May 7

Promoting Independence and Self-Directed Learners

The OJCS North Stars continue to help us navigate our journey through Distance Learning. ‘We Learn Better Together’ has never been more apparent than during this pandemic. The collaboration we are seeing between teachers, with administrators, with and between students and with parents is truly inspiring. One of our main objectives continues to be to promote independent and self-directed learners. In some ways, this is very challenging to do through distance learning, and in other ways, it becomes easier to do in this format. One of the biggest barriers and frustrations we are hearing from parents is that their child is not independent and struggling to navigate this platform without parental support.  Together, we are working collaboratively to address this very real concern.

Over the past few weeks, we have been putting many resources together to help students become even more self-sufficient (We Own our Own Learning). Kindergarten students are learning how to log onto a Google Meet independently by clicking their Morah’s picture. Grade 1 and 2 teachers have added visual posters and checklists to their weekly schedules. Grades 3-8 teachers have added “To-Do Lists” to their weekly plan and are highlighting priorities of what should be worked on first. All teachers are doing their best to pre-record or live record their lessons so that students can watch them at a more convenient time, or watch them again as they begin their work. All of these added features have been in response to the feedback we have and will continue to collect from parents and students. So thank you for continuing to share what is working and what is not.

Here are some posters to help students become more independent and take even more ownership of their learning. Feel free to print these and hang them in your child’s workspace to help empower them to “own their own learning.”

Some additional tips for parents to continue to promote independence:

  1. Believe in your child and tell them that you do. Empower them to work through struggles on their own and help them learn from their mistakes. Encourage them to ask for help from their teachers once they have tried themselves.
  2. Help with organizational skills and planning so that your child has the tools they need to be successful. Print sheets they may need ahead of time, help them practice logging into their drive and blogs to find all the files they will need for their day and then encourage them to follow their daily schedules. Have folders available to help students organize their work, and/or help create folders in their Google Drive to keep their work in order.
  3. Set timers and expectations (and encourage your child to learn how to do that themselves) for times they need to be working on tasks.
  4. Remove distractions and help your child recognize distractions so they can remove them themselves. A quiet working station is ideal if that’s possible in your home.
  5. Keep lines of communication open so that the teachers and the school can know if students are struggling.
April 28

Getting Comfortable with the New Reality

Welcome to the new reality. Distance Learning is no longer looking like a short term solution, but rather we will likely be engaged with it for the duration of the school year. So what now? This post is about how to shift the mindset from a short term “survival mode” to a long term sustainable plan for parents who are struggling to support their child’s learning from home.

At the OJCS, we are acutely aware that this new normal is anything but normal and that parents are not designed to play the role of teacher, so please don’t. I read an article this week which likely resonates with many of you, but we hope that what is happening at the OJCS shifts this narrative and that our parents feel supported. Obviously, we do not have control over what the Government’s plan is in terms of child care, school and camp, but what we hope stands out from this article is that OJCS students are continuing to go ‘to school’ even while the building is closed.

The goal of our school is to help families make learning at home as stress-free and independent for the child as possible. We know that many parents are working. We know that many parents have multiple children at home of various ages and we certainly know and understand that our younger students will have a harder time navigating this type of learning independently.

Why is no one talking about how unsustainable this is for working parents?

What does the school want and expect?

  1. Partnership. When we work together we can accomplish anything. All we need to know from you is what is working, what is not and we will work with you to come up with a plan that is more manageable. We need to work together and we need to collaborate. We can’t be in your homes and your child can’t be in our building, but we are certainly available and willing to help your child succeed and succeed as independently as possible while ‘at school’.
  2. Flexibility. We want parents to know that everything is flexible. The schedule is flexible and designed to be asynchronous if and when needed. Some teachers are starting to list assignments in order of importance and priority for students who are unable to manage it all. The assignments themselves are flexible in terms of handing them in and how to accomplish them. Students can do it orally, do it by video, do it in writing, do it using assistive technology, do it next week, everything is negotiable as long as it is discussed with teachers.  The only thing we are asking is for everyone to do their very best.
  3. Communication. We are listening to feedback and addressing individual concerns. Just like in school, what is good for one, is not good for another. Compromise, trial and error and adjustments are all allowed and expected. We need to give each other permission to be honest and to communicate openly. If one family wants a more rigorous schedule, they can have it. If one family needs a reduced load, and they can have it. This is not an indication that one child is thriving and succeeding while another is not. Each circumstance is different and we need to be honest about it looks like on a case by case basis. The only way we are able to help is if communication is open and honest.
  4. Realistic Expectations. We are interested in setting up students for success and meeting students where they are at in their learning. We want to help families set up realistic expectations that are sustainable. We are interested in shifting the mindset from survival mode to sustainable mode. Let’s work together to achieve the right balance.

