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)

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.

Jewish Day Schools As Incubators of Jewish Leadership

What is “Jewish leadership”?

Does it refer to Jews who serve in leadership roles?  Is it about Jews who lead in accordance with Jewish values?

The first is common; the second is rare.

We’ve been thinking about it a lot at OJCS.   We have come to believe that Jewish day schools can serve as incubators for Jewish leadership because they have the opportunity to encourage and inspire both.

I had the privilege of addressing this topic last Shabbat when I spoke at Congregation Machzikei Hadas and it went well enough that I was encouraged to blog about it this week.

About three, four, years ago I had the opportunity to visit Donna Klein Jewish Academy  in Boca Raton, Florida and I can still recall how each time we entered a new classroom, how a student would automatically pop up, come over, introduce themselves, tell us what was happening in the class, and then offer to answer any questions we may have. Class after class after class.  No prompting from teachers.  I further noted how each teacher had a personal mission statement on the doors of each classroom.  The hallways were labeled in both Hebrew and English with each of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

That was how I was first introduced to the “7 Habits”.  I further learned how CAJE-Miami helped provide training for many of the Jewish day schools in South Florida to receive training in The Leader in Me – which helps schools bring the 7 Habits to life – and provided some Jewish value translation work to ensure they could live throughout the Jewish day school experience.  And, with some stops between then and now, that is how it came to be that OJCS began prototyping its own version of the 7 Habits this year.

I have been blogging about the details of this prototype as we have introduced each new habit (and, yes, I am actually now one behind) and in preparation for last Shabbat I came across an article from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks that helped me connect some dots.  “Seven Principles of Jewish Leadership” is the title and the symmetry was too good to pass up.  As a first step, I expanded upon a visual already created by CAJE-Miami and I created a visual that integrated Rabbi Sacks’ “Seven Principles” with the “7 Habits” with Jewish values. What I did conversationally, was link each of the “sevens” with Jewish text and real examples of what it looks like in a school or classroom.  In a nutshell, I tried to answer the question of what happens when a Jewish day school moves Jewish leadership from the implicit curriculum to the explicit curriculum.

Here’s a graphic organizer to help you get oriented:

You may note that all of the “sevens” are further divided along Rabbi Hillel’s famous dictum from Pirkei Avot 1:14 (again borrowed from CAJE-Miami) – the first three focus on the individual, the second three on the relationship between the individual and community, and the final on, let’s say “timing”.  So.  How about we explore what this can look like in real life and in real classrooms?

  • #1: For me, the relevant texts are the juxtaposition between the lack of responsibility taken by Adam in the Garden of Eden (the serpent made me do it!) and Cain (Am I my brother’s keeper?) and how Moshe responds when he sees a Hebrew slave being beaten or when he discovers Yitro’s daughters being harassed by shepherds.  In terms of examples, in our school being proactive and taking responsibility lives in both formal structures like Knesset (student government) and informal structures like prototyping.  Two recent examples come to mind.  A member of Knesset pitched us on letting a student co-own the school’s Instagram account to make it more student-friendly. Also, the entire Grade 4 pitched us on allowing them greater access to student blogging:

The prototyping culture we are creating encourages and incentivizes students to take responsibility, to be proactive and in the parlance of our “North Stars” to truly “own their own learning”.

