ultimately judged by how we treat “difference”.

“I work well in groups.”

We learn better together (North Star alert!).  One of the critical “now” literacies is the ability to work well in “groups”.  It will be the rare job our students will grow up to perform, where working well with others will not be a key to success.  It isn’t a skill you master in kindergarten and revisit in adulthood; it is an art form to be practiced daily so mastery ensues.

“I seek out other people’s ideas to solve problems because I know that by teaming with others we can create better solutions than anyone of us can alone.”

Here we really see collaboration in action; that by working with each other and learning from each other we will come up something better together than we could on our own.  In addition to our “Genius Hour” projects, there are so many opportunities for students at OJCS to engage in project-based learning and the upcoming grand opening of our OJCS Makerspace is going to really help us take this to the next level.

“I am humble.”

We teach our children that each is made in God’s image and that we ought to remember that when we interact with each other.  Humility is critical to collaboration because it assumes an attitude that one does not know it all and that there is wisdom to be found in each and every one of us if we are only willing to look and to listen.  One way we have embraced humility is in the exploration to transition from Parent-Teacher Conferences to Student-Led Conferences and from Teacher Observations to Teacher-Led Evaluations.  In both cases, we put the onus of responsibility on the learner to share growth rather than on the authority figure to ferret it out.

Next month we will finish up with “Sharpen the Saw”!

As we complete this year’s model sedarim, heading into Passover itself this weekend, should you wish to check out some Passover planning tips too good to, um…pass…over, check out last year’s post!

Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach…

Coming Blog Attractions:

  • Revised OJCS Homework Philosophy
  • OJCS Parent Survey (will be sent out the week we return)

OJCS Announces $50,000 Investment in French Education

File this under “promises made; promises kept”.

We are thrilled to share that our school will be making a $50,000 investment to ensure an increasingly excellent French education, to grow the number of students who successfully transition into French immersion programs in Grade 9, and to increase the odds of their success once placed.  This comes directly from the hard work of our French Language Faculty, the changes we began this year as a result of beginning this conversation last year, the leadership of our Board and the generosity of our donors.  This is a great day for those who already know a Jewish day school education does not preclude an excellent French education; it is an even better day for those who want to believe it, but needed a little more than anecdotal evidence to go on.

If you are new to this conversation, I encourage you to read my blog post from last February which lays out a detailed history of French education in Ontario, how it impacts OJCS and what the state of affairs was like when we began this work last school year.

Here are a few reminders and updates:

We continue to acknowledge that small sample sizes make statistical analysis complicated.  We remain committed to annual surveys of our alumni and frequent check-ins with the high schools in our community.  We do know, for example, that 50% of the students who graduated OJCS last year from French Extended are currently in Grade 9 French Immersion in high school (the other 50% opted out).  They report being successful and having been adequately prepared.  It may not be statistically significant (this was not a large class), but it lines up with last year’s data and the ample anecdotal evidence we do have that OJCS students can and do successfully transition from “Extended” to “Immersion” in Grade 9.

Here is what we committed to for this school year:

  • Conversations with parents about their hopes and expectations for maximal French contact time will begin during the admissions process.  Students who may require additional support to place into “Extended” need to be identified early.
  • The selection process in Grade 3 will be more rigorous, begin earlier, come with more parental engagement, etc., so that students who do continue into “Extended” for Grades 4 and higher are even better prepared for Grade 9.
  • We will increase the rigor and immersive experience of what contact time we presently make available.  We need to squeeze every moment of immersive French possible.  This includes a philosophical shift in K-3 that raises the bar – rather than aim towards the middle and wait to see who rises up, we will aim towards immersion and stream those who struggle.
  • We adjusted our schedule to increase contact time with French.  Students in OJCS have more contact time with French in each grade (except K which was already frontloaded).

Here is how our French Language Faculty put it when we met with parents twice yesterday at our “French Q & A Sessions”:

Vivre en français à OJCS

  • At OJCS, the FSL (French as a second language) faculty has made a commitment to speak French with their students everywhere in the school, so if you walked through our hallways, you would hear us speaking French to our students, increasing the interaction and contact time with our students.
  • Our enhanced FSL program with its consolidated class time (blocks of periods), all within a trilingual school where the francophone culture is alive and regularly celebrated, produces students capable of successfully communicating and learning in French.
  • Students practice their language skills in various environments, such as on the playground, and during coaching on our various OJCS sports teams.
  • Our FSL faculty is committed to offering authentic OJCS learning experiences.

