Like most English teachers, I entered the profession in the hope I could inspire others to love words on paper as much as I do. Once I entered the classroom, however, I discovered that there were other significantly more achievable goals. You could get students to care about learning how to write—they knew this skill was valuable. You could teach students how to analyze texts and parse language. You could even make them appreciate the beauty of certain Shakespearean plays. But you could not make them love books.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
The articles in this issue represent the balance between the old and the new, sacred and profane embodied in Jewish history. The issue tells the story of the drive for innovation in modern education that has gained strength in recent decades. It features efforts to learn from, adopt and adapt innovative programs and pedagogies from the larger educational universe, even as authors advise caution, patience and planning around such changes.
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We Jews are a people committed to listening, as evidenced by our public declaration at Mount Sinai of Na’aseh Venishma, We will do and we will listen, our shared commitment to God. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks further illuminates: “[The word shema] is fundamentally untranslatable into English since it means so many things: to hear, to listen, to pay attention, to understand, to internalise, to respond, to obey… Judaism is a religion of listening. This is one of its most original contributions to civilisation.”
At the inauguration of its 60th anniversary, Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit conducted a comprehensive curriculum audit of its Judaic studies program. At Hillel, the audit marked the necessary bridge between the school’s existing curricular challenges and our next chapter of innovation. It fueled the flames of innovation, linking that which exists with the aspirations of what could be.
Innovation has become the 614th commandment for Jewish day schools, a central part of their promotional lexicon and a key component in their educational planning. Schools are adopting innovative initiatives and approaches for two reasons. First, and most importantly, innovation enhances the educational experience, allowing schools to better prepare students for their futures while fulfilling organizational mission and vision.
Tell us your personal journey that led you to create your school.
Visionary programs of inclusion can be found in all kinds of Jewish schools. HaYidion asked the developer of one such program at the Beth Jacob Institute of Jerusalem, among the “Ivy League” schools of the chareidi world, to contribute this description of their pioneering work in the field.
I followed the principal as she showed me around the school where I, just out of grad school, was doing the day’s professional development session. As we walked through the Teacher Resources section of the school library, a set of bookshelves caught my eye. “What’s that?” I asked. “Oh, that…,” the principal replied sheepishly.
As Jewish day school leaders seeking to nurture and implement successful educational innovation, much can be learned from the implementation of educational innovation within public schools. From a historic perspective, the current drive to innovate that has dominated so much of the educational discourse among Jewish day school educators and their public school counterparts emerged 10 years ago when President Obama established i3, the Investing to Innovate Fund. The highly publicized competition for this federal grant was intentionally designed to drive educational innovation.
Reading and editing progress reports were the most painful parts of my first year as principal of the Columbus Jewish Day School. At best, the progress reports relayed a snapshot of a student’s growth over the last grading period. With some oddly specific standards thrown in, perhaps parents were able to understand what skills their child was mastering and where their child needed more support.
How often do we hear that an artist, whether a painter, sculptor, musician or writer, is gifted? Indeed they are, and certainly we all have predispositions and abilities, yet inherent in that assessment is: They are gifted therefore they can create masterfully; someone else is not. The haves, so to speak, and the have-nots. Do we leave it at that, and not strive to nurture what could be possible beyond the obvious?
One of the primary functions of a Jewish day school is to help create healthy, functioning members of both society-at-large and the Jewish community. With this goal in mind, we at the Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, have adopted an approach to education called Integrated Project-Based learning (IPBL).
Given the limited classroom time available for teaching Tanakh, school administrators and teachers must make a choice about how to divide their time. Should we focus on breadth of knowledge, having students cover a large amount of material? Or perhaps classroom time should be devoted to depth of knowledge, focusing on deepening the understanding of a limited number of chapters and stories?
What if school was a place for students to collaborate to solve real-world problems? What would the school day look like if student work consisted of meeting with stakeholders, learning from experts and creating projects that address the needs of clients who require solutions to real problems?
Excerpts from Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL and the Innovator’s Mindset, Chapter 10, “Creators.”
GC: Here is a little confession: I have a gigantic #ManCrush on Ryan Gosling. I think he is amazingly talented and love his range in so many roles; La La Land is in my top 10 movies of all time! He is one of my favorite actors in the world and has been for a long time. And he is Canadian!
For many adolescents, who deeply yearn for authentic spiritual experiences, the confined structure of tefillah remains an enormous obstacle to overcome. The square peg of autonomy, personal freedom, and free choice does not always align with the circular hole of Jewish core values such as chiyyuv, responsibility and obligation.
While interlacing her fingers, my mentor, Susan Wall, teaches that “goals and assessment go hand in hand.” I believe it’s important to translate this notion into curricular decisions made in tefillah. In the high school where I teach, my colleagues and I have developed four main goals for our tefillah program: