OP-ED: Manette Mayberg Calls for Jewish Day Schools to Pursue Distinction

OP-ED: Manette Mayberg Calls for Jewish Day Schools to Pursue Distinction

Manette Mayberg, trustee of the Mayberg Foundation, shares a compelling call to action to Jewish day schools in an op-ed featured in both the Washington Jewish Week and EJewishPhilanthropy.

Her message... Pursue Distinction!

The Mayberg Foundation collaborates with multiple philanthropic partners to advance JEIC’s vision to reignite students’ passion for Jewish learning and improve the way Jewish values, literacy, practice and belief are transferred to the next generation.

Social Geography’s Impact on the Jewish Day School Ecosystem

Social Geography’s Impact on the Jewish Day School Ecosystem

Unless you spend time in the same place as others, it can be challenging to create meaningful connections with them. Proximity matters in relationship building. When a school segments subsets of its population in areas of the building that are distant from peers, the students may not have the opportunities needed to develop strong friendships and grow from beneficial interactions with one another.

The same is true for stakeholders in the Jewish day school ecosystem.

When JEIC first conceived of the Innovators Retreat, the idea was to complete our granting cycle with a variety of perspectives informing the discussion about the school-based pilot projects we funded.  What evolved was an understanding of how essential it is for people to be together to explore what excellence means in day school education and how everyone’s individual vision can inspire or guide others’.

Today, we host the Innovators Retreat based on the premise that social geography matters in the Jewish day ecosystem.  Students benefit when we put stakeholders with different perspectives together in the same space to engage in deep, philosophical conversations and to share profound experiences related to our mutual priority – the radical improvement of Jewish day school education.  

The focus of our time together is sacred – just like the limudei kodesh/holy subjects taught in day schools.  The interactions at the Innovators Retreat are not about soliciting funds, jockeying for new positions, comparing test scores, etc. The emphasis is on our common desire to reignite students’ passion for Jewish learning and improve the way Jewish values, literacy, practice and belief are transferred to the next generation.

The idea of coming together to rejuvenate our commitment to one mission is not a revolutionary concept in Jewish tradition.  In ancient times, the shalosh regalim/three pilgrimage festivals brought Jews to Jerusalem -- from near and far -- so they could reaffirm together their commitment to G-d and the Jewish community at large.  Like those historical holidays, we also build a castle in time in order to focus together on our direction stemming from our ancient wisdom. 

JEIC is creating a subtle form of a social revolution in the day school movement. We are cultivating a new type of energy and community of people grounded in the pursuit of day school excellence -- no matter affiliation, role, geography or time in the field. We are slowly breaking down the barriers that make shalom bayit/familial harmony in order to build up B’nai Yisrael/the Jewish people.

Hesed (loving kindness) is at the Heart of our Work

Hesed (loving kindness) is at the Heart of our Work

Sharon Cohen Anisfeld.jpg

I had the privilege of attending the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC) 2018 Retreat –a wonderful gathering of educators, investors, and leaders in the world of Jewish day school education. Over the course of the retreat, we were asked to think deeply about the purpose of day school education. We were asked to reflect on our own values, and how we would bring those values to life in a school setting. And we were asked – in an uplifting keynote by philanthropist and visionary leader, Manette Mayberg – to consider the importance of distinctiveness as an enduring Jewish spiritual value.

Her words brought to mind one of my favorite midrashim – a rabbinic commentary from Vayikra Rabbah inspired by a verse from this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt.” [Leviticus 18:2]

In the context of this particular midrash, “Copying the practices of the land of Egypt” means losing the power of our own distinctive religious language – our own language for blessing, grieving, giving thanks and offering prayer.

A series of vignettes are offered, each of which involves a crisis of cultural literacy. We find ourselves suddenly in a house of mourning or a house of prayer – where a blessing is called for and no one knows the right words to say. In each case, one person shows up who knows the proper words. That person is compared to “a rose among thorns” – and her speech is considered an act of hesed, an act of loving kindness. The midrash concludes with a story about Rabbi Eleazar, who is publicly humiliated because he is asked to lead a community in prayer and doesn’t know how. Sick with embarrassment, he returns to his teacher, Rabbi Akiva. With kindness and without condescension or judgment, Rabbi Akiva teaches him – and Rabbi Eleazar goes back to the same community, this time having regained “the power of speech.” 

