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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a major transition in two ways.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

…own our learning?

…learn better together?

…inspire Jewish journeys?

…provide a floor, but not a ceiling?

…experience ruach?

…be more responsible each to the other?

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

Let’s Talk About The Future: The 2018-2019 OJCS Sneak Peek Town Hall

It is hard to believe, but June is around the corner and with it comes a crescendo of closing experiences marking the end of a remarkable year of re-imagination and revitalization.  Looking back on the journey, I can honestly tell you that we are farther along than I could have hoped, and that the next year will bring us even closer to the school we are looking to become.  You can see it in the numbers and you can feel it in the building.  Enrollment is up and attrition is down.  We have officially opened up a second kindergarten class as we are cresting towards 30 new kindergartners next year.  And although we continue to pay very close attention to attrition from Grades 3 to 4 (largely due to French immersion) and Grades 6 to 7 (as we continue to watch the influence of high schools dipping down to Grade 7), and we will suffer some attrition, the percentages have decreased.  We also have new students joining many grades, including five new students joining Grade 1.

Numbers matter.  But feelings matter too.  And a time of year that used to be fraught with anxiety – whether about enrollment or funding – is now filled with enthusiasm as we look to celebrate the year that was, and plan the year that is to come.  There are big events still to come: Public Speaking Assembly, Entrepreneurship Day, Grade 8 Grad Trip, Girls & Boys Nights In, Walk-a-Thon, Yearbook Assembly, etc., all culminating in a celebration of our remarkable eighth graders at Graduation.  There are also a few more “Transparency Files” to come as we look forward to providing a more detailed look at next year’s daily schedule and sharing out the 2018-2019 OJCS Faculty.  That is a lot of activity for just five weeks!

For today, however, I would like to close one loop by sharing out a “movie” of last night’s Town Hall, the topic of which was “A Sneak Peek at Next Year”.  I learned a new trick, which I am playing with here. I have converted the PowerPoint presentation into a movie.  When you hit “play” it will begin scrolling the slides and will automatically play the embedded videos.  You are welcome to hit “pause” at any point to give yourself more time to digest.

Because any good presentation consists of much more than you find on the slides, please know that you may not quite grasp the full meaning of each slide.  (That’s why you should have come to the Town Hall!)  To help make it a little more clear, however, I want to call your attention to the narrative flow…

You will find within, the four critical conversations we declared early in the year would be necessary for our school to take a leap forward: Transparency, Jewish Mission/Vision, French Outcomes and the OJCS Value Proposition.  The first, transparency, we attempted to launch on day one; the latter three have each taken their own path, ending with a “town hall”.  The presentation walks you through the highlights of those four journeys…

There is one slide that lays out for the first time our “North Stars” – the core values that came as a result of all the work we did with NoTosh.  You may not fully capture the meaning from just that slide.  There is an entire separate presentation of those North Stars that we will look to make at the beginning of next year.

The embedded videos try to make the case that change is necessary and that we never change for change’s sake.  We distinguish between that which is timely and that which is timeless.

Finally, we lay out some of the concrete changes for next year that come as a result of all the work, the conversations, the data collection, the consultations, the feedback, the recommendations, the surveys and the town halls.  These come from our students, teachers, parents, volunteers, donors, supporters, consultants and the wider world of education and innovation.  We believe that we are prepared to take that next leap forward…and we are blessed to have so many new and returning families joining us on that journey.

The OJCS Announces $50,000 Innovation Gift

“An older couple walk into a Jewish Federation…” is not the beginning of a borscht belt joke…but it just might be the beginning of the future of education in Ottawa.  I am not normally the b’sheret type of person.  I don’t often subscribe to the notion that the “universe” responds to what you put out there.  I am not even sure I believe that you “make your own luck”.  But I am paying attention now…

When I got an email from our Jewish Federation’s Executive Director, Andrea Freedman, that an older married couple had expressed interest in contributing to the future of Jewish education in Ottawa and did I have anything to propose, I tempered my enthusiasm.  Not due to their age, simply out of having had the prospect of a meaningful gift floated many times without landing.  But I definitely had ideas…

I just so happened to be sitting on two innovation proposals and with much help from Andrea and her team, we managed to put something compelling in front of the couple (they have expressed a preference to remain anonymous) in short order.  And thanks to Andrea’s stewardship, not only did they agree to fund them both…they also agreed to do more.

