The Coronavirus Diaries: A Parent Primer for the Pivot

Just when I thought we were out…they pulled us back in.

I don’t mean to make light of the situation.  Back in October, I wrote a blog post explaining why we were taking time to lay the ground for a potential pivot, not knowing and very much hoping that one would not be forthcoming.  And here we are in January, two weeks into a three-week pivot of fully distanced learning…or what we certainly hope will be (only) a three-week pivot.

Let me first answer what I believe are a few pressing questions…

What does being a private school mean when it comes to closures?

Not much.  Other than us getting our letter from a different department of the Ministry of Education, and for some reason getting it consistently a few days delayed, there has been no separation between what has been required for public and private schools at any point along this journey.  One might (this one certainly has) wonder whether there could be a circumstance where private and/or individual schools are given discretion to make choices when it comes to closures, but that is not how it has played out thus far.

What is currently true about a return to in-person learning?

As of this writing, we are still scheduled to return to in-person learning on Monday, January 25th.  We have been told that any decision about extending beyond that date won’t be made/communicated until January 20th.

 

So, if you already feel comfortable with all the ways in which OJCS lives its Distance Learning Program, please feel free to skip the next long section and please jump to the two additional items below.

For anyone for whom this is still new – and for anyone who needs a refresher – let me offer a summary and syllabus of the accumulated wisdom from last spring.  What we learned last year informed how we planned this year’s hyflex program and the kinds of self-directed learning skills we knew we wanted to focus on at the beginning of the year for just this situation.  All of those successes and failures contribute to our current lived experience.

So…what’s most important to know/remember?

In our first post to parents last year about transitioning to school-at-home, we…

…talked about reasonable expectations for parents.

…shared ideas about how to create an optimal learning environment for your children (while acknowledging how unlikely it would be to achieve).

…discussed how we planned on addressing mental health concerns.

…made commitments to honor IEPs.

We ended with…

Let’s be sure to give each other permission to feel anxious or scared.  Let’s recognize that we will have both failures and successes in the weeks ahead.  Let’s create space for the messy learning and schedule challenges and conflicts.

[That still sounds about right!]

In our second post, after we launched, we focused on…

The spine of our program is the OJCS Blogosphere.  This was in the process of becoming true before the pandemic because of all the things we believe to be true about teaching and learning in the 21st century.  It is really proving its worth now that we have had to transition to distance learning on a dime.  The action is going to take place online; the architecture is anchored in classroom blogs and student blogfolios.

[This still very much remains true!]

We ended with…

I remain in awe of what we have all managed to accomplish here in such a short amount of time.  Let’s keep sharing with each other and with the wider world.  Let’s keep creating space for mistakes and anxiety.  Let’s keep celebrating small victories and minor miracles.  Let’s combat the social recession with creative social experiences.  Let’s live our school’s North Stars and our community’s Jewish values in this new virtual reality.

[Yes, please!]

Our third post focused exclusively on how distance learning amplifies quiet voices.

[This is something we have tried to carry forward to in-person learning.]

As we were gaining experience, we started to realize that there were a lot of positives from distance learning that we very much wanted to name and plan to continue in the transition back to in-person learning.  In our fourth post we highlighted the most significant ones:

  • Amplifying Quiet/Introverted Voices
  • Developing Self-Directed Learners
  • Strengthening Global Connectedness
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Personalized Learning

[These, too, are things we have tried to carry forward to in-person learning AND tried to frontload in case we did have to make the very pivot we are in.]

And I wasn’t the only one blogging out really helpful and important information!

Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs, has been putting out amazing posts helping parents find their way through the challenges – not just for their children, but for them – of distance learning.

Shannon LaValley, our school’s psychotherapist, put out a post addressing the mental health issues raised by distance learning.

And that brings us full circle.

Whether we are in this place for one more week or longer; whether this will be the only pivot this year or if additional pivots are in our future, please be assured that because of the work that our talented teachers have been putting into their professional growth over the last four years and the experience we gained last spring, the Ottawa Jewish Community School is ready to meet this moment.  We have been saying for years that the “future of education” is happening at OJCS.   Because it is.

Enrollment for 2021-2022 is right around the corner!  As we prepare for another exciting year at OJCS, we have been blitzing social media and holding a series of targeted “parlour meetings”.  This week we had two meetings for potential JK families.  Next week brings meetings for potential SK families and the week after is geared towards families with children in all grades.  As word of mouth continues to be our best marketing technique, your ongoing and visible support through positive social media and conversation with your peer groups has tremendous impact.  You can make all the difference in ensuring that we bring #TheOJCSDifference to more and more of our community’s children and families.

Since we were regrettably slow to inform the last time, let me share with you now the plan for our next round of Parent-Teacher Conferences, which will come around in March.  We, again, based on feedback and evolving circumstances have made changes.  What we will prototype this time, we believe, may be the model moving forward as we try to balance complex needs – most importantly having enough conference spots for a growing school.

We will shift conferences to a Thursday-Friday.  Spring Parent-Teacher Conferences will now take place on March 18th and 19th.  On Thursday, March 18th, we will have an early dismissal at 2:00 PM.  Because of safety protocols, we will be unable to provide childcare.  The conference windows on Thursday will be from 3:00 – 5:00 PM & 6:00 – 9:00 PM.  On Friday, March 19th there will be no school and the day will be dedicated to conferences.  Our feedback from parents about the ability to participate in these conferences remotely – which we will carry forward post-COVID – steers us towards no longer needing to dedicate two evenings to accommodate busy and working parents.  Should this model prove successful, our calendar for 2021-2022 will factor in an additional two days of closure.  We will both ensure we are providing the requisite number of school days and look to partners to help provide OJCS parents with childcare on what would now be four days of closure – two for PD and two for conferences.

Expat Files: Do Civics & Civility Begin At School?

Canada’s last federal election was just about a year ago (October 21, 2019) and as the head of a Canadian Jewish Day School – located in the federal capital no less – I have exactly no vivid memories of the election.

It isn’t that I don’t remember the run up, or the campaigns, or that there weren’t lots of spirited workplace conversation.  It isn’t that I don’t remember the election itself or the results or that people didn’t have feelings or opinions about the outcome.  All of those things happened.  But I cannot identify any specific moment or memory that stands out as noteworthy.