There is so much about this midrash that speaks to the contemporary work of rabbis and Jewish educators. It reminds us that when we lose the inflections of our religious language, we lose the words that allow us to come together to pray, to comfort, to bless. It prods us toward a vision of Jewish life that is welcoming but not watered down. It reminds us to think carefully about how we create learning environments in which all are elevated and none are demeaned. And it reminds us, above all, that hesed (loving kindness) is at the heart of our work as rabbis and educators – to remember that the knowledge we seek and the words we speak are not for our own aggrandizement – but to allow us to be of service to communities searching for genuine connection with each other and with God.

A Charge to IR18 Attendees to Strive for Distinction Using Courage

A Charge to IR18 Attendees to Strive for Distinction Using Courage

As we merited to make the journey, yet another year, from slavery to freedom, from the constraints of Egypt to the open desert, it is incumbent upon us to find the relevance of Passover in our lives.

There is a remarkable piece in Gd’s method of preparing the Jews to leave Egypt. Gd commands every Jewish household to take a lamb into the home for a few days, then slaughter it and mark the doorpost of the house with its blood. Imagine being in that place for a minute. Take a lamb, the very animal that is worshipped as a deity in the hostile society in which you live…care for it, then risk your life to kill it so that its blood will protect you from Gd’s final devastating blow. To take this action required such a deep trust in Gd, that most of the Jews didn’t do it. Most assimilated and were lost and only a minority followed Gd’s word and left Egypt.

This marking on the doorpost – it was the first mezuzah! Jewish Egyptians were challenged to distinguish their homes, not with a subtle mark, but with a bold, emphatic and risky statement. Gd clearly had an eternal message in this and it applies to us today.

As educators and investors in Jewish education, we are partners with the holiest institution since the beit hamigdash stood – that is the Jewish home. Many Jews, I would guess, the vast majority, have no idea that the holiest place is in fact, not the synagogue, but the home. Some even think, “I am a bad Jew because I don’t go to synagogue!” When in fact, every Jewish home has equal potential to instill the Jewish identity and values that sustain the Jewish people. The Jewish institutions that we devote ourselves to are extensions of the home. School is not a substitute for, but an essential limb of the home. When families choose to entrust their children’s education and direct their dollars to Jewish day schools, they expect an experience that, like their homes, is distinctly Jewish.  Distinction is in our DNA and has enabled our survival throughout the ages. Scattered to all four corners of the Earth, distinction is the unifier that has made survival possible. Gd said, “mark your houses” because the values that you hold inside, are the hallmark of the Jewish family that will distinguish you for all time. When Gd commanded us to make ourselves distinct, it was by the unit of the home, not the individual.

There are many takeaways here and I will highlight two of them:

  1. We have a responsibility in Jewish education, to align with the holiest component of our community, the home. Few day schools have focused resources on parent engagement and even fewer have cracked the code on how to make it work well. Louis and I, among many philanthropists, encourage community partnerships that leverage each organization’s strengths. Perhaps, schools need to forge partnerships with existing organizations operating in the adult education space. In this way, all stakeholders are included, from parents to funders to influencers, without schools trying to be something they are not. These are important dots to connect! Are we recognizing that an essential component of day school success is aligning school, home and community? Are we utilizing the resources we have available to foster that alignment?
  2. We have a clear directive to distinguish Jewish subjects. The root of mezuzah is “zuz” to move. Maintaining our uniqueness even as we move around the globe has resulted in our unlikely survival and vitality. Our success in educating Jewishly is directly related to our expression of distinct values. Sadly, the choices we often make are not connecting those dots. We need to draw that line between how we convey our Judaic subjects and desired outcomes. Let’s make self-evaluations both as individuals and institutions. How do the decisions we make impact the Jewish self-esteem of the students we serve? Are the policies, curriculum, and evaluations conveying what we intend about what it means to be Jewish and meeting the goals of a Jewish institution? Are we reaching beyond the trappings we imitate from outside the Jewish world to reflect the Jewish value of rewarding individual effort instead of results?