We have consistently described the school as being engaged in three critical conversations in this year of transition.  The first is a clarification of our Jewish mission and vision, the work of which continues to be shared out.  The second is an honest examination of our French outcomes, the work of which is ongoing with a first deliverable expected in early February.  The third is (probably) the most important of the three and if schools were not living creatures, would likely have launched first.  However, since change management in schools is analogous to fixing an airplane whilst flying it, it had been parked on the runway.  This conversation cuts to the heart of the very value proposition of the school and attempts to answer one very simple and consequential question: “What does the OJCS believe to be true about teaching and learning?”

The answer to this question lives in the messy world between mission statement and curriculum (both of which we presently have).  The answer to this question serves as the connective tissue between our pedagogical choices and our academic benchmarks and standards (both of which we kinda-mostly have).  The answer to this question anchors the school in a vibrant present while leading with clarity, strategy and purpose towards an innovative future.

The answer to this question is the work and the work just got real.

It is important to know your limits.  Is something I try to remind myself of in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, night-dreaming of all I want to do.  Here in my third headship, with all the lessons learned working with schools all across North America and a deep-dive into innovation, I have tried on patience.  I know that the system can only manage so much change in a given year and that it takes time to lay the ground for what’s to come.  I know what I believe to be true about teaching and learning, but that simply imposing that on a school is doomed to failure.  That is why so much of my focus this year is on systems and structures and processes.  I am in the weeds with the nuts and the bolts and the fire-putting-outs.

We have introduced “bandwidth” to our shared vocabulary here at OJCS because its maintenance is an important reality check against all proposed change.  And I have it as well.  So when it became clear to me early on that in order to get us from here to there we’d need a little help from our friends, I knew exactly who to turn to for proposals. You are going to get to know them all much better in the months ahead, but let’s introduce the partners who are going to help the Ottawa Jewish Community School become the most innovative school in Ottawa.

Sometimes it’s the haystack you need to find, not the needle.

NoTosh is a global consultancy with a passion for learning and a conviction that innovation and creativity can change the way people think, the way they learn and the way they work – as individuals, teams, organizations and communities.  NoTosh was established in 2009 to improve student engagement by challenging the status quo of teaching and learning in schools.

Beginning in January, NoTosh will work with the OJCS leadership team and faculty to:

  • Unpack some of the big questions that need answered to achieve its ambitious goals;
  • Co-design some of the nuts and bolts that will help get the school up and running with design thinking at the heart of its approaches;
  • Unpack what the unique value proposition of the school is and how does it stand apart from all other schools in the area.

Research has proven that a reflective learning culture is one of the best indicators to increase student learning.

Silvia Tolisano is a leading global educator and proponent of the documentation of learning as part of the learning process.  [She has also been a colleague and inspiration during my last three stops.  As part of my faculty at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, part of my team at the Schechter Day School Network and at Prizmah, and cofounder (along with our third partner Andrea Hernandez) of edJEWcon, I can attest firsthand to what an extraordinary educator she is.]   The work we will do with Silvia beginning in the Fall of 2018 will be a powerful learning opportunity allowing teachers to experience that shift in their learning and make documentation, reflection and sharing part of their practice.

Selected faculty will build a learning network, and share their practices, successes and failures to benefit the school community, including parents, colleagues and students.  While there is no one magic solution to excellence and this process will take time, developing a culture of shared documentation is the key to building an innovative school ready to tackle the challenge of preparing students to be successful in the 21st Century.  It creates the spine upon which student, faculty and parent culture and communication thrive.  It sets the conditions for project-based learning, collaboration and integration of new literacies.  This is the future of education and we are ready to lead.

What’s this “more” you were referring to in the opening?

Great question!

In addition to funding these two amazing proposals which will transform teaching and learning at our school, this remarkable couple is also enabling us to double the number of iPads in the school. The great news is that our teachers are already doing such wonderful work with them that we can take advantage of this blessing immediately…and will.

As we enter Winter Break and the end of a (secular) calendar year, it is natural to look a bit back and dream a bit forward…

With a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears from our talented and loving faculty, administration, and board, it is starting to happen.  We can feel it in the walls and hear it in the parking lot.  We see it in the new students joining us this January and the tours being booked for next year.  The blessing of this gift will accelerate and amplify what has already begun.  We meant it when we said that the future of education will be written at the OJCS.  That future just got closer…

Trifurcation: Three Paths Forward From “Innovation Alley”

[Originally posted in my final Prizmah blog post in “Innovation Alley“.]