  • #2: Here we look to Sefer D’varim (Book of Deuteronomy) in which during the last month of his life, Moshe sets out a vision and a set of laws to secure it.  When we think at OJCS about the future, about “beginning with the end in mind,” we want our students to learn how to envision a future for themselves and then learn how to communicate and achieve it.  We provide them with opportunities to develop these skills through a variety of student-led experiences with both high and low stakes.  We collaboratively goal-set with each student around academic and behavioral outcomes, for example, as we head down a path that will likely end in student-led conferences (replacing parent-teacher conferences).  We also provide students with opportunities to plan and run clubs such as our “Detective Club” and “Alien Club”.
  • #3: Thinking about “putting first things first” and an overall sense of timing leads me to Rabbi Tarfon who said in Mishnah Avot 2:16, “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”  In the life of school, this resonates with all the ways we are trying to help our students navigate time management and executive functioning.  We now offer a Study Skills Elective each week.  We offer twice-weekly Study Hall.  We are looking at an Executive Functioning Boot Camp model for next year.  We are looking at tools like Google Calendar and Google Keep.  Another way we think about “putting first things first” is building on the success of our Middle School Retreat in helping create a sense of community and shared expectations for our middle schoolers each and every year.
  • #4: This next one is a little dense, but is actually one of my favorite teachings about leadership.   Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, a leading theologian and philosopher from the Reform Movement, wrote an article years and years ago in which he asserted that (religious) leadership should model itself on the kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum. “Tzimtzum” as described by Isaac Luria is the idea that in order to create the world, God had to contract Godself in order to make room for creation to take place.  In other words, sometimes leadership is about making space for others to lead.  These ideas are embedded in two of our North Stars – “We learn better together” & “We are each responsible one to the other” – and live in the commitment we have made to project-based learning and conflict resolution.
  • #5: The Torah teaches that a king must write his own Sefer Torah which “must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life” (Deut. 17:19).  Leaders learn.  At OJCS, this lives in the North Star of “A floor, but no ceiling,” and in our emphasis on personalized learning.  This year we are prototyping “Genius Hour” projects as just one example of letting students lead with their passion and letting their passion lead to their learning.  In terms of “seeking first to understand and then be understood” we are working with JFS to provide “Kindness Workshops” to our students to help them skill-build towards active listening.
  • #6: Here I am going to quote directly from Rabbi Sacks in his article when he says, “One of Judaism’s greatest insights into leadership: The highest form of leadership is teaching.  Power begets followers.  Teaching creates leaders”.  We provide our students with lots of opportunities to learn through teaching and to learn leadership skills by “owning their learning”.  Whether it is a Grade 6 WE Day project, leading a Rosh Chodesh assembly, designing a Hebrew Escape Room or interviewing residents at Hillel Lodge, our students develop the skills to see projects through, to dream dreams, to speak publicly, and to organize.  These are all the building blocks of leadership.
  • #7: There are no shortage of examples of stressed out and overwhelmed leaders in the Bible.  Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and Jonah – just to name a few – all at some point prayed to die rather than carry on as a Jewish leader.  That is certainly an extreme example of the toll leadership can take, but we acknowledge that stress is very real for our students and families.  It is partly why one of our North Stars is “Ruach” – we have intentionally and explicitly named joy and spirit and wellness as a guiding value in our school.  Studying in school (and teaching!) is supposed to be joyful.  We do our best to provide wellness and mindfulness into the school day.  It is why we remain committed to Art, Music and PE as part of a well-rounded experience.  Students deserve to feel successful and joyful and not each student is going to find that in the traditional academic subjects. It is why we have a “Ruach Week” and a Middle School Retreat.  It is also why we are looking at advisory and guidance models.  The emotional and spiritual wellbeing of our students is important for them as human beings, and as future leaders.

We cannot take for granted that what was once true will always be true.  It has been true for generations that the leaders of Jewish organizations, schools and synagogues have come from the ranks of Jewish day schools; and flourished as a result.  If we want that to continue – if we want to secure the Jewish future – our schools will need to work to make what was once implicit, explicit.  Jewish leadership requires Jewish leaders who know how to lead – not just as Jews, but Jewish-ly.  Ken y’hi ratzon.

Habits of Kindness: Think Win-Win

This time we will let our 7th Grade introduce this month’s habit:

Like others of the 7 Habits, I am struck by the paradox of simplicity the habits create. “Think Win-Win” seems so simple, right?  Yes, there are developmental examples where that not might be possible (thinking of my 10 and 13 year-old daughters) and, yes, there are issues that perhaps are not so easily resolved with two winners (someone has to win the basketball game).  But as a philosophy?  Sure – of course things are best if we viewed challenges as opportunities for everyone to win, not with an inevitable outcome of a winner and a loser.  We might not always achieve a full “win-win”, but striving towards it will always yield a kinder result than “winner-takes-all”.

So instead of using this blog to highlight a personal or professional “win-win” of my own, I want to make a brief comment on the power of transferability, utilizing the “Habits of Kindness” between home and school…

Members of our faculty have been and/or will be reading The Leader in Me, which is the book that helpsbooks schools begin the journey of bringing the 7 Habits into practice.  And as we have been reading, we are realizing the broader impacts, particularly the opportunity to strengthen the relationship between school and home.

From Chapter 3,

“…observe that the same principles and approach being taught at these schools can also be taught at home. One of the great things about the leadership approach is what it is doing to enhance the parent-school partnership.  For starters, it is bringing more parents into the schools to volunteer and support school and classroom activities.  But even more important is what is occurring as students apply the principles to their daily tasks and behaviors at home.  In other words, it is not just teachers who are reporting better behaviors and reduced discipline issues. Parents are reporting the same kinds of positive results. This is particularly true in families where parents have come to know the principles for themselves and have made conscious efforts to reinforce and teach them…If you are a parent, I promise that if you open your mind to it, you will have endless ideas of how you can apply what these educators are doing to your home.”

