Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Friday, December 21, 2012

Making Connections; Showing We Care

 NOTE: This is an article I wrote for our school Newsletter. The article contains my previous blog post "No Words Just Feelings"

I had planned to use my article this week to share with you all of the amazing activities that we did over Chanukah. The spirit in the school and the excitement was really something spectacular to behold. One teacher told me that the students had a really good time and it made learning about Chanukah special. At the same time, as a school principal, educator, and parent, how can I not address the tragedy that occurred last week in Newton, Connecticut. Below is a blog post I wrote Monday morning entitled, “No Words Just Feelings”.
 I like many others sat in shock as the news about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut hit the airwaves. Since our school is housed in the Jewish Community Center, my first phone call on Friday was to the JCC Building manager to find out if there is anything that we should be aware of. Although we had no school on Friday and our students were not in the building, my thoughts turned towards Monday morning when students would be returning. Over the weekend, I read more and more and read blog posts and stories about modern day heroes and felt a growing need to respond. Late Saturday night, I sent out an email to the faculty asking for their input. I also initiated dialogue with other administrators and professionals, as we are currently a K-7 school with the majority of students 10 year old and younger. Once I had a plan, I sent an email to our parent body as well. By Monday morning, I had revised my plan of what I was going to say to the students, and sent out an email to the faculty reviewing some basic safety procedures. I was drained and tired, but I thought I was OK. Then came carpool. One of the highlights on my day (usually) is when I get to greet over 100 smiling students as they come to school. However today was different as my thoughts kept on drifting back to Newton CT. What did those parents think when they dropped off their kids on Friday? Even more moving were the thoughts about what was happening today as parents in Newton CT face a new week. My eyes started to well up and I took a bit more time to actually watch the students as they walked into the building, trying not to think about the unimaginable that for some became reality. As we began our morning routine with the Pledge of Alliance and the singing of Hatikvah and the Israeli national anthem, my eyes filled once again with tears. There are no words just feelings. "We must feel the pain of our fellow Americans; we must beseech Hashem (G-D) to end this plague of violence and we must work hard to ensure that all of our own actions are befitting the descendants of Avraham Avinu. (Abraham our Father)" - Rabbi Ron Eisenman

 How can we connect this tragedy to the activities and connections we made with our students last week during Chanukah? I have one possible answer - connecting and caring. Yes, it is a teacher’s job to impart information and ensure that students are given the tools to succeed in the world; however, there is so much more to being an educator. There is that feeling of being entrusted with a responsibilty to educate and enlighten children as well making a personal connection with each of them. Last week during Chanukah, we had a chance to make those connections and relate and interact with our students not by just giving over information but by forging a personal connection. Many of us have read about the true heroes and heroines in Sandy Hook Elementary who gave up their own lives to save the lives of their students. Why would they risk their lives for their job? Because teachers are more than just vessels that impart information - we connect, we care and we protect. Today people have access to more information in the palm of the hands through smartphones, ipads, etc.. than can ever be learned or taught. Education is about caring, connecting and inspiring our future leaders, and represents a tremendous opportunity and responsibility. My family and I lived in Detroit, MI from 1992-1996 and we returned a few years ago to visit old friends. There was a Kiddush that Shabbat for a young family that recently moved in (the wife had grown up there). At the Kiddush, I went over to say hello and realized that I had been the wife’s teacher when we had lived in Detroit. During our conversation, she mentioned that she is now teaching in that same school. Then she added that one of the reasons she became a teacher was that she remembered the parties and Shabbat lunches at my house. I tell this to you not to pat myself on the back; rather, to illustrate that although learning is the primary objective of education, it will not make an impact on a child unless teachers can forge strong bonds with students and show that them that we care.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I like many others sat in shock as the news about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut hit the airwaves.  Since our school is housed in the Jewish Community Center ,my first phone call on Friday was to the JCC Building manager  to find out if there is anything that we should be aware of. We had no school on Friday and our students were not in building but as I read more and more over the weekend and saw the blog posts and the stories about modern day heroes, my thoughts turned towards Monday morning when our students would be returning. So late Saturday night I sent out an email to our faculty asking for their input and started speaking to other administrators  and professionals about what to do since we are currently a K-7 school with the majority of our students 10 year old and younger. Once I had a plan I sent an email to our parent body as well. While it had been a very draining day the day went on; my mom was here visiting , I had a morning meeting and an evening Bat Mitzvah. 
By Monday morning I had revised my plan of what I was going to say to the students ,and sent out an email to the faculty reviewing some basic safety procedures. I was drained and tired but I thought I was OK. 
Then came carpool. One of the highlights on may day ( usually) when I get to greet over 100 smiling students as they come to school. However today was different my thoughts kept on drifting back to Newton CT. What did those parents think when they dropped off their  kids on Friday and even more moving were the thoughts about  what is going on  today as parents in Newton CT start a new  a week. My eyes  started to well up and I took a bit more time to actually watch the students as they walked into the building trying not to think about the unimaginable that for some became reality.  Today as we began our morning routine with the Pledge of Alliance and the singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem my eyes filled once again with tears. 

