Shofar, So Good!

I realize that anything might sound anticlimactic after yesterday’s exciting announcement.  But the truth is, that as meaningful as that gift is for both today and tomorrow, it is the actual work of teaching and learning that inspired it and us.  And this is definitely the season for inspiration!

It is also the season for my most favorite and best/worst pun!  How are things going at OJCS finishing our fourth week of school and headed into Rosh Hashanah you may ask?

Well.  Shofar so good.

Our “Shofar Patrol” has been making the rounds, apples are being cut, and honey is being poured.  Let me take a moment to congratulate all our new teachers and all our new parents on a wonderful first month of school.  Your enthusiasm and your passion are welcome additions to our growing school and inspire our hopes not only for this year, but for the years to come here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  While our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb, our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.

Echoing my thoughts about the calm before the calm, I looked back on my last two years of “Shofar So Good” posts and in each one there were major systemic changes necessary to explain in response to lived experience and parent feedback.  We had changes to carpool and dismissal (twice!), changes to our schedule, changes in online platforms, etc., etc., all (ultimately) positive changes, but all significant enough to warrant detailed conversations.  What has been wonderful shofar this year, is how smooth and calm things are.  I have been so impressed with how prepared our teachers have been, how positive our parents have been, and how enthusiastic our students have been to start the year.

Although, outside of French, we are not launching any major initiatives this year, what is bubbling up are major programmatic advances to align our practice with our “North Stars”.  Hopefully those of you who were able to join us for this week’s “Parent Night” saw evidence of that firsthand.  After conducting our AGM (Annual General Meeting), Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator, led us through our online spaces to help parents know exactly how to find the information about their child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests parents want and need to know about to be wonderful partners and advocates.  We did touch briefly on the whys of blogs, blogfolios, use of technology, etc., but have scheduled a “Parent Workshop” on October 24th (8:45 AM & 7:00 PM) for exactly that conversation.

For our final session, we gave parents the choice of four different topics.  Some stayed with Mrs. Thompson for a little more hands-on support.  We had a conversation led by Keren Gordon, our Vice Principal, about how our new Homework Policy is taking shape.  We had a conversation about our new school-wide behavior management program (based on the “7 Habits“) led by Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs, and Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator.  Our new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz hosted a discussion on connecting the Jewish living and learning at OJCS with life at home.

If you missed any of those sessions and want more information, you can find the slides uploaded to our website and you are welcome to contact any of the above to find out more.

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special school- thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  5780 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year!

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

Shofar So Good! (This is a LONG blog that I hope you read.)

The holidays start so early this year that I can barely squeeze in my favorite pun! With only four school days before Rosh HaShanah, we are doing our very best to get into the holiday spirit.  Our “Shofar Patrol” has been making the rounds, apples are being cut, and honey is being poured.  Let me take a moment to congratulate all our new teachers and all our new parents on a wonderful first week of school.  Your enthusiasm and your passion are welcome additions to our growing school and inspire our hopes not only for this year, but for the years to come here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

During our opening assembly, we talked as a school not only about the new colors and photos on the walls, but about the 18 new signs – 6 in Hebrew, 6 in French and 6 in English – that reflect what we now describe as “The OJCS Way”.  These are the “north stars” that came out of the work we did last year – the core values that help describe what is unique about our school.  We shared these values in a “Town Hall” last spring and they are described in greater detail in your OJCS Handbook.  We are excited to begin living those values and seeing how they impact culture and innovation in our school and community.  I also want to use them as a frame to discuss a few live issues we know are percolating…

“We learn better together.”

Those of you who are new to our school and to me, will learn that I embrace radical transparency.  I believe it is important to be authentic, honest, open to feedback and willing to lean into difficult conversations – all traits we believe worth modeling for our children. We have nothing to hide in our school and our parents are our partners. One of our north stars is that “we learn better together”. There are lots of “we’s” in our school – students with students, students with teachers, teachers with teachers, etc. – but parents are also part of the “we”.  Working together we can resolve almost any issue and adequately address any concern.

“Each person is responsible each to the other.”

I looked back to my blog a year ago and the number one issue facing our school was…our change to drop-off procedures!  It is hard to recall just how much bandwidth this took up, but it was significant.  There are a few lessons to be learned there…

We take the safety of our children as our highest concern.  The reason we invested so much energy last year in changing our drop-off procedures is that we wanted to ensure that the parking lot was controlled and safe.  We were so committed to it – and still are – that our entire administrative team commits itself each and every morning to being there.  (And we also think greeting our students each morning is the best way to start the day!)  It took a while for families to learn the ropes – and we have the emails to prove it!  But sooner than later, we got into a rhythm and now we have a safe and efficient drop-off.