Our building is closed but the OJCS is open and fully operational. Our goal is to ease the burden for working parents, not add to the stress. Our goal is to help students become self-directed, independent, confident, resilient, and thriving learners. We know there will be struggles, we know there will be tears, we know there will be meltdowns and frustrations, but the best thing we can do in those moments is support, validate and reassure. We also know there will be successes, achievements, innovation, and creativity- celebrate those moments together. If your child is struggling there is a skill to be taught. Empower your child to seek help from their teachers and find ways to problem-solve while they are “at school”.  Taking a break, calming the brain, doing some exercise, walking away can all help reduce stress. Teaching these strategies to a child who is upset is empowering.

We thank you for your partnership, we thank you for your trust and we applaud you for your efforts in helping to make this work. We know, understand, and appreciate how challenging it is to be living through a pandemic.

March 29

Tips for the Passover Break

We are halfway through Phase 1 and have been doing “distance learning” for a total of 8 days! I know that for many it seems like months, but the reality is, it’s been 8 days. (A new 8-day miracle in my view….aren’t all our teachers true heroes and superstars?) We couldn’t be prouder of what they have launched in such a short period of time and I know for certainty they are ready and excited for a much-deserved break!

As we head into Passover, some families will be so relieved for the break, the downtime, and much-needed rest. While for other families, the lack of routine, consistency, and structure will be challenging. For those of you who were not able to attend the PTA virtual conversation last Wednesday, you can watch and listen here: (There was a question about what to do over longer Shabbat weekends and breaks)

For those families who are looking for some more structure here are some tips:

  1. Involve the children in creating a Passover Plan
  2. Include their voice in including activities, games, topics they are excited about
  3. Brainstorm a list of “what to do during quiet time” ideas
  4. Create some structure, predictability and routine
  5. Have fun, laugh, relax and regroup and make meaningful memories as a family!

So what do I mean by involving the children in a Passover Plan? Explain that there is a 2-week school pause to celebrate Pesach and take some time to brainstorm what that will mean for your family. Children thrive on predictability and having control, so if you can build the Passover Plan together and share it with each other everyone will likely feel calmer. What can a Passover Plan look like? (Obviously, this is just an example – build one that suits your family’s needs). This is also a good opportunity to “catch up” on school work teachers have posted during the soft launch and during Phase 1 that some have not gotten to yet.

7:00-9:00 Rise and shine – breakfast and get ready for the day

9:00-10:00 – “School like” activities round 1- read, math, science, art, social studies, French, Hebrew (there are so many resources available now that it would be easy to sneak in some really fun learning for this one hour – GIVE LOTS OF CHOICES and let them choose a different subject each day.

10:00-10:15 – Healthy Snack

10:15-11:00- Body Break – Gym, dance, yoga, walks, obstacle courses, bikes, scooters, outside fun!

11:00- 12:00 – Free choice – games, puzzles, computer fun, cards, building, toys, imaginative play

12:00-1:00 – Lunchtime – help with the cooking

1:00-2:00 – “School Like” activities round 2 – read, math, science, art, social studies, French, Hebrew (there are so many resources available now that it would be easy to sneak in some really fun learning for this one hour – GIVE LOTS OF CHOICES and let them pick a different subject each day.

2:00 – 3:00 – Learn something new time – brainstorm something each one wants to learn – art, science, music, knitting, building, baking, creative writing, poetry, learn a new language, take a virtual field trip – whatever it is that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had time!