There are no words just feelings 

"We must feel the pain of our fellow Americans; we must beseech Hashem (G-D) to end this plague of violence and we must work hard to insure that all of our own actions are befitting the descendants of Avraham Avinu. ( Abraham our Father)" Rabbi Ron Eisenman 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Why I love being a Principal

Here is an article I wrote for our school newsletter. In a very quick way it gives you a glimpse into my day and why I love my job. 
 There is a book in my office entitled “What Principals Do When No One is Looking” by Jim Grant and Irv Richardson. This book gives an accurate description of the daily activities of a principal.  However, OCA is not a typical school, and there is no book that fully captures the joy and excitement in my daily activities and interactions around the halls of OCA.  I invite you to come along with me to see what makes OCA unique and different.  We use the educational terminology of “active learning”, “child-centered”, “cooperative learning”, “ differentiation”, and I want you to see that at OCA these are more than just words but what your children actually experience each day.
Each morning – rain or shine, I have the privilege of greeting over 100 students as they come to school ready to learn.  The smiles that  I see at 8:00 am are the same smiles I see throughout the day. There is nothing better than seeing children happy to come to school and happy when they return home.
Following the morning routine of  announcements, Hatikvah and the Pledge, I daven (Pray) with the 4th  and 5th grade boys. We do not simply daven and  sing, but we discuss the meaning of Davening and the importance of devoting this special time each day to Hashem.(G-D)I recently commented to the students that according to Malcolm Gladwell, a noted author and journalist,  is takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something.  We need to work hard on learning how to Daven and to build a relationship with Hashem throughout our entire life.  Even if we dedicate 1 hour per day to Tefilah, over the course of 10 years, we will have spent only 3,650 hours, far fewer than the 10,000 needed to be a Master Davener!!
After Davening, I try to visit each classroom as much as possible, since  “seeing is believing”, and nothing can compare to actually seeing children learn and witnessing the talent of our teaching staff.
In grades 5-7, students are collaborating on projects in both Judaic and General studies. From presenting Pasukim to their fellow students in a creative and fun way, to working on creating commercials as part of a BG&E contest,to publish their very own autobiographies – our students are actively learning throughout the day.
Our 4th graders, under the guidance of Mrs. Werdeshiem ran our school presidential election by acting out and presenting each candidate to the entire school and coordinating the OCA voting. In Judaics, students are learning the halachot (Laws)of Chanukah by identifying and explaining which Chanukiot are kosher or not. Rabbi Meyer’s also has also started to teach Chumash using the Jigsaw method which is a common tool used in differentiated instruction.
Our 3rd grade class is being taught the importance of our role within the larger Jewish Community by actively raising funds for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Our students are also working  with children in our  sister school in Ashkelon with Morah Ruth and Gesher Chai to assist them during these turbulent times.
Child-centered, active learning is the cornerstone of our curriculum in the lower grades.  1st and 2nd Graders can be found in centers, working in small groups and engaged in hands on activities throughout the day.Yasher Koach to the Kindergarten for their Thanksgiving presentation which they prepared in record time! Kol Hakavod to the students  and to Mrs Forsythe!
Let me reiterate, that words are not enough to describe the enthusiasm and energy that pulses through the halls of OCA.  I invite current parents, perspective parents, board members and members of the Baltimore community to come, watch our children, teachers and experience Ohr Chadash first hand.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Blended Learning

This week's #jedchat topic was about incorporating Blended learning in the Judaic classroom. It was a very lively and interesting discussion. 
As I result I am posting a article I wrote for our school newsletter at the end of October 

