OJCS Marks Clean Speech 2022 – Clean Speech Contributes to a Community of Kindness

November is “Clean Speech” Month in Ottawa, and OJCS is proud to be one of the many organizations participating in this annual attempt to elevate our language in service of creating and sustaining communities of kindness.  In addition to what we will be doing in school (check the blogs!), I thought I would kick things off by connecting the dots backwards to two posts from last year and then forward to this year.

Last year, I took a bit of risk by asking the question, “Does the school (Do I) have responsibility for how our students behave outside of school?”.  And I answer, “yes” – with my focus being on how the school ought to address what our students do outside of school, when they come back inside.  A couple of months later, I asked a bit more provocative of a question, “What responsibility do parents play in this, and what ought the school do to facilitate constructive parent behavior?”.  And I kinda answered, but also kinda dodged because that is both a hard question to answer and a chutzpahdik question for the school (me) to answer.

Fast-forwarding into this year, children continuing to be children, parent continuing to be parents, humans continuing to be humans – becoming evermore kind is a process, not a destination.  As a few things bubbled up in a particular cohort, I wound up sending an email to parents that was more specific than what I had blogged out in answer to my own question.  Not a few parents/teachers suggested that that message was more than appropriate for the school as a whole, not simply that cohort, and so let me use this launching of Clean Speech Ottawa 2022, as the opportunity to share this message more widely.

From time to time, even when it feels a bit uncomfortable, I feel a responsibility to reach out to parents to raise awareness when the conversations and activities that take place outside school follow our children back inside.  There are two ways that this typically happens, which I’d like to share with you in the spirit of strengthening our community.

The first is to simply name that there are official and unofficial channels of communication.  For example, the school provides a Google Group of parent emails and uses it to communicate with all parents in the grade – that’s an official channel.  Almost always, parents create their own, unofficial channels, like a parent’s WhatsApp.  There are lots of good reasons for parents to do this!  The school does not need or want to be a party or privy to each and every conversation parents wish to have with each other.  (We do assume healthy and constructive conversations are taking place there, both in terms of how parents engage with each other and about school in general.)  Sometimes, however, subgroups of parents may create additional unofficial channels which may not be so inclusive.  We might be able to understand why that could be true, but generally do not prefer them.

Why?

Because it is almost 100% true that everything that lands in any unofficial channel will wind up being heard by everyone – whether they are in the channel or not.  Meaning, you should assume that anything you say in the unofficial Grade Whatever Parent WhatsApp will find its way to the school.  And, anything that you say in an unofficial subgroup of parents in a separate WhatsApp will find its way to all the parents in the grade.

How do we know?

Because it happens all the time.  Hurtful statements eventually find their way to their objects which only causes more harm and never leads to good outcomes.  We simply ask that you treat these communications as if they could be read by all and act accordingly.

In a similar vein, parenting is a complex and noisy endeavor.  Our children are sponges – they hear and absorb everything that is said.  They are also eager sharers – they like to share everything they hear.  This means, if your children hear you discussing other children – innocently or not; intentionally or not – they are going to come to school and let everyone know, including those children, about how you feel and what you have said.

How do we know?

Because it is happens all the time.

Parenting is hard and getting harder all the time.  Let this be a gentle reminder about how our words tend to take on a life of their own, sometimes with uncomfortable outcomes.  And let this be a request for partnership – we ask that you please be careful about how you discuss school matters with other parents and with (or in front of) your children.  There are appropriate channels – official and unofficial – for expressing concerns, making requests, sharing frustrations, venting, asking questions or anything else a parent may need or want to do.

Let’s work together to ensure that our children get to come to school each day with fresh starts and positive attitudes.  They have so much goodness in them and ahead of them, as individuals and as a group.

Stay tuned for a Parent Survey about our as-promised new offerings for both French and Jewish Studies after-school programming!  We are working with the JCC, and we look forward to seeing what we can offer.

Let’s Talk About the “J” in “OJCS”…Again: The JS Town Hall 2022

As discussed, connected to our larger theme this year of “Getting Our Mojo Back”, last night we held the first of our three critical conversations this year that will both hearken back to give everyone equal footing and dream forward to give everyone an equal stake.  Last night’s “town hall” was dedicated to the school’s Jewish Journey these last six or so years, and thank you to the parents who turned out to listen and to share.  [For those of you who might have participated had we had made a virtual option available, please know that there will be occasions when we do go hybrid.  We just felt/feel that for these conversations, it is easier to navigate live.]

What I’d like to do here, is provide a kind of annotated guide to the slides that were presented – layering in a bit of my own commentary – and ending with both some proposed next steps and opportunities for onboarding more questions and feedback from more parents.  Parent voice is critical to our ability to dream big dreams since you, our parents, are our most important stakeholder community and partner.  I am making a plea, here, while my word count is still under 200, to please add your voice to the conversation in whichever way is comfortable for you – comment on this blog, shoot me a private email, or make an appointment to come in.  This takes the village.

