The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

It is that time of year again…but, perhaps, it may not continue to be “that time of year” – at least in this format – into the future…

As our enrollment continues to increase and our participation in the Annual Parent Survey continues to flatline – our survey has gone from covering 81 students to 84 students to 54 students to 58 students to 52 students and this year, the majority of questions were only answered by families covering 45 students.  That barely captures one quarter of our student population and it is only fair to ask, at this point, whether or not this continues to be the best way to solicit meaningful and actionable data.  Because that is the reason we do this – to learn how to continue to grow as a school.  Without three-quarters of the students accounted for, the data can only be so meaningful.  Without casting any aspersions about who is, or who is not, more likely to fill these surveys out, the odds of this 1/4 mapping onto the opinions of the remaining 3/4 seems long at best.  As the survey is per student, not per family, it runs the risk of being even less representative than that.  (In the service of anonymity, we have no way of knowing how many families the survey actually represents.)

Our goal of 50% seems more and more unrealistic each year.

So, after this year, we are going to have a think.  We could incentivize families to fill this out, as some parents have suggested.  We could consider moving to a model where we do focus groups some years and surveys other years.  Perhaps if we hired a third-party vendor to issue the survey, analyze the data and share the report, people would be more comfortable believing it is as anonymous as it is (it is!), or have more faith in an unbiased deliverable.  Either way, I think it is time to acknowledge that this methodology is no longer serving its intended purpose and the goals of receiving feedback and sharing it transparently likely require a new approach.

But that’s for next year…for now, instead of worrying about the motivations for why families did or didn’t fill out surveys, let’s thank the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.  [If you would like to see a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results, or have them open so you can toggle back and forth.  In this post, I will try to capture the highlights and identify what trends seem worth paying attention to.]

For a third straight year, we have more spread than normal.  It is more typical to have a big cluster in the youngest grades with diminishing returns as you get older.  Again this year, we have a healthy (if low) distribution across most of our grades.

Without knowing how representative this quarter of students is, this year’s data set is heavier on the “no’s”.  Of course the “no’s” are always complicated to unpack because we have no way of knowing who of the “no’s” represent graduation or relocations, as opposed to choosing to attrit prior to Grade 8.  [If a higher percentage of the small number who attrit are represented in these results than in prior years, it would provide added context for the results.]  However, what continues to be true is that the overwhelming majority of families – regardless of their feedback – stay with us year-after-year.  This continues to say a lot about them and a lot about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

The first chart gives you the breakdown by category; the second chart gives you the weighted average satisfaction score (out of 10).  I will remind you that for this and all categories, I look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than to 7, and looking for scores to go up each year.  In terms of “overall satisfaction”, we have now gone from 7.13 to 7.20 to 8.17 to 7.91 to 8.0 to 7.44.  Although it is a tick down from last year, the difference is statistically insignificant.

The one thing that jumps out here that will continue throughout all the data is that the “standard deviation” is much higher than in prior years.  Meaning, we have higher concentrations on both ends than normal – which combined with the low engagement probably explains the most about the data above and below.  This 1/4 of the student population could capture more families with the strongest feelings than in a typical year.

However, overall, this continues to be a good news story, but let’s dig deeper…

  • The overall theme, which I have been suggesting above and will carry forward is that almost every single category is slightly down.  That is not a trajectory that pleases us, even with all the possible caveats and contexts.  We like numbers to go up; we don’t like when numbers go down.  However, because they are consistent all across the board, it is a bit challenging to identify one issue, program or idea to work on.  I’ll have more to say below.
  • It remains true, however, that even with this disappointing trend line, all data points (here) round into the acceptable range.  So we don’t like the way the arrow is facing, but this constitutes a challenge, not a crisis.




  • I won’t repeat the same comment each time – each score being slightly down, but mostly in the acceptable range.
  • The one thing that jumps out from this, which we know, is that the school has been trying to provide the same level of quality in terms of “resource” with the same staffing structure spread across +40 students.  Meaning, during my six years at OJCS, we have over 40 more students in our school and the same number of personnel allocated to providing resource support – whether that is direct services to students, coaching and support for teachers in making accommodations, or even the customer service of reporting back and forth with parents.  We keep trying to do more with less, and if this data yields anything actionable it is this – even leaving aside potential differences in philosophy; we are not yet adequately staffed to deliver on our promise to parents.

Action to follow.  Watch this space.





  • Now this data set is revealing.  This is the first section that does not indicate a meaningful dip.  Despite the concerns above, this same set of parents has given us very high marks for General Studies.
  • With a full year in the Makerspace, with having done meaningful PD on the “Science of Reading”, and an overall return to business as usual, it is nice to find all our scores in the acceptable range (especially in a “down year”) in the category that most parents would deem paramount.





  • I would like these numbers to be higher, of course, but they are fairly in line with prior years.  One would have hoped that the added emphasis this year – the DELF, the investment in new curricular materials, etc., – would have yielded higher results, but the anonymity makes it hard to know how many students represented in this survey are in Core French, Extended French, etc.  I do know how hard our French Faculty work, so bon travail to the French Department as we continue to raise the bar each year.
  • I am very pleased with a baseline 6.79 for the first year of French PE – that rounds into the acceptable range with lots of room to grow.