I was the head of an American Jewish Day School in 2008 (Las Vegas) and in 2012 (Jacksonville).  [In 2016, I was working for Prizmah.]  I have clear and distinct memories of both, and here I mean in terms of my normal workaday life in schools, not in my overall awareness.  I remember fraught and painful conversations as both faculty and parent communities tried to reconcile strong partisan feelings (and sometimes rancor) with our work to create safe, nurturing, inclusive school communities that were supposed to foster critical thinking skills.  The day after those elections were either funerals or celebrations depending on which team you were on.  You could see the secret high-fives and commiserating glances up and down the hallways.

Sen. Joe Lieberman Visits SSDS-LV, 2008

I don’t recall a single parent last year expressing a concern about how we were teaching or talking about the election.  Our Grade 8s had opportunity to meet with candidates and parties by virtue of our geography and I don’t recall a single parent asking that their child not be exposed to that person or that party.  In 2008, Senator Joe Lieberman (who at that point in his career was a John McCain surrogate) came to visit our tiny school in Las Vegas.  Let’s just say that people (including my father z”l) had feelings.  When Barack Obama became President and wanted to offer anodyne greetings as part of a “back to school” message, not only did we have to secure permission slips, we had families insist that their children be pulled out of class so as not to hear it.  In 2012, the most beloved teacher (Judy Reppert, z”l) in our school was bombarded with questions and criticisms as she tried to navigate “current events”.  When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to our Jewish Community Campus in 2018 for a Rosh Hashanah program, it raised exactly no eyebrows as community leaders – some of whom strongly oppose his politics – welcomed him and happily posed for selfies (guilty!).

PM Justin Trudeau Visits Ottawa Jewish Community Campus, 2018

Why?  Why this stark disparity in both civics and civility?  It is very tempting to be reductive (Canada, Good; America, Bad), but I neither feel that way nor is it true.  Political scientists will rightfully point to differing founding narratives, a huge disparity in homogeneity, surprisingly (to an uneducated American) different political systems, among other explanations.  But I am a school-person – my expertise is in education and my milieu are schools.   And so let me humbly suggest perhaps that civics and civility begin at school…

An illustration…

…I am usually the first person to arrive at school each day, after the security guards.  More often than not, I come in to find our two security guards engaged in high-level political discourse, not only about local and national politics, but about American and world politics.  They are well-read and well-informed.  I would wager that these two Canadian security guards know way more about American politics than any two average Americans.  I cannot be more clear that this is not a backhanded compliment or a knock on “security guards”.  What it is, is an indictment of civic engagement and information literacy in the States.

Our responsibility as schools seem simple, straightforward and entirely non-controversial.  We should educate our students as to how our political system works.  We should teach them the history of national politics.  We should instill in them the desire to participate fully in the political process and to proudly exercise their right to vote. We should encourage them to seek truth so that their beliefs and attitudes about how government should work (one of the definitions of “politics“) are rooted in objective reality.  They should learn to be respectful of differing opinions and to always keep an open mind.  And they should honour the office regardless of who holds it.

The most difficult trend in political discourse (particularly in the States), which impacts our ability to help students “seek truth,” is the seeming inability to agree on an objective truth – about just about anything.  This is particularly challenging in schools where the ability to develop critical thinking skills is amongst our highest responsibilities.  Facts are facts and opinions are opinions.  Or at least they used to be.

As facts themselves have been called into question, politicized, and debated, it makes it more challenging for schools to play their proper roles.  We want to provide students with the tools and skills they need to discern truth from fiction, fact from opinion.  Armed with facts, they can then form informed opinions.  When we cannot collectively point to a fact and call it a “fact” any hope for intelligent debate fades away.  What is a school (or society) to do?

Teach, that’s what.

We lean into civic engagement and information literacy.  Here, in our nation’s capital, we are blessed to have lots of opportunity to connect our school and students to the political process.  Our teachers (primarily, but not exclusively, in Social Studies) take this work seriously.  It is not extracurricular; it is curricular.  We are also blessed here with a wonderful librarian who has serious information literacy chops.  Brigitte Ruel has the best OJCS blog that you are not reading often enough.  Our students are provided with the tools they need to determine what is and what is not a credible source, how to be a “fact finder” in a time of misinformation, and how be an ace fact-checker.  And those are just examples…

Civility is not merely a concept, but a value, and one that schools should be able to model as well as teach.  We certainly do our best here. Elections are an exciting time to be a citizen.  As Jewish day schools, they are powerful opportunities to demonstrate how to have complicated and important conversations in accord with our highest values.  All we can do is our best. We try to live up to our ideals.  We teach facts.  We provide respectful space for opinions.  We encourage civic participation.

We witness history and celebrate the miracle of democracy.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

The Coronavirus Diaries: Preparing the Pivot

This blog post is not intended to indicate any inside information about impending school closures!  I know no more than anyone else about how long we will be blessed with in-person learning at OJCS.  Despite all the challenges – the daily stressors on families when symptoms and exposures occur, the life juggling required to accomodate unplanned learning from home and the extraordinary responsibility our teachers have assumed with grace and care to provide seamless hyflex learning – we are doing remarkably well!  I can’t visit classrooms like I used to, but from what I can see with my own eyes or on a screen, we are delivering on our promise.

Part of what happens at the beginning of each year at OJCS, is that I meet with each teacher to develop an individualized Professional Growth Plan (PGP) for the year.  We believe deeply in lifelong learning and our teachers all establish growth goals to help them be the best teachers they can be.  Through those conversations, we have come to believe that one thing we can be doing now – ahead of any pivot to distance learning should it come – is to role-play distance learning here in school.  We didn’t have any time last year to experience distance learning from the back-end (what does it look like from the student’s perspective?) or to do specific skill-building or troubleshooting, especially at the youngest grades.  We are encouraging all our teachers to take the time now, while we have it, to dedicate a period, a block, a half-day or even a full day to role-play “Distance Learning in Grade X”.  Let’s have the teacher teach from his or her device while students learn from theirs.  Let’s have the teacher create asynchronous lessons that students should (even in K) be able to navigate without (or with limited) parent support and see what happens.

What does this mean for me now?

Great question!  Not much.  You may wish to pay attention to how and when your child(ren)’s teacher(s) schedule these simulated days.  If your child is in Grades K-3, you may see a request from teachers that those students who do have access to devices (tablets or laptops) begin to bring them to school (if you are comfortable).  Whereas we are BYODevice in Grades 4-8, we rely on the school’s iPads in Grades K-3.  Although we are looking to add to our current supply, if you have a device that your child in Grades K-3 would likely be using in the case of a pivot, you may wish to send it for these scheduled practices.

