Meaningful Parent Partnership Ought Not Be Taken For Granted

This is the first week of my parenting life where I fully understand what it means to be a regular parent.  And I love it.  And I hate it.

As we all went back to school on Tuesday, my oldest daughter, Eliana, went off to high school.  As significant a transition as it is for her, it is actually quite the transition for me.  This is the first time in my parenting life that I have a child attending a school that I do not run (or recently ran).  I don’t know the teachers.  I don’t know the administration.  I don’t fully know (or understand) the curriculum or the pedagogy or the rules or the routine.  All I know about what my child is doing, or will be doing, either comes from her or what the school chooses to share with me.  Sound familiar?

There is a wonderful freedom that comes without all this knowledge!  As both a parent and an educator, I do have some genuine faith that teachers and schools know what they are doing.  I also know that as my child is now in high school (and I guess not really a “child” anymore), that there is a necessary and natural transition of ownership of her learning more fully to her.  I, too, want her to advocate for herself and I am okay with her school putting up some guardrails to help shift that onus from us, her parents, to her.  I could definitely enjoy not having to know so much about the details of her education and having faith that everything is happening as it should.

Like anyone, I only have the experiences that I have, but I imagine it is fair to suggest that it is not only the differences between K-8 and high school that are in play here, nor is it only the differences between private and public or Jewish and secular.  What I am learning now, in a way I never could before, is how meaningful it is for a school to open itself up to parents.

“Transparency” at OJCS is a core educational value, not a core business strategy.  We don’t seek to be proactive and candid with parents about how and what we do in service of their children because it is good for business.  We don’t seek and use parent feedback because it is good customer service.  We are proactive and candid with parents about how and what we do in service of their children; and we seek and use parent feedback because we eagerly seek parent partnership.  Parent partnership is not a business transaction; parent partnership is an educational relationship.  The “we” in “we own our own learning” includes parents.

The opportunity to actively and meaningfully partner in your child(ren)’s education is not a given in every school.  It is an opportunity, not a requirement, but one we want to inspire, encourage and empower.  We work hard to provide parents with information and access to what is happening in school – about big picture issues and workaday activities.  It can be overwhelming.  My blog posts are too long.  We have too many “Town Halls”.  The OJCS Blogosphere is too complicated to navigate.  We send too many emails and we post too much on social media.

Maybe.

It may be true that you may not want all the details of our new homework philosophy.  You may not want to know how we are going to translate the “7 Habits” into a school-wide behavior leadership program.  You may not want to know the details of the comprehensive PD our French teachers are participating in.  You may not be interested in the details, pictures and videos being generated by teachers and students in class blogs and student blogfolios.  The details of the Makerspace may be more than you care to have at your fingertips.

Etc.

And that’s okay.  Each parent and family can choose for themselves how much they want to know about all the ways we think and work to educate the children in our school.  Just know that we believe you are entitled to that information and, more than that, that your being in the know about the school, and your keeping the school in the know about your child(ren), enhances, amplifies and helps ensure our mutual success.

Speaking of which…

We hope to see many of you on Wednesday, September 25th at 7:00 PM for our AGM followed by our Hands-On Workshop at 7:30 PM.  There we will be doing some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will better help you know exactly how to find the information about your child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects, you want and need to be wonderful partners and advocates.

We will likely put out some additional information about the workshop (including either an opportunity for folks to participate virtually and/or where to find a recording of it) because we are still actively shaping it in response to feedback from the opening of school.  I realize that that might seem a bit messy, but it is only because we want to make sure that our assumptions about how we prepared for this year are actually borne out in reality.  We want to actively respond to the facts on the ground, not what we assumed to be.  If you have specific questions, concerns or suggestions on the content of the workshop, please don’t hesitate to share them.  We want this to be in service of parents’ felt needs.

Finally, if you need an extra incentive to be with us, please note that we will be making a major announcement that evening on how we plan to secure the long-term future of our school.  It is very exciting and will be a big moment for us and our community.

[And I wrote a blog post under 1,000 words! #LifeGoals]

The Transparency Files: The OJCS Report Card Prototype

The season is upon us!  We are busily filling out report cards and eagerly preparing for parent-teacher conferences.  We are also continuing to innovate and to prototype, so it should be no surprise that a few changes to both are in store.

Let’s first talk about what will not be different about report cards and then what is different…

As we have discussed, the arc of our journey to reinvent and revitalize our school has begun to take shape.  Last year was about values.  We spent significant time clarifying our value proposition which is now expressed in our North Stars.  As we begin to live those values, we are spending this year focusing on strategy.  The strategies we put in place are designed to help bring us closer to our North Stars – they are how we bring “The OJCS Way” to life.  The “7 Habits Prototype” is a strategy that will help us create a community of kindness, drawing us closer to being a place where “each person is responsible one to the other” and where “we learn better together”.  Increased informal educational experiences like the “Middle School Retreat” are a strategy for infusing our community with “ruach”.  The use of Silvia Tolisano and the “Silvia Cohort” is a strategy.  Etc.