  • We are pleased to see all our Jewish Studies metrics continue to hold strong for another year.   Considering, that we have transitioned away from a “Head of Jewish Studies” model (for now), this is especially encouraging.  Kol ha’kavod to the Jewish Studies Department!
  • Last year I said that, “I am taking the slight dip in “Tefillah” as a personal challenge!  It is my favourite subject to teach (students) and to coach (teachers) and I am going to make it my mission to push prayer past 7.0.”  Mission accomplished!
  • Last year, I said that, “I am also going to – assuming a return to normal – encourage our community’s rabbis to resume a greater role in Jewish life at OJCS.”  Well, it went up…but we could and will do more.





  • Great job Mr. Ebbs for keeping our Art Program moving in the right direction!
  • Coming out of COVID, it is nice to see that both Extracurricular and Athletics have ticked up a notch!
  • Hot Lunch and After School Programming have ticked down a bit – these are areas where we work with partners and we’ll be carrying these results to them in order to see where we can improve for next year.

  • These are mostly wonderful scores, all just about the same and well into the healthy ranges.  We know that we have our teachers and Ellie to thank for a lot of those high scores!
  • We will be making meaningful changes next year to our academic calendar – which will include when and how we schedule Parent-Teacher Conferences.  We are excited to share this with you soon and think that will have a positive impact on how parents receive feedback on their child(ren)’s academic progress.  Stay tuned!

  • I have already shared my thoughts on my own job performance in my prior “Transparency Files” post.  I will simply state here my numbers, like all the above are largely the same, with the same across-the-board dip.  The one data point that I will be reflecting on is my “responsive/accessibility” – I’d like to see this trend upwards in the year to come.
  • The one metric that I am disappointed to see take a dip down after three straight positive years is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Four years ago we scored a 6.69 and I stated that, “we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.”  Well, three years ago it came in at 7.65, two years it climbed up to 8.19, and it remained high at 7.85 last year.  6.73 puts at back at square one – even if it rounds into the acceptable range, and even with a small sample size.  Parents at OJCS can expect to see significant attention being paid to overall behavior management in 2023-2024.

Last data point [Remember this question was scaled 1-5.]:

Our score remains consistent from 4.44 to 4.34 to 4.34 to 4.14.  Considering the overall results, this is a fairly positive data point, even if the trend line is not what we would prefer.

So there you have it for 2022-2023!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys!  In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses and a couple of experimental sections.  Your written responses added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  Please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern.  (This includes a full set of unedited and unredacted results which goes to the Head Support and Evaluation Committee of our Board of Trustees.)

As I said at the beginning, without meaningful data we don’t know how high to put the “floor” we stand upon to reach towards our North Stars.  We will likely look to change our feedback loop to ensure we hear more from more families.  That way, we can make sure that without a ceiling, we aim to reach higher each year…

The Siddur is a Time Machine

Here are the words I shared with Kitah Alef this morning in celebration of their Kabbalat Ha’Siddur:

A morning like this inspires a few thoughts about time…

Jewish time is a dance between the straight line of temporal life and a circle of sacred moments.  On the one hand we move from one rite of passage to the next; our children are born, they take their first steps, they speak their first words, they make their first friends, they attend their first day of school, and one day they receive their first siddur.  On the other hand, we return and revisit waystations of meaning – Shabbat comes each week, Rosh Chodesh comes each month, holidays and festivals come each year – and each year Kitah Alef receives their first siddurim.  For those of you for whom this is not your first Kabbalat Ha’Siddur you are sitting in both spaces – for your child it is the next stage of their trek through life; as a parent you are returning to a sacred family moment.  I believe that part of the magic of living a Jewish life is to recognize and to celebrate when and where this line and this circle intersect.

One of our school’s North Stars is that “we are all on inspiring Jewish journeys” and the Kabbalat Ha’Siddur is a significant stop on a journey that began together under the chuppah on the first days of Junior and Senior Kindergarten.  But by linking this moment to Tefillah – to prayer – we are teaching our children and, perhaps, reminding ourselves of an important idea.  For all the reasons we can and do pray – to express gratitude, to connect to community, to be part of a chain in history, to offer petition, to engage in mindfulness, to talk to God, to take an opportunity to measure ourselves against our best selves, etc. – perhaps the idea that links them together is that it forces us to zoom out and appreciate the twin journeys a Jewish life represents.  You are about to sing Adon Olam with your child on the day of his or her Kabbalat Ha’Siddur, using the Siddur our school gifts you, covered with the love you put into its decoration.  You have likely sung Adon Olam before and will likely sing Adon Olam again.  Those words will be the same.  But you and your children will not.  Adon Olam will forever be linked with this moment and who you were at this time.

We give our students – your children – the gift of a Siddur not to be a trophy, but to be a tool.  And this tool will hopefully serve many purposes on the journey forward.  But I also believe this Siddur is more than a tool for prayer literacy, it is also a compass, if not a time machine, for the Jewish journey of your children and your family.  Each time you open it, you are everyone you were up until that point, with all the memories and experiences that came with you.  You read the same words with different eyes and, thus, they elicit different meanings.  When my daughters led services at their Bat Mitzvahs they used the siddurim they received in Kitah Alef.  And when my older one goes off to university next year, she’ll add that siddur to her bookshelf.