It is deja vu all over again now that we have turned our attention to pick-up.  The issues are similar – we really want to make sure in a complicated world that each child finds his or her way to the right parent, carpool, bus or caregiver.  We also want to make sure students don’t wander into the parking lot or off campus without anyone noticing – things that could have happened here as a consequence of simply opening the doors and letting our entire school pour out.  There are minimal and maximal ways we could address this issue.  Lean too much to one side and you have greater convenience and less safety; lean too much to the other and you have greater safety and less convenience.  We are trying to find a middle path.

We invite your patience and appreciate your flexibility as we adjust to this new way of ending our day.  We firmly believe that sooner than later we will get into this rhythm as well, and we will add a safe and efficient pick-up to our safe and efficient drop-off.

“There’s a floor here – but no ceiling.”

This may seem like an odd place to anchor a conversation about snack and recess – which is the hot topic of the week – but it is actually where it lives.  The promise we make parents at the time of enrollment, not just at the beginning, but each and every year as we never take re-enrollment for granted, is that we have an appropriately rigorous floor for each student, but no ceiling of expectation for how far their passion and talent can fly.  That is why we are moving towards personalized learning, investing in innovation consultants, reimagining our schedules, introducing new technologies, playing with our space, etc., etc., all in the service of providing the highest-quality education possible.

We spent an enormous amount of time last year collecting data from alumni, former students and families, current students and families, the schools our children graduate into as we grappled with three really important conversations: What needs to be true about our French outcomes?  What needs to be clear about our Jewish expectations?  What is unique about teaching and learning at OJCS?  The answers to those questions were transparently shared out in Town Halls about French, Jewish Studies, and “The Future“.  And part of those answers required a re-imagination of our schedule, because time is a zero-sum game. And the reason we shared it so openly then was that we knew it would invite questions and we were happy to answer them then…and we remain happy to revisit them now that we are beginning to live them.

I want to focus here on the Lower School (K-5).  Up until this year, our Lower School had been functioning on a Middle School schedule – bells every 40 minutes dictating artificial changes that don’t suit the needs of younger students.  We wanted to move towards a larger block schedule that gives students and teachers the breathing room they need to let the learning flow at a more relaxed pace or to extend the learning where enthusiasm takes it.  So we have made that change.  It isn’t perfect (yet).  Some grades were easier than others due to personnel needs, but we are closer to where we want to be than where we were.

In Grades 1-5, in order to increase contact time in French and Jewish Studies – a need that came out loud and clear from our research last year – we are being more creative with the 50-minute block that was given to snack and recess each morning (a little over an hour after their arrival).  There has been no decrease in recess or physical activity.  (It has actually gone up with an added period of Physical Education.) What has changed – and where we are seeing the most questions and concern early on – is the nature of snack.  Our desire to provide our students with the nutrition they require remains intact.  Our willingness to provide our students with the time they require for snack has not changed.  What has changed – and where we have growing pains to work through – is that the time being given over to snack comes with a little bit of learning.

This will look and feel different in Grade One than it will in Grade Five. It will look and feel different in Week One than it will in Week Thirty. And the flexibility and autonomy our teachers have (now) allow them to make daily adjustments as per the needs of the children.  If some days the snack needs to come with little to no learning…that’s okay!  If some days the recess needs to be longer…that’s okay!  Another one of our “north stars” is that “we own our own learning” – and our teachers and students have full ownership of what needs to be true on a daily basis.  They are not being micromanaged by the administration.  That’s the real change to pay attention to – that we aren’t letting the bell dictate when learning begins or ends, or whether students can eat or not, or whether students get a body break or not – we are letting our teachers and students begin to take ownership of their learning since they know best what they need and when.

This is so new for us!  And for you.  It is natural that you have questions and concerns.  We welcome them directly.  We are having the same conversation with our teachers who also want to make sure that students have time to eat and time to play…and time to learn.  A number of parents have asked whether it would have been smarter to simply increase the length of the school day.  Believe me, I would love a longer day to work with and perhaps that’s a conversation we should be having.  But please don’t think that aren’t carefully considering the wellbeing – mental or physical – of our children.  We know the research on movement and on nutrition.  We believe our teachers – working with their students and with you – will discover what is best for each class and that we will land in a place that feels comfortable for all.