This is the 6th year I stand before you to open the morning of our Innovators Retreat and speak out about the misuse of grades in Judaic studies. It is just not consistent with Jewish wisdom to critically judge a Jew’s ability to learn Torah subjects. A student labeled anything but an “A” in a Jewish subject will internalize a view of him or herself as less than great at Jewish study, or worse, a less than great Jew. If we agree that we want to build Jewish self-esteem in our students, how can we work against cultivating Jewish greatness by applying exams and grading developed for general studies to Jewish studies? That dot is not connected and we are feeling the results of that disconnect painfully with every student who graduates without a lifelong love of Jewish learning and rock solid Jewish identity. 

I always share a quote from one of my kids and I was lacking material this year until I received a message from my 21 year old just a few weeks ago. Nathaniel is a 2nd year communications student at IDC Herziliya. He “WhatsApped” me, “…also started a chavruta with Rav Josh, minyan and then Gemara on Wednesdays. And I’m starting to love the intellectual challenge of Talmud, now that there’s no grade.” punctuated with an emoji of one of those laughing/crying faces.  I posted a conversation I recorded from his afternoon carpool in 10th grade on our JEIC website in 2013. He and three other boys from his class talking about how de-moralized their grades in Jewish subjects made them feel. He is still carrying that with him now, 3 years post high school. I know in both my heart and my head, we are doing a huge disservice to our People by imitating a system of evaluation designed for subjects like math and history. Those subjects don’t cut to the core of a person’s identity. They aren’t subjects unique to a people who have a responsibility to distinguish themselves among nations. Those subjects don’t inform the values that build a home or a marriage. They aren’t the basis for morality or ethical behavior. They don’t build future Jewish leaders. Our success is reflected in the happiness and well-being of our graduates, not on a job title or income level. How they navigate the world, their behavior, ethics and courage - that reflects our success as Jewish educators. While I am all for academic achievement, mastery of textual skills alone is not going to see them to this definition of success that encompasses the whole human being. How solidly rooted they are in their Jewish identity, how relevant do they view Jewish values and texts to their lives, depth of relationships with Jewish mentors, and practice of relationship with Gd - these are critical measures of successful Jewish education. Are we connecting those dots with the decisions we make about how to convey Judaics in our schools? Do we lead equally with the heart and the mind and strive to achieve a healthy balance of the two?

I mention courage as a vital trait for Jewish growth and expression. It took an unimaginable amount of courage for those Jews in Egypt to paint their doorposts with lamb’s blood. It takes courage to move from one culture to another, to change practiced customs, to transform ourselves, our institutions. And courage is so rare these days in leadership that when it shows up, it gets attention and admiration.  I attended AIPAC policy conference in March. From the lineup of prestigious speakers, the most talked about speaker was Nikki Haley. She said, “The most important thing is to not be afraid to stick with the fundamental principles, even when they go against entrenched customs. Some of those outdated customs have gone unquestioned for years.” Ambassador Haley presents a courage that is refreshing in politics. She dares to buck the status quo, stands up to bullying and speaks up for what she believes is just. She is a true hero. This type of courage is not foreign to Jews. From the lamb’s blood on the doorpost to Nachshon bravely walking into the Sea to his nostrils, we the Jewish people have courage embedded in our core.  If we choose to access this courage to become leaders in the education field instead of followers, we will enable our future generations to fulfill their mission in this world.

Nikki Haley continued with a simple retort that inspires me deeply. She said, “Some of you might've seen that the top Palestinian negotiator recently had some advice for me. He told me to shut up. Mr. Erekat, I will always be respectful, but I will never shut up.”  Well, I’m not about to either. I am committed to fighting courageously for what I know is right, for the values that distinguish us and for future generations of Jews to choose and to own their Judaism. Your presence here, and your partnership, tell me that you are committed too. You are invited here because we share big picture change for Jewish day schools. This room is filled with special energy, talent and potential. Let us ALSO have the courage to say what needs to be said, to do what needs to be done, and in doing so connect those dots that will actualize our efforts to evolve Jewish day schools into the distinct greatness befitting the Jewish people.  



The R&D Behind a S.T.E.A.M.-Focused Makerspace at Akiba-Schechter

The R&D Behind a S.T.E.A.M.-Focused Makerspace at Akiba-Schechter

This past summer, driven by a desire to create a sustainable system of innovation in our school and supported by a grant from the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge, Akiba-Schechter began the process of creating the first Research & Development Department in a Jewish Day School.