Excerpt From: Stephen R. Covey. “The Leader in Me.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/NPFVw.l

Now that we are a few months in, I do actually see – as a parent – my children beginning to use the language.  Eliana will say that she is “being proactive” or Maytal will say that she is “putting first things first” which has definitely allowed them to be better organized. Because we are currently working on “think win-win”, I am hopeful it will have a spillover to our family because I think this attitude could only help siblings navigate the everyday challenges of sharing time, people and stuff in a busy 21st century family.

In prior posts, I have given examples from our school of how we are putting the Habits of Kindness into effect…

…if you are a parent at OJCS and you are seeing the impact at home, please offer a quality comment!

…if you are a parent or educator at another school who utilize the 7 Habits, please share your experiences with us so we can continue to improve our implementation here!

We’ll keep sharing our successes and struggles…and if you keep offering advice and feedback…well, we just might achieve a “win-win” of our own!

Habits of Kindness: Put First Things First

So Rosh Chodesh Tevet will take place over the weekend, but never fear, we will hold our Rosh Chodesh Tevet Assembly on Monday morning!  And with another Rosh Chodesh comes the introduction, from our “7 Habits Prototype Team” and Knesset, of the third of the 7 Habits: Put First Things First.

As the song says, there are 525,600 minutes in one year.  However, when you consider that approximately 175,200 minutes of that time will be spent sleeping, 16,425 minutes spent eating, and if you’re a student, 72,000 minutes spent in school, you have less than half that total to spend on the rest of your life. Therefore, it is essential to do the important things first—if you leave them until last, you might run out of time.

You know how something is so obvious that you dismiss it?

That’s how I feel about this habit.

You have likely heard that song and/or seen that video numerous times in the past and you know that the moral of the story is to remember that your big rocks are your family and friends and to not get bogged down in the sands of workaholism and workaday concerns.

So why did I get to work yesterday at 7:00 AM and come home at 9:15 PM?

Why do so many of us struggle with finding balance when we know where our true priorities lie?

I don’t have an answer…but I do have an opportunity!

[Bonus Expat File Mini-Post:]

I really believe that Canada is a place that pays more than lip service to work-life balance and wellness.  It may not have quite rubbed off on me yet, but I welcome the opportunity to share and reflect with my Canadian colleagues about how we try to keep ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically prepared to passionately pursue our profession while remaining loving and present spouses, partners, parents, children and friends.

I have made two commitments to wellness this year that are a constant source of teasing…

…I purchased a mini-standing desk for laptop users.

…I purchased a seasonal affective disorder lamp.

I have seen the articles all about how “sitting is the new smoking” and if that is even partly true, I am sadly stage something with sitting.  So I am now standing a few hours a day at my desk and we’ll see what happens!

It is dark when I get to school and dark when I leave school.  And for fun, for about half the year it is pretty dark while I am at school too!  So I have decided to see if one of these SAD lights will keep me un-SAD during the long winter months.

What do you do to “put first things first”?  Feel free to share your secrets via a quality comment on this blog!

Habits of Kindness: Begin With the End in Mind

So I guess I should have checked the Jewish calendar when I decided last week to share that we had launched our “Community of Kindness” initiative  by bringing the “7 Habits” to OJCS, beginning with Habit 1: Be Proactive.  Because today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev! Which means that at our Rosh Chodesh Assembly, members of our Knesset along with some of the teachers on the “7 Habits Prototype Team” introduced Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind.  The good news is that it really will now be a full month before I blog out the next habit.

“Begin With the End in Mind” is all about having a plan, having goals. It is actually a great month for this habit as we look forward to introducing new report card templates and a slightly new format for parent-teacher conferences.  (I will be blogging much more about that soon!)  As individual goal-setting is a key strategy for helping us reach the North Star of “a floor, but not a ceiling,” we look forward to meaningful conversations with parents about academic and behavioral growth.  As we believe that not only should our students aim towards the North Star of “owning their learning,” but so should we all, our teachers too have their goals, some of which they will be sharing with their students so they understand that these habits are not just for them, but for us all.  Since it is my goal to use my blog to share and model the habits as well, I thought it only fair that I use this opportunity to share some of my goals for the year.

Typically, I wait until the spring to share a self-evaluation that includes what my goals were for the year that is finishing.  And I will again in the spring cycle through my annual “Transparency Files” posts, be sharing out parent and faculty survey data, my self-evaluation, etc., but since I, too, need to “begin with the end in mind,” let me share just a few of the goals I have set for myself this year along with my Head Support & Evaluation Committee.

Jon’s Goals for 2018-2019

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population:

  1. Establish and drive a recruitment plan to promote the school and attract new students
  2. Design and execute a retention strategy and plan.
  3. Strengthen pipeline with Ganon & Early Beginnings.
  4. Deepen relationships with synagogues.