This week, OCA was honored with a visit from representatives from the Alvo Foundation. Thanks to a
grant from the AVI CHAI Foundation, these consultants are working with us to incorporate blended learning into our curriculum.
What is blended learning? The definition of blended learning is: “education that combines face-to-face
classroom methods with computer-mediated activities.” The idea of blended learning has become
somewhat of a buzzword in education circles, and educational institutions everywhere tout their
blended learning approach to education. In order for blended learning to work and have the greatest
impact on our children’s education, parents and educators must clearly understand the advantages
blended learning  has  over more traditional educational approaches.
There are three distinct benefits to blended learning. 
(1) Teachers can more readily differentiate their lessons to meet the individual needs of every student
in the classroom; (2) Students become more excited
and engaged in their learning; and (3) Learning becomes more appropriate and relevant to a child living in the 21st century.
Incorporating technology into the 21st century classroom is an important and necessary process to
enable our children to become future leaders. Technology is not a the be-all and end-all of education,
but rather one of the many tools that should be used to educate our children. Just as scholarship was
revolutionized once the “new” technology of paper and pencil was introduced into the classroom, so
too, laptops, iPads, Smart Boards, and the Internet must be integrated into learning and teaching, as
technology permeates so much of our daily lives.
Although this may sound ridiculous to us today,  I can imagine there was once a raging debate on the
pros and cons of allowing children to utilize paper and pencil in the classroom.  Similarly,  I am certain
that within 5-10 years, the notion of children being taught in the absence of technology within the
classroom will seem similarly obsolete. However, having a computer in each classroom is not enough  – we must be cognizant of the importance of “blended learning.”
A  colleague and mentor of mine George Couros said the following : “Learning is the Focus – Too
often when we have “edtech” positions, many educators believe that it is time to put away their math
lesson and focus on using technology. This is not going to push learning ahead. As a school division,
we explicitly focus on creating positions that focus on learning first, so that innovation can come from
all classes, not simply technology courses.  The focus on learning for many educators helps them to
see the relevant use of technology in their classrooms and how it can transform the classroom experience.”
Here at OCA, our teachers strive to merge their traditional lessons with available technology to better
suit the needs of every child. By incorporating blending learning techniques into the curriculum we not
 only increase the children’s interest in learning, but more importantly, we are providing our students
with the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st century.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Picture :

The conclusion of the High Holiday season marks the transition to the heart of the school year and a focus on academic achievement.  The primary goal for parents and teachers alike is to see our children and students succeed both in school and in life. 
What lessons and guidance can we provide our children to place them on the path of success?  Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks provides us some insight into this process in his recent weblog (10/13/12)  entitled “Credo: More than we have faith in God, God has faith in us”. He says:

“What makes some children succeed while others fail? More generally, what drives some people to great achievement while others languish, their dreams unfulfilled? That is the question that intrigued American writer Paul Tough. His answer is contained in his book How Children Succeed, published last month.
Tough discovered that what makes the difference is not intelligence, skill or native ability. It isn’t cognitive at all. The difference, he argues, lies in character, in traits such as discipline, persistence, self-control, zest, gratitude, optimism, curiosity, courage and conscientiousness. One dimension, though, matters more than all the others. He calls it grit: the ability to keep going despite repeated failures and setbacks. People with grit grow. People without it are either defeated by life’s challenges or – more likely – become risk-averse. They play it safe.” 

It may seem counter intuitive that cognition, intelligence or skill will not solely 
pre-determine a person to great accomplishments, rather, learning to deal effectively with challenges and adversity is the most important lesson of all.  We see this all the time in educational settings and in life – children are always learning from their mistakes.    We need to teach our kids what “grit” means -  how to get-up, dust off their pants, stand tall and  prevail over limitations and shortcomings.   In my office, there hangs a sign stating “We all make mistakes.  It is what we happens after we make the mistakes that matters.”

