Written by Avi Posen and Team
In a world where there is so much that divides us, it’s often easy to forget how much our tradition believes in the power of unity. If there is one lesson we’ve learned over the last few years of the Covid pandemic, it is that distancing, socially or physically, can prevent us from realizing our full potential to develop professionally.
So one question that we kept asking ourselves at Unpacked for Educators was, How can educators best advance their professional development across geographic and pandemic-driven divides?
We have been thrilled to partner with Prizmah this school year on the Unpacked for Educators Collaborative, which was formed to bring Jewish educators together in a united community in order to build bridges in the global Israel education community. Our intention has been to unite educators in a mission of enhancing and strengthening the Israel education toolkit and to make it relevant and timely across geographic, cultural and ideological divides.
Our partnership has brought educators from Jewish middle schools, high schools and congregational schools together to work year-round on professional development, networking and support. This includes monthly webinars, access to curated educational materials, and facilitated collaboration. The Collaborative aims to support schools in advancing their institution’s educational goals in the field of Israel education.
Navigating the Complexity Together
In the current political climate, Israel educators as well as their students face myriad challenges. Navigating their way through the soundbites and anti-Israel rhetoric on social media is only one of the many issues facing Jewish communities around the world. In many cases, schools may not have easy access to professional materials in a language that young people can relate to or that is in sync with the political or religious ideology of the student body. They often need either to curate their own curricula and material or to reach out for extra support from their friends or colleagues in other schools or communities to share ideas and resources.
The Collaborative has been able to do all of that for them, in one easy place with a built-in model for sustainable continuity. It builds on the Prizmah Network’s success in strengthening schools and communities through peer-to-peer learning, professional development and community-building, with an added layer of nuanced, curated content from Unpacked for Educators. The content lives on the relevant digital platforms, with messaging that is suitable for the fast-paced information highway, where trust is gained or lost in a click.
The Collaborative program includes ten professional development webinars with leaders in the field of Israel engagement such as Yossi Klein Halevi, Yair Rosenberg, Dr. Ruth Wisse, former MK Tehillah Friedman, Gil Troy and Dr. Sivan Zakai, among others. Along with hearing from these experts in our monthly sessions, the educators gather in breakout rooms to develop practical takeaways for the classroom.
Mariel Seta, an educator at Kadima Day School in Los Angeles, summed up the experience best when she shared how much the program has helped open a new window to new knowledge and an opportunity to communicate and collaborate with other teachers.
“The Collaborative has given me the chance to hear speakers I admire that otherwise would have been almost impossible to reach in an intimate setting, where I can ask questions and actively engage with experts in different fields. It’s also inspired and challenged me to develop new ideas about how to approach content, all while sharing and learning with and from other educators. And the Collaborative has connected me with teachers who share like-minded goals that challenge students to find their voice and explore their Jewish identity while encouraging them to learn actively. Through the Collaborative, I’ve found inspiration and guidance, a growth mindset, and an endless opportunity to grow and help my students grow as Jews and citizens of the world.”
Each school has access to all of the Unpacked for Educators premium educational content such as curricular outlines, experiential learning activities, full-length feature films, coaching sessions with our educational staff, and a student ambassador program focused on content creation and social media influence.
Innovative Global Reach in the Virtual Sphere
The Unpacked for Educators Collaborative is so unique because of its ability to bring educators together from across the globe in a vibrant, dynamic community to share ideas, questions and knowledge.
Even virtually, it’s been inspiring to watch the lively and diverse discussions taking place in our breakout rooms. Any given breakout room can be filled with educators from all over, from New York to London and Melbourne to Cape Town, communicating across continents and time zones to work through shared challenges together. As Rachel Levitt Klein Dratch, Prizmah’s director of Educational Innovation, put it: “The energy in the virtual room is electric - amazing educators from all over the world engaging in serious discussion, being open and curious, connecting and learning together... It is humbling to witness!”
As we enter our third pandemic spring, we are indeed humbled by how the Collaborative is contributing to professional development among educators. We are also inspired to see it continue to grow, answering the needs of 70 middle schools, high schools, congregational schools and youth organizations in 11 countries spanning the entire religious and political spectrum of the Jewish world.
The Collaborative creates a shared language when teaching about Israel. It harnesses the power of collaboration and unity to enrich Israel education. In the words of Noam Weissman, Executive Vice President of Unpacked:
“The opportunity to shrink the Jewish world, to connect all Jewish educators and educational institutions with rich content, curriculum and clarity of how to cultivate Jewish identity has been the goal from the beginning. Since we partnered up with Prizmah, it’s been amazing to see what we can accomplish together.”