The OJCS coronavirus diaries: Virtually open from day one

By Jon Mitzmacher, Head of School, Ottawa Jewish Community School

Three weeks ago, we launched a new chapter in our school’s journey. Whether it winds up being a three-week, five-week or rest-of-the-school-year journey is not yet clear. What is clear, however, is that because of the work that our talented teachers have been putting into their professional growth over the last three years, the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) was ready to meet this moment.

The spine of our Distance Learning Program is the OJCS Blogosphere. This was in the process of becoming true before the pandemic because of all the things we believe to be true about teaching and learning in the 21st century. It is really proving its worth now that we have had to transition to distance learning on a dime. Just a quick look at the screenshot below – or a quick jump on the link – will show you how our teachers have pivoted. The action takes place online; the architecture is anchored in classroom blogs and student blogfolios.

In the OJCS Distance Learning Program, we do not wish for parents to have to serve as teachers. The majority of our parents will, themselves, be trying to figure out how to perform their own jobs by remote and are not educators. We aren’t putting together plans and activities for our parents to facilitate with their children. We are providing schooling itself, albeit through a creative blend of live, remote and at-home experiences.

Any parent trying to make sense of this new normal would do well to heed this advice from our Director of Special Needs Sharon Reichstein:

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

We have already gained so much from having this experience. We are all anxious to know if and when we are going to return to brick-and-mortar schooling. But what we are learning about how to reach all our students, how to ensure all voices are heard, and the enhanced relationships that come as a result of new methods – all of that will come with us when we do return, making our school – its students, parents, staff, teachers and stakeholders better, kinder, grittier, more resilient and better able to meet the challenges ahead.