As I linger one last time in Innovation Alley, permit me the opportunity to bookend this blog post with a few, brief personal thoughts…

What a blessing these last four crazy years of professional life has been for me!  Truly.  From a headship I treasured at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, to an executive directorship I was just figuring out at the Schechter Day School Network, into a vice presidentship I never anticipated here at Prizmah – with overlapping timelines and characters, I feel like I’ve enjoyed an entire compressed career without a forwarding address.  It is dizzying to think about, but the feeling that best captures my attitude as I prepare (again!) to shift lanes is simply gratitude.  I am forever enriched for the experiences and relationships these last years have brought me.

“Gratitude” is also an appropriate word to describe how I feel about my year at Prizmah.  To have had a chance to dig deep in the world of innovation, if only for a year, has opened my eyes as to what is possible and has inspired me to play my part to help the possible become reality.  At the heart of things, that’s what this work is really about – helping Jewish day schools transform teaching and learning to the greater good of the Jewish People.  All the rest is commentary…

Do I wish we had accomplished more in Year One?  Yes.

It is certainly the case that the most obvious, externally-facing work we did this year was the “Playground” at Prizmah’s inaugural conference.  There were smaller successes in terms of edJEWcon (which I’ll discuss below) and there were/are a ton of internal conversations that have contributed to other of Prizmah’s work, but in terms of the larger catalyzing contributions that we described upon launch, it is perfectly fair to note that we simply didn’t get there…at least not yet.

Trifurcation

Since sharing back in January both Prizmah’s plan to reincorporate “Innovation” back into the corpus (instead of it remaining as a distinct department) and my plan to continue my career path elsewhere once my transition responsibilities were complete, we’ve been sorting through how (some of) the distinct components of the “Innovation Department” will move the work forward in the year to come.  I am pleased to share with you how three of these components are taking shape for the year to come: Prizmah, edJEWcon, and…well…me.

Prizmah

The story of innovation at Prizmah will no longer be mine to tell, but I can assure you that it will continue.  In addition to the innovative work which will now weave itself into the fabric of the whole, I am hopeful that three of the current vehicles for sharing and discussing innovation will not only continue, but grow and evolve in the hands of my current (and perhaps new) colleagues moving forward.  This includes the blog you are now reading, a standing column of the same name in HaYidion, and Reshet Innovation (for Prizmah members).  I look forwarding to seeing how these vehicles are improved (or changed/replaced) with new thinking and new leadership.  Furthermore, Prizmah plans to continue advancing the powerful insights framed by edJEWcon – notably the approach to active capturing, documenting, reflecting and sharing around use of technologies and innovation.  Finally, it is my hope and expectation that entirely new innovative ideas and opportunities for uplifting the field will come from the work Prizmah will share, launch, link, catalyze and support in the years to come.

edJEWcon

As you likely gathered from the last paragraph, edJEWcon itself will no longer continue as a branded program of Prizmah.  We are pleased that the work of edJEWcon has made a positive impact on Prizmah and will live on not only as described above, but also in the person of edJEWcon co-founder Andrea Hernandez who continues on as part of Prizmah’s team with “innovation” part of her ongoing portfolio.  This does not mean the end of edJEWcon!  As has been the case (more times than we could have guessed!) in the past, we (Andrea, co-founder Silvia Tolisano and I) will revisit edJEWcon’s value proposition with funders and the field and look forward to sharing our thoughts on edJEWcon’s future contributions to thought leadership, social media, and work in the field on its website soon.  We look forward to active collaboration with Prizmah when possible in future endeavors.

Me

As for me, I am preparing to take all that I have learned these last three years and apply it to my return to the headship as the incoming Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  I don’t know how “innovative” I’ll be on Day One, but you can continue to follow my journey on my website or on social media.

As it says in the Mishnah: “Lo alecha ha’mlacha legmor…” – “It is not incumbent on you to finish the work, neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.”  (Mishnah: Avot, 2.16)  It has been an honor and a career highlight to have had the chance to help birth Prizmah and be part of its first year of life.  I look forward to watching it grow and succeed with, perhaps, a few more degrees of separation, but no less pride and joy.

Kol tuv and l’hitraot…