Besides access to devices, how else are teachers preparing for the pivot?

We are seeing a direct result of the learning teachers did during our Pre-Planning Week and an increase in successful asynchronous and hyflex learning.  Please revisit this post to see why and how your child(ren)’s teacher(s) are beginning to embrace platforms like Classkick and Nearpod.

How else can we – as parents – prepare for the pivot?

Another excellent question!  Here, I would advise you to revisit this post from last spring that clarified home expectations.  Our goal is NOT to provide materials for homeschooling!  Our goal is to allow high-quality, rigourous, OJCS learning to happen at home.

 

We don’t know if and when this is coming, but we do know that we want to be as prepared as we can.  If we do these things now when we have ample opportunity to correct, adjust and adapt, it will make any kind of pivot that much more seamless and successful.

If you were playing the COVID “pivot” drinking game, please find a comfortable place to rest for the rest of the day!

This is normally the time of year where I post an update of our school’s philosophy with regard to standardized testing as we prepare to take this year’s exam.  This was the year that we were scheduled to pilot the CAT-5 (we have been taking the CAT-4) and to again expand the grades who take it.  The eventual goal is for each grade to take this exam each year so that we have the most actionable data.  This year, however, the CAT-5 will not roll out due to COVID and most private schools have decided to pause standardized testing.  We, too, shall pause although I would have loved to see the data.  Our theory of the case is that we did not see too much slippage last spring because of our response.  I would love to see if the data bore that out, but even figuring out the logistics of proctoring these exams in compliance with safety protocols is not a good use of our resources.  We look forward to resuming standardized testing in 2020-2021.

OJCS Launches “Life & Legacy Circle”

It feels like a million years ago, I know, but it was only last February that we announced that our school would join fourteen other local Jewish organizations in a commitment to work together to support the future of the Ottawa Jewish Community.  Under the leadership of the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation (OJCF), our community is in its second year delivering and implementing the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF)’s “Life & Legacy” initiative.

We had only just begun our work when it – and the world – was interrupted by COVID-19.  If you want a quick refresher on the big idea, please watch this very short and excellent video produced by OJCF:

We feel passionately at OJCS that our value proposition could not be more clear – or more needed – than now.  In these uncertain times, the stability, excellence and innovation of our program; and the love, care and talent of our teachers are critical to the present and the future of not just the OJCS community, but the Ottawa Jewish Community.  Investing in Jewish school is investing in Jewish community.  The future leaders of this community are being developed within our walls – and for our virtuals learners on our screens – just as the current generation of leaders were.  A legacy gift to OJCS ensures a legacy of Jewish continuity for Ottawa – for your children, their children and future generations of children to come.

As the work of educating our community to the need, the value, and the ease of legacy giving, we are thrilled that we already have a number of families who have stepped forward to make their intent known.  We want to acknowledge and thank the first members of the OJCS Life & Legacy Circle:

Thank you, merci, and תודה רבה Life & Legacy Circle Members

  • Jessica Greenberg
  • Rabbi Eytan Kenter & Staci Zemlak-Kenter
  • Richard Roth and Dr. Riva Levitan
  • Ian and Estelle Melzer
  • Jeff and Rhoda Miller
  • Lisa and Mitch Miller
  • Dr. Jon and Jaimee Mitzmacher
  • Ilana Albert-Novick and Mitchell Novick
  • Joel Sachs
  • Lorne Segal
  • Fred Seller and Stacey Steinman

What do all the above have in common?  NOTHING!  That’s the point; other than a deep connection to OJCS, this list has all kinds of ages and income levels.  Every family can leave a legacy and secure the future.  Trust me, I’m on that list and I can assure you that you don’t need an estate or a measure of wealth to ensure the future of organizations that you care about.  But don’t take it from me, here is what another member of the Circle shared with us:

OJCS (aka Hillel Academy) has been a part of my life from as far back as I can remember. My spouse and I have included OJCS in our Life and Legacy plans because we want to ensure that Jewish education is a strong and thriving part of the Ottawa community now and long into the future.

As we look to grow our Circle, let’s end with another “circle” through the famous story of Honi ha-M’agel or Honi the Circle Drawer:

One day Honi was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, “How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” Honi then further asked him: “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I found [already grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me so I too plant these for my children.”

Want to come plant with us?  You are invited to a special OJCS-OJCF (say that 5 times fast!) Virtual Parlour Meeting on Sunday, October 25th at 7:30 PM hosted by Roz and Steven Fremeth!  To get the link or to ask any Life & Legacy questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Staci Zemlak-Kenter, our Director of Development, at s.zemlak-kenter@theojcs.ca, or 613.722.0020  x 378.

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Safe Reopening FAQ II

The 2020-2021 school year is shaping up to be every bit as unique as the 2019-2020 school year wound up, but we are hopeful that this year will be safer, happier and – perhaps -a bit more predictable.  It is wholeheartedly bittersweet to share out that we have now closed out two of our grades, with a couple of others trending towards closure.  (It is a Jewish day school head’s dream to have a waitlist, but there is little joy since it took a global pandemic to help make it happen.)  We also recognize that there is a great deal of churn and angst as the return of school draws closer.  It feels like the rules of the game change daily; it is like trying to put a puzzle together with new pieces being dropped in.

Here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we are simply doing our best to stay on top of the health guidelines, to hold awareness of what the public board and other private schools are doing, and to be as transparent as we can about what we have already decided and what remains in play.  As I shared directly in an email with returning, new and prospective families last week, we have not received any new guidelines since we made our original announcement to safely reopen with cohorts of 15 students or less.  The announcement last week of Ontario’s return to school without class caps (but with teachers and students [grades 4-8] masked) came as a surprise, but did not come from a change in health guidelines.

So although it is logical for anyone to ask if we are going to align with the public board’s plan, in the absence of new guidelines, we continue to feel comfortable with the caps we have put in place.  We are considering aligning our student masking policy as we are always happy to err on the side of additional safety.

To recap…

…three weeks ago, I blogged out our first round of questions and answers in a kind of FAQ, as part of our initial announcement of a “five-day, full-day” safe reopening.

…two weeks ago, I blogged out an updated list of our faculty that is both now complete and updated for our new, COVID-adjusted schedule.

…last week, I emailed out a revised Parent Handbook (downloadable from our website) that added lots of additional layers and details.