We began by turning the clock back to 2017 or so to remind ourselves of where our journey began.  Looking back is never intended to be disrespectful or disparaging of what was – there were, of course, lots of good things happening prior to my arrival (this is not about me!) – but we do want to be honest about what was true.  So here’s…

Again, this did not mean that we did not have excellent teachers or that teachers simply showed up each day without having planned their lessons.  We did and they did not.  But it is fair to say that we had done the work of clarifying much about our program as a whole – its ultimate benchmarks and standards when it comes to academics, and its mission and vision as a “Community” school.

That’s pretty straightforward.  That’s how much time we spent in Jewish Studies and how they were divided.  What jumps out in the K-5 is the decoupled nature of “Hebrew” and “Jewish Studies” and the mirroring of French in terms of when streaming took place and what we called it.

It is hard to measure outcomes without data.  But pay attention to those bullet points because the fact they were flagged then by parents as being of utmost concern absolutely guided what happened next.  [That’s why adding your voices now is paramount!  We really do act based on what you tell us!]

OK, that is what was true at the time.  So…

We had a big task in front of us!  Remember – or, know – that unlike in General or French Studies there are no external standards, curricula, or philosophies for Jewish Day Schools (of any type).  It is up to each school to make these decisions – schedule, curriculum, and clarifying what kind of “Community Day School” to be – important and exciting work indeed.  So…

 How did we begin the work?  DATA!

But also…

One of my great joys is that we have managed to create a space where each pulpit rabbi in our community is willing and able to sit around one table to engage in debates and disputes that are truly “for the sake of Heaven”.

So once we collected data, what did we wind up doing, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year?

That was quite a lot!  And since then what else…

Great that’s what we have done as a result of all the feedback and work over the last few years.  But…

We are very excited about these current initiatives and look forward to sharing back updates, results, gleanings and deliverables as each of these initiatives and programs starts to take shape.  That first bullet point hearkens all the way back to the first slide or so and closing that loop is among our highest priorities.  It is a huge task and hugely important – so no promises on anything other than transparency as to its process and a pledge to share whatever we can, as soon as we can.

But that’s just today!  We have also been thinking about…

That second bullet point is where you start to come in.  As will be true with French, in the weeks ahead we will be reaching out to parents to better understand what kinds of before- and after-school classes and experiences we might offer or be willing to host that may help to either fill gaps or simply enhance our Jewish Studies Program for all our families or, if desired, subcommunities of our families.  We really want to make sure we are doing whatever we can to meet needs in whatever ways we realistically can.  We do not have time to offer every possible Jewish Studies course or experience, but if we can partner with our parents to add what we can, when we can, it will be a win-win.  Stay tuned!

And finally, because I believe in naming those things which need to be named, let me acknowledge what I believe to be…

When we did this last, Hebrew was the priority and, to be fair, it is part of our mission.  But it is reasonable to ask the question of whether that is still true and to acknowledge that it comes at a cost.  And we definitely know that there are a variety of opinions about how much time we could and should spend in Jewish Studies – and I encourage an expansive view of that, including both academic class time and experiences.

One interesting piece of feedback that came from the town hall was that maybe, just maybe, there is an appetite for extending the school day to make the task of delivering a high-quality trilingual program a bit more attainable?  Do you think that’s true?

And finally, here are some big-picture questions we will be wrestling with as we go about dreaming the next dream for strengthening the “J” in “OJCS”…

So…let me repeat that parent voice is critical to our ability to dream big dreams since you, our parents, are our most important stakeholder community and partner.  I am making a plea, here, while my word count is now well over 1,000, to please add your voice to the conversation in whichever way is comfortable for you – comment on this blog, shoot me a private email, or make an appointment to come in.

This takes the village.

Please be sure to join us for our next Critical Conversation, “L’assembleé de Français – What is currently true about our French outcomes and what can parents expect moving forward?” on Thursday, November 24th at 7:00 PM.

OJCS Celebrates #GlobalMakerDay

Sure, we were a bit delayed in joining in with the rest of the school world due to the Jewish Holidays, but we more than made up for it with an incredible day of learning, making, innovating, and joy as the Ottawa Jewish Community School celebrated #GlobalMakerDay on Thursday, October 20th!  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 collaboration was the key to innovation.

…”We own our own learning”?  Students got to choose which challenges inspired their creativity.

