OJCS Parent Connect: The Future of Learning

Who is excited about having a full week of school?

In addition to the joy of restarting our year and restoring our routines, we also had an opportunity this week to reconnect to our parents.  As promised back in September, we took some time this week to offer what we hope will be the first in a series of “Parent Connect” workshops to better inform parents, to solicit feedback from parents and – in the future – to help parents with hands-on guidance for navigating the educational journey at OJCS.

This week’s focus was following up on specific questions and concerns that have arisen as a result of our embrace of innovative technology, online platforms, etc., as part of our larger work of preparing students for their next schools of choice and beyond.  The slideshow below guided these conversations.  Although not everything may be perfectly clear from the slides alone, you will hopefully note that we attempted to anchor the conversation in our “North Stars” and in ongoing changes in education.  We then pivoted into ways those changes are taking shape at OJCS and ended with targeted conversations about issues of parental concern such as “Privacy”, “Screen Time”, and “Supervision”.

We are grateful to the parents who attended for their feedback!  We also welcome your feedback – either by commentary here on the blog, or email, phone calls, etc.  With what we have heard, thus far, we believe there would be continued value in providing interested parents with hands-on advice on how to navigate the internet at home (firewalls, apps for supervision, etc.), and a dedicated workshop to homework support.  Stay tuned.

We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish with five whole days of school!

OJCS Building First School-Based Makerspace in Ottawa! (Wait…what’s a “makerspace”?)

It just got real.  Real exciting.

As we announced last year, thanks to the generosity of the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund, we were going to take on our first major project to make our physical space as innovative as our educational program.  Or rather, we are now able to think about designing spaces that will best allow the unique vision OJCS has for teaching and learning to best come to life.  [With a building as “seasoned” as ours, we don’t lack for options!]  We intend to completely redo our “computer lab” and transform it into a tech-friendly collaborative workspace.  We intend to completely redo our “library” and transform it into a 22nd century media literacy center. Etc.  But we have decided to lead with a makerspace.  Why?  Glad you asked!

Although more and more schools have invested in makerspaces, it is still rare enough that it is okay if you are asking yourself an obvious question: What is a makerspace?

Makerspaces are popping up in schools across the country. Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.

A makerspace is not solely a science lab, woodshop, computer lab or art room, but it may contain elements found in all of these familiar spaces. Therefore, it must be designed to accommodate a wide range of activities, tools and materials. Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces.

When you think about many of the exciting prototypes in play this year at OJCS – Genius Hour, VR, 21st Century Judaica, Robotics, Blogs, Recreating Biblical Artifacts and QR Codes for Art Projects, just to name a very few – they share one feature in common.  They all require our students (and teachers) to make something.  These are all learning prototypes that include or result in a tangible (including digital or virtual) product. They are also projects that are both cross-curricular and collaborative.  A classroom is not always designed to house learning of this kind.  Our school needs a place where students can come as a class or in teams or on their own to be inspired.  Our school needs a place where teachers can come with students or in their own teams or on their own to be inspired.  Our school needs a learning commons designed as a hub of creativity.  Our school needs an incubator of innovation.  Our school needs a makerspace.

And so the work has begun!  Our first step was to identify a partner to bring our dreams to life.  We interviewed a few architecture firms, but found in our new friends Ryan and Wendy, from Project1 Studio, a partner who brings enthusiasm, creativity and expertise to the work. Our next step, which was this week, was to convene a group of teachers, students and administrators for a “Visioning Session” to allow them to begin to identify the kinds of activities we believe should take place in our new OJCS Makerspace.  What will be the right blend of…

  • movie-making equipment (green screens, sound mixing, movie editing equipment, etc.)
  • robotics,
  • coding,
  • 3D printing,
  • VR,
  • state of the art presentation space (TED Talk-style),
  • woodworking,
  • crafts,
  • science/STEM/STEAM,
  • brainstorming/mental-mapping/collaborating spaces,
  • inspiring/relaxing/creativity-inducing spaces,

…activities, tools and zones to maximize our space and enhance energy and enthusiasm for learning at OJCS.

[Where is this space going to be located, you might be wondering (if you are an OJCS parent)?