My prayer for this class, and for you, is that the siddur we gift you today serves as a reminder of -and a guide for – the extraordinary and unpredictable Jewish journey ahead.  A journey that our school is honoured to share whilst entrusted with the sacred task of educating this wonderful group of children.  As we share our gift with you, thank you for the gift you have given us with your trust.  Mazal tov to us and mazal tov to you.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2023: When In Doubt – Trust The Teacher

“Teacher Appreciation Week” – like so much of our calendar – is a reminder of something that ought not be restricted to a week or a day.  As memories these days seem to be shorter and shorter, we shouldn’t forget the burst of appreciation for what it means to be a teacher that bubbled up during COVID – a time where parents both saw firsthand and, in some cases, experienced firsthand all that it means to teach children.  Those memories alone should be more than enough to remind us that we owe our teachers and those who care for our children much more than “appreciation”…

I have been in the field of Jewish day school since 2005 and the field of Jewish education since 1997.  Stress, fatigue, under-appreciation, burnout – these factors have (sadly) always been present (as they have been in almost all forms of education, service work and nonprofits).  The days of the 30-year teacher and/or administrator have been ending in slow motion for years and decades, but the exodus we – the field – are experiencing since COVID is unprecedented and potentially cataclysmic.

We have been both lucky and blessed at OJCS, pre-pandemic, during COVID, and post-pandemic with a significant number of veteran teachers and administrators who continue to make OJCS their address for their love of children and their passion for teaching, year after year.  But that doesn’t mean that the last few years have not taken their toll.  They have.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that we should take their commitment and dedication for granted.  We shouldn’t.  What it means – to me – is that the small things that truly demonstrate “appreciation” matter now, more than ever.  That, in fact, the small things couldn’t loom larger.

With Teacher Appreciation Week launching next week, our Admin, PTA and Board eagerly look forward to celebrating and spoiling our teachers.  How, you may ask?  Like this:

What could you do to make a huge difference to the overall wellbeing of our school?  Simply pick an item from below (aggregated from lots of blog posts) and make a teacher’s day:

  • A personalized note or email
  • A homemade craft
  • Caffeine
  • A hot meal
  • Gift cards
  • Plants
  • A personalized thank-you sign
  • Small treasures
  • Something special that reminds a teacher of his/her student(s)
  • Alcohol (but check first!)
  • Show up for school!
  • Spa treatment
  • Experiential gifts (like a remote yoga or dance class)
  • Donations to a dream project
  • Year-Round Advocacy

My personal suggestion?  Absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media.  Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades!  Do any and all of the above list.  Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to learning as successful as it has been.  Please.

But if you want to go the extra mile?  Try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.

Please be sure to fill out this year’s Annual Parent Survey no later than May 15th if you want your results included in the public reporting!

The Transparency Files: Self-Evaluation

With the theme of this year being “Getting Our Mojo Back,” one thing that you can be sure of as the calendar turns to May and June, is that I will deliver you a series of “Transparency Files” blog posts!  OJCS Parents will soon receive their link to our Annual Parent Survey, and so I will again begin with a self-evaluation and will continue with the sharing of results of that survey, the results from our Annual Faculty Survey (which is shared directly with them), and will conclude with a discussion of next year and an introduction of the 2023-2024 OJCS Faculty.  [These posts will not follow week-by-week.]

We are in that “evaluation” time of year!  As Head of School, I have the responsibility of performing an evaluation of staff and faculty each year.  Fittingly, they have an opportunity to do the same of me.  Our Annual Faculty Survey presents current teachers and staff with the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback of my performance as Head of School.  Our Annual Parent Survey presents current parents with an opportunity to do the same (as part of a much larger survey of school satisfaction).  Please know that the full unedited results of both are sent onto the OJCS Board of Trustees Head Support & Evaluation Committee as part of their data collection for the execution of my annual performance review.

You are welcome to review last year’s self-evaluation post before moving onto this year’s.  Like last year’s, I am going to skip the cutting-and-pasting from my goal-setting document and simply present to you a few big ideas that come from my “principal’s” bucket, and not as much from my “head of school’s” bucket (i.e. fundraising, marketing, budgeting, etc.).

…thanks to a grant from Prizmah we partnered with PJ Library on a variety of events to grow the number of Jewish families in Ottawa who are familiar with our school!  Highlights included a Library Storytime, lulav & etrog-shaking in our OJCS Sukkah, and two different “Havdalah in the Park” programs – one in Centrepointe and one in Alta Vista.  We are looking forward to building on this relationship in the years to come!

…in order to fully mark the transition from COVID to…now…we thought it was important to revisit three “Critical Conversations” that were so helpful to our growth (in every sense of the word) during our first few years together.  We, therefore, held three “Town Halls”: 1) Let’s Talk About the “J” in “OJCS”…Again: The JS Town Hall 2022; 2) Let’s Talk About French…Again. L’assemblée de Français 2022; and 3) Let’s Talk About the Future…Again: The “Sneak Peek” Town Hall 2023.    Our hope is that we have successfully put all our families on an even playing field as to how we got from where we were to where we are…and provided clarity as to how we plan to get from where we are to where we are headed.

…we began our three-year journey to full CAIS Accreditation by focusing on getting organized and beginning to think through succession planning both on the lay (board) side and on the professional side.  As we complete this journey, we seek to help parents in our community better understand how we fit into the private school landscape, as OJCS will – eventually – join Ashbury and Elmwood as the only CAIS Accredited schools in Ottawa.