…”A floor, but no ceiling”?  The sky (literally in a few cases) 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 #GlobalMakerDay at OJCS were our #MakerspaceThree.  As I shared a while back in a post about the (re)launch of our OJCS Makerspace (generously supported by a gift from the Congregation Beth Sholom Legacy Fund), we have three teachers who spent much of last year in a consultation with Future Design School (generously supported by a grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building) – Josh Ray, who serves as our “Makerspace Lead”, Faye Mellenthin and Michael Washerstein.  [With a huge assist from our Global Learning Lead Julie Bennett!]  Everything that you are going to see below is the fruit of their labors – with photo collages captured by Staci Zemlak-Kenter, who dabbles in social while serving as our Development Director.  This, along with the beginning of regularly scheduled lessons in the Makerspace, is just the beginning of how this space will serve as an incubator of innovation at OJCS.

So.  What was this day all about?

In a nutshell…this:

Do you want to see what all 15 challenges were?  If so, keep scrolling!  [NOTE: You will not be able to click through to the videos and printables.]  If not, feel free to jump to the end!

Did our students have an amazing day putting all our skills, materials, creativity to good use?

I’d say “yes” – this was great day of learning at OJCS!  What new dream will we dream in the OJCS Makerspace?  Stay tuned!

This Year’s First Trip Around the OJCS Blogosphere

I thought I’d take break from Jewish Holidays despite today’s amazing Sukkah Hop (follow us on social!) and next week’s climactic chagim, to take us on our first tour this year of The OJCS Blogosphere.  Recognizing that it still may be a new routine for families and that most families surely don’t have the bandwidth to visit all the blogs, it is my pleasure to serve as your occasional tour guide.  I do this a few times a year to inspire OJCS families to invest a little time, to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time, and to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]  This week I will focus on classroom blogs and, in the future, I’ll curate from school leadership blogs as well as student blogfolios.

From the Middle School Jewish Studies Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grades 6-8: Yad B’Yad Mitzvah Initiative Update – Posted on October 12

Our Mitzvah Trips are off and running! The Yad B’Yad (hand in hand) Mitzvah Initiative provides students with incredible opportunities to give back to our community and put their Jewish values into action. The theme of our Mitzvah Trips for this month is Kehillah Kedoshah. The phrase translates to a sacred or holy community. Students are learning about the importance of community. We are focusing on donating our time and giving back to others in our community. Our goal is to interact with and support various communities in Ottawa. Our first three Mitzvah Trips have focused on engaging with valued members of our Ottawa Jewish Community.

Together, they helped OTT at KBI Supplementary School step into the new year on the right foot by working to beautify the space. Students painted the walls, set up classrooms, and organized learning spaces.

The second week of our Yad B’Yad mitzvah initiative allowed our middle school students to make mini apple pies and challah buns to donate to the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank. Thank you to A Dashing Pinch – Village Café for overseeing our efforts and baking these delicious treats!

Our third week provided students with the opportunity to get creative! Students spent time creating decorations for our sukkah. In addition, a group of students went to the JCC to help make decorations for their sukkah. Check back soon to see what other amazing Mitzvah Trips that students are participating in.

From the Kindergarten – Gan Blog (click here for the full blog)

On International Dot Day, SK Made Their Mark – Posted on September 16

On September 15, 2022, the kids in SK celebrated International Dot Day!!!  If you’re not sure what International Dot Day is all about, here’s a little explanation:

September 15th marks the anniversary of the publication of best-selling author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot, a “story book for all ages.”

Starting in 2009, a group of educators began celebrating this date as International Dot Day — a day for classes to explore the story’s powerful themes: bravery, creativity, and self-expression.

The Dot tells the story of a caring teacher who reaches a reluctant student in a remarkably creative way. In Peter’s book, the teacher dares a very resistant Vashti to “make her mark.” Vashti’s breakthrough begins with a simple dot on a piece of paper. Encouraged by her teacher she sets off on a journey of self-discovery, letting her creativity bloom and, ultimately, inspire others.

from The Educator’s Handbook for International Dot Day

To mark this special day yesterday, after reading the book, the kids got to explore their own creativity by making their own unique dot.  They experimented with colour mixing by using markers on coffee filters and then spraying them with water at the Saturation Station.  They also drew their own special masterpieces to make their mark.  We listened to and watched a video of the “The Dot Song” written by Emily Arrow and Peter H. Reynolds…. you can watch the video and do the actions at home here.

The school year may have just begun, but the kids in Senior Kindergarten have already made their mark in a big way!!  Check out the pictures below and then keep scrolling for some important upcoming dates!!!

From The OJCS Library Blog (click here for the full blog)

Life Cycles and Migration Storytime – Posted on September 28

Today we read the beautiful book Bird, Butterfly, Eel by James Prosek.  This will give us a great introduction to the subject of both life cycles and migration.

For a follow-up activity, download the amazing activity guide booklet available at the National Environmental Education Foundation website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our teachers and students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own.  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.

