Are you better at solving your own problems or someone else’s problems?

Daniel Pink, the noted management consultant and author, reports on the research of psychologists who have  demonstrated that we are better at solving other people’s problems than our own.  In a variety of controlled experiments, university students were given a puzzle to solve (e.g. how to help someone escape from a tall tower who had only a short twine rope).  When the subjects imagined themselves as the one trapped, they were less likely to find a solution than when they imagined a friend was the “prisoner.”

Scientists have found that people are faster, more inventive, and more creative when they tackle a problem on behalf of someone else than for themselves.  The reason seems to be that, according to Daniel Pink, “when we think of situations or individuals that are distant – in space, time, or social connection – we think of them in the abstract. But when those things are close – near us physically, about to happen, or standing beside us – we think about them concretely…Social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity.”

Perhaps this helps explain an oddity in this week’s Torah reading when Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, offers the rather obvious suggestion to Moses that he appoint judges to assist him with the backlog of legal cases.  How is it that Moses couldn’t figure this out on his own?  Daniel Pink would answer that it wasn’t that Moses was too spiritual a man and therefore lacked management expertise (14th century classical commentator known as Ralbag).  Rather,  Yitro was more removed from the challenge, could think about it more in the abstract, and abstract thinking generates more creativity.  Moses lacked that distance.

The beauty of working in a school like TanenbaumCHAT where colleagues look out for each other and students do the same is that we can harness the power of peers.  When one person is stymied, he or she can give the problem to a peer. In exchange, when the peer is stuck, he or she can toss the dilemma to his or her friend.  This seems to be good advice not just for one’s personal life, but in one’s professional life too.  More breakthroughs and more innovation occurs when we understand that the  problems of others are usually more courageously and creatively solved than our own, which is one more reason to reach beyond ourselves in all we do.

The British Columbia government will soon require K-12 schools to introduce a new type of literacy into schools:  computer coding.  The B.C. government seeks to expand the school curriculum in order to address a talent shortage that is being caused by the impact of smart technologies on all sectors of the economy.  It is estimated that by the time this year’s Grade 12 students graduate university, there will be nearly 200,000 information/communication/technology positions unfilled.

My guess is that the Ontario government will follow the lead of the B.C. government.  The need to boost innovation and plant seeds to grow technology start-ups is self-evident. Technology has altered the way we live our lives and communicate daily; it’s hard not to see how cloud computing, apps, and mobile devices are transforming the way we do business and impacting future employment possibilities.

TanenbaumCHAT is not waiting for the Ontario Ministry to mandate new standards in mathematics, science and technology.  We are leading the way in advancing an innovation agenda. That is what’s driving this year’s robotics program and the engineering academy that will open next year.  It is also what’s driving several grassroots coding initiatives beyond our technology and computer science classes.  We want students to understand that coding is what makes it possible to create computer software, apps and websites. More generally, we want to sharpen students’ abilities to solve problems and think creatively; coding helps do that.

In the upcoming weeks, one of our communications technology teachers, Sharon Harding, will pilot “an hour of code” at TCW.  “Very few of our students know what coding really is and have never tried to code themselves,” Ms. Harding stated.  “An ‘hour of code’ is a way to increase student awareness and to try out some basic programming.”

I asked some of our more experienced students what they thought about coding. “I love coding. I use it to help learn algorithms and problem solving skills,” remarked grade 10 student Effie Mincer.  Seth Damiani, also in grade 10, echoed these sentiments.  “I have been coding since I was 10 and I love it. It uses math as well, and I know it will help me in the future.”

In this past Sunday’s Globe and Mail,Tobi Lutke, chief executive officer of Ottawa-based startup Shopify Inc., explained the need for widespread computer literacy in our evolving economy:

There is a reason why almost all entrepreneurs are ‘techies’ these days – they are the only ones that can teach computers new things….Essentially every company in the world is either turning into a software company or is in the process of dying because of a software company.  In this great reshuffling of the business world….whoever figures out how to teach computer literacy first will have by far the most prepared workforce.

We at TanenbaumCHAT strive to be the first to figure it out and lead the way.

Read the Globe and Mail article at


H0C.2 HoC.3

Around dinner time Thursday evening as I was going home from TCW, I saw three students making telephone calls in the Admissions Office.  Each call began with something like this:

“Hi. My name is Josh.  I’m a student ambassador  at TanenbaumCHAT, and I’d like to speak to your child.  I’m calling to follow-up with them after their tour of the school and see if I can answer any other questions for them.”

“Hi. This is Ofir speaking.  I’m a student ambassador at TanenbaumCHAT and I wanted to see how you liked your tour of the school.  I see you’re interested in the Music program, and I’d be happy to tell you more about it.”