…in addition to launching French-language PE this year, we tried to shine a brighter spotlight on all things French at OJCS with La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie 2023, which culminated in a wonderful Francofête attended by parents.  We look forward to building on both as we continue to focus attention on French outcomes for OJCS graduates.

…we piloted a Middle School Information Night for Grade 5 Parents and will follow up in June with a Taste of Middle School for Grade 5 Students.  We want to do a better and better job celebrating the value proposition for Middle School at OJCS.  Beginning the conversation earlier can only help.

…with the help of a generous grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa‘s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building, OJCS Hebrew Faculty worked with Hebrew at the Center over the balance of this school year on a curriculum mapping consultancy.  Once complete (in another 1-2 years), we will have a deliverable for both teachers and parents that fully describe our benchmarks and standards for all Jewish Studies topics across all grades.

What did not get done or what still needs work?

A lot!

First order of business will be moving forward on our amazing $1.5 million reimagination (now $2 million) of classrooms at OJCS thanks to an anonymous gift.  We have been working with an architect firm –  Figurr – and look forward to launching this summer.  [Stay tuned for all of what that will and won’t mean for the start of school.]  The future of education in Ottawa really will be built right here at OJCS!

Second order of business will be continuing to reconnect with our families and our community.  We aspire to be more than a school, but people’s lives are so busy!  What can we do differently next year?  What should we do differently next year?  What should a PTA be and look like?  What kinds of friend-raising activities could we or should we be facilitating or encouraging for OJCS parents?  What kinds of Jewish experiences could we be promoting or providing for OJCS families?

Third order of business, somewhat related to this year’s theme, is “teachers teaching”.  After years of worthwhile complications and interruptions through task forces, consultancies and quasi-administrative portfolios, next year will be about streamlining, simplifying, quieting and calming.  We have reached a new stage of our journey as a school and what is required now is refocusing on what our most sacred tasks are – teachers teaching and students learning.

Those are just highlights.

If you have already contributed feedback through our surveys, thank you.  [Remember the deadline for your feedback to be included in reporting is May 15th.]  Your (additional and/or direct) feedback – whether shared publicly, privately through email or social media, or shared through conversation – is greatly appreciated.  As I tell our teachers, I look forward to getting better at my job each year and I am thankful for the feedback I receive that allows me to try.

“Remember” With Your Mouth; “Don’t Forget” In Your Heart

This week we commemorated Yom HaShoah – the day set aside on the Jewish Calendar for remembering (and not forgetting) the horrible events of the Holocaust.  And we are urged Zachor! – Remember! – because it is understood that through remembrance we help ensure the other commonly used expression for this holiday, that events like the Holocaust are Never Again! – not just for the Jewish People, but for humanity.  We must Not Forget! what took place.

I’ve always struggled with the curious distinction Judaism makes between the command “to remember” and the command “to never forget”.   In Deuteronomy 25:17, we are commanded to “Remember what Amalek” did to the Israelites.  In Deuteronomy 25:19, we commanded to both wipe out Amalek’s descendents and to “not forget” Amalek’s atrocities.   Isn’t “remembering” and “not forgetting” the same thing?  Why does the Torah choose different words for expressing the same idea?

And then I came across this explanation from the Mishneh Torah

מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ זָכוֹר בַּפֶּה לֹא תִּשְׁכָּח בַּלֵּב
The Oral Tradition teaches, ‘Remember’ with your mouths; ‘Don’t Forget’ in your hearts. – Mishneh Torah, Kings & Wars 5:5

According to this text, the difference between “remembering” and “not forgetting” isn’t definitional, it is pedagogical.  And bearing witness to how our current students and alumni commemorated Yom HaShoah this week, in our school, in our community, and in Poland, reinforces once again the unique responsibility and opportunity Jewish day school represents in the lives of our students and families.

Our Grade 8s study the Holocaust as part of their curriculum, but it is not an exclusively academic pursuit.  As part of the program, they regularly engage with survivors and the children of survivors throughout the year.  That is infinitely more powerful than any one-time ceremony, but knowing that did not diminish the power of watching them participate in our community’s Yom HaShoah Commemoration on Monday night by helping facilitate the candle-lighting ceremony.  While there, I bumped into a parent with both alumni and current students.  She shared with me that her daughter, along with two other alumni in her grade, are currently on the March of the Living.  She also shared that those three, all of whom had leadership roles in their small Jewish day school while in Grade 8, are poised to have leadership roles in their large secular private school while in Grade 11.  She attributed both those developments – March of the Living and student leadership – to, yes, the home as primary educator, but also to the school where those ideas and actions are nourished, encouraged, and experienced.

And as much as I hate to use my own children as any kind of example (I almost NEVER do), I must say that on Tuesday, while our OJCS Grade 8s led our school’s Yom HaShoah Assembly, and our entire Middle School bussed to Israeli Embassy for our nation’s Yom HaShoah Commemoration, and then bussed back for a special interview with a local survivor, my older daughter was leading the first-ever Yom HaShoah Assembly at the public high school she attends.  That assembly’s existence is entirely due to my daughter’s having lobbied her school’s administration.  Her ability to advocate with her principal and her ability to facilitate an assembly are both directly attributable to what she gained by attending Jewish day school(s).

