Reshet Roundup: Fostering Innovation Throughout the Field
Reshet Innovation is unique among the Reshets in that it is not based on a particular job or lay leadership role nor on membership in a Prizmah program. Any Jewish day school educator interested in innovating his or her school or classroom might find there a connection among like-minded educators. Innovation is a broad notion, open to many possible interpretations and paths; the Reshet is a place to discuss anything that falls under the vast umbrella of innovative practices or ideas. Here are some ideas that have risen to the forefront of late and captivated the interest and imagination of school leaders, teachers and the general public.
One of the innovations that is gaining momentum, support and resources is the Maker movement. Connected to that is the general growth of programs designed to integrate STEAM/STEM into cross-curricular learning in every subject area. Many Jewish day schools are doing innovative, unique and inspiring work in this area: turning unused rooms into inviting Makerspaces, giving students opportunities to learn through repeated trial and error, bringing awareness to all the ways that math, science, engineering, art and technology are part of, and can be used to understand, everything.
It was with this interest and activity in mind that Reshet Innovation convened a webinar called “Torah and Tinkering.” The two presenters, Dr. Alexis Soffler from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, and Shana Gutterman from Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, Florida, shared their work using STEAM/STEM and Maker spaces to enliven and support the Jewish studies learning in their schools. The desire to learn from and connect with other Jewish day school educators brought together a large and enthusiastic group, eager to ask questions, share ideas and grow together. The outpouring of interest was especially exciting, as many of the webinar participants are also leading the way with this work in their schools.
From these roots, branches are growing. The presenters were both from K-8 schools, with the bulk of their examples coming from K-5. While it is always possible to adapt ideas to a different age group, there has been much interest in convening a similar webinar focused specifically on high schools doing this work. Stay tuned for details.
Another offshoot of the webinar is the formation of a working group of educators from around the country who are interested in brainstorming, co-planning, sharing strategies and resources, and possibly bringing their students together. The working group details are also in the planning stage, with a first virtual meeting taking place soon.
In a Reshet, participants can not only read or hear about what other schools are doing, but actually be present with Jewish day school counterparts and to form meaningful connections with virtual colleagues. As one participant wrote, “I was struck while watching the webinar by how similar some of our programs are. We really could all be helping each other to move the field forward, rather than just working in isolation.” This sums up the value of Reshet participation: using our own experiences, creations and struggles to enlighten and help others and, by extension, to strengthen the field.