We are working with the footprint of our current Science Lab and adjoining offices.  That gives us about a 1,300 square foot space to play with, but it does require that we factor in our current Science needs within the design.]

Once we settle on our priorities, we will move to design.  From design we move to furniture and fixtures and from there we move to construction itself.  Our current schedule has us breaking ground in July and on target for a grand opening on the very first day of the 2019-2020 school year!

It will be our pleasure to share out designs as they come in and it would be our pleasure to show any current or prospective families the spaces we are discussing.  Although we know the building isn’t the most important factor in a quality education, we also know that the right kinds of spaces can have a meaningful impact on the educational experience.  We are proud at OJCS to be creating innovative spaces to match our innovative program.  It is just another example of how OJCS is becoming an educational leader in our community.

And we are still just beginning…

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.

The OJCS Announces $165,000 Professional Growth Gift

In our first faculty meeting this week, members of our NoTosh DesignTeam share our “Prototype Process” with the rest of the faculty.

This is not a flashback to a flashback! We are not reminding you of the $72,000 Innovation Grant we received from the Congregation Beth Shalom of Ottawa (CBSO) Legacy Fund to help fund some of the physical spaces we’ll need to continue to bring our innovative vision to life.  We are also not reminding you of the $50,000 Innovation Grant we received around this time last year from an anonymous family which helped fund the transformational work we recently finished with NoTosh (which lives on this year in the many powerful prototypes presently being prepared for pitches to bring teaching and learning at OJCS into greater alignment with our “North Stars”), the opportunity to double our iPads available in the school, the exciting shift towards providing teachers with Chromebooks so they can collaborate more effectively and model what learning looks like, and beginning just this week, our work with this year’s consultant, who happens to be my friend and former colleague Silvia Tolisano, whose new book the cohort of teachers working with Silvia have begun to read.

Silvia Tolisano beginning her work with a new cohort of teachers – and the full faculty – as we examine what learning is, where to find it, how to document it and learning to learn.

[I will have a lot more to discuss about Silvia’s work next week as it ties into the launch of our OJCS Blogosphere…]

No, this post is yet another example of how the work we are doing at the Ottawa Jewish Community School is not only transforming teaching and learning in our classrooms, but transforming the role of the school in our larger Jewish and educational communities.  The ripple effect of this work is not only inspiring current and prospective parents, but current and prospective donors.  We noticed this back in June when we observed:

Success begets success.  Numbers beget numbers.  A school in motion will stay in motion.  The narrative of decline is behind us; the narrative of rebirth, revitalization and rejuvenation has begun.  You can measure it objectively through numbers – attrition down, enrollment up, survey data trends, fundraising dollars, etc.  You can also measure it subjectively – feelings in the walls, word on the street, buzz in the community, etc.  You can measure it however you like.  The outcome is the same. The OJCS is laying the ground to become the innovative leader in education in our community.

And wow has that been true!

With over 170 students and our largest Kindergarten class (28) in years, and all the other optimistic indicators I wrote about at the very beginning of the year, we are off and running.  So what is going to keep us running to meet and surpass all our ambitious goals?

A school is only as great as its teachers, and its teachers can only excel if they are given opportunities to engage in meaningful, sustained, personalized, professional growth.  Twenty years of educational research shows that an investment in teachers is a (if not the) key lever in determining excellence and is among the few variables a school can completely control.

We know it is true

Part of our recent success can be attributed to how we have raised the bar of expectations for our teachers while providing them with coaching, resources and support they need to reach new heights.  In the course of a single year, even our veteran teachers have found renewed commitment to lifelong learning and our new teachers are brimming with ideas. What unites them in bringing our mission to life is a comprehensive commitment to professional learning.

Customized professional development

At OJCS, we believe what is good for our students is also good for our teachers.  In the same way we recognize that students are individuals with their own learning styles and motivations, we acknowledge that our teachers can also benefit from a similar action plan.  There are no “one-size-fit-all” approaches for meaningful growth. That is why, though still in its nascent stages, our goal is that each teacher has a well-developed individual Professional Growth Plan, developed in partnership with the administration and consisting of clear deliverables for mutual success.  These plans then allow the administration to understand common needs and determine what outside resources should be made available to our faculty.

Professional growth at OJCS is achieved through a blended and customized approach with various elements, from participation in conferences, to purchasing individual books and learning tools.