Remembering with our hearts is something that happens inside of us.  We learn, we experience, we reflect and we feel.  Not forgetting with our mouths puts action into the world.  We speak, we do, we lead and we make something happen.  Both are required to perfect the world.  The Talmud states, “Great is study for it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b).  But is the reverse not true as well?  Is it not true that action leads to study?  And isn’t both at the same time the most ideal?  And isn’t that what Jewish Day School is about at its most aspirational?  That our students study and then put their learning into action to make the world a better place?  That our students have lots of opportunity to make the world a better place and are then inspired to learn more?

I know that one primary audience for this blog is (always) current parents in my current school, but there are others.  And I know that Jewish Day School will never be the preferred destination for all.  And I know that not all my current students began their journeys at the beginning, and not all will stay in Jewish day school through graduation.  And I know that there are all kinds reasons why that is true.  And I know that each time I come out swinging too hard, I run the risk of reading as preachy or judgy.

And yet.

I also know why I implore families to attend an OJCS Graduation long before their children reach Grade 8.  It is the same reason why I encourage families to read blogs and blogfolios of children in older grades.  It is the same reason why we invited alumni to speak to Grade 5 Families this year.

It is why I will forever share my heart and use my voice in the service of Jewish day school.  Weeks like this one and the ones to follow are why we should both remember and not forget the gifts that Jewish day schools give their students – gifts that give back to families, to schools, and to community.

As we are currently in the throes of admissions, where we have every reason to believe that we will see our school grow for a sixth consecutive year; where we move forward with our journey towards CAIS accreditation (joining only Elmwood and Ashbury from the Ottawa independent school community), where we stand poised this summer to execute the first phase of a (now) $2 million renovation to help make our physical facility as innovative and excellent as our program – let me close by thanking all the parents who entrust us with their precious children; our teachers who pour their passion into their sacred and holy work; our volunteers who give of their most valued commodity, time; our community led by our most important partner and donor the Jewish Federation of Ottawa; and our donors who give of their treasure in addition to their time and wisdom.  Special thanks to all those who have joined our Life & Legacy Circle, who have ensured their legacies through securing our school’s.

The roller coaster of this holiday season has its ups and downs; may the trajectory of our school, thanks to so many, continue l’eilah u’leilah – higher and higher.

OJCS Celebrates Innovation Day

One of my great joys over the last six (!) years has been watching the evolution from “Science Fair” to “STEM” to “STEAM” to “Innovation Day”.  Each iteration has brought our school – and our students – closer to a high dream of fusing science benchmarks with STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Mathematics) standards with Makerspace skills all blended together with creativity, student voice and presentation rubrics to become this thing that we now call “Innovation Day”.

However, we might as well have called it #OJCSNorthStarsDay since a day like this reaches so close to so many of them…

…”We learn better together”?  We sure did today as, for many, collaboration was the key to innovation.

…”We own our own learning”?  Students had lots of opportunities for choice-making which inspired their creativity.

…”A floor, but no ceiling”?  The sky was the limit as to how high they chose to aspire.

…”Ruach”?  Did they have fun?  Check out the smiles below and tell me.

I want to be super clear and name that not only did I have virtually nothing to do with the planning and facilitation of this day, I also had virtually nothing to do with the documentation of this day as well.  It is my pleasure to use my blog to showcase the work of those who did.

The primary drivers of Innovation Day at OJCS were Josh Ray, who serves as our Makerspace Lead and Middle School Science Teacher, and our Lower School Science Teachers.  Everything that you are going to see below is the fruit of their labours – with photo collages captured by Staci Zemlak-Kenter, who dabbles in social while serving as our Development Director.   Together with Global Maker Day and the regularly scheduled lessons in our Makerspace, Innovation Day shows how OJCS serves as an incubator of innovation for it students (and teachers!).

So.  What was this day all about?

In a nutshell…this:

Grade 8 – Simple Machines Project

We often say that doing something with a machine requires less work. In this design challenge, you will be responsible for helping upgrade the gymnasium and physical education programming here at OJCS. Using your knowledge of simple machines, your task is to use the design thinking process to design, test, and build a simple machine prototype that enhances our physical education curriculum.

Your Goal: Working on your own or in a group, decide which simple machine game or project template you will use to build your project. After researching the six different types of simple machines, create a plan for your prototype. Determine what materials you will need and, the size and quantity of materials. Then, plan how you will proceed. All sections will be presented as part of a 5 section (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test) presentation to be displayed on a tri-fold board and presented in front of judges.

Grade 7 – Filtration Project

You are now working for the Clean Water Environmental Engineering Company and have been asked to design a new water filtration system for a small community with a polluted water supply. First, the company is going to look at different types of filter material to determine which ones work well. Then each group in the company will design a filtering system to clean up the polluted water.

Your Goal: In this hands-on project, you will investigate different filtering methods for removing pollutants from a dirty water mechanical mixture. You will design, build and test your own water filters.

Grade 6 – Electricity Project

Your Goal: In this project, you will build a series circuit that lights a bulb using a power source and conducting wires. Then predict what will happen to the brightness of your bulb if you add more bulbs or batteries to your series circuit, and test your prediction.

Grade 5

Grade 4 – Medieval Times & Pulleys/Gears

Grade 3

Grade 2

And our JK, SK & Grade 1s celebrated all things “Science” as well!

Did our students have an amazing day putting all their passion, talent, knowledge and creativity to good use?