Now that you are all caught up, it is time to share the next bunch of questions and answers, also in the form of an FAQ.  (Please note that the entire list of FAQ will not only be uploaded to our website, but will remain dynamic so that updates and revisions will live there [not in my blog].)

Will my child still receive resource support?  

For students learning in-person or at home, any student with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will continue to receive the support and resources required.  Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education, is available (s.reichstein@theojcs.ca) to discuss any questions you may have around the delivery of services, if needed. 

Can the front office administer my child’s medication? 

As per the recently published OJCS Handbook: For this phase of our re-opening, our personnel will not be administering any medications.

Will there be before and after-care? 

In a recently sent email, we indicated that we are leaning strongly towards NOT offering “Before Care” at this stage of our reopening.  We are fielding feedback from working parents and will soon clarify our position.  (If you have not yet informed us that you will need this, please do so!)  We have worked with the SJCC and can share that their Aftercare Program will mirror our larger grade-level groupings (K-2, 3-5 and 6-8) to maximize health and safety.  They have also pledged to keep non-OJCS students in a separate group.  Please contact Gail Lieff (glieff@jccottawa.com) for information and to register.

Will there be a hot lunch program? 

The added challenge of safely preparing and delivering hot lunch during this phase of our reopening (along with the challenge of no longer having a kosher restaurant on campus) has led us to pause our hot lunch program until after the Jewish High Holidays.  We will look to resume a modified hot lunch – possibly focusing on our Tuesday/Thursday “meat days” – using both our PTA (Hot Dog Days!) and the local community.

What will we do about supply teachers?

We will inevitably require supply teachers from time to time (it is possible that teachers can do some teaching from home with creative in-school supervision).  We are looking to narrow our circle of supply teachers to a group who will commit to substituting only at OJCS to reduce the risk for community spread.  However, like all OJCS Faculty, supply teachers will be required to be masked and socially distanced while teaching at OJCS.

What kind of enhanced cleaning protocols will the school use?

Working with the Campus, we will have enhanced cleaning both in terms of frequency as well as products.  The Campus will be using a fog sanitizer machine that’s called the Fogger. It can sanitize a classroom in minutes, as well as hallways and lockers.  It will be in use during each school day to sanitize outdoor play structures and each evening in every classroom and learning space.  If a child or teacher is sent home due to illness, it will be brought in immediately to that room for a cleaning.  The product is an organic chemical that is safe for humans, animals, plants, etc.

Additionally…

  • In accordance with recommendations from Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health, high touch areas will be cleaned and disinfected at least twice daily. This includes door handles, push bars, railings, washroom surfaces, elevator buttons, kitchen surfaces, and light switches. 
  • All other spaces will be cleaned and disinfected once per day, including hard floors.
  • In accordance with recommendations from Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health, outdoor play structures will be disinfected during school hours, after each cohort has used the structure.  Protocols for cleaning outdoor play structures during winter months will be determined at a later time, as further research is required as to the safety of doing so in sub-freezing temperatures.
  • Sanitizing machines and stations have been set up in various locations on campus, and will be cleaned and filled as required. All hand sanitizer is alcohol-based.
  • Touchless paper towel dispensers have been installed in many washrooms.
  • All air filtration systems will be cleaned quarterly, and filters will be replaced regularly.

OJCS is working with Campus to determine whether or not an additional OJCS-dedicated housekeeping staff person will be required to meet the above and other COVID-specific cleaning protocols. 

A detailed list of the disinfectants to be in use is available upon request.

Will water fountains be in use or turned off this year?

Water fountains can safely be used to fill water bottles (and cups) only.  We will ensure through either signage, physical blockage or manual shut-offs that students are unable to use the water fountains by mouth.This last grouping are not applicable to all families/students, but we think it is helpful to share here as well.

I’ve indicated my child will be engaging in virtual learning only due to health reasons, how will that work?

We expect the following broad principles will guide the distant learning program for the upcoming school year:

  • Teachers will plan and share schedules of weekly classes and assignments in advance, which will give you an opportunity to plan for synchronous (live) and asynchronous (on your own time) learning, as well as printing of any required materials. These will be housed on the class blog.
  • Teachers will record and archive lessons, either in advance or after delivery, and will link to any useful resources. These, too, will be housed on the class blogs. 
  • Students will be responsible for attending some live sessions as part of larger class activities, as well as one-on-one with teachers and remotely working with peers on group projects, if any. 
  • Students will be encouraged to be more self-directed and self-motivated to complete assigned tasks, and explore areas of personal interest. 
  • Teachers will support students to prioritize their tasks by clearly distinguishing between required and supplementary assignments, with flexibility in the ways students can complete their work from home.
  • Teachers will continue to closely monitor students’ work and hold them accountable for their performance with high expectations. 
  • Any student with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will continue to receive the support and resources required. Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education, is available to discuss any questions you may have around the delivery of services, if needed. 

How will the library lending service work this year?

We will be operating the Library through the online management system we installed a couple of years ago.  This site includes our entire catalog, searchable and customizable, and allows students, teachers and families to check books out of the Library.  (This is different from our Library Blog, another valuable source for library, literacy, research and informational media needs at OJCS.  Each site links to the other.)  Through this site, we will be able to continue basic Library services in a safe and touchless form.  For more information, please contact Brigitte Ruel (b.ruel@theojcs.ca).

Will there be a Middle School Retreat?

There will NOT be a formal Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa as has been the case the last couple of years.  There will, however, be a scheduled Retreat on September 15th – 17th here on Campus.  The goals remain to build relationships within and between grade-level cohorts, to team-build, to create community, and to set the tone for a successful Middle School year at OJCS.  We may incorporate field trips into the program, but needless to say, all activities will include adherence to all relevant health protocols.

Will there continue to be electives for the Middle School students?

Yes, we will be offering Middle School electives this year, and they will be contained to grade-level cohorts (i.e. each grade will have their electives once per week within their classroom or outdoors).  More information to follow.

As was the case before, if you have any questions or concerns with any of the above, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  If between FAQ I, FAQ II and the Parent Handbook, you continue to have unanswered questions, please let us know and we can add it to our lists.  In the absence of significant new information, I will likely pause the blogs (and mass emails) so we can focus our energy these next few weeks on preparing for our faculty’s return on August 31st.