“We are all on inspiring Jewish journeys.”

One of the highlights of the first week was our inaugural “Welcome Ceremony” for Kindergarten students and parents.  Tears were shed as we took just a pause to name the liminal moment a child begins his or her formal Jewish learning.  To see them all under the tallitot surrounded by parents as our teachers shared a poem in Hebrew, French and English, and as Rabbi Finkelstein led a parental blessing before a final farewell, was to see the beginning not just of a family journey at OJCS, but – we hope – “an inspiring Jewish journey” leading…wherever it leads.  It was also a reminder of the sacred trust a family places in us for the education of their children and the holiness of such work.  A truly special way to begin the year…

“Ruach”

We added ruach (spirit or joy) as a “north star” not just because we needed six to make sure our “north star” was a “north Star of David”, but because we know how important ruach is in the life of a school.  We want our students and teachers to feel the joy of learning and the love of community.  We want each person to feel that special feeling when he or she can be their truest self and know that they will be heard and respected and loved.  That’s a lofty ambition, but one worth reaching towards.  It is why we are so excited about next week’s Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa (CBB).  It is why we are looking for greater parent engagement in our PTA and in our school.  It is why we created cafeteria space to eat and to sing together instead being siloed into classrooms.  It is why we raised money to install air conditioning in our hottest classrooms so our students can learn in comfort and not distress (with more to come).  It is why we are increasing field trip opportunities, adding electives to Middle School, and constantly re-imagining what we do and how we do it.  It is why we get up in the morning each and every day with a fire in our bellies and a smile upon our lips.

Research shows that one of the most important variables to academic success is teacher joy – when teachers are excited to teach, students are excited to learn.  And when students are excited to learn, anything is possible.  That’s the future we are building at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  That’s why we are willing to make changes, even when those changes are hard and sometimes even when those changes fail.  We will never let fear of failure prevent us from reaching towards those (north) stars, because we’ll never get there if we don’t try.

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special school- thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  5779 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year!

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

Shofar So Good!

It has been wonderful to walk the school, to feel the positive energy oozing through the walls and see the smiling faces of our students and parents.  As we say this time of year, “Shofar so good!”

Our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb and our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.  Hopefully those of you who were able to join us for last night’s “Back to School” night saw evidence of that firsthand.  The focus of the evening was appropriately on the teachers, but we did break some news during the sweaty opening in the Gym that I want to make sure didn’t get lost in the mix and/or gets to all the parents who were unable to be with us.

New Parking Procedures for Morning Drop Off

We briefly described what our new parking procedures will be for morning drop-off and shared that they will begin as soon as we make a few adjustments to the parking lot to make things as clear and as simple as possible.  It should not be more than a week or so before we begin.  The new rules are not that much different than the old ones, but will require some adjustment from parents to ensure the safety of our children.  You will have two choices upon arrival to the lot in the morning.

You are welcome to park in a legal parking spot and spend as much time with your children (before the door opens) or your friends as you like.  You can then physically escort them (or they can escort themselves if old enough) through the crosswalk or on the back sidewalk onto school grounds as you like.

Or you can drop-off in the carpool lane.  There will be painted, designated spots (most likely four) at the front of the carpool lane where you may stop your car to let your child(ren) out on the school-facing side of your car (only).  Once the designated stops empty their carloads, we will wave the next cars down and so on until the carpool line is complete.  You may not turn your car off and park in the carpool lane.  You may not unload your car in the carpool lane unless you are in a designated spot.  The carpool lane is designed to give parents a safe and expeditious way to drop off children.  The parking lot is designed to give parents as much time and space to drop off children as they prefer.

You will be notified when the new rules will go into effect and there will be plenty of security and administrative staff outside to ensure a smooth launch.  Your cooperation with these new procedures is appreciated.

Hot Lunch Program

We are pleased to announce the launch of a hot lunch program at OJCS!  The food will be provided by Babi’s Restaurant and delivered each day directly to your child(ren)’s classroom.  This is a pilot so your feedback on any part of the program is welcome.  Please pick up a November menu from the Main Office and/or look for menus both coming home and soon online.