3:00-3:15 – Healthy Snack

3:15-4:00 – Quiet time (alone time) – find something quiet to do – screens off!

4:00-5:00 Body Break – Gym, dance, yoga, walks, obstacle courses, bikes, scooters, outside fun!

5:00-6:00 Dinnertime – help with the cooking

6:00 – bedtime – Family time! Choose family fun activities to do together

Here are a few resources that you may be interested in exploring (and again, there are a million ideas online as well – this is just to get you started…)

Virtual Field Trips

34 Best Virtual Classes

50 Enrichment and Hands-on activities

From Ed-Helper – lots of different activities

Some Judaics/Hebrew links and ideas

French shows to watch

As always, let me know if you have any questions about any of this. I wish you and your family a Chag Sameach!

March 24

Help! My kid won’t listen – I’m not a teacher…

Hello OJCS families,

The title of this blog post is something I’m guessing some of you are feeling right now….

Parenting at the best of times can be challenging and exhausting….parenting at the worst of times (and let’s face it, this is pretty awful..) while your child is ‘at school’ but at home – well that brings a whole new dimension that none of us ever thought we would find ourselves in…. and yet here we are.

I know that many parents are finding this ‘new normal’ very challenging – juggling your own work stresses while simultaneously trying to support your child/ren with their distance learning. We know it’s been tough and we know that you are doing your best and we know that you are likely screaming…. Help! My kid(s) won’t listen – I’m not a teacher!

My advice is to step back and take a deep breath. You are doing great and you can only do what you can do. None of the teachers are expecting you to be the teachers. We know that many of your children are not feeling independent or confident YET, but it’s because it is new and we are all learning. We are making mistakes, we are collecting feedback, we are tweaking and tweaking again and together we will come up with better plans and better schedules and improved ideas. The best thing you can do for your child is to support them and love them. Do NOT engage in battles and power struggles. When (not if) but when your child is struggling and stressed and perhaps even yelling… your best weapon is to stay calm. Your job is to encourage, validate, listen and support. You do not have to feel obligated to swoop in and fix anything and you certainly don’t have to make it perfect. Learning is supposed to be challenging and designed to let kids struggle. We know you are not your child’s teacher and we don’t want you to be. Just like when you do your best to support with homework, you do your best to support with distance learning. When your child runs into difficulty, of course, you can try and help, but the second it turns ugly, you are allowed and encouraged to put it away for later and ask for help from the teacher.

We know that when stress levels are high, emotions run higher than normal. It’s important to model calmness. It’s important to model taking a break, getting fresh air and exercise. It’s important to model forgiveness and patience. I would also encourage having lots of healthy snacks ready for the day. They can be prepared ahead of time and be accessible in little containers or baggies for easy access. Hangry kids are the last thing you need right now! And of course, getting a good night’s sleep is so important, so sticking with your regular school bedtime routine is advisable. Most importantly, after the kiddos are in bed try really hard to find some ‘you’ time – whatever that means for you!

So to recap…

  1. Don’t engage in power struggles – pick your battles and let go of things that are not so important
  2. Seek support and help from the teachers if your child seems frustrated with their work
  3. Struggling through new material is the way we learn – it’s not always a bad thing
  4. Keep a consistent routine and try and promote independence where possible
  5. Print the schedule – or make a visual schedule to keep order and structure and predictability through the day
  6. Stay calm, use a quiet voice, validate, love and support (even when they are yelling)
  7. Model good habits – breaks, exercise, eating well, sleeping well
  8. Find some ‘you’ time
  9. You got this – you are not their teacher
  10. But you are one incredible parent, living through a very trying time – give yourself some slack and celebrate your successes!

Tomorrow is a new day 🙂

Hope to ‘see’ you tomorrow night at the OJCS PTA – Parenting with Social Distancing evening.

To join the meeting click here “Parenting With Social Distance

Stay home, stay safe, stay healthy!

March 18

Distance Learning – Supporting Students

Good morning to all!

What an exciting, nerve-wracking, emotion-filled time. We are doing our best to offer a new school “normal” at a time when the world is anything but normal.

