Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

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.