The Akiba R&D Department studies, develops prototypes, researches, and scales new teaching and learning approaches, practices, and systems that advance relevant learning for our students and the field of education. Our R&D system ensures new programs, models and ideas are thoughtfully studied, implemented, and sustained. In many companies, R&D departments play an integral role in the life cycle of a product. For us, at a Jewish Day School, we believe the R&D Department plays an integral role in the lifecycle of teaching methodologies and student learning.

The R&D Department researches and develops approaches, practices, and systems that:

  • are driven by global trends
  • have a strong relevance to our school’s mission and core values
  • have potential to significantly transform teaching and learning
  • have sudden urgency or meet unexpected needs

The R&D Department focuses on five areas:

  • Research for new programs or models
  • Development of new programs or models
  • Updates in existing programs or models
  • Quality checks on existing programs or models
  • General research on educational trends and innovations
...we believe the R&D Department plays an integral role in the lifecycle of teaching methodologies and student learning
— Dr. Eliezer Jones

The Akiba R&D Department utilizes a design thinking approach to innovation based on the work of Dr. Shabbi Luthra, who trained our R&D team, and Scott Hoffman who developed and supervised a research and development department at the American School of Bombay. At the core of the process is a prototyping approach versus a piloting approach. A prototype is an early approximation of a final system or product -- not a completed one. Teachers will test a prototype within the school, develop it, and test it further in the school. Ultimately, if successful, the prototype is implemented in the school ensuring it works for the specific needs of the population. Prototyping has been a more efficient driver of learning for our staff, as they are not just given instructions on how to implement a pre-existing program. They study the new idea, try it out, learn what worked and what did not, and retest it until it is either worth using or rejecting. They are involved and invested from the outset.

The R&D Department receives support from the R&D Leadership Team made up of the academic administration and an R&D Task Force comprised of a group of self-selected teachers who volunteered to be trained in and facilitate research and development at the school.

The R&D Task Force has been exploring numerous areas to see if deeper research is appropriate including: review of our Judaic program, tefilla/prayer, homework, advisory programs, community engagement, models of intrinsic motivation in education, cross-disciplinary teaching (General Studies and Judaic Studies) and makerspaces. Regarding makerspaces, an incredible development came out of the research process.   

A group within the R&D Task Force focused on makerspaces in schools. Based on their initial exploration they believed deeper study was warranted. After engaging in this research, they proposed a few in-class maker prototypes, which teachers tested and deemed successful. These prototypes led to a proposal to rethink and redesign our current library space into a large makerspace.

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The space proposed would be one where children are following personalized learning pathways in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math (S.T.E.A.M.) in an integrated approach that would include Judaic and General Studies learning across the curriculum. Their research of current global trends made clear that social and technological forces have intersected to transform how we design, manufacture and distribute. An open source, Do-It-Yourself mindset, and social networks are enabling communities to make their own economic futures. The language of design schools is part of the vocabulary of K-12 schools and the team and I believe education needs to integrate more of this framework of learning to address a changing future. Schools need to become hubs of design knowledge, rapid prototyping, and self-directed learning to ensure our students are better prepared for a more flexible, globally minded life where, for example, science and math skills are not isolated knowledge sets, but a set of thinking skills that can be applied to the real world.

Over this school year, the makerspace R&D team has continued to research and plan what kind of space we could create. The goal is to keep the function of the library with all our fantastic books, while integrating all the technology, tools and resources to have a vibrant makerspace. The plan is to begin the redesign this coming summer and have students using it next fall. This project is possible by the generosity of The Crown Family, and we are grateful for their support.

Creating this structure for innovation has given us a supportive process to foster and implement new ideas, while at the same time building a culture focused on innovation in education, which we feel is critical to any school. The R&D Team looks forward to designing new ways of learning in our school, sharing what we learn with others, and supporting the implementation of educational R&D departments in Jewish Day Schools around the globe.

 Building Cycles of Improvement and Innovation for Judaic Studies

Building Cycles of Improvement and Innovation for Judaic Studies

Part I: The Intensive Summer Beit Midrash

At Fuchs Mizrachi School, we are privileged to have a Judaic faculty who love to think, collaborate, reflect and innovate. We have worked individually and in groups, through meetings and professional development days, to develop meaningful projects, powerful co-curricular programming and a shared set of skills/standards we hope our students will develop. At the same time, it has been challenging to bring individual teachers’ work together to develop a more systematic approach that insures both consistency and continuity for our students.