To start off, give yourself permission to do your best and recognize that doing your best may not be what you hope or expect or want right now. Allow yourself to feel excited, nervous, flexible, unsure, and confused. We are learning and we are all in this together.

The Special Education department is paying close attention to everybody’s needs and we are here to support you through this challenging time.

Here are a few quick tips that may help you along:

  1. Set up a consistent routine (as best you can) for the week.
  2. Make a visual schedule of what that routine will look like for your family. (I’ll try and insert some examples below of what that could look like)
  3. Encourage your child to stay connected to their teacher. After each live session – make sure your child knows they can still connect to their teacher by email, or google hangout. Encourage as much independence as possible.
  4. Adhere to breaks, exercise and lots of fun, giggles and laughter!
  5. You can substitute tasks to make things work for you and your family. We are all allowing for flexibility and creativity, just communicate with your child’s teacher
  6. Document your child’s learning when possible and send it in. Everything counts as learning. Cooking, building, art, board games, card games, learning a new magic trick, going on a virtual field trip, going for a run outside, writing a song, playing an instrument, doing a science experiment.
  7. Reduce your own pressure and allow everyone to do their best – these are stressful times.
  8. Use and encourage your child to use the supports that they need to be successful.  They are allowed and encouraged to have their work scribed if they need that, to use voice to text software, to use google read and write, to use graphic organizers, to have text to speech software read them the material.
  9. Ask for help when you need it.
  10. Celebrate your child’s success all along the way!

Reach out if you need support. or send me a google hangout!

Image result for visual schedule for at home learning elementary school

It doesn’t have to be fancy – it can be drawn out on paper or a whiteboard – just something to help kids follow along.

Image result for visual schedule for at home learning elementary school

This one includes incentives to work toward a prize or a break… nice way to motivate and some students love earning stars or stickers.

visual schedule

I like this idea as well because it shows what still needs to be complete. This might be a different checklist to create. Not the schedule per se, but a task completion checklist!

I’ll keep posting and sharing! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay calm.

December 20

Structured Word Inquiry

One of my areas of passion is teaching students how to read and spell. My expertise lands in teaching children with learning disabilities, but what I’ve come to realize through this journey, is Structured Word Inquiry is beneficial to all learners and also really compliments our school’s North Stars. We have a floor but no ceiling, we learn better together – these are paramount to learning and investigating English spelling. Structured Word Inquiry is about investigating and understanding the true Orthography of the English language. Why words are spelled the way they are, and that English is actually a very well structured and ordered system with very few exceptions. The problem is, many of us don’t know the rules or patterns, but once we do it’s our duty to teach the students.

The results of our CAT-4 standardized testing revealed that one of our areas of slight weakness, as a whole school, is Spelling. Enter Structure Word Inquiry. In December, I was fortunate enough to give a 3-hour workshop to our Language Arts faculty. Since that workshop, I’ve already seen a shift in the approach to teaching spelling across many classes.

Did you know that no English word ends in the letter <v>? Think about <love> and <have> and <move>.  Did you know that in English that you can’t have a <u> and <v> side by side? When you can’t use a <u>, you use its partner vowel <o>. Now it explains the spelling of <love>. The day after our Workshop, Kindergarten students investigating the word <of> and now understand why it’s not spelled <uv>. English is not a sound/symbol system.

I was visiting Grade 1 this week and they had written the word <sugar> on the board. They stopped and paused and wondered why it wasn’t spelled *<shugar>. We talked about the fact that there are many ways to write /sh/ in English, not just with <sh>.  We also talked about the different sounds that <s> can make. /sh/ like in <sure> and <sugar>, /s/ like in <sun> and <summer> or <cat + s – cats>, and it can also be pronounced /z/ like in <dog + s – dogs>. So much investigating and learning from the word <sugar> – how very sweet.

This is the beginning of a great journey! I can’t wait to see OJCS students turn into amazing spellers. If you have questions, thoughts, interest in the ordered and structured English language feel free to leave a comment and ask away!


April 2

Happy Autism Awareness Day!

Good morning!