A Non-Judgy Plea for Sukkot

If you have read, or are at least familiar with, my blog, you know that for years and years, I push out a pre-Sukkot plea for families to treat the joy of Sukkot with the same degree of intentionality as they tend to do for the solemnity of Yom Kippur.  Part of why these posts (click here and here for recent examples), tend to be so cookie-cuttered is that I don’t know how else to formulate either the question or the answer.  And so maybe that’s on me.  Perhaps it is my failure of imagination that is preventing me from either better identifying the core issue or better deriving a meaningful response.  I’m open to that.  But as I sit here, coming out of Yom Kippur and preparing for Sukkot, I am uneasy.  I don’t know how else to approach the matter that doesn’t leave me tilting at windmills or spitting into the wind.  One thought that I am left with, that I will attempt to name here, is that perhaps it isn’t the content of the message that fails to land, but the tone.

I am not a rabbi (at least not yet!) and (, regardless,) the school is not my pulpit.  That doesn’t mean that I am unwilling or unable to say hard things when necessary.  But, perhaps, it does mean that my “bully pulpit” requires me to stay in what is more reasonably understood to be “my lane” – and that how a family chooses to celebrate (or not) Jewish holidays is not it.  Maybe.  I’d prefer to split the baby a bit and suggest that as a Jewish day school with “Inspiring Jewish Journeys” as a North Star, that the subject is appropriate.  But, equally true, is that I have a responsibility to deliver a message less preachy.  So.  In that spirit, let me make a positive, non-judgemental pitch for making room for Sukkot in your cycle of Jewish celebrations.

On the school side of things, we are definitely looking forward to celebrating Sukkot at school with the assistance of our OJCS Sukkah [to be finished this week] (with great thanks to the Zaret Family & Gemstone), in which we look forward to eating, celebrating, shake-shake-shaking and hopping in as a school community when we resume school during Chol Ha’Moed next Wednesday.  Great thanks to all our teachers for the hard work that goes into holiday preparation/celebration and keeping the normal routines of school moving forward as per usual.

But what about the two days of school we are closed?  [I’ll share some corresponding thoughts about the next two days we are closed next week.]

If the idea of building a sukkah is either overwhelming or unrealistic at this time, in the spirit of trying to turn etrogs into etrog-ade, let me invite you to think of this year as an opportunity to pick one new tradition to experiment with.  Shake a lulav and etrog.  Eat in the sukkah (or in something sukkah-adjacent).  Attend or livestream a service.  Ask your child(ren)’s Jewish Studies Teacher(s) to send home.  Come use the OJCS Sukkah.  Come borrow OJCS lulav and etrogs.

How can I help?  What can I do?  These are actual questions – email me and it would be greatest pleasure.  My sukkah doors are open as well.  Literally, be my guest.  If our children – if we – only experience the Judaism of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and not the Judaism of Sukkot, the simple truth is that we are not exposing them to the full range of beauty and joy that our tradition has to offer.  Let this Sukkot truly be the season of our great rejoicing.  I hope many students find their way to synagogue and into sukkot this Sukkot.  I hope many parents push themselves out of their comfort zones and join the fun.  But most importantly, I hope we – OJCS – is up to the task of educating, inspiring and working in partnership with our families so that those who wish to, are able to add Sukkot as a next stop on their Jewish journeys.

Chag sameach!

By the way, speaking of trying to be “non-judgy”, I don’t want to assume that the many families who already celebrate Sukkot – in whatever ways – aren’t also worthy of our school’s partnership!  Many, many OJCS families will be in synagogue and sukkot and, of course, if there are ways that our school can work in partnership to amplify their Sukkot experiences, we should be equally focused and desirous of being called-upon for them as well.  If you are in this camp, I ask you, too, to let us know how we can be a better partner for your family, if not for next week then in future years.

Shofar, So Good: We Are Back to Doing the Things

It isn’t to suggest that COVID no longer exists or exacts a toll – any peek at a daily list of absentee students and teachers will testify to its ongoing impacts – but it is true that after two and a third years of functioning with COVID as the first, second and third priorities, this year is different.  COVID is no longer the text of our daily school lives, however present it remains as subtext.  Sitting here, about a month into the 2022-2023 school year and in the heart of the Fall Jewish Holidays, I believe we could rightfully characterize our current state of affairs as a school that is back to doing the things schools do.  And an OJCS back to doing OJCS things.

How might that be going, you ask?

[All together now:] Shofar, so good.

Space prohibits a comprehensive list of all the “things” – but in the spirit of a recent blog post, which acknowledged that we need to do a better job revisiting the critical conversations that helped create the current version of OJCS for the next generation of OJCS Families (see below for dates & times); let me try to link the return of pre-COVID school activities to our OJCS North Stars.  This way, again, I can try connect the dots for newer families between prior foundational initiatives and current school functioning.

PTA Back to School BBQ: Ruach

What a treat to be back together for an old school event!  We had lots of families, lots of smiles and lots of food!  (I’d like to do a better job attracting our older students, but that’s a task for next year.)  Ruach – joy is a halfway decent translation – is one of our North Stars because we believe that being a student, teacher, parent, etc., at OJCS is supposed to be joyous and that we have a responsibility to program so that it is.  Hopefully this is just the first of many PTA “friend-raising” events this year.