We needed to find a way to ensure that a cycle of action, reflection, and improvement became part of our teachers’ and school’s culture.
— Rabbi Yehuda Chanales

As open and reflective as our teachers may be, they still often find themselves in the daily grind of preparing lessons and marking assessment as they also try to build relationships with students outside the classroom and manage their own families’ needs.  We, therefore, wanted to find a way to build more systematic, year after year cycles of improvement into our school culture. We didn’t want to build one specific curriculum or implement one particular pedagogic tool; we needed to find a way to ensure that a cycle of action, reflection, and improvement became part of our teachers’ and school’s culture.

With this in mind we proposed-- and were excited to receive a grant from JEIC to support-- a different approach to teacher collaborative time. The Teacher Torah Collaboratory program will fully begin this summer with an intensive Summer Beit Midrash for Fuchs Mizrachi faculty. We believe that dedicated intensive time outside of the regular school year for faculty to learn and think deeply together can alter the lonely cycle of Judaic teachers individually preparing curriculum and planning meaningful activities from day to day. Through reconnecting with their passion for Torah learning, teachers will also be given the time and space to approach familiar texts through new lenses -- considering what both they and their students need in today’s world. Through intense learning, curriculum development and broad conversations about needs, priorities and next steps, teachers will be better positioned to build off of their comradery and shared work for next school year.

Last summer, we piloted a smaller, more condensed version of the Summer Beit Midrash to learn from the experience and be better poised for success this upcoming summer. Eight Gemara teachers spent four days together. In the morning, we learned in chavrutot the Masechet we knew we would be teaching this year. In the afternoons, we spent time working collaboratively on broader issues. We developed consensus around a set of core standards and skills we wanted our students to develop. We also used a design thinking protocol to discuss what prevented our students from engaging and succeeding in gemara learning. The protocol helped us prioritize by uncovering what we believed to be the lever that could impact our students’ challenges.  We hypothesized that by helping students see their skill development, they would be more likely to view themselves as “gemara learners” thus strengthening their sense of connection with and meaning from their learning. We finished our mini-Summer Beit Midrash experience with excitement about continuing to explore our theories together.


While the collegial energy during our time together was powerful, we were not able to build successfully on our learning and conversations during the school year. When our High School Principal moved into the Head of School position in November, the Assistant Principal for Student Services and I essentially became acting principals. This constrained my time to lead Gemara Department meetings personally and develop proper accountability systems ensuring our discussions impacted teachers’ classroom practices.  Additionally, I learned that our four day Beit Midrash was not enough time for the team to reach a critical point in our planning process. We had time to think big picture about priorities and goals but did not have the time to work on what this meant for daily teaching and learning in the classroom. What types of activities would help students develop the skills we outlined? How would we assess student progress and provide feedback that would allow them to grow? How would we measure the impact of student growth on their attitudes toward gemara learning?

Ultimately, we recognized the value of intensive time together, and we learned that we needed more time and structure to reach a place upon which we could continue building all year. This summer we will utilize our JEIC grant to spend even more intensive time together--  two weeks focused on Tanach and two weeks focused on Gemara. Some teachers will participate in both groups. During those weeks, we will dedicate mornings to text study of material we will be teaching next year in ways that deepen our understanding of that material and push us to approach familiar texts in different ways.

During our Gemara Beit Midrash we will host a Scholar-in-Residence, Rav Ori Lifschutz of the Lev Lad’at Project associated with the Ministry for Religious and Education and Herzog College. This project seeks to equip teachers in Israel with the skills to facilitate students’ engagement with the ideas and values that emerge from the study of Tanach and Gemara. In our first week together, Rav Ori will lead shiurim/study sessions and model alternative approaches to teaching Gemara focusing on expanding our toolbox as teachers and learners. Later each day, teachers will individually prepare a suyga/unit on their own, utilizing a common template with coaching from Rav Ori and me. During the second week, teachers will take turns presenting the unit they prepared with their fellow teachers acting as students. Time later in the day will be dedicated to providing feedback, fine tuning and providing additional ideas. Together, the group will walk away from the two weeks having discussed the same units, approaches to teaching and a shared sense of how we expect students to develop skills and find meaning in the texts.