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. I’ve included a short informative video for you to watch when you have a moment.

(And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love an Australian accent!)

If you want to learn more about Autism (own your own learning) feel free to check out Autism Speaks Canada. It’s filled with incredible information and resources. Happy reading!

Have a great day! Light it up blue.


March 31

Building a toolbox

For some students school is easy and a fun, safe, exciting place to be. That’s what we hope all students feel when they walk through our doors. But the reality is, that for some students, school is stressful. For some, it’s coupled with feelings of anxiety, a lack of confidence and a social world that can feel overwhelming and complex. It’s our job as educators to pay attention to these real feelings and to try and unravel what the underlying issue is triggering some of these big feelings. When a child is dysregulated, there is always a reason, but sometimes it’s tricky to figure out what those reasons are. For students who have difficulty regulating their emotions, building a toolbox is a critical step. Validating a student’s feelings, naming the discomfort and then brainstorming together what tools might be beneficial in helping the student feel more settled are essential strategies to uncovering the deeper issues. Here is an example of the beginning of a toolbox being built.

The zones of regulation is also an amazing tool that students are using in our school to help to own their own learning and understand when they feel dysregulated. Students learn what each of the zones mean, start to recognize what their body feels like in each of the zones, and then are coached through strategies to help move back into the green zone. When teachers, students and parents all speak the same language and these tools are used regularly, we see huge success in helping students regulate their own emotions.

Paying attention, validating feelings and working collaboratively with students in order to help regulate big emotions is the key to success. Our number one goal is that all students walk through our doors feeling excited, supported and ready to be the best versions of themselves throughout their day. If you want more information about self-regulation, building a toolbox or supporting a child who feels worried about school, feel free to be in touch with our resource department.

February 24

How to Encourage Reluctant Readers to Read

One of the most frustrating things as a parent is when you have a child who dislikes reading. Most of us understand and see the value of raising a child, who loves books, enjoys reading and appreciates literature. For some children, however, reading is simply not an enjoyable task. I think it’s important to understand why a child dislikes reading. Is it because they haven’t found books that interest them or is it because they find reading a challenging task?  Here are some tips to encourage reluctant readers to read.

  • Read to Children: A great way to start the love of reading is by reading to your child (any age – even 10 year olds love being read to). Find a book you really think will capture their interest and read it to them. The first step to getting a child engaged in reading is to gain their attention with a captivating book.
  • Read a Variety of Material: Reading a variety of material is important to find out what interests your child. Reading can come from reading newspapers, magazines, taking quizzes, on-line stories, comics, graphic novels, video game instructions and so much more. Try and be mindful to encourage reading in all of these different formats.
  • Choose Books at the Right Level: Be really careful to help your child choose books at their reading level. The fastest way to turn a child off reading is by encouraging them to read materials that are too difficult for them. Always be supportive and always help a struggling reading. Do not get frustrated with your child if they are having difficulty. It is NOT their fault. Our teachers are in the process of learning a new Reading Program that helps students pick books at their reading level – ask your child’s teacher for more information.
  • Audio Books: Sometimes we just don’t have time to read to our children but audio books serve the same purpose. It allows struggling readers to have access to books that are too difficult for them to read on their own.
  • Make it Part of a Routine: Try and make reading part of a household routine that is not optional. Just like brushing teeth happens naturally as part of getting ready for bed, so should reading time. Try and make it positive and rewarding and something that everyone in the house simply does at the same time every day. Be role models – if you don’t read, your child will likely not see it as a priority or something you value, and likely neither will they.
  • Genre Bingo: For children who are struggling to find books they like, you can create a Genre Bingo game. You can put different Genres of books on a bingo card and encourage your child to pick a different Genre of book each time they choose a new book. This is a great way to expose children to different types of reading material. When your child gets a “BINGO”, a prize is always fun. Some Genres to include on your Bingo Card could be: Humour, Adventure, Mystery, Fiction, Non-Fiction, News Article, Historical, Comic, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction, Drama, Biographies, and Action.

Happy Reading!!!

