It’s no secret that though our students are exposed to years of modern Hebrew instruction, many emerge with relatively little comprehension of oral or written Ivrit to show for it. Too many can neither understand nor join an impromptu Israeli conversation, much less read, comprehend or write basic Hebrew. Many are doubtful about their prospects for gaining proficiency and are reluctant to use their lagging language skills in an authentic context.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Jewish day schools are ecosystems that cultivate growth and vitality for all its stakeholders, from students to board members. In this issue, you will discover ways to recruit, preserve and deepen the talent in your school. Learn about the shifting paradigm of professional development, from individual study to a culture of collaborative exploration. Articles offer inspiration for schools throughout the field to support the abundant talent found in their midst.
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A seasoned educator once remarked to a newly minted teaching cohort to which I belonged: “Every night that you hit the pillow exhausted while involved in education, you know you have been living a meaningful life.” I have always found the statement to be perplexing. How can we know that we are living a meaningful life, that we are helping our students live up to their potential? Must one be “exhausted” to be living a life of meaning?
Those of us in school leadership roles know that the single greatest factor that contributes to excellent teaching and learning in the classroom is the quality of a school’s faculty. Education today requires teachers to deliver an innovative, student-centered curriculum that promotes curiosity, wonder and joy while meeting the needs of an ever-increasing range of diverse learners. We in the Jewish day school world devote a great deal of time, effort and financial resources to attract and hire outstanding teachers who will do all of that and more.
When we carve out time for professional learning, teachers are often most eager to get the chance just to talk together. Many participants in professional development retreats and conferences name conversation with colleagues as the most valuable part of their learning process. As one high school teacher in a fellowship program put it, she looked forward each month to the opportunity to be in discussion with her cohort, whether it was for getting their support, their praise or their guidance.
Talent is often thought of as innate, something you are born with. Either you have it or you don’t. We think “talent” and we think of Yo-Yo Ma, stunningly able to play his cello from an early age, or Serena Williams, her limbs uniquely built for tennis. We know that even innate talent needs training: We think of the talented and earnest young person, diligently practicing and training for long hours. But our vision of talent and the accolades go to solitary performers, whose solo performances take our breath away.
There are two basic methods of educational research. Quantitative methods analyze large numbers of students to study causes and effects. What teacher practices, for example, improve student outcomes? Researchers plan interventions, create control and experimental groups, and compare the results.
An exercise stress test reveals how your heart functions during physical activity. The purpose of a stress test is to measure how blood pumps through your heart when it is working its hardest. It can reveal benign irregularities, or it can indicate a severe and fatal condition that requires immediate and emergent treatment.
There is a brief, tender exchange in the Talmud about second-stage mentoring between two great sages. In a debate about the minutiae of purity and impurity, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi offered a resolution of a dilemma before his colleagues. Engaging in rigorous debate can result in praise. It also summons the risk of rejection or intellectual humiliation. R. Zeira dismissed Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, stating that his contribution to the argument was minimal. But Reish Lakish, the passage says, “honored him [R. Yehoshua ben Levi] and said to him: ‘Sit next to me’”(Hullin 122a).
For several years, the Maimonides School, a Modern Orthodox PreK–12 school in Brookline, Massachusetts, struggled with a growing population of learners who had learning disabilities. In classrooms every day, some portion of students found it difficult to read (both in Hebrew and English) or, in settings that largely centered around frontal teaching, to process information or behave appropriately. As a result, many students either stayed and struggled or left the school.
When I submitted my candidacy to become Schechter’s head of school, I was what some refer to as a “non-traditional” candidate. I had never worked in an educational setting, and while I am a parent of three kids, I did not have professional experience with elementary-age children. My prior experience was in the field of talent management, most recently at Staples, Inc. As I found my footing in the world of education, I surrounded myself with experts in the field, and I was also eager to find transferable concepts or themes from my for-profit experience.
If you, like me, are a child of the ’80s, it’s likely that you will remember the many public service announcements that were aired over and over, especially during Sunday morning cartoons. We kids were exhorted not to take medicine that looked like candy, we were warned about “Stranger Danger,” and we all knew to “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” But there was another, more ominous PSA that has stuck with me for years. It featured a father confronting his son over drug paraphernalia found in the child’s closet. The father kept pressing the son as to how this could have happened.
The most important determinant of a teacher’s success in her profession, not just in her first year but throughout her career, is the strength of a school’s plan of support for new teachers. Here are composite portraits of four typical first-year experiences, based on research I’ve done with graduates of the Legacy Heritage Jewish Educators Program at Stern College over the past 10 years. The program is an undergraduate major at Stern, in which students major in Judaic studies with a concentration in Jewish education.
As school leaders, one of our primary responsibilities is making sure we have well-trained, talented teachers in our classrooms. The challenge of finding quality teachers, especially for school leaders in areas that don’t have large numbers of teachers within driving distance, is significant. Judaic teachers and experienced general studies teachers are scarce and tend to be expensive, with better-funded, selective private schools or Jewish day schools in larger communities more readily able to snatch them up.
The Machar Fellowship is a pilot professional development program run by Gann Academy in Waltham, Massachusetts, in partnership with deToledo High School in Los Angeles and the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan. Originally conceived by Gann’s former head of school, Rabbi Marc Baker, Machar creates an on-ramp to the Jewish leadership pipeline by recruiting recent college graduates and developing their talent through work in Jewish day schools, mentorship and peer support. Their work experiences have ranged from marketing and admissions to classroom teaching and program design.
Today, education and technology go hand in hand. Just as general studies teachers regularly implement different technological tools, many Jewish Studies teachers are also exploring technologies that bring new ideas, tools, and activities to their classrooms.
In the fall of 2017, Yeshivah of Flatbush set out to build upon our STEM program for grades 1–8. We decided to make our program unique by adding another “T” for “Torah” in STEM and created ST2EM (pronounced “STEM Squared”). We wanted our students to make connections from the Torah to STEM learning. Our goal was to develop a STEM lesson framework that we could train our teachers to use in the classroom. ST2EM lessons would contain a hands-on activity and a culminating assessment during a 40-minute class period and would include teaching our students about STEM careers.