What we have launched our journey with, is time spent on the why and how of learning – what do we believe to be true about teaching and learning and what does that look like in a classroom or a school?  What we have not spent time on – nor will we in this year – is the what we are teaching (with the exceptions of Lower School Jewish Studies, which has a new curriculum and Middle School Jewish Studies, which has new benchmarks).  So the one thing that has not changed in our new report card prototype is the what.  You will find the exact same topics and subjects from last year.

Let’s focus on what is really the only meaningful change, the commentary.

Report cards are not the best place to summarize activities or curriculum.  For as long as we use the ministry standards as a floor for General Studies, we can provide parents with more detail than they would ever need about what we are teaching.  Furthermore, our handbooks, our website and classroom blogs provide parents with all the information about topics and activities they need to stay current.  And even if, with all that, there are some curricular highlights we want parents to have top of mind, we can share them at the Parent-Teacher Conferences.  Report cards, therefore, are a place for providing parents with meaningful feedback about their child’s growth.  We are looking for a “less is more” approach that breaks the commentary into two sections: “Feedback” and “Next Steps”.   This approach is a strategy for ensuring “a floor, but not a ceiling” for our students and to give them an opportunity “to own their own learning”.

Let’s give a few concrete examples:

Rachel has earned an “E” in Grade 2 Jewish Studies.

Feedback:
  • Rachel has excelled in her quizzes, homework and projects this term.  She consistently uses Hebrew in class and shows mastery over Jewish Studies content.
  • Rachel has a particular passion for Tefillah and frequently volunteers to serve as prayer-leader.
  • I’ve noticed that Rachel has some difficulty working in groups – when given the choice, she almost always prefers to work alone.
Next Steps:
  • I would like to see Rachel push herself even more with her conversational Hebrew.  I am going to create a Voicethread account for Rachel so that I can give her a few conversational prompts a week for her to orally respond to.
  • Next term, I am going to assign Rachel a few more complicated prayers that I know she is capable of learning.  
  • We are going to spend time next term skill-building around group learning so that Rachel can benefit from others and others can benefit from her.
 
Michael has earned a 65% in Grade 5 Language Arts.
 
Feedback:
  • Michael was benchmarked at a 4.2 (Grade 4, Two months) reading level on his last reading assessment.  This represents appropriate growth for Michael based on his end of Grade 4 assessment (4.0) and is consistent with his IEP.
  • Michael’s oral expression continues to surpass his written expression, but he is finding success with the voice-to-text accommodation we have made this year per his IEP.
  • I am concerned that based on his homework, quizzes, and tests – even with accommodations – that Michael is not putting in enough time at home to be as successful as he is capable of being.
Next Steps:
  • I would like to see Michael expand his reading repertoire to include more just-right books and more genres (he tends to stay with graphic novels).  This will help him continue to grow as a reader next term.
  • While we continue to make appropriate accommodations, I do want to see Michael take the next steps with his writing, which will focus on writing strong paragraphs, with a topic sentence and supporting sentences.  
  • I would like to work with you and Michael on establishing successful study habits at home so that he has every opportunity to present his best work.
Solomon has earned a 78% in Grade 7 Math.
 
Feedback:
  • Solomon received an 83% on his Unit Test, averages 74% on his quizzes and tests, and dutifully completes homework and participates in class.
  • I’ve noticed that Solomon’s written work doesn’t always reflect his ability to explain math concepts.  I have observed in class that he does not always check and recheck his work before turning in assignments and tests.
  • Solomon is having particular difficulty with multistep word problems.  He has the necessary computational skills, but sometimes cannot unpack word problems into their appropriate steps.
Next Steps:
  • I will encourage Solomon to employ new strategies for checking his work (such as putting a check mark next to each one he has rechecked) to ensure he is putting forth his best effort.
  • I am going to provide Solomon with individualized word problems this term – and will conference with him – to help him build skills.
  • Here is a link to a section of Kahn Academy that I encourage Solomon to visit if he is interested in pushing himself.  I believe Solomon has the ability to be an “A” student if he puts in the time!
Last thing…based on strong feedback we will be emailing report cards to parents on Friday, November 23rd.
The Bonus Middle School Parent-Teacher Conference Prototype

We are also very excited to introduce a new prototype for Middle School Parent-Teacher Conferences that we think will go a long way towards ensuring that these important conversations are aligned with our “North Stars”.  This new format will provide parents with meaningful and actionable feedback, and provide us with the same in terms of inviting valuable feedback from parents – all in the service of helping our students “own their learning” and that there be “a floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.

With a large number of middle school students and a fair number of middle school teachers, we are going to try to provide a larger window of time with a more strategic number of mutually selected teachers.  Instead of signing up for individual conversations with any or all teachers, we are going to be asking for parents to sign up for a 15-minute window and a request for one or two teachers they feel strongly need to be present.  Then we will meet as a full middle school faculty and assign teachers to each middle school conference, using parental request and who we believe to be important in the conversations that should happen to best support each child.

We are very excited about this change and the kinds of conversations we believe it will yield.  Please know that our parents are always welcome to schedule meetings with any and all of our teachers – before or after parent-teacher conferences.  If you have additional questions or concerns, you are encouraged to let us know!