“Hi.  This is Hayley speaking.  I’m calling from TanenbaumCHAT.  I’m a student ambassador here and am just calling to see if you have any questions about TanenbaumCHAT. It’s really an amazing school, and we hope to see you here next year.”

I love seeing students making calls. I love hearing about our parent ambassadors doing the same thing. I love it because they’re doing something most of us find very hard to do.  People in every school want to believe that their school is warm and friendly.  But how many of us go beyond our peer group–whether we’re adults or children–and reach out to someone whom we don’t know?

These three students (and our student ambassadors on both campuses) and our parent ambassadors are doing exactly that.  They’re conveying to parents and prospective students that TanenbaumCHAT is like a second home…even for someone who is walking into the school for the first time; and they are here to welcome them.

When I think about the way our parent and student ambassadors reach out to families whom they’ve never met, I think of the person at a Jewish wedding who pulls people onto the dance floor when the music starts.  There’s always one enthusiastic guest who gazes outside the dance circle, sees a bunch of other guests, and grabs not just the people whose toes are touching the dance floor.  That person also goes deep into the wedding hall end zone and invites (drags?) into the dance circle the guests who stand beside their chairs trying to camouflage themselves behind the conversation they’re having with their neighbour.

Hayley, Josh, Ofir and our other student and parent ambassadors remind me of that fearless person at a Jewish wedding who wants to see every guest dancing around the bride and groom.  Our ambassadors extend a hand to people they’ve never previously met and invite them onto the “dance floor” called TanenbaumCHAT.

That’s how the dance circle widens. That’s how community is built.  That’s how we’re going to build up our school–when each of us takes on the role of the one who brings people onto the “dance floor” and makes a call, reaches out, opens our heart or even our home to one of the hundreds of prospective families who waits to be inspired by the magic of a TanenbaumCHAT education.

If you would like more information on our parent and student ambassador programs, contact Laurie Wasser at

If you or someone you know would like more information about registering for Grade 9 in 2016-17 or to schedule a private tour, please contact our Admissions Team at


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I love to learn and I love kids which is probably why I went into education.  As a school administrator, the thing I miss most is being in a classroom.  Every so often a teacher or a group of students will send me a gift:  an invitation to guest teach or observe a class.

Before the winter break, I was given both.  First, I was invited to make a presentation to Ms. Black and Ms. Lewis’s Grade 12 Writer’s Craft class at TCW.  The students had been studying a variety of speeches–MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech, a few commencement addresses, and speeches of other historical, religious, political, or entertainment figures whose messages have stood the test of time.  As the students thought about speeches they personally had heard, they recalled a speech I had delivered at “Life After CHAT” about giving oneself permission to change one’s mind in life and in a career.  They asked if I would come to class to speak about speaking.

The truth is I’ve never spoken on this topic.  I’ve spoken at graduation ceremonies, awards celebrations, and staff meetings.  I’ve spoken about married people (weddings) and dead people (eulogies) in front of large audiences (I was a Congregational Rabbi for a decade) and small ones (I used to be a math teacher and a Jewish Studies teacher).  But I’ve never spoken about speech writing and speech presentation; and, honestly, I may be a good speaker, but it doesn’t come naturally.  It’s hard work for me.

I guess I did well enough because I was invited back (or maybe I invited myself back) to Ms. Lewis’s class to listen to the students deliver their own speeches.  I loved what I heard and observed.  It was an hour of stimulating entertainment.

One witty student delivered her speech in costume.  Another utilized such vivid metaphors and similes that I could visualize the “plot” along the way.  Another reminded me of his role in the Underground Play “Twelve Angry Jurors” and made me wonder if the scripts that actors memorize provide a useful bank of electric phrases from which these actor-speakers can draw.

I learned several things from attending class with this delightful group of students.  First, I learned that teachers don’t have to be the sole expositors of feedback.  Ms. Lewis had taught the students how to formulate and communicate constructive feedback, and these upperclassmen had much to say about the range and quality of rhetorical and poetic techniques that their orator friends employed.

Second, peer review compels listeners to think about how the speaker succeeded in persuading them, filling them with suspense, or making them laugh.  It converts a passive listener into an active learner.

Third, and most important, I learned that if a teacher creates a safe classroom environment, students will leave their zone of comfort, take risks, and try something new or even bizarre.  The level of respect and support among the students was second to none, and it enabled real learning to take place.

This group of conscientious and creative students is a teacher’s dream, and the generous gift they gave me to visit class twice and learn with them was a very proud Head of School’s dream.

Ms.Black Ms.Lewis