I’d say “yes” – this was a great day of learning at OJCS!

Tips for Planning Your Seder Too Good to Passover

Why am I pushing out a blog post on preparing for Passover when we just came out of a very successful “Célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie 2023” and are headed into what will surely be a very successful Innovation Day next week [Spoiler Alert!  Next week’s blog topic.] with Passover yet still another week away?

Because this year I actually remembered that if anyone were to be truly be inspired by this post and wished to adequately prepare, that it would be helpful to give them enough time to actually do it!  I typically post too close to Passover itself to allow anyone to put any of these ideas into practice.  So, this year,  I am going to push it out with even-more lead time.

Each year, I issue a blog post in service of helping people take the process of planning for seder more seriously.  Why?  Because I believe (know) that like anything else, good planning leads to good outcomes.  And even if you are not the host, it still may be true that you are called upon to help.  No pressure!  I got you.

If this is your year to lead or co-lead – whether it is something you do annually, or if you are being pressed into service for the first or second time – let’s see what we can do.  And even if you still maintain a Zoom guestlist, the seder is still a wonderful opportunity for families to spend time doing something they still might not otherwise do—talk with one another!  The seder was originally designed to be an interactive, thought-provoking, and enjoyable talk-feast of an experience, so let’s see how we might increase the odds for making that true.

Annually Revised Top Ten suggestions on how to make this year’s seder a more positive and meaningful experience:

1.  Tell the Story of the Exodus

The core mitzvah of Passover is telling the story.  Until the 9th century, there was no clear way of telling the story.  In fact, there was tremendous fluidity in how the story was told.  The printing press temporarily put an end to all creativity of how the story was told.  But we need not limit ourselves to the words printed in the Haggadah.  [This may be especially true if you have not been hosting Passover and don’t actually have haggadot.  During the COVID years, mine were with my Mom – so, we dusted off some vintage ones.  If you Google “online haggadot” you will find lots of options.]  This could be done by means of a skit, game, or informally going around the table and sharing each person’s version of the story.

If there are older members at the table, this might be a good time to hear their “story,” and perhaps their “exodus” from whichever land they may have come.  If your older members are still not able to be with you this year, you might wish to consider asking them to write or record their stories, which you could incorporate into your seder (depending on your level of observance).  There may still be lots of families who will be using technology to expand their seder tables to include virtual friends and families.

2.  Sing Songs

If your family enjoys singing, the seder is a fantastic time to break out those vocal cords!  In addition to the traditional array of Haggadah melodies, new English songs are written each year, often to the tunes of familiar melodies.  Or just spend some time on YouTube!  Alternatively, for the creative and adventurous souls, consider writing your own!

3.  Multiple Haggadot

For most families, I would recommend choosing one haggadah to use at the table.  This is helpful in maintaining consistency and ensuring that everyone is “on the same page.”  Nevertheless, it is also nice to have extra haggadot available for different commentaries and fresh interpretations.  But if you are mixing-and-matching, don’t let that inhibit you from moving forward – the core elements are essentially the same from one to the other.  Let the differences be opportunities for insight, not frustration.

4.  Karpas of Substance

One solution to the “when are we going to eat” dilemma, is to have a “karpas of substance.”  The karpas (green vegetable) is served towards the beginning of the seder, and in most homes is found in the form of celery or parsley.  In truth, karpas can be eaten over any vegetable over which we say the blessing, “borei pri ha’adamah,” which praises God for “creating the fruit from the ground.”  Therefore, it is often helpful to serve something more substantial to hold your guests over until the meal begins.  Some suggestions for this are: potatoes, salad, and artichokes.

In a year when Passover candle-lighting times are late or children’s patience runs short or you are trying to accommodate varying time zones, you should try to eat your gefilte fish before the seder.

5.  Assign Parts in Advance

In order to encourage participation in your seder, you may want to consider giving your partner, children and guests a little homework.  Ask them to bring something creative to discuss, sing, or read at the table.  This could be the year you go all in and come in costume – dress like an ancient Israelite or your favorite plague – don’t succumb to “Pediatric Judaism”, you are allowed to be silly and fun at all ages and stages.

6.  Know Your Audience

This may seem obvious, but the success of your seder will largely depend on your careful attention to the needs of the seder guests.  If you expect many young children at the seder, you ought to tailor the seder accordingly.  If you have people who have never been to a seder before, be prepared for lots of basic questions and explanations.  Do not underestimate your guests; if you take the seder seriously, they will likely respond positively.

7.  Fun Activities

Everyone wants to have a good time at the seder.  Each year, try something a little different to add some spice to the evening.  Consider creating a Passover game such as Pesach Family Feud, Jewpardy, or Who Wants to be an Egyptian Millionaire?!  (Again, depending on your observance level, you could also incorporate apps like Kahoot into your experience.)  Go around the table and ask fun questions with serious or silly answers.

8.  Questions for Discussion

Depending on the ages of your children, this one may be hard to calibrate, but because so often we are catering to the youngest at the table, it is easy to forget that an adult seder ought to raise questions that are pertinent to the themes found in the haggadah.  For example, when we read “ha lachma anya—this is the bread of affliction,” why do we say that “now we are slaves?”  To what aspects of our current lives are we enslaved?  How can we become free?  What does it mean/what are the implications of being enslaved in today’s society?  How has the experience having been “locked down” during COVID and/or “freedom” from COVID impacted our sense of things?  How might what is happening in the Ukraine colour our experience of Passover?  How might what is happening Israel colour our experience of Passover?

