By rethinking its purpose and direction, one school in Ottawa has managed to increase its fundraising success, improve the experience of every student and increase engagement of the whole community.

Fresh ideas that build on a long history

OJCS is a school dedicated to enriching the lives of its students, focused on strengthening their character, inspiring them with Jewish values, history and heritage, and encouraging them to become responsible global citizens who make a contribution to the greater good.

With its long history and important role within the Jewish community of Ottawa, the leadership team knew that undertaking a process of redefining the school and its direction, while staying true to their beliefs and traditions, needed a fresh collaborative approach. Deciding on these ideas in the Board room was not an option. Instead, with support from NoTosh’s global team, OJCS have tested their assumptions to ensure that they continue to respond actively to the community on the ground, with support from NoTosh.

A collaborative co-design process

To begin this process, a dedicated Design Team of parents, teachers, school leaders, admin and Board members came together to create a clear set of North Stars within the school’s core values.

Together with NoTosh, the Design Team looked at OJCS with fresh eyes, from many different viewpoints, all while making their thinking visible to the wider community. The Design Team led the way for everyone in the community to thrive, innovate and embrace their identity, learning and growth.

The NoTosh Design Thinking process guided the OJCS team as they immersed themselves into the work. They created a highly visible and accessible Project Nest, filled with thoughts, opinions and ideas from across the school. A physical space within the school, the Project Nest, became the place where evidence that would lead to the definition of the school’s core values could be seen, consulted and added to, by any member of the OJCS community. Immersing themselves into the gathered data the Design Team worked to synthesise the hundreds of insights, interviews and observations from across the community and used this to draw out, reiterate and highlight their core values.

A concrete foundation for every decision

Out of this work, our creative team designed six concrete, concise and jargon-free “North Stars” whose purpose is to remind the community of who they are and of the ‘OJCS way’. These North Stars are evident all around the school in Hebrew, English and French.

From the display of learning on the walls to the language used in classrooms, each North Star is lived, embraced and used to drive and inspire all within the community as well as acting as a compass for decision-making.

“The kids are now always motivated and so engaged in their learning, and even the kids who had trouble focusing during normal lessons are now begging me to stay in for recess. I just wasn’t used to that and I thought ‘wow - this is amazing’.” - Julie Bennett, Grade 3/4 General Studies Teacher, OJCS

Strategic storytelling

Having defined the values, NoTosh coached leadership and teaching staff so that they could start to use storytelling skills to extend and deepen their influence on school life.

The impact of the North Stars has been significant. The six guiding values have anchored and given structure to decision making and conversations across the school. The collaborative, common language has proven to be a compass with which students, teachers, parents and the wider community can navigate their path forward.

With the North Stars clearly cemented, OJCS shifted their attention to identifying a number of strategic needs from the data they’d gathered in the initial immersion phase. Key projects were crafted to meet those needs, and teams were shown how to prototype those ideas quickly, to test them for success. The values ensured that each potential prototype was dynamic and reflective of the voice of the whole school community.

The OJCS team then looked to identify and define a single, ambitious objective for the school fuelled by both the projects and their North Stars.

The OJCS objective is as specific as it is inspiring, measurable as it is innovative and was born out of the will and desire of the school community for OJCS to become the best version of itself. The objective was designed to push each and every member of OJCS forward in their learning and personal growth.

“The kids are now always motivated and so engaged in their learning, and even the kids who had trouble focusing during normal lessons are now begging me to stay in for recess. I just wasn’t used to that and I thought ‘wow - this is amazing’.”

Julie Bennett, Grade 3/4 General Studies Teacher, OJCS

“The process was really inspirational, it taught me a lot about focussing more on the process and making sure that we understand why we’re doing certain things and that we have input from all stakeholders, especially our student and that we can’t just be all focused on the product.”

Deanna Bertrend, Grade 6/7/8 Social Studies Teacher and Student Life Co-ordinator, OJCS

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