Enjoy the beautiful weather and these last weeks of a most unusual summer…

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Plans for a “Five-Day, Full-Day” Safe Reopening

Based on a thorough review of provincial guidelines, an examination of the physical facility, and feedback from teachers and parents, the Ottawa Jewish Community School has announced that it will be able to open after Labour Day with a “five-day, full-day” program for all its enrolled students.  The fundamental idea is to restrict contact to as few spaces and people as is reasonable, while still being able to offer meaningful in-person learning.  OJCS has sought to do this by restricting cohorts to 15 students who will spend the overwhelming majority of their school day in one designated space.

As exciting as this news is, we know there remain lots of questions and concerns about what this means for students, teachers and parents.  To guide our community’s thinking, we have put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for your convenience.  [This FAQ will eventually be housed on our school’s website.]   We have also included a list of questions that are still in the process of being adequately addressed.  [If you do not see your question on this list – or have additional questions or concerns based on any of the answers – please do not hesitate to be in contact with the school for greater clarity.]

So you have enrolled or are thinking about securing your spot (while we still have them!) at OJCS for 2020-2021.  What do you need to know?

How will cohorts be created?

At the time of our decision-making, enrollment dictated that we would be able to offer two cohorts in Grades K, 1, 2, 3, and 5 and one cohort of Grades 4, 6, 7 and 8.  The normal rules for “class-splitting” apply with the major exception of keeping twins and siblings together.

Where will cohorts learn?

Each cohort in Grade K-5 will be assigned a primary classroom or learning space (Library) where all its learning activities are designed to take place.  General, French and Jewish Studies Teachers for each grade level will move between their spaces; students will remain in their space.  Cohorts in Grades 6-8 will be assigned a primary classroom or learning space (Makerspace), but students will travel to limited additional spaces during their learning day.

Will students within cohorts be socially distanced in their own classroom? 

Students will be seated at individual desks spaced apart.  Students will not be sharing school supplies, but rather each student will have their own materials and books assigned to them. 

How else have you restricted contact?

As described in greater detail in our soon-to-be-published, updated “OJCS Handbook”, we have created three different entrances and exits to the school to further separate K-2, 3-4 and 5-8.  Similarly, we have restricted bathroom access to those groupings.

Will parents be allowed in the building to pick up and drop off students?

Parents, guests and visitors will not be able to access the building during this phase of reopening.  Normal drop off and pick up procedures will prohibit parents from entering the building.  Additionally, parents coming to pick up sick children or to take children to off-site appointments will be asked to wait outdoors.  Our Office will be prepared to facilitate all these comings and goings via intercom.  

Will students be allowed to use lockers? 

During this phase of reopening, students will not have access to lockers or storage outside of their designated learning spaces.

What parts of the program have been eliminated to allow for a safe reopening?

Based on guidelines, we will not offer formal PE in Grades K-3 or Music K-8.  Grade-level teachers (in K-3) will have shared responsibility for supervising recess and other necessary (outdoor) physical activity.  Clubs, extracurricular sports, etc., are on hold as well.

What parts of the program have been adjusted to allow for a safe reopening?

Art will now be taught virtually (the Art Teacher broadcast from the Art Studio) in the cohort spaces with support from the grade-level team.  Library workshops will also be taught virtually and all library services will be rendered virtually and contactless.  Snack and Lunch will be eaten in cohort spaces with supervision from the grade-level team.  Recess will be scheduled by cohort, supervised by the grade-level team wherever possible and will take place in scheduled and demarcated outdoor locations which will be cleaned (see below) between usages. 

We are exploring “Outdoor Education” in Grades 4-8 that will take the place of indoor “PE” in those grades, be held fully outdoors (even in Winter) and conducted through social distancing.  [This means that PE Uniforms will NOT be needed until such time as we resume normal PE activities.  It may be helpful for parents to invest in quality outerwear.]  Tefillah (even in Middle School) will take place in cohorts and will launch without singing.  All assemblies, events, holidays, etc., will be reimagined with any necessary adjustments or virtual components to stay in compliance with guidelines.

Will students or teachers be required to wear masks?

The provincial guidelines do NOT currently require students or teachers to wear masks within their cohorts.  Teachers who teach multiple cohorts and/or grades will be required to wear masks during their day.  Students will be required to wear masks while walking the halls, using the bathrooms or in any other spaces other than their primary cohort space (with the exception of outdoor spaces when socially distanced).  Additionally, students in Grades 5 – 8 will be strongly encouraged to wear masks even in their primary learning spaces.

Will my child need to supply their own masks/hand sanitizer?

We do expect families to equip their children with hand sanitizer to be kept in their desk, and to come with their own masks.

How will IEP reviews look in the fall?  Will I still be meeting with the Director of Special Education?

Our Director of Special Education, Sharon Reichstein, will be in touch with all families of students with IEPs and facilitating IEP meetings via video conference.

What does this mean for children who receive services from outside specialists?

We will not be able, during this phase of reopening, to provide on-site, in-person access to learning specialists, reading specialists, occupational therapists, mental health therapists, etc.  We will try on a case-by-case basis to provide a supervised space for tele-therapy or virtual sessions for students in Grades 5-8.

Will temperatures be taken each day?

The guidelines do not call for mandatory temperature checks each day for either students or teachers. 

What are the procedures for kids with runny noses/coughs?

We will be proceeding with extreme caution and will be asking parents to keep home children with just about any symptom of illness at all.  We will be erring on the side of sending students home who exhibit any symptoms as well.  We will be treating our teachers the same.

What if a student or teacher tests positive or is exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?

The decision to operate by cohort allows for a more limited, surgical set of closings in the event of a positive case.  We could send home just the cohort into self-quarantine or the grade-level, depending on the circumstance.  

Who do I get in touch with if someone in my family or community has COVID? 

Please notify both Ottawa Public Health and OJCS immediately should you discover that you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If someone in my immediate family travels, are there any protocols we need to follow when they return? 

Our school will remain aligned with all public health guidelines with regard to travel – within Ontario, between provinces and outside Canada.  This means that all requirements for quarantine will be applied to all OJCS families.

Here are the next set of questions that we are in the process of answering:

  • What kind of enhanced cleaning protocols will the school use?
  • What can you tell us about the state of ventilation in the building?
  • How will you handle supply teachers?
  • Will there be before and after-care? 
  • Will there be a hot lunch program? 
  • I’ve indicated my child will be engaging in virtual learning only due to health reasons, how will that work?
  • Will my child still receive resource support?  
  • How will the library lending service work this year?
  • Can the front office administer my child’s medication? 