Mistakes, failures and difficult situations do not cease to exist when a child leaves the protective confines of school.  Trials and tribulations continue throughout one’s life.   Many of us both in our personal, professional and even our communal lives have faced disappointments and setbacks. What gives us the “grit” or the resolve to continue? Rabbi Sacks provides some personal insight into this question as well. He says,

 “ I learned to embrace failure instead of fearing it. Why? Because at some point on my religious journey I discovered that more than we have faith in God, God has faith in us. He lifts us every time we fall. He forgives us every time we fail. He believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. He mends our broken hearts. I never cease to be moved by the words of Isaiah: “Even youths grow tired and weary and the young may stumble and fall, but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength. They soar on wings like eagles, they run and don’t grow weary, they walk and don’t grow faint.”
The greatest source of grit I know, the force that allows us to overcome every failure, every setback, every defeat, and keep going and growing, is faith in God’s faith in us.”

When children see their parents and teachers acknowledging, embracing and dealing with disappointment head on, they too will learn that is it OK to fail – as long as it is followed by a renewed commitment to solving the problem and learning from the experience.  As we wish and hope that our children and students achieve much success in school and throughout their lives, let us also hope that they are given the strength and “grit” needed to overcome whatever setbacks come their way. May they always have faith in G-D and more importantly remember that G-D has faith in each one of us. 

Friday, September 14, 2012


I posted this last year but the message is still important and  still very appropriate

Below is my Rosh Hashanah ( New Year's ) Message that I sent out to my faculty.

I just wanted to take a moment and say Thank You!

Thank you for your support
Thank you for your help
Thank you for your understanding and patience
Thank you for all your hard work and dedication

The list can go on but I think you get the idea.

This often is a thankless job and I at times are just as guilty as the next person in not showing my appreciation and HaKarat Hatov (recognizing the good) in all that you do.

In the spirit of being open and transparent, I would like to share with you some of my SMART goals for the coming year some personal and some professional.

I hope to be a better friend and keep connected to friends in other communities

I want to set aside at least 30 min to an hour day for my own learning ( small and manageable)

I want to listen better to your ideas

I want to say thank you to each and every one of you at least once a week

I want to spend more quality time with my family

May we be Zocheh ( merit) a year of health and happiness and may this be a year of prosperity and peace

Wishing you all a Ketiva V'Chatima Tova

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lessons Learned

We started  our first full week of school and at the same time Jews across the world are preparing for the Start of Rosh Hashanah which begins Sunday night. I thought I would reflect on the start of the school year and the lessons I learned that will hopefully make me a better Leader and more importantly a better a person.

By no means is this a complete list just some short reflections.

·        Honesty- Being open and honest. Practicing what you preach., and being as Transparent as possible. ( I think these ideas speak for themselves)
·        Take responsibility- Related to honesty one needs to admit when they did something wrong and Say I am sorry. As I have quoted often ‘Mistakes Happen It is hoe we come back from Mistakes that Matter”
·        Caring- Show people you care about them ( Self explanatory)
·        Listen first- One of the best ways we show people that they matter and that we care about them is to give them the time and respect to listen to them.
·        Be Willing to Learn – No one is perfect and we need to be always willing to learn and take ideas from others
·        Share- Both in the sense of shared responsibility but more importantly sharing of ideas and a culture of shared leadership. We vs I
·        No Problems Just solutions- Meaning focus on the positive. Stay positive and don’t over react or get down, try to stay level headed.

As I was reflecting and putting my thoughts together  I also started reading  ‘Schools that Learn by Peter Senge

He has “Five Disciplines of Organizational Learning”
1.     Personal Mastery – To develop a clear personal vision
2.     Shared Vision – the need to create strategies and principles  to get you there
3.     Mental Models – a discipline based on reflection
4.     Team Learning – to tap into the collective thinking and learning of a group and mobilize that energy to achieve common goals
5.     Systems Thinking- to gain a broader and deeper understanding of the subjects they study and how they fit into a larger system.

I have just started the book but  I thought some of Senge Disciplines spoke to me and to my ideas and wanted to share those with you.

As we embark on a new school year and as I and other Jews prepare for the High Holidays  may this be a year filled with growth and learning.

My Thoughts


Friday, September 7, 2012

Making it Real

Here is an article I wrote for our school newsletter:

As the school year begins we focus on Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.( The High Holidays)  If you ask most students what these days mean to them, they will tell you it is a time for “Teshuvah.” What
does Teshuvah mean and how can we make it real for our students?Literally translated Teshuvah
means to return. At this time of year we return to Hashem ( G-D)and we hope and pray that, as the
Navi ( Prophets) tells us, Hashem returns to us as well. Most students, however, will tell you that Teshuvah means to say I am sorry and ask for forgiveness. Yes, asking for forgiveness is an element of the Teshuvah process, but it is not the complete understanding of Teshuvah.