First Day of School “Havdalah”: We Are All on Inspiring Jewish Journeys

As a “Community” Jewish Day School, it is not our place to judge where a student’s – or family’s – Jewish Journey begins or ends.  But as a “school” we are deeply invested in growth and movement.  And so we find lots of opportunities to celebrate rituals and holidays, including some of our own unique OJCS ones (like our JK & SK Welcome Ceremonies).  One that we have not been able to do the last few years is joining together as a full school on the first day to mark a kind of havdalah – separation – between the summer and the start of school.  [Traditionally, havdalah is the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the new week.  We have “adapted” it to mark the beginning and the end of each school year.]  To be all together, especially when we are as big as we have been in years and years, singing in the sunshine was a most welcome return to normalcy.

The OJCS Library: There Is a Floor Here, But No Ceiling

Although we are surely squeezed for space, we made a commitment that we would return the Library to being a…Library.  Typically when we refer to our North Star of “There is a floor here, but no ceiling”, we are thinking of the ways in which our classroom teachers facilitate personalized learning, a critical part of #TheOJCSWay.  However, this idea both lives beyond the classroom and requires partnership to live in the classroom and our Library, and awesome Librarian, Brigitte Ruel, provides both.  Students are able to find books that inspire them as well as gently pushing them to new levels of literacy (across all three languages).  The joy our students have this year in being able to visit the Library both formally (as a class) and informally (during recess) has been palpable.  We didn’t know how much we missed and needed our Library!

The OJCS Makerspace: We Own Our Own Learning

Thanks to an Innovation Capacity Grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, three of our teachers spent last year honing their curriculum building skills related to our OJCS Makerspace.  During Faculty Pre-Planning, they led our full team in a wonderful session reintroducing the Makerspace and showing how every department can integrate this incredible and equipment into their classes.  We wrapped it up with a Tinkercad design challenge, with the winning team taking home trophies that were printed on our 3D printer.

Part of what makes having a makerspace so wonderful for students is that it both contributes to giving them an ownership of their own learning and it allows for meaning cross-curricular connections.  Want an example?  Grade 4 is currently in  the midst of a cross-curricular unit – using Tinkercad to design their own sukkot.  We can’t wait to see how their personalities and creativity will shine through in their creations!

The OJCS Middle School Retreat: We Learn Better Together

I have already blogged all about this retreat, but it hits multiple North Stars.  Helping our students understand that their learning is enhanced and amplified by being part of a learning community – that one’s learning is positively impacted by being in relationship with other learners – is part of our school’s commitment to global connectedness and, hopefully, just one big idea that carries forward from an experience like a retreat into the walls of the classrooms and the school.

OJCS Mitzvah Trips: Each Person is Responsible for the Other

I have also blogged about the launch of our Middle School Mitzvah Trips, a very exciting new initiative that is going to make a huge difference in our Middle School for years to come.  Here is one of our first examples:

Our Middle School helped OTT at KBI Supplementary School step into the new year on the right foot by working to beautify their space.

I cannot come on too strong when I tell you from experience (this program was a core program of my prior headship) how meaningful it is for students (and their parents!) to have an opportunity each week to go out into the world and help make it a better place.  Watch this space.

We also participated in our own Terry Fox Run after learning about the legacy of Terry Fox, and the work of The Terry Fox Foundation.

As OJCS students, our children learn to navigate the concentric circles of citizenship from their OJCS community, to the larger Jewish community, the larger Ottawa community, the larger Canadian community and the global community – guided by Jewish values and inspired by civic duty.

Go, Rams, Go! – Ruach

We’ll end where we began.  I have blogged in the past about the importance of sports in (smaller) Jewish day schools and prospective parents are frequently surprised to learn that we compete in the Ottawa Independent Schools Athletic Association (OISAA).  (They are even more surprised to learn that we frequently do quite well!)  To kick off this year in sports, and to end our review of a return to normalcy, just this week Grade 3 had a fabulous time at the OISAA Soccer Jamboree:

 

And there you have it…as we launch the New Jewish Year a month after the new school year, let it be a year we continue to do the things; to experience all that a school like OJCS has to offer and, by doing so, reaching that much closer to those North Stars.

As referred to above and a few weeks ago, we now have dates and times for our three “critical conversations”:

  • “Let’s Talk About the ‘J’ in OJCS” – what really is our Jewish mission/vision?  October 27th @ 7:00 PM.
  • L’assemblée de Français” – what is currently true about our French outcomes and what can parents expect moving forward?  November 24th @ 7:00 PM.
  • “Let’s Talk About the Future” – what are the big ideas, programs and initiatives that will help us reach that much closer to our North Stars?  February 9th @ 7:00 PM.