OJCS is a school of excellence:

  1. Translating our “North Stars” (“The OJCS Way”) into a strategy document.
  2. Connecting the dots between our work with NoTosh and our work with Silvia Tolisano.
  3. Clarify what role the CAT-4 plays in evaluating academic “excellence”.
  4. Prototyping “Teacher-Led Evaluation”.
  5. Create a technology plan for teachers, students and school.
  6. Develop a comprehensive PD plan.
  7. (Constantly) improve faculty morale.

OJCS is financially sustainable – now and into the future:

  1. Staff the Strategic Fundraising Steering Committee and steward its plans for Annual, Capital and Endowed Giving.
  2. Improve Grandparents Day & Walkathon.

OJCS inspires Jewish journeys in its students, families and community:

  1. Leverage personal relationships with holiday and Shabbat experiences.
  2. Expand holiday family experiences.
  3. Thought-leadership

 

Hopefully, by better using the 7 Habits this year, when it does become time for me to share my evaluation I’ll be able to say that because I “began with the end in mind” that I reached my goals and then some!

How about you?  What are your big goals this year?  Let us know!

Habits of Kindness: Be Proactive

We have been having a conversation as both a staff and a board about the difference between “values” and “strategy”.  Now that we are living our North Stars and about to unveil (stay tuned) a powerful strategy document and presentation, all the energy we are generating and all the prototypes we are launching are dedicated to bringing us closer towards our values.

Values define who we are and why we exist. They guide us, like a moral compass for all in the community. They are the foundations of what we do and the ultimate test of whether our goals and strategy have a ‘fit’, now and in the future.

Any strategy we undertake, therefore, is to provide us with the actions and behaviors – habits – we need to adopt in order to best live our values. Today, I want to introduce a new strategy with its attendant prototypes that we have begun at the Ottawa Jewish Community School to help us truly become a Community of Kindness, where we are “responsible each to the other” and “we learn better together”.

Something I often say is that if you really want to know what a school values, you only need to look in two places- the budget and the schedule.  How we spend our two most precious resources is the clearest way to reveal what we truly value.  If we want to live our values, if we want to build a true community of kindness, not simply a catchphrase, we will need to allocate time and money.  So the first strategic decision was to position this work in the portfolio of our Student Life Coordinator, Deanna Bertrend.  We believe this strategic combination of personality and position will help ensure we are dedicating the proper resources to an initiative of such great import. As important as staffing is a plan…

“Community of Kindness” makes a great slogan and a lousy call to action.  We all recognize the need to be more “kind” and to ensure that our community act with increased “kindness” to all…but what exactly do you do?  To answer that question and to provide us with a common vision, language and set of behaviors, we are turning to a well-researched set of habits, seven of them to be exact.

Our strategy is to go ahead and adopt and adapt The Leader in Me:

The Leader in Me helps to create a common language within a school, built on proven principle-based leadership skills found in Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

  • Habit1: Be Proactive® • You’re in Charge
  • Habit2: Begin With the End in Mind® • Have a Plan
  • Habit3: Put First Things First® • Work First, Then Play
  • Habit4: Think Win-Win® • Everyone Can Win
  • Habit5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood® • Listen Before You Talk
  • Habit6: Synergize® • Together Is Better
  • Habit7: Sharpen the Saw® • Balance Feels Best

It is important to note that there has also been work in the Jewish day school field work on translating the habits into Jewish settings and value language.  Our friends at CAJE-Miami who work in this area offer the following helpful chart:

Introducing “Be Proactive” at our Middle School Retreat.

We began at Faculty Pre-Planning when we spent time in “Book Club” with those teachers who chose to read The Leader in Me as their summer reading and then later that week in a full staff briefing on the new program.  We had a soft launch at our Middle School Retreat where we introduced each of the habits to our middle school students with fun, informal activities to help them understand how these habits could positively impact them.  Our plan for the whole school will have us, beginning last month, introduce and focus on a new habit at our Rosh Chodesh assemblies.  There will be a role to play from Knesset (our student council) and as we ramp up there will be grade and age appropriate activities, including stories, lessons and resources. Parents should look for evidence of how the habits are coming to life on the website and blogs.  In fact, we even have a dedicated 7 Habits page on our OJCS Student Life blog!

Introducing the 7 Habits at our Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan assembly.

This month, we have been focusing on the first habit – “Be Proactive”.  For my part, I am going to try to “be proactive” by dedicating a post each month – this being the first – to its habit.  And we will need your help!  If you are a parent at OJCS, you are welcome to read and learn along with us.  Incorporating the habits at home will only make what we do at school that much more powerful.  So you can “be proactive” as well!

As we aim towards our (North) Stars, let’s make this the year that kindness ceases to be a slogan and starts to be a habit.