In addition to the above, there remain lots of smaller, yet still important, programmatic decisions to be made.  Not everything can and should land in an FAQ, however, we are aiming to include as much as we can.  As stated about 1,000 words above, if you find anything above confusing or concerning, please let us know.  If you have a pressing question that you do not see above, please let us know.

Next week, we will provide you with an update on all remaining staffing concerns.  We are just about finished with hiring and have some wonderful new teachers to introduce to you!  We also know that parents are naturally curious to see how portfolios have shifted from what we have previously announced.  Stay tuned!

Becoming a Dugma Ivrit

How about we take a break from social protest, social distancing and COVID-19 for just a week?

Next week, we will laud our amazing OJCS Graduation Class of 2020, and then we will introduce the 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff, and – of course – we will have ongoing conversation about how we will safely reopen school.

But just for a week, can we pretend that things are normal?  It would be so good for my state of mind to talk about normal things for just a week, so please indulge me in a non-emergency, non-urgent, post about something I care a lot about…Hebrew.

There is a Hebrew expression often used in Jewish educational settings known as a dugma ishit – a personal example.  We remind ourselves as leaders, and our students (or campers or youth group members) of what it means to be a role model and an example to others.  I take this concept seriously, not only for my teachers and students, but for me. As a Jewish educational leader, I should strive to be a dugma ishit. However, as I am constantly reminded in conversation and meetings with Jewish Studies Faculty, Ellie, and not-an-insignificant-number of parents in a school like ours that prides itself on language immersion, what that really means is that I also must strive become a dugma ivrit.

My youngest daughter is now in grade six.  Having attended preschools where she always had at least one Israeli teacher and being in day schools that utilize immersive curricula, she has developed a cute little Israeli accent.  She, like many of her classmates, have been listening to Hebrew for as long as they can remember and although they (naturally) vary in their abilities, they are comfortable speaking Hebrew.

Let me define “comfortable”.

The biggest difference between adult learners and child learners is self-consciousness.  As an adult, I am very conscious when I make mistakes and, as an adult, I am uncomfortable making them.  As a child, I am often less conscious when I make mistakes, but more importantly, as a child, I am comfortable making them – because that’s what learning is.

You can learn Hebrew as an adult.  I did.  I was in my 20’s attending ulpan as a prerequisite to begin graduate school before I spoke my first Hebrew sentence.  I was a pretty good student and so I learned.  But as I good as I ever got in the heart of my studies, I could never escape the heart palpitations when called upon to speak.  What if I didn’t know the correct word?  What if I mixed up my verb tenses or used the wrong grammatical construct?  And so even though I have lots of Hebrew in my head and would be considered somewhat “fluent” by some, I still have to manually shift my brain and screw up my courage to speak.

For example,  Jewish Studies Faculty meetings are typically conducted in Hebrew.  And I am perfectly capable of participating.  But when it is my turn to speak, I may get a few Hebrew sentences out, but will almost automatically switch to English.

Here’s the irony.  (Or, perhaps, hypocrisy.)

I have been on a mission since arriving here to up the intensity of our Hebrew immersion.  As an educator, I know that any hope at true second-language (or in our case third-language depending on how you rank them) acquisition and authentic fluency is dependent on our ability to provide as pure an immersive environment as possible.  And yet when Dr. Mitzmacher comes to teach prayer – I mean Tefillah – to First Grade – I mean Kitah Alef – he speaks to the children in English, while praying with them in Hebrew.

Some dugma ishit that guy is!

So after almost three years of hearing me preach Hebrew immersion (in English!), it is time to ask a hard question: Why don’t I speak to the kids in Hebrew when I am teaching Jewish Studies?  If we want to truly be more of a trilingual school why don’t I make school announcements in Hebrew or speak Hebrew during school assemblies and other events?

Why don’t I?

Because it scares me.

What if I forget the words?  What if I say it incorrectly?  What if I get nervous and go blank?  What will people think?

And for me it is about more than Hebrew.  Because if a school prides itself on transparency and praises spirited failure, then it requires that leaders lead.

So even though it terrifies me, I have set some new professional goals for next year.  I am going to try to speak in Hebrew when I am teaching Jewish Studies.  I am going to try to include spoken Hebrew in major school events, like graduation.  I am going to try to speak Hebrew during Jewish Studies faculty meetings.  I am going to try to speak Hebrew with my daughters.  I am going to try and I am likely to fail.  But I will try to keep trying.

Because that’s what it means to be a dugma ivrit.

By the way…if I had any hope of learning French at my advanced age and reduced bandwidth, I promise I would add that into the mix as well.  All the larger points above apply equally well to French.  But you have to crawl before you can walk, which for me means that you have to try being bilingual before you try trilingual.

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

I took advantage of the holiday weekend (Victoria Day, my American friends) with little opportunity to do much other than enjoy the weather at great (social) distance, to go through the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey.  If you would like to see a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or have them open so you can toggle back and forth.  In this post, I will try to capture the highlights and identify what trends as seem worth paying attention to.

The first thing to name, which does not come as a tremendous surprise considering the times we are living through, is that both the number and percentage of students captured in this year’s survey is markedly down from the prior two years.  We have gone from 81 students to 84 students to 54 students.  This represents about 32% of our student population.  (Even less where not each survey is fully filled out.)  As the survey is per student, not per family, it runs the risk of being even less representative than that.  (In the service of anonymity, we have no way to actually know how many families the survey actually represents.)  Last year, we were at about 40% of students represented with a goal this year of hitting 50%.

Of course, this is definitely not an “all things being equal” circumstance.  We are still navigating distance learning and it is doubtful that drawing any meaningful conclusions about participation rates is worthwhile.  [We saw a similar decline in percentage in this year’s Annual Faculty Survey and it aligns with fieldwide data.]  Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, there is no common wisdom when it comes to pandemic times.  So instead of worrying this year about the motivations for why families did or didn’t fill out surveys, 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.  This year, we see less Kindergarten than normal, for what that’s worth.