Google Classroom

So.  The good news is that our entire teaching faculty has embraced the use of Google Classroom in new and exciting ways that enhances our students’ experiences and engages our parents’ participation.  The bad news is that we totally bungled the roll out of new student email accounts making it extremely frustrating for parents to ensure their children’s and their subscriptions.  The good news is that we have largely fixed the problem.  The bad news is that we will likely need y’all to re-activate new accounts and re-subscribe.

What happened?

Our normal student formula for student emails is “first name.last name@theojcs.ca”.  But we mistakenly issued them in the same formula as our faculty emails, which is “first initial.last name@theojcs.ca”.  So each student in Grades K-3, plus each new student in Grades 4-7 was accidentally given the wrong email addresses.  Some succeeded in activating; others failed.  Some succeed in joining Google Classroom; others failed.

What have we done?

We have/are re-issuing correct student email addresses to each student in Grades K-3, plus each new student in Grades 4-7 with default passwords.  Please provide your child(ren)’s teacher(s) with new passwords, should you choose to change them, so that we can assist at school should a child forget his/her password.

OK, so my child has an active OJCS email account.  Now what?

From here it should be easy…

There are two ways families engage in Google Classroom.  Each child will be subscribed into the appropriate Google Classroom(s) as a student.  Each parent will be subscribed into their child(ren)’s Google Classroom(s) as a guardian.  [If a parent does not have a Gmail account, s/he will be prompted to create one.  You cannot subscribe to Google Classroom without a Gmail account.]

Here’s what it looks like from the guardian perspective…

If I click “Accept”…

If I have a Gmail account, I click “Sign In”…

…and select my preferences for the digest.

If I don’t have a Gmail account, I create a new account and it will then update and take you the page above.

What about class codes?

If you receive a prompt for a class code, something has gone amiss.  Each Google Classroom does have a class code, but if your child was correctly invited as a student with their correct and activated OJCS email address and you were correctly invited as a guardian, you will not need to enter a class code.

What does it all mean?

The student subscription provides you with full, unfettered access to the Google Classroom.  The guardian subscription provides you the choice of a daily or weekly digest of new postings (minus the bells and whistles of pictures/videos).  Therefore, if a parent wishes to see all that is there, that parent must either sit with their child who is logged on or must log on as their child.  Families can decide together what makes the best sense both to instill responsibility and accountability in our children.  As a rule of thumb, parents may want to begin sharing their children’s accounts at the K-3 level and begin to separate into student/guardian at the 4-8 level, but this decision is entirely up to each family.

Why are we doing all of this?

Our goal for this year is to really be sure Google Classroom is the best platform for all that we want to do at OJCS and the only way to be sure is to really use it.  So we are.  Once the technical issues are behind us and we are fully engaged in its use, we are going to transparently decide whether or not the future of OJCS will be on Google Classroom or not.  Regardless, the skills that our students, teachers and parents are learning to use Google Classroom will be easily transferred to any other kinds of online educational platforms, so this training will not be for naught!

I invite you to speak with your child(ren)’s teachers or me should you continue to have questions or issues with Google Classroom. We will be happy to individually troubleshoot what lingering issues we have until we are all 100% up to speed.

And now for something completely different…

unnamedThe Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins next week and is the most well-known of the Jewish “New Year’s” (we actually have four different ones, including Tu B’Shevat). Additionally, since most of us also follow the secular calendar, we have an extra one each year on the eve of December 31st.  And finally, the start of school provides yet another “new year”.  Putting it all together, suffice it to say, we have ample opportunities each year to pause and reflect on the year that was and to hope and dream about the year that is yet to be.

This is the time of year that schools engage in all sorts of creative ways to perform tashlikh – a ceremony in which we cast off the sins of the past with an eye towards improving our behavior for the future.  A common activity for our youngest students has them draw a picture and/or write about a behavior they want to avoid doing again – mistreating a sibling, being disobedient to a parent, not being a good friend. etc.  After they make their project, they crumble it into a ball and throw it into the trash. Bye-bye bad behaviors!

Were it only that easy!

All schools count “character education” as part of their mission. All educators consider it part of their already challenging jobs to help children grow and develop as human beings. Part of what I enjoy about Jewish day schools is that we get to make that part of our curriculum explicit.  We are in the business of making menschen and during the High Holiday season, business is good!

So who will we become this year?  Beyond all our academic hopes and dreams, will this be the year we become who we were meant to be?  Will we live up to our own lofty expectations?  Will we be better children, better students, better teachers, better siblings, better partners, better spouses, better colleagues, better friends – will we be a better “us”?

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special school- thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  5778 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year! From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”