Importance of expert consultants

We have already discussed the impact of NoTosh and the beginnings of the work of Silvia.  In addition to those large initiatives, we have also begun smaller initiatives :

  • Teachers visit other schools
  • Teachers are assisted in achieving new degrees
  • New books are being purchased for our faculty library
  • Webinar access is being purchased for teacher training

Building a brighter future

Thanks to the generosity of one amazing family and the ongoing participation of our partners at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, this new gift of $165,000 over the next five years, the work will continue with customized development (e.g. webinars, conferences, site visits, etc.), and the best practices learned from the consultants will be implemented.  These are likely to include curriculum mapping and enhanced mentoring/coaching. Examples include: providing opportunities for Jewish and French Teachers to further develop their skills as teachers of second (and third) languages; and connecting teachers of Jewish Text to coaches through Prizmah.

For a school of our current and future size, an enhanced and sustained focus on professional development is required as a primary lever for future success.  This extraordinary gift will ensure that the OJCS Faculty has access to the latest research, current trends, coaching, conferences and materials necessary to provide the Jewish children of Ottawa with an innovative, world-class education and help secure the future of our Jewish community.

And, as we say…that’s #TheOJCSDifference

The OJCS Announces $72,000 Innovation Gift

This is not a flashback!  We are not reminding you of the “innovation gift” we previously received.  Nope.  This is to let you know that we are beyond excited to share with you that the Ottawa Jewish Community School has just received a $72,000 grant (over two years) from the Congregation Beth Shalom of Ottawa (CBSO) Legacy Fund to help ensure that the innovation work begun this year will only be the foundation upon which the continued work of innovation will build in the years to come.  We are grateful to the CBSO Legacy Fund for the opportunity to apply and even more grateful to be amongst the worthy recipients of their philanthropy.

Success begets success.  Numbers beget numbers.  A school in motion will stay in motion.  This is what having a great year feels like.  And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer 69 year-old Jewish day school in Ottawa…I am genuinely so happy for the teachers, parents, volunteers, board, donors, supporters and the community at large to have had this year happen as it happened.  The narrative of decline is behind us; the narrative of rebirth, revitalization and rejuvenation has begun.  You can measure it objectively through numbers – attrition down, enrollment up, survey data trends, fundraising dollars, etc.  You can also measure it subjectively – feelings in the walls, word on the street, buzz in the community, etc.  You can measure it however you like.  The outcome is the same.  The OJCS is laying the ground to become the innovative leader in education in our community.

What’s next up on our innovation agenda?

We have described and shared out the first phase of work with NoTosh. We will have a little more time with our NoTosh friends to bridge the gap into the next year to ensure that the culture of prototyping and design thinking takes hold and to set us up to steep in our core values (our “North Stars”).

Our second iPad cart is up and running.

We described the work we would be doing with my friend and former colleague Silvia Tolisano beginning in October, whose new book some of us (including me!) will be reading this summer.

We will be providing Chromebooks for all our faculty next year, with all the training and support they will need.  This will be a huge step forward in terms of our ability to work and function as a complex organization.

We will be launching a new website.

We will be exploring new platforms for teaching and learning, sharing, blogging, etc., which may come to replace Google Classroom.

We will be thinking about what kinds of technologies we want our students to have and to use in the years to come.

We will launch new seminars on digital citizenship, cyberbullying, digital footprints, online identity, etc., etc., that will help our children live healthy and safe online lives aligned with our Jewish values.

What kinds of spaces will we need to do all this innovative work?

  • Transform our “Computer Lab” into an “Internet Café”

Our current “Computer Lab” is filled with obsolete computers and even more obsolete outlets, cords and wires.  We need to empty the space altogether and replace it with a state-of-art presentation space, flexible furniture, hi-speed wifi, and space to park an iPad cart, laptop cart and other technology for students and teachers to use as needed.

  • Transform our “Library” into a “Media Literacy Center”

Our current “Library” consists of an old collection with even older furniture and technology.  We need to upgrade to new library software so that it is searchable and useable by both teachers and families.  We need to upgrade the collection.  We need appropriate library furniture with an appropriate presentation space and technology section for conducting research in the 21st century.  [Money raised from Grandparents’ Day is helping this begin to become true!]