The percentage who replied “yes” is largely unchanged from last year (and always compounded by not knowing who of the “no’s” represent graduations or relocations, as opposed to choosing to attrit prior to Grade 8).  What is different this year is that the percentage of “undecideds” is larger than the “no’s” for the first time.  An increase of uncertainty certainly seems reasonable during a time of pandemic, although we have no way to tell the difference between correlation and causation.  What continues to be true is that the overwhelming majority of families – regardless of their feedback – stay with us year after year.  This continues to say a lot about them and a lot about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

The first chart gives you the weighted average satisfaction score (out of 10); the second chart gives you the breakdown by category.  I will remind you that for this and all categories, I look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than to 7, and looking for scores to go up each year.  In terms of “overall satisfaction”, we have now gone from 7.13 to 7.20 to 8.17.  This year marks a meaningful jump in the right direction and you can see by the second chart that it is explained by the extremely high percentage of families who graded the school an 8, 9 or 10 and the extremely low percentage of families who graded the school a 1, 2 or 3 (in fact no families graded the school a “1” or “2”) – both of those things were not (as) true last year.  This is surely good news, but let’s dig deeper…

A few things jump out…

  • The topline number is up, fairly significantly, from 7.11 to 8.0.  This marks the first time we have reached that threshold.
  • Both learning “LEVELS” and learning “STYLES” have also crossed the threshold from the less healthy high 6’s into the mid 7’s.  It would be nice to know how much of this is attributed to improvement in general and how much to how the school has responded to distance learning, but we will have that same question to answer with almost all the data.
  • I am very pleased to see that every single category is up from the prior year and that all, but one, in this section are now firmly in the healthy 7-9 range.
  • I am thrilled to see such a high score (8.25) for “creative and critical thinking skills”.
  • Our lowest score (again) is again in “Homework” although it has climbed from 6.56 to 6.91, putting it just outside the healthy band.  As I wrote about in my self-evaluation, it is hard to know if the full implementation of our new Homework Philosophy was hindered by COVID-19, but we will look to see if this score goes up with another year of implementation under our belts.

  • Hereto, every metric is higher than last year and we still want to see each one climb a little higher.
  • The topline number has moved from 6.61 to 6.97, which is so close to being a 7, but for such an important metric, I would really like to see it closer to 8.  It would be interesting to peg this question to the grade of the student captured in the data (which I cannot do in order to protect anonymity) to see if parents’ perceptions of their child(ren) as being well prepared for high school grows higher as they get closer (which would be good) to graduation.
  • So thrilled to see all three of our metrics that deal with resource and IEPs to have grown and to all enter the healthy band!  Kudos to Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs Education, and her team for all their work this year – work that I believe has proven even more valuable during this time of distance learning.  This is a clear example over time where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

  • Thrilled to see that our topline number has moved from 7.24 to 8.17!
  • Very happy to see that every metric in General Studies is well into the healthy band and each one is up from the prior year:
    • Math: 7.09 to 7.60
    • Science: 7.09 to 7.72
    • Social Studies: 7.41 to 7.96
    • Reading: 6.93 to 8.0
    • Writing: 6.51 to 7.07
  • I would happily attribute the meaningful increase in reading to all the work our Language Arts Teachers have done with STAR Reading / Accelerated Reader, incentivizing reading in general with the “Annual Reading Challenge” and the Scholastic Book Fair, and better integrating our Library with the Classrooms.

  • I am of two minds when it comes to our French metrics.  The positive is that all three metrics are HIGHER than they were last year at this time.  That’s good news!  Our OVERALL metric went from 5.66 to 6.54.  French reading grew from 5.58 to 6.36.  French writing went 5.35 to 6.07.  Those are all meaningful jumps in the right direction.  The negative, of course, is that they all still fall below the healthy band.  However, another year of growth like this one would put all those categories firmly there.  That should be great cause for optimism since this year’s growth can fairly be attributed to the first year of our consultancy with TACLEF – a year that got truncated by a third due to COVID-19.  Immediately before we pivoted to distance learning, we posted an update on the progress we had made this year due to TACLEF.  Knowing that we have another full year of consultancy ahead of us, should inspire greater confidence that our French outcomes will soon be on par with the rest of General Studies.  That will be quite an accomplishment considering the narrative around French outcomes that the school has been working to flip during the last three years.  Bon travail to the French Department!
  • Sticking with the theme of this section, all three of our specialty classes are up as well!  Congrats to the PE Teachers for leading PE from 6.84 to 7.75, to Morah Shira for lifting Art from 7.20 to 8.33, and to new Music Teacher, Mr. Goddard, for guiding Music from 6.80 to 7.56.  It is good to know that even with a rigorous, trilingual curriculum, that we continue to offer the kinds of high-quality PE/Music/Art experiences that make a well-rounded education.

  • We are again thrilled to see all our Jewish Studies metrics continue to climb higher after another year.  We are especially pleased to see the OVERALL metric move from 7.29 to 8.08.  With another year’s commitment to immersive Hebrew pedagogy, another year of meaningful prayer experiences, the leadership of Dr. Avi Marcovitz as our new Dean of Judaics, greater engagement of our community’s clergy, etc., we are clearly headed in the right direction.  Kol ha’kavod to the Jewish Studies Department!
  • We are pleased to see our extracurricular activities and athletics climb into the healthy range this year!  We are pleased to see field trips go up, with the hope to see it over 7 in the year to come.
  • Although our hot lunch program and our after school metrics trail behind the others, they are both UP significantly from the last year.  We will continue to work with our partners and vendors and look forward to continued growth in the year ahead.

From our experimental section, we yield these two data points (and two sets of meaningful commentary).  As we see it as almost an inevitably that schools will be required to pivot back and forth from school in a bricks-and-mortar building to school through distance learning, our ability to navigate that pivot with minimal disruption and maximal academic progress – not to mention with the continuance of meaningful Jewish experiences – will be powerful value-adds for OJCS in the years ahead.

  • I noticed that I did NOT include this section (Communications) in last year’s analysis (even though I am pretty sure the questions were asked), so we will let this year’s data serve as a baseline from which to judge future metrics.
  • All of these scores are high into the healthy range!  I like to see our “open and welcoming atmosphere” come in at 8.60, our regular communication at 8.73 and the front office’s responsiveness to concerns at an 8.80 – all of our highest scores.  I think we all know that we have Ellie to thank for a lot of those high scores!
  • I will be interested to see what the impact of “Student-Led Conferences” will be on the “parent-teacher conferences” metric once launched.

  • I have already shared my thoughts on my own job performance in my prior “Transparency Files” post.  I will simply state here my pleasure in seeing all these numbers climb from the prior year.
  • The one metric that I am very pleased to see climb is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Last year we scored a 6.69 and I stated 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.”  Well, it came in this year at a 7.65.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.  Our school has climbed from last year’s 4.14 to this year’s. 4.44.  I truthfully don’t know how much more there reasonably is to grow this, but we’ll keep doing our best to find out!