How can we make the important and central theme of personal growth practical and real for ourselves and,
more importantly, for our students?

I would like to share two thoughts on this topic. Thefirst I learned last week when Rabbi Shmuel Silber, Rabbi of Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim, came to speak to our students in grades five through seven. Based on a Rashi in last week’s parsha ( Bible Portion ), he said that the reason we do a Chesed (act of kindness) is not for the recognition or the honor but because it is the right thing to do and the Torah( Bible)  told us to do it. When faced with choices, at times the right choice can be unpopular or not the “in thing” to do. Nevertheless it is the correct path to follow. It reminded me of a quote that I saw, “Stand up for what is right even if you stand alone.” For our students today, the message of making the right choices is a very practical and real one.
My second thought on this topic stems from research about setting goals and dealing with change. It is an idea that our Gedolim (sages) have mentioned as well. When setting goals, it is important that our goals are small
and attainable. I shared with the students that during the first Gulf War in 1991, Jews around the world were asked to increase their observance of mitzvot,( Commandmentstezedakah (Charity)  and chesed( Acts of Kindness). It is said that someone asked Rav Shach ZT”L what he would do differently, and he answered that when he says Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals), he will use a Birkon (bencher) and not say it by heart. The lesson is clear. Even one of greatest Gedolim knew that to achieve change and growth small and attainable goals would need to be set. 

As we enter this time of year, there are a lot of challenges and great opportunities ahead of us. As educators we strive to make the learning in all subject areas across the Judaic and general studies come alive for
our students. By connecting our learning to our world, we become lifelong learners. May we all be zocheh (Merit)  to see great things from our children, our school and our community.

Sunday, July 15, 2012



As I mentioned in a previous post I wanted to write a post about my Transition into my new position.
I think the answer is very simple. Transition is equal to T squared. For Transition to be successful there needs to be Transparency ( openness) and Trust.

I have tried to create this culture through leading by example. By no means am I perfect and I am sure as my journey continues I will make mistakes but here are the steps I have taken to help build Trust and Transparency and therefore have an easier/ smoother Transition

1. Send out weekly update emails to the faculty letting them know what I have been up to and how plans for the new school year are proceeding.

2 Created a Faculty blog  to share ideas and encourage open lines of communication

3 Encourage discussion by posting questions on  Google docs

4 Set up face to face meetings with Faculty

I am sure there are other things that can or should be done but for now I have taken these small steps.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


As I sit here writing this post I just experienced 3 days with out any electricity with temperatures in the high 90's - low 100's. I still don't have phone or internet service at home. Thankful we have made some very good friends in a very short period of time and we crashed at their house on Sunday. it was truly a 21st century gathering with everyone bringing at least one apple product. During this impromptu chilling session my daughter with the help of others who were without electricity was able to find a job for the summer. Added to all of this was that my first official day of work was July 1 and today was the first day I was able to get into work due to the power outages that hit the Baltimore area this past weekend. Truth be told I actually started early on June 18 for a number of reason.

So why am I telling you all of this.

Well I had planned a whole detailed blog about my transition to my new job, the transition/ welcome letters I wrote as well as the culture I hope to create moving forward. I would still like to write that more formal blog post one day soon.
However this week taught me the best advice about starting a new job or for that matter almost anything we do in life and that is we need to be flexible at times and just "GO WITH THE FLOW"

I had all these amazing ideas and plans and yes I will get to do them but who would have imagined that by the end of the second week on the job in a new city that my family and I would be faced with a major storm and power outage. Thankfully do the support and help and amazing friends we overcame this challenge and we move on until we face the next one and we will tackle that one as well.

Yes I have a lot to say on the topic of transition but for now the best advice I can give is to "Go With The Flow"

There is a Yiddish expression that also sums us this idea slightly differently it says. " Man plans and G-d laughs"

I think when we take a step back and take a deep breath we will see  how truly wise this expression is and how much more in the end we can accomplish when we  " Go With the Flow"

My two cents

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Presentation for Martin Institute

There has  been a lot going on in my life and and I will blog and update you all soon.
Most notably is my starting my new position as Head of School for Ohr Chadash Academy and secondly was presenting at the Martin Institute Summer conference
Here is my presentation