While we believe we are on a gradual path towards clarity around French outcomes and increased excellence in French education, we are also aware of how serious an issue this is for a meaningful percentage of our families.  We have also seen how the use of consultancy has jumpstarted innovation and growth at our school.  What we are announcing here is going to do for French what our other consultancies have done for OJCS – dramatically speed up the process of moving from good to great.

We have identified a few different consultancies that would provide OJCS with the following features:

  • One to two years of professional development for OJCS French Faculty from the same folk who train the Immersion and Francophone programs in the public boards, including multiple in-person observation and direct training.
  • Shareable tools for benchmarking and tracking individual students over time.
  • New and updated French curriculum.
  • Individualized paths forward for high achieving students from the OJCS “Extended” program to full Immersion programs at their next schools of choice.

The tools, the curriculum and the paths would be ours after the consultancy and would become part of the budget moving forward.

We are in the process of finalizing our consultancy and will share out additional information when confirmed.  Additionally (not part of the $50K), we are also committed to adding French Resource.  We feel this will bring much needed support not only for students who have IEPs, but for any student who struggles.  [Yes, we are committed to adding Hebrew Resource as well.]

We enjoyed the opportunity to share our progress and our plans with parents.  We appreciated the candor and the tough questions we were asked.  We are pleased to share it more widely here.  Interestingly, we heard similar feedback that we heard last year about three areas.  One we tried to do something about and couldn’t get it off the ground; two we need to pay even closer attention to…

  • There was a very positive response to the idea of OJCS offering French enrichment as part of an after school program and/or as part of a summer day camp experience.  We surveyed parents last year about it for this year and did not get a critical mass.  We will try again.
  • There was a strong feeling that using Grade 4 as our arbitrary split into “Core” and “Extended” is unnecessary and that we are missing an opportunity to increase the immersive exposure in Grades K-3 when it could potentially have even more value.  We addressed this issue this year with a philosophical shift (aiming higher), but we could also choose to address it structurally (actually streaming earlier).  This will be worth exploring through consultancy.
  • There remains a meaningful percentage of our families (particularly ones who are from and/or are familiar with the model in Montreal) who would like to see us offer a full immersion track, if not embrace a full immersion model.  Although our cultural context is different, we do have a responsibility to pay attention to these families.  We will continue to survey and assess this need; we will also try to better calculate the opportunity cost of not having it – who is not coming to OJCS (and, thus, not getting a Jewish day school education) because we can’t offer it.

This is where you come in.  We desperately want to know what you think…

…what questions did this answer for you?

…what questions did this raise for you?

…what do you want to know more about?

…what else do you want us to know?

We cannot encourage you more to email, comment or come in for a conversation.  We need all voices heard as we work towards clarifying and enhancing our French mission and vision – next year and in the years ahead.

Habits of Kindness: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Man was endowed with two ears and one tongue, that he may listen more than speak.  – Hasdai, Ben HaMelekh veHaNazir, ca. 1230, chapter 26

Although I did not purposely get behind in my “7 Habits” blog posts, it does work out nicely to land with this habit during the week of Parent-Teacher Conferences.

A lot of attention was spent before the last round of conferences on the new format for report cards and middle school conferences.  We received a lot of positive feedback on those changes, but as we continue to try to be responsive to parent needs, we are going to try to take it up another level this round.  Here is how we described it to our teachers:

As you finalize parent-teacher conference preparations, we remind you that successful conferences include artifacts, next steps and solutions.  We encourage you to think through the lens of bringing solutions, not just problems, to the table.  For any issue you need to raise with parents about academic progress or behavior, don’t just come with the issue, but with a practical solution to propose.  Parents cannot be partners without clear expectations.  We believe this mindset will go a long way towards having productive conferences and, more importantly, towards greater success in school.

We look forward to facilitating solutions-driven conversations and we will look for feedback to see how well we did.  But all of this is focused on what we are going to bring to the table.  That’s only one part of the conference.  We also have to be ready to listen – to really hear – what you are coming to tell us.  And that’s why this month’s habit is so perfectly timed.

We have been thinking about this at OJCS for quite some time now. Last year, we spent a faculty meeting exploring examples of ineffective and effective communication from a related field to help us prepare:

Which doctor would you prefer?  Which hospital would you entrust your family to?  This led, at the time, to a very productive and ongoing conversation about listening that we hope continues to lead to better and better ways of interacting with parents in our school.

Between our best preparations and our parents’ best intentions, we are looking forward to healthy and productive parent-teacher conferences this week.  We are coming to the table with artifacts, next steps and solutions.  But we are also coming with listening ears and open hearts; we hope that both parent and teacher will use this time to “seek first to understand and then to be understood”.  If we can, (we can!) we ensure that the holy work we do together to educate children will be advanced.