So there you have it for 2019-2020!

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 written 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.  (This includes a full set of unedited and unredacted results which goes to the Head Support and Evaluation Committee of our Board of Trustees.)  As you can see each year, we really do use this data to make enhancements and improvements each year.

We want to reverse this year’s trend in terms of parent participation, but very much wish to continue this year’s trend in increasing positive outcomes and satisfaction.  To mix school metaphors, each year simply becomes the higher “floor” we stand upon to reach towards our North Stars.  With no ceiling, we aim to reach a little closer each time.

“Going Forward to School” – Republished from eJewish Philanthropy

[The following contains ideas from a prior blog post, but this version was published on 5/12/20 on eJewishphilanthropy.com.]

Going Forward to School

The simple truth is that we don’t know when we will return to school.  We are hopeful that the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year will take place in our classrooms.  We know that at some point in the future that we will return.  But as Heidi Hayes Jacobs recently said, “We have to start thinking about how we don’t go back to school, but how we go forward to school.”

This extraordinary moment we are living, teaching and learning through will eventually end, but it would be a huge mistake to go back to school as it was when we have an opportunity to go forward to school as it ought to be.  Here are four ways we should begin thinking about going forward to school:

Amplifying Quiet/Introverted Voices

A lot of teachers are getting a chance to better know a bunch of their most interesting, funny, serious and creative students.  Distance learning is unleashing and amplifying introverted voices to everyone’s benefit.   A lot of teachers are going get a chance to better know a bunch of their most interesting, funny, serious and creative students.  Chats, backchannels, blogs and blogfolios allow teachers and administrators to get to know our students more fully and through commentary allow us to relationship-build more meaningfully.  That is why they are powerful pedagogies in normal circumstances.  What is true for chats and blogs normally is now true for much of distance learning for all our students for much of our day.  Distance learning may have forced us into these techniques, but our core values require us to continue to amplify quiet voices when we go forward to school.

Developing Self-Directed Learners

Distance learning – as many of our parents can vouch for – is helped tremendously when students have the skills necessary to be self-directed learners.  And these skills are not exclusive to certain grades or subjects or even learning styles.  According to Silvia Tolisano the skills of self-directed learning – Heutagogical Documentation, Web & Information Literacy, Choice & Voice, Curation, Tutorials, Personal Learning Network (PLN) – can and should be embedded across ages, stages, styles and curricula.  They can make as much sense in a Kindergarten English lesson as they can a Grade 4 Science lesson as they can in a Grade 8 Hebrew lesson.

One could argue that the only real aim in schooling is being sure that students are capable of being able to learn how to learn.  What the move to distance learning forced on us was explicitly teaching these skills to students who not have adequately mastered them yet.  We are making up for lost time now out of necessity.  But we should embed these skills more deeply in our curriculum when we go forward to school.

Personalized Learning

Almost more than anything else, the move to distance learning has proved the necessity and the power of personalized learning.  We have no choice, but to lean into individualized instruction, personalized curriculum, and self-directed learning.  To do that well, to do that at all for that matter, requires you to spend meaningful time building relationships.  It can be hard to do that in a crowded classroom, but its importance comes screamingly clear through distance.  The amount of time we are now spending in direct communication with students and parents about their learning, the care that is now being put into personalized learning programs will help ensure that when we do go forward to school that we will come that much closer to treating each student as if they have unique and special needs…because they do.

Strengthening (Global) Connectedness

Jewish day schools, in general, emphasize global connectedness.  We’ve always maintained connections to schools in other countries and to personalities from other cultures.  We leverage those relationships to speak in our languages, to engage in active citizenship, to perform acts of social justice and lovingkindness and to foster our love for the People, Land and State of Israel.  In a time of social distancing, however, not only have we had to lean on our global connectedness, but we have had to learn how to foster local and school connectedness through platforms as well.  When we gather as a community for a virtual Family Kabbalat Shabbat or our students learn with and from a Holocaust survivor or when we celebrate Israel’s independence as part of a global audience, we feel the power of a connected community.

But when we go forward to school, what I’ll be thinking about is how much joy our students have each (virtual) day when they get to see each other’s smiling faces.  How can we use what we have learned about connectedness when distance was imposed on us all, to address school and community needs when distance is required for a few?  How could we incorporate our sick classmates into daily learning?  How could we incorporate parents or grandparents who are unable to be physically present, but want to be connected and involved into the life of the school?

We will – at some point – return.  At that time, I hope to see lots of schools promoting “Welcome Forward” activities in recognition of all the lessons learned during these difficult times that will continue to make our schools hubs of innovation in our local and wider educational communities.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

If You Really Want to Appreciate Teachers, Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt.

We will be celebrating “Faculty Appreciation Week” next week and with the overwhelming majority of schools making their ways through their versions of distance learning we will – rightfully – hear all the ways that having school at home (which is not homeschooling) has brought newfound appreciation for all the things that teachers do to facilitate learning, inspire growth, foster imagination, support development, catalyze innovation, nurture spirits and souls and otherwise care for and love their children.  We will prepare treats, send gift e-cards and even invite our students to capture their messages of appreciation.  And we should!  But if we genuinely want to show our appreciation for faculty, perhaps we should give them the one gift they most surely want and have most truly earned – the benefit of the doubt.

I wrote a torrent of words (even for me) last week about all the ways we should carry the lessons of distance learning forward to school; that there are important lessons and platforms and pedagogies and ideas that should carry forward into school whenever we do return.  We don’t want to go back to school, we want to go forward.  But in terms of teacher appreciation, I would argue the opposite.  The lesson we want to learn from distance learning about appreciating and valuing teachers is that we actually do want to go back – way back – to a time when we gave our teachers the benefit of the doubt.

Teachers are not infallible.  Teachers make mistakes.  Teachers can do the wrong thing.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean blind faith.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t advocate for their children.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t meant that sometimes parents don’t have a better solution to an issue than their teachers.  The best of schools foster healthy parent-teacher relationships explicitly because of these truths.  Both partners are required to produce the best results.  But somewhere in between my time as a student to my time as an educator, the culture changed.  Respect for teachers went from being automatic to being earned to being ignored.

So this year for “Teacher Appreciation Week” absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media.  Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades.  Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to make this transition to distance learning as successful as it has been.  Please.

But let’s also try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.