We read in the haggadah, “in each generation, one is required to see to oneself as if s/he was personally redeemed from Egypt.”  Why should this be the case?  How do we go about doing that?  If we really had such an experience, how would that affect our relationship with God?

Jon’s “Fifth Questions” for Passover 5783

Head of the Ottawa Jewish Day School: Why is this conversation about OJCS different than all other ones?

Jewish Day School Practitioner: How will I take the pedagogical brilliance of the Passover Seder and apply it to…Tu B’Shevat?  Math?  Science?  French?  How will I incorporate the lessons of the “Four Children” into our daily lesson planning?

Israel Advocate: How can I be inspired by the words, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” to inspire engagement with Israel when things in Israel are so very complicated this year?

American Expatriate in Canada: What can I learn from how my current home deals with the rise in anti-Semitism that would be of value to colleagues, family and friends in the States?  What can I learn from how my former home is dealing with the rise in anti-Semitism that would be of value to colleagues, family and friends in Canada?

Parent: How will my parenting change – how will my role as a parent change – with my first child heading off to university next year?  Where will she be when we say, “Next year in…” next year, and will it change how I parent?

What are some of your “Fifth Questions” this year?

9.  Share Family Traditions

Part of the beauty of Passover, is the number of fascinating traditions from around the world.  This year, in particular, is a great opportunity to begin a new tradition for your family.  One family I know likes to go around the table and ask everyone to participate in filling the cup of Elijah.  As each person pours from his/her cup into Elijah’s, s/he offers a wish/prayer for the upcoming year.  What are you going try this year?

10.  Preparation

The more thought and preparation given to the seder, the more successful the seder will be.  That may feel challenging or overwhelming this year, but however much time and attention you can put into your planning, you won’t regret it.  If you are an OJCS (or Jewish day school family), lean on your children – you paid all this money for a high-quality Jewish education, put them to work!  Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.

Wishing you and your family a very early chag kasher v’sameach

And for OJCS Parents…we hope you are looking forward to this year’s Model Seders and other Passover Activities before we hit the Passover Break!

La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie 2023

While our teachers and parents are busy participating in this term’s parent-teacher conferences, I’m going to take a peek forward in anticipation of what should be a very exciting week at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  Let me be the first to welcome you to the inaugural La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie, featuring our second annual – but first with parents – Francofête.  [For a bit of background, you are welcome to revisit last year’s post about Francofête and how it builds upon past celebrations of French at OJCS.]

We are so pleased to let you know that next week (March 20-24) will be “La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie 2023”!  The goals are simple – to spend a week marinating in French, celebrating the work of our students and teachers, highlighting the strides our French program has taken in the last few years, and elevating French beyond the boundaries of French class, into the broader OJCS culture.  The highlight will be the Francofête on Thursday, March 23rd at 6:30 PM in the OJCS Gym.

So…what to expect from “La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie 2023”?

  • To set the ambience, we will have a customized French music playlist to greet our students each day upon entry and announcements and anthems en français.
  • On Monday, students will experience special activities and programs during their French classes.  This will include the dix mots de la francophonie (the ten words for this year’s francophonie).  What are they?  Glad you asked!  Learn along with our students:
    • Année-lumière
    • Avant-jour
    • Dare-dare
    • Déjà-vu
    • Hivernage
    • Lambiner
    • Plus-que-parfait
    • Rythmer
    • Synchrone
    • Tic-tac
  •  Students will also learn about l’Organisation Mondiale de la Francophonie dans le monde (World Organization of La Francophonie) and Canada’s role therein.
  • On Tuesday, we will hold a major dress rehearsal for the Francofête.
  • On Wednesday, we will take the last ninety minutes of the day for a school-wide “station-to-station” program with our Grades 7 & 8 students guiding our students to teacher-led activities featuring our very own pop-up OJCS French Café where they will enjoy authentic (kosher) French treats.
  • Thursday brings us the Francofête!  Parents will be welcome to join us at 6:30 PM and each of our grades will share songs, dances, knowledge and the joie d’apprendre that comes with French learning at OJCS.
  • We’ll finish the week with a special round of French Reading Buddies!

And many more surprises…

So there you go…voilà!

Parents at OJCS will hopefully look forward to lots of opportunities to peek in and/or to see pictures and videos during this year’s celebration and to join us for the Francofête.  We’ll look forward to building on this in future years as we continue to showcase French in our trilingual school.

Great appreciation to our entire French Faculty and to Madame Wanda in particular who has led this year’s celebration.  This should be a week filled with ruach – errr…joie de vivre! [French North Star Alert!]

A Ruach Week Trip Around the OJCS Student Blogfolio-Sphere

I can assure you that this regular reminder of our student blogfolios with its concomitant plea for your visitation is not a function of being out of ideas of what to say (or because I have been busy making costume changes all Ruach Week!).  It is also not a function of believing that blogging is the primary or most important thing that we do at OJCS – it is not.  But because blogs and blogfolios do makeup the spine of which much else is built around; and because they are outward facing – available for you and the general public to read, respond and engage with – I do want to make sure that I keep them top of mind.

