One of our #NorthStars is that #WeLearnBetterTogether. It is always important to remember that these aren’t just hashtags or slogans and they aren’t just for students. They are there to guide our path and inspire our decisions. Therefore, I thought it might be worthwhile to look a little more closely at how just part of this North Star actually actually plays out.
This is just about the time of year where we finish our first round of conversations with teachers about their progress, performance and professional growth. With the unveiling of a new OJCS Learning Target (how we believe teaching and learning should look) last year, we have identified “Amplification” as a key pillar. At the highest level, when we talk about a teacher’s “professional amplification”, we are looking for things like:
Teacher participates in school-based and online learning communities to access and extend continuous, ongoing professional learning for self, and effectively shares with colleagues knowledge about current thinking, methods and best practices in education
Teacher works in collaboration with others to design robust learning tasks and obtain feedback about instructional planning from colleagues and mentors, or acts as mentor or peer coach.
Teacher takes the initiative to inform self about current research literature and incorporates it into teaching and learning practices.
Teacher shares thoughts about current research openly on digital platforms. Parents, experts and members of the larger community are invited to respond to it.
Teacher actively and regularly connects their own work to educators from around the world via a variety of platforms.
I thought it would be fun to see how the faculty of @The_OJCS learns with and from each other and the world. As I have done once before, since Twitter is the platform of choice for teachers who amplify, I thought I would share a little Wakelet of recent activity:
Our students are the beneficiaries of all this amazing crowdsourced wisdom and I am so proud to work in a school where so many teachers (and it is so many more teachers – and part of Mrs. Thompson’s role as Teaching & Learning Coordinator is to do this work, which is why you see her so frequently – and comes in so many more ways than just a one-week glance at Twitter) learn from each other and the wider world!
You know who else amplifies at OJCS? Our students! Through their student blogfolios (Grades 4-7 and growing!) and through Classroom Twitter accounts. But that’s for another blog post…
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.
[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.