We are currently in the middle of the עשרת ימי תשובה‎ – the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  My calendar is such that I will not have an opportunity to blog out my annual “Leaning Into Forgiveness” post prior to Yom Kippur.  However, let me take this opportunity to ask forgiveness for anything I have done – purposely or unknowingly – to cause offense or upset during the last year.  I am sincerely sorry and ask for your forgiveness.  As you ponder the purpose of this season for you and your family, I hope you find the time for introspection and the inspiration for the teshuvah you are seeking.  From my family to yours, wishing you a tzom kal (easy fast) and a day of meaning.

G’mar chatimah tovah.

The 2022 OJCS Middle School Retreat: Friendship is Magic (Getting Our Mojo Back)

We did it!

After a couple of years of COVID-friendly day trips in lieu, our Fifth Annual OJCS Middle School Retreat was a triumphant return to Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa and a return to the true spirit and format of what this experience is supposed both be and mean.  Our theme for The 2022 Middle School Retreat was the same as it was for Faculty Pre-Planning Week as it is for the whole school for the whole year: “Getting Our Mojo Back”.  Over three days, we engaged in three different peulot (informal Jewish educational programs) where our students, by class, by grade, and as a full middle school had a chance to review and lean into the Jewish values that will enable us to maintain and grow a healthy and constructive middle school community and culture.  I sometimes think that our school culture is a three-legged stool, with our North Stars, our “7 Habits” and our Jewish Values keeping us steady and stable.  I was very impressed by the level of engagement and the quality of conversation – whether we were inside, outside, sleepy or wide awake – that our students contributed to this part of the experience.

Here’s a snapshot (or 12) of our experience:

Day #1

Our day got started at school and we were quickly on our way to CBB by about 9:00 AM.  We arrived at Camp by about 10:00 AM, unpacked the bus, moved into cabins and enjoyed some free time and an opportunity to sample some of the recreational activities campers enjoy at CBB during the summer.  We then had lunch and moved into our activities for the day…
As has become our tradition, the first thing we do on the Middle School Retreat  are a set of fun, team-building activities planned and led by our Grade 8s:
[You can check out the school’s social media for some exciting tug-of-war videos!]
After that we moved into our first of three peulot (activities) for the Retreat.  We used the peulot to explore Jewish notions of “friendship” and “community”.  The first one was about Lashon Ha’Rah (Gossip) and how we can do a better job of observing the mitzvah of Lo Lashon Ha’Rah (Not Gossiping).  We explored a little text, did a little role-play and each grade recorded a 90-second PSA that we will look forward to sharing.
After the peulah we were ready for more free time and to get ready for dinner.  After dinner we went into our second peulah.  This one was about the Jewish value of Hokheah Tokhiah, which literally means “reproof”, but is shorthand for dealing with “conflict resolution”.  Again, we studied some text, did a few role-plays, learned a little about Martin Buber‘s concept of “I-It / I-Thou”, and practiced healthy ways we can navigate conflict.
Day #2

This morning we woke up bright and early and enjoyed a yummy bagel breakfast!

From there we went on a brief nature-themed Tefillah experience where we chose a location at CBB that best exemplified the “big idea” of each prayer.  For example, for the Yotzer which celebrates Creation, we climbed onto a balcony to revel in the beauty of the great outdoors.
After Tefillah, we packed up, boarded the buses and headed off to Caverne Laflèche par Arbraska for our main event!  We were split into groups and alternated between exploring the caves…
…and enjoying a ropes course and zipline adventure!
After all that adventure, we…
…headed back to camp and got ready for a yummy BBQ of hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken wings.
…played a game of Capture the Flag.
…built a campfire and did classic campfire things.
Day #3
We began the day with a spirited (bit-too-early) Kabbalat Shabbat and then moved into our final peulah of the retreat, “Dilemmas of Friendship,” which tried to tie together the themes of the retreat and set us up to be a healthy Middle School Community upon our return.
We then cleaned up our cabins and the camp, packed and loaded up the bus, and headed out to Gatineau Park for lunch and a hike.
We then boarded the bus and headed back to OJCS!
Speaking of “triumphant returns” – please join us for our in-person “Back to School Night” taking place on Wednesday, September 21st from 7:00 – 8:30 PM.  (Although we are not offering a hybrid experience, materials will be made available to parents who are unable to join us.)
Will I have time to squeeze out my annual pun-tastic High Holiday post before Rosh Hashanah?  Stay tuned!

Re-Cycle: Let’s Talk About…Revisiting Critical Conversations

As I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to lean back into conversations about teaching and learning, community, relationship-(re)building, programs and all the normal stuff one does at the beginning of a new school year – as opposed to focusing inordinate time and energy on COVID protocols – it occurs to me that in many ways this is not just the beginning of a new school year, but the beginning of a new school chapter.

Five years is both a short and a long time depending on your perspective.