For most of my professional life, I have had two children in (my) schools where they maintained blogfolios.  I subscribed to them, of course, but I am not going to pretend that I read each and every posting, and certainly not at the time of publication.  So this is not about shaming parents or relatives whose incredibly busy lives makes it difficult to read each and every post.  As the head of school where blogfolios are part of the currency, I try to set aside time to browse through and make comments – knowing that each comment give each student a little dose of recognition and a little boost of motivation.  But I am certainly not capable of reading each and every post from each and every student and teacher!

When I am able to scroll through, what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.  This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.  [North Star Alert!]

It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work.  But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily.  When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it.  Look at how much time they spend editing.  Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect.

Even having come out of COVID-functioning, our classroom blogs and student blogfolios remain important virtual windows into the innovative and exciting work happening at OJCS.  In addition to encouraging families, friends and relatives to check it out, I also work hard to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time to visit our school’s blogosphere so as to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

So please go visit our landing page for OJCS Student Blogfolios.  [Please note that due to privacy controls that some OJCS students opt for avatars instead of utilizing their first names / last initials which is our standard setting.  That may explain some of the creative titles.]

Seriously go!  I’ll wait…

English, French and Hebrew; Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, Jewish Studies and so much more…our students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out all the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own – especially to our students.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

What Is The Impact of ChatGPT on Jewish Day School Education? [M. Night Shyamalan Spoiler Alert]

As an AI language model, ChatGPT has the potential to revolutionize the field of education, including Jewish day school education.  Jewish day schools are institutions that provide both general and Jewish education to Jewish students.  These schools aim to foster a strong Jewish identity, community, and religious practice among their students.  ChatGPT can have a significant impact on these schools in several ways.

One of the most significant ways ChatGPT can impact Jewish day school education is by providing personalized learning experiences.  With its ability to understand and analyze vast amounts of data, ChatGPT can create individualized learning plans for each student based on their strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles.  This will help teachers to design and deliver effective and engaging lessons that cater to each student’s unique needs.

Moreover, ChatGPT can help students learn Hebrew and Torah more efficiently.  Hebrew and Torah are fundamental aspects of Jewish education, and learning them requires a lot of practice and repetition.  ChatGPT can provide students with virtual flashcards, quizzes, and interactive exercises to help them learn these subjects more efficiently.

Another way ChatGPT can impact Jewish day school education is by providing students with instant feedback.  ChatGPT can evaluate student assignments, essays, and quizzes and provide immediate feedback to students, helping them to identify their mistakes and improve their performance.  This feature will help teachers to monitor students’ progress and provide feedback in real-time, saving them time and effort.

Lastly, ChatGPT can improve communication between teachers and students. With its natural language processing capabilities, ChatGPT can help students ask questions and receive answers in real-time. This feature will help students to clarify their doubts, and teachers to provide assistance promptly.

One of the main challenges that Jewish day schools face with AI is maintaining a balance between technology and human interaction. AI has the potential to enhance student learning by providing personalized instruction and adaptive assessments.  However, it cannot replace the importance of human interaction in the learning process.  Jewish day schools must be mindful of how they integrate AI into the curriculum and ensure that it does not detract from the importance of relationships between students and teachers.

Another challenge presented by AI is its impact on Jewish values.  As Jewish day schools incorporate more technology into the classroom, there is a risk of losing the emphasis on ethical behavior, communal responsibility, and human connection that are central to Jewish values.  Educators must find ways to integrate technology into the curriculum while still emphasizing these values.

In conclusion, ChatGPT has the potential to transform Jewish day school education by providing personalized learning experiences, helping students learn Hebrew and Torah more efficiently, providing instant feedback, and improving communication between teachers and students.  AI presents both opportunities and challenges for Jewish day schools.  While AI has the potential to transform education and enhance student learning, it also raises concerns about the impact on Jewish values, human interaction, and ethical considerations.  Jewish day schools must navigate these challenges and find ways to incorporate technology into the curriculum while still emphasizing the importance of relationships, ethical behavior, and communal responsibility.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you might have (you should have!) caught onto the big reveal…that I did not write any of the above.  But if you didn’t read closely, or are not as familiar with my voice…you may not have known at all.  I simply asked ChatGPT to write a 500-word blog post on, “What Is The Impact of ChatGPT on Jewish Day School Education?” and voilà.

Terrifying?  Exciting?  Confusing?


Luckily, if you are a parent at OJCS, you can at least know that we are already working to better understand all the ways in which this is already impacting teaching and learning.  We have already blocked access from our local wifi so that students’ work can only be their own while done at school.  We have provided our teachers with free AI detectors which allows them to run submitted work to see if it was created by AI.  Our amazing librarian, Brigitte Ruel, has already cranked out a really helpful blog post with background and additional links that you should really check out.  She is also preparing a workshop for students.

Like all technology, there are both good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate, passive and active, and meaningful and less-meaningful uses.  They are tools and our job as educators is to determine if and how they are useful to furthering a student’s learning journey.  It is also our job to prepare students (and parents) for the world in which they live and will keep learning in, and thus we have a responsibility to teach them how to navigate technology – even AI – in alignment with our Jewish values.

Whether you are just finding out about this now, or have already been worrying about what it means, know that we are already working hard and have more work ahead of us.  We’ll look forward to sharing more – in our own original words and voices – in the not-too-distant future.