Students own the learning at OJCS and that requires a space to make!  We are ready to transition into an appropriate OJCS Makerspace that blends new technology (projection space, laptop, audio equipment, etc.,) with old (tools, crafts, etc.).

 

To which of the above will the blessing of this $72,000 grant go?  We haven’t decided yet (and the CBSO Legacy Fund has given us the flexibility to decide).  We have other donors ready to give and even more we need to inspire.  [If you would like to be counted amongst those who might be ready or willing to be inspired, don’t be shy!]  I look forward to more blog posts highlighting more gifts leading to more innovation.  Success begets success.  Numbers beget numbers. Innovation begets innovation.

This is a school in motion that intends to stay in motion.

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…

What Problem Does Our School Exist to Solve?

Preamble…

For three years, during my time at Schechter and at Prizmah, when I was not a head of school, it seemed so easy calling on folk to take seriously the responsibility and the power of blogging.  Now that I have been back in the headship for all of seven weeks, I can’t imagine when I will ever have time to blog again!  I know what kind of person people say Karma is, but s/he should really meet my good friend Hubris.

Getting back into weekly blogging, apparently, is harder to do than it is to type, but slowly, slowly, I will get back into shape.  In the meanwhile…

THERE IS SO MUCH HAPPENING AT OJCS AS WE GET READY TO WELCOME TEACHERS NEXT WEEK AND STUDENTS THE WEEK AFTER!

If you are a parent, I strongly encourage you to read carefully the email from this past Monday and the handbook it came with.  If you have any questions or concerns, I even more strongly encourage you to email or call us sooner than later.  We really want the first day of school to be as smooth and celebratory as possible.  Let’s deal with any confusion or preparation beforehand for all our collective sakes. Also, remember (or know) that we have “Back to School” Night super-early this year – September 14th – so you will have ample opportunity to ask additional or deeper questions about the calendar, schedule, program, discipline, homework, curriculum, Google Classroom (hint, hint), etc., sooner than later.  You don’t have to stress about each detail by the first day of school – let’s focus on a positive, enthusiastic, ruach-filled beginning to a terrific year.  The conversation begins on the first day, it never ends.

Pivot…

Finding the problem is an essential part of learning – one that students miss out on when we pose the problem to them first. – Ewan McIntosh

The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer. – Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM

You might think from the above quotes that I am going to launch into an educational conversation about teachers and students and learning.  And perhaps in a future blog post I will – there is much wisdom to apply to shifting paradigms, flipping classrooms, student-centering and passion-driving in our classrooms.  But in this year of change, I actually want to zoom out a bit and ask us to consider how creating a healthy culture of “problem finding” will ensure we engage in the right kinds of conversations to move our school forward into its next phase of growth, innovation and renewal.

I have spent much of the last few weeks meeting with teachers, parents, board members, rabbis, donors, Jewish community colleagues, volunteers and just folks who care enough to share an opinion (which I genuinely appreciate).  Those conversations often feel (to me) like the process of pulling back the leaves of a never-ending onion (which kinda sounds delicious).  One layer takes us to another as we peel away initiatives, programs, schedules, budgets, and eventually assumptions just trying to figure out what that layer was originally put into achieve.  In other words, we frequently seem to be offering a chain of solutions in search of the right problem.

Let me try to walk through one relatively benign example that impacts such a small number of our students, you may not even be aware it exists…

We offer a pull-out, one-period-a-week, mixed grade (3-6), “Special Interest Learning” (SIL) class for “gifted learners”.  It provides them an “opportunity to be creative, innovative, (and) think critically”.  [BTW – I am not offering an opinion or making a decision about SIL.  It just lends itself to this conversation.]

How many questions does this raise?

Why one-period-a-week?  Which period?  Why those grades (in a K-5 & 6-8 school)?  What interests?  Don’t all our students deserve an opportunity to be “creative, innovative…” and to think critically?

What problem was SIL in search of solving?  What problem does it actually solve?  What problems does it unintentionally create?

Etc.

Again, that is a benign example.  There are critical and more highly charged examples whose examinations are overdue.

What problem is our voluntary, middle school “Orthodox” and “Traditional Egalitarian” minyanim trying to solve?