When I talk with parents, especially those who have only been at OJCS for two or three years, it is clear that we have a bit of a “generational” (that’s not the exact best word, but I can’t think of a better alternative) divide and I think the fault line describes the many “town halls” and “critical conversations” that took place during my first two years at OJCS.  If you were here for all that foundational work (or chose to go back and peruse blog posts from those years) you both know what was true and what (now) is true AND you had a voice in helping chart the distance between the two.  That is a very different perspective from those who only know the status quo.

Just that by itself would warrant action.

But schools are not static – they are learning organizations that continue to grow and evolve over time.  It is not sufficient for new parents to come to know “The OJCS Way” as some kind of permanent state of affairs.  Our “North Stars” may be fixed in the firmament above, but everything about how we get there is entirely up to us.  So between wanting all our parents to better understand fundamental truths about our school as it presently is, and needing all our parents to participate in critical conversations to help decide what will be true about our school as it continues to evolve, we land in the same place.

Connected to our larger theme this year of “Getting Our Mojo Back”, we are going to schedule three critical conversations this year that will both hearken back to give everyone equal footing and dream forward to give everyone an equal stake.  The titles will be the same as they were…

  • “Let’s Talk About the ‘J’ in OJCS” – what really is our Jewish mission/vision?  Coming to a weeknight soon in October.
  • L’assemblée de Français” – what is currently true about our French outcomes and what can parents expect moving forward?  Coming to a weeknight soon in November.
  • “Let’s Talk About the Future” – what are the big ideas, programs and initiatives that will help us reach that much closer to our North Stars?  Coming to a weeknight soon in February.

And for each, I will do as I have done – use my blog to transparently set the stage, to share the results and to share the impact.

In the meanwhile, my email and door – both metaphorically and in reality – are open.  Feel free to engage with me on any issue, concern or question that is on your mind.

Next week at this time, I will be returning from what I already know will a triumphant return to our Annual Middle School Retreat, so you’ll forgive me if my weekly blog post is delayed by a few days.  Feel free to check social to follow our adventures in zip-lining, caving, hiking, praying, learning, campfire-ing, and having an overall fantastic adventure as a middle school community!

OJCS Faculty Pre-Planning 2022: Getting Our Mojo Back!

We’re back!  I am writing near the end of an amazing Faculty Pre-Planning Week that has us poised for our biggest and best year yet!  We have a large group of amazing returning teachers and a small group of talented new teachers and the combination is almost too wonderful to name.  A school is only as good as its teachers, so…OJCS is in good hands, with all arrows pointing up.  Enrollment is still coming in, but it is safe to say that we will be over 190 for the first time in a long time.  But the best part of the week?  It was about SCHOOL and TEACHING and STUDENTS, and not about COVID and COVID and COVID.

Do you ever wonder how we spend this week of preparations while y’all are busy getting your last cottage days or summer trips or rays of sun in?  

I think there is value in our parents (and community) having a sense for the kinds of issues and ideas we explore and work on during our planning week because it foreshadows the year to come.  So as you enjoy those last days on the lake or on the couch, let me paint a little picture of how we are preparing to make 2022-2023 the best year yet.

Here’s a curated selection from our activities…

The “Getting Our Mojo Back”  Cafe

Each year (15 years, 6 at OJCS and counting!), I begin “Pre-Planning Week” with an updated version of the “World Cafe”.  It is a collaborative brainstorming activity centered on a key question.  Each year’s question is designed to encapsulate that year’s “big idea”.  This year’s big idea?  Getting Our Mojo Back!

After the last two and a third  years, we are eager to get back on the exciting trajectory we were on BC (Before COVID) – back to being the school that did big things and tried new ideas, back to being the school where students dreamed big dreams and teachers unleashed their passion, back to being the school where parents were present and engaged and involved.  Etc.  Here’s one (of many) example of our brainstorm:

Implementing OJCS Homework Philosophy

One conversation that we are excited to be picking back up is a more fulsome implementation of the OJCS Homework Philosophy we created and shared pre-COVID.  This conversation includes questions teachers should answer before deciding whether or not to give it as homework,  like…

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it inspiring, creative and authentic?
  • Have I personalized it?
  • Have I explained it well?  Can students complete it independently?
  • How much homework is being assigned across the team?  Will it cause unnecessary stress?

Parents can look forward to more information on that and more to be shared during Back To School Night on Tuesday, September 21st.

Book Tasting: The OJCS 2022 Summer Book Club

I think you can tell a lot by the books a school chooses to read together.  Here were the selections for this summer, which culminated in a “Book Tasting” session where lessons and wisdom were gleaned and shared:

If you want to know more about the big ideas that shape our work, feel free to read one or more of these books and tell us what you think!