February 14

Guest Blogger – Dr. Madelaine Werier

With Our Diversity, Comes Our Strength

Dr. Madelaine Werier, DVM, BScAg

“Acceptance is based on two key concepts. First, each one of us has something to contribute to our communities and our world, and second, our communities are not whole until all of us belong.” -Shelly Christensen

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a worldwide initiative to raise disability awareness and to support inclusion in Jewish communities. As co-founder of the Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN) and an autism mom, this is an exciting month! A highlight so far was participating in the CIJA delegation on parliament hill for the annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day. JDAIM events will be taking place all over North America and worldwide. It is also my pleasure to announce some upcoming events right here in Ottawa!

JOIN is honoured to partner with Tamir, Jewish Federation of Ottawa, and Jewish Family Services of Ottawa to present Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion and Jewish Community at the SJCC on April 3, 2019. This will be a day of learning for lay leadership, community professionals, front line staff and volunteers and all are welcome to attend. Shelly Christensen, author of From Longing to Belonging: A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities and Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities will be our keynote speaker. Shelly is a leader in the field of disability inclusion and spirituality, co-founded JDAIM in 2009, and serves as its organizer.

On the evening of April 2, the community is invited to join us at Kehillat Beth Israel for conversations with inclusion expert Shelly Christensen and Daniel Tammet, an essayist, novelist, poet, translator, autistic savant, and New York Times best-selling author. It will be a fascinating and inspiring evening and is not to be missed.

Community inclusion for persons with disabilities has become a passion and a mission for myself and others in our community. As parents of children with exceptionalities we have united in friendship, effort, and solidarity to break through some of the barriers we experience with our children. Adults and children with visible and invisible disabilities make up 22% of the population (Statistics Canada, Canadian Survey on Disability 2017). Do you look around your synagogue, community centre, simcha or school and wonder, where are they? Some of these adults and children are right here at our school! Many children at OJCS have diagnosed physical, developmental, or learning disabilities. The benefits of including all types of learners at our community school extends well beyond the individual child. The entire school is strengthened by the diversity of talent, learning style, and unique perspective. The culture is also shifted as the attitudes and actions of the next generation are shaped by the examples set in the classroom. Interacting with peers that communicate or learn differently fosters advanced and adaptive communication and cooperation skills. When children get an opportunity to give and receive support from one another, their sense of community and responsibility leads way to meaningful friendships, empathy, and moral stewardship. We learn better together #northstars.

What does inclusion at OJCS mean for a family like mine? To put it simply, it is everything! My children will be invited to parties, grow up with Jewish friends, find support in their own faith community, and feel confident in their Jewish identity. In return the school and community will benefit from their unique talents and offerings (which as their Mom I have to say are pretty amazing!). My delight in my children’s inclusion is bittersweet knowing that others in our community cannot attend OJCS for reasons directly related to their disability. Although the reasons can vary, the primary hindrance is a lack of necessary resources. Our community needs more training, equipment, expertise, and knowledge of the fundamentals of inclusion. Parents are responsible for providing all kinds of private supports, special equipment, missed work days for never ending appointments and assessments. From personal experience the financial and energy costs are beyond staggering and realistically not accessible for most. There are many strategies that we can utilize as a community to reduce some of these strains that get transferred onto the individual or their family.

What can we as a community do? Whenever possible, choose inclusion! Inclusion is a spectrum, a journey. It is not black and white and can always be tweaked and improved upon. We can use our voices, influence, votes, and donation dollars to show that inclusion of all Jewish children in our day schools is not optional. We can teach ourselves to do different work not necessarily more work to foster inclusion. We can support the board members and administrators of our school in helping them create the inclusive future they envision. We can applaud them for what they are already doing, help fundraise, volunteer, and collaborate. We can reach out to people who are shut out of community involvement and ask them how we can facilitate their inclusion. We can make new friends and lead by example for our children. We can enjoy the diversity of one another.

Throughout February as we recognize #JDAIM19, think about ways you can promote inclusivity in our community. It could start in your home, at your Shabbat table, in your business, in your synagogue, and in your child’s school. We will all be better for it.

Hope to see you at Pushing the Boundaries on April 2 and 3!