What problem is Core and Extended Hebrew trying to solve?

What problem is Extended French trying to solve?

What problem does OJCS exist to solve?  

You get it.

As we prepare to welcome back our teachers next week (the subject of next week’s blog), I am encouraging and inviting us to find the right problems…

Let’s be brave enough to ask questions we might not know the answers to or whose answers we might not like.  Let’s be open enough to revisit our core assumptions and proud enough to assert what’s currently excellent.  Let’s have the courage to show up for difficult conversations and the vulnerability to really show up.  Let’s take risks and make mistakes.  Let’s dream boldly and work tirelessly. Let’s advocate for our children and respect our teachers.  Let’s make this the beginning of something special.

One thing I know for sure.  The future of education isn’t coming to OJCS.  It is OJCS.  Be excited.

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…

10 Quotes to Inspire Innovation in Education

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

“In quoting others, we cite ourselves.”
― Julio CortázarAround the Day in Eighty Worlds

As we (Prizmah) continue to work on our plans for next year, which we look forward to sharing out upon readiness – and I look forward to discussing its connection to ongoing activity in the innovation space as discussed previously – I wanted to make sure that some of the learning that my team has done this year about innovation was captured and documented.  We have had the blessing to collectively read a variety of books, speak with a variety of folk and even visit a variety of places as part of our process.  I thought it might be fun (wee!) and possibly useful to those who like to keep quotes handy as triggers for meetings, blog posts, papers, etc., to share our learning through the quotes we actually collected and shared with each other during this year of learning.

So without further adieu and in no particular order, I hope you may be as inspired to think differently about teaching and learning, schooling, and leadership as we were…

“As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve, but to unleash their talent.  If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.” – George CourosThe Innovators Mindset

“The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves.” – Suzie BossBringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World

“You cannot empower students to be self-directed, responsible, critical-thinking people if they can’t ask their own questions. At that point, you’re teaching compliance rather than responsibility.” – A.J. Juliani and John SpencerLAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student 

“What doesn’t work any longer is our education system’s stubborn focus on delivering a curriculum that’s growing increasingly irrelevant to today’s kids, the outmoded standardized assessments we use in an attempt to measure our success, and the command-and-control thinking that is wielded over the entire process. All of that must be rethought.” – Will RichardsonWhy School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere

“Curiosity is, therefore, strongly correlated with intelligence. For instance, one longitudinal study of 1,795 kids measured intelligence and curiosity when they were three years old, and then again eight years later. Researchers found that kids who had been equally intelligent at age three were, at eleven, no longer equal. The ones who’d been more curious at three were now also more intelligent, which isn’t terribly surprising when you consider how curiosity drives the acquisition of knowledge. The more interested and alert and engaged you are, the more you’re likely to learn and retain. In fact, highly curious kids scored a full twelve points higher on IQ tests than less curious kids did.” – Amanda LangThe Power Of Why: Simple Questions That Lead to Success

“One of the most important questions any school or teacher can ask is simple: ‘How can we be more thoughtful about what we do?’ Unfortunately, it’s not the question we ask most frequently. The question schools and teachers have fallen in love with—’What more should we be doing?'” – Chris Lehmann and Zac ChaseBuilding School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need

“What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.” – Carol DweckMindset: The New Psychology of Success

“You can lament the changes that are happening today—tomorrow’s history—convincing yourselves of the negatives and refusing to be a part of a constantly changing culture. Or you can shake off your technochondria and embrace and accept that the positive metamorphosis will continue to happen, as it has so many times before. Young people today are building a new language, not demolishing an old one. And as you will soon see, developments like these new words are helping create significant and meaningful new communities and new relationships that are an essential part of our changing culture and our wireless future.” – Nick BiltonI Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work & Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted

“The new survival skills—effective communication, curiosity, and critical-thinking skills—“are no longer skills that only the elites in a society must muster; they are essential survival skills for all of us.” – Yong ZhaoWorld Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students

“Establishing prototyping as a core competence for innovation, requires more than creating a research and development department or team.  It requires school wide value for innovation, understanding of innovation processes, and that the bumps and disruptions are worthwhile discomforts of relevant student learning and success.” – R&D Your School: How to Start, Grow, and Sustain Your School’s Innovation Engine