Reintroducing the OJCS Makerspace

Of all the BC (Before COVID) programs to be shut down before having a chance to truly take to life, the short-lived soft launch of the OJCS Makerspace (built with a gift from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund) was one of the most truly disappointing.  I have blogged may times already (most recently here last spring) about all that the Makerspace was and is intended to be, but now – finally! – we are taking steps to ensure that it begins to live up to its promise.  I often say that the best measure of a school’s (or any organization’s) priorities can be found in their budget and their schedule.  How you choose to spend your money and your time means more than any marketing collateral (or blog post!), and this year we have put our money and our time behind making the OJCS Makerspace the true “hub for innovation” it was designed to be.  We have created a Makerspace Team of faculty, led by Makerspace Lead Josh Ray, who have dedicated time for teaching, coaching and facilitating Makerspace experiences; and we are dedicating specific time for each grade (as part of their Science blocks) to explicitly work in the Makerspace.

To get us off on the right foot, the OJCS Makerspace Team facilitated our first OJCS Faculty experience in the Makerspace!  (This work is a direct result of an Innovation Capacity Grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa!)  We got to play with Tinkercad and compete with each other to design “classrooms of the future”!   Oh to finally be in the space to tinker, make, play and learn!  I am so excited to no longer having to be writing about the Makerspace because your children will be coming home sharing their experiences and hopefully the fruits of their labors.

Did I do one of my spiritual check-ins on the topic of the “Biblical Paradigms & Imposter Syndrome”?  Sure did!

Did Mrs. Thompson, Morah Lianna and I do great differentiated sessions on use of classroom blogs and student blogfolios?  Yup!

Did Morah Lianna & Ms. Gordon help us understand how we can get our mojo back  through Student Life at OJCS?  Yessiree!

Did Ms. Beswick lead a session on “Setting Up Your Class for Behaviour Success”?  You bet!

Did Ms. Gordon go over all the guidelines and protocols and procedures and rules and mandates to keep us all safe?  No doubt!

Did our teachers have lots of time to meet and prepare and collaborate and organize and do all the things needed to open up school on Tuesday?  And then some!

All that and much more took place during this week of planning.  We are prepared to provide a rigorous, creative, innovative, personalized, and ruach-filled learning experience for each and every one of our precious students who we cannot wait to greet in person on the first day of school!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday weekend and a successful launch to the 2022-2023 school year…

Relationship Development = Professional Development: A DSLTI Reflection

I had the privilege earlier this month to spend two weeks in New York City, fulfilling my role as Mentor during the second summer of Cohort 12 of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI).  [I was a Fellow in Cohort 4 and you can revisit my blog post from last summer for more context about my experiences in the program, why I am serving as a Mentor and how it fits into my current role as Head of OJCS.]  Like many programs coming out of COVID times, DSLTI navigated the transition from Zoom to in-person.  Unlike just about every leadership capacity-building program I’ve ever participated in, however, DSLTI spends at least as much time in relationship development as it does in professional development.

As I sit in my office gearing up for the return of teachers as we prepare to open my sixth year at OJCS, that is my big takeaway – my “a-ha” moment from my deeply intense and nourishing time at DSLTI.  And when you think about, it is a also a deeply Jewish idea about learning – that learning is amplified when it comes in and through authentic relationship.  Yes, in order to discuss issues that matter, a certain baseline of trust is necessary in any group.  Vulnerability, candor, and transparency are prerequisites to moments of meaning.  But I don’t simply view “relationship development” as a necessary step on a ladder towards “professional development”.  I am arguing that we learn more deeply and more significantly when we do it in relationship with like-minded fellow travelers.  Your feedback, your thoughts, your suggestions, your guidance lands on me with exponentially added force and weight, when I know you.  And when I say “know” in this context, I mean somewhere that’s neither at a superficial level, but also not at unreasonably overfamiliar level.

Professional intimacy.

That’s as close as I can come to connoting this idea.  To help teachers, to help administrators, to help students, to help myself continue to grow – to ensure that everyone in the culture can be their most authentic self in service of performing at their highest potential – I believe more attention at OJCS should and will be put towards relationship-building and relationship-sustaining.

When our teachers return for Pre-Planning Week, we will, of course, schedule traditional “professional development” sessions that deal with the art and science of teaching.  [I’ll share more about that as it draws closer.]  There are ideas, both new and old, that require time to master and to review.  There are skills that require training.  There is tachlis planning that requires time so that we are ready to welcome our students back the following week.  But we are also going to spend significant time (re)building relationships as we emerge from years of silos and isolated work.

A school is only as good as its teachers and teachers will only be their best when they are fully invested in each other, the culture, the community and the school.  An excellent Social Studies or French or Hebrew or Math Teacher will likely deliver a quality product, regardless.  But we don’t just teach Social Studies or French or Hebrew or Math at OJCS.  We teach Maia and Moshe and Liam and Lori.  To truly do that – to teach children and not just subject matter – means investing in relationships.

I cannot wait to welcome my team and my teachers back to school.