In a future blog post, I look forward to sharing details about the differing needs of our Tanach Summer Beit Midrash and the follow up strategies from our summer work using collaborative team meetings and select protocols. Please share your comments and questions!


The Secret Ingredient is Social Connectedness

The Secret Ingredient is Social Connectedness

Social connectedness is the degree to which a person has and perceives a sufficient number of positive, reciprocal relationships including emotional support, a sense of belonging, and fostering growth. Some people may think that schools’ primary goal is solely to teach content and skills, however, I believe school communities should consider social connectedness a top priority.  Not only that, educators should focus on exploring multiple ways to leverage social connectedness as an element of the learning process.

In most private schools this happens intentionally and is as much a part of the environment as the air students and educators breathe.  The power of social connectedness in people is statistically associated with individuals overcoming trauma and PTSD, treating depression, increasing cancer and heart attack survival rates, and lowering homicide and suicide rates.  Public schools offer students many groups and opportunities to create social connectedness; when they do not, students can feel overlooked, forgotten, irrelevant, or marginalized.  Social media is often a space where the disconnected try to reach out, and it is also where the feedback loops should be tighter to detect those spiraling out of control. Ultimately, the emotional health and well-being of our students starts with social connectedness. Attention to this can potentially mitigate or eliminate some of the tragic outcomes we are sadly seeing in the United States with greater frequency.

Since 2000 the United States has witnessed the terror caused by more than 40 active shooter episodes in schools. In response to these horrific events, citizens, school officials and legislators are focusing on gun control, mental health, 2nd Amendment rights, and the FBI’s follow-through. While these are important discussion topics related to eliminating gun violence in schools, many people are missing an essential element behind these tragedies… the absence of social connectedness.  

In Jewish day schools, I submit that intentional social connectedness creates an opportunity to leverage the wisdom of our tradition in support of foundational human needs. Judaism, by design, seamlessly pays mind to the critical nature of human interaction and belonging. From a minyan in tefillah settings to hevruta/partner study as a teaching approach to welcoming the stranger to seder tables to inviting guests into our sukkah, we are a people who recognize the value of human relationships.  I encourage stakeholders to appreciate why administrators and teachers make decisions that encourage and facilitate students’ social connectedness. Jewish Day Schools should prioritize activities that build social capital, cohesion, and support for students and safeguard against programmatic decisions that can erode the fabric of personal interactions and community.


It’s not an “either-or” proposition: Student Choice in Text Study

It’s not an “either-or” proposition: Student Choice in Text Study

Giving students the right to make choices in their education is not a new idea. In fact, it is one of the foundational ideas of Maria Montessori’s and John Dewey’s systems of education. Over the years research has also confirmed (Goodwin, 2010) that giving students a greater role in directing their own education increases motivation and student learning outcomes.

While in secular education progressive educators have long been moving in the direction of increasing student choice, Jewish education has been slow to adapt.

Two main barriers have been limitations in curriculum and methodology. In secular studies, there are easy-to-identify areas of flexibility in subject matter. Students can choose to do a project on one of many topics in almost any subject and still fit within the curriculum’s standard. However, in Jewish studies, we often focus on a particular set of texts. This does not seem to allow for as much student choice.

The second challenge has been the limited tools that students can access to express their learning.  In secular studies, students can demonstrate learning in so many ways -- from taking on a research project to building a model to conducting an experiment, and more. On the Judaics side, educators often wonder how to offer students various means of expression about the same text.

One solution many Jewish schools have tried is to move away from a focus on text study. This allows instructors to model their classes’ activities on a secular studies model with an emphasis on creative projects. This approach, however, leaves educators with a dilemma. Do we limit the amount of choice offered to students, or do create more opportunities for choice and creativity by limiting our emphasis on textual studies?

The Judaic Studies team at Stars of Israel Academy does not see this as an “either-or” proposition. We have experimented with a different approach to learning that incorporates a balance of both text study and student choice.

We see the learning process, itself, as a chance to offer choice when engaging in texts. As an example, students can differ in their preferred ways of rehearsal strategies. Some may choose to learn with a chavruta, others may prefer to use flash cards individually, and still others may feel most comfortable by annotating their texts. The use of technology gives even more possibilities.

Educators can also offer students choice in final learning presentations that demonstrate an understanding of the text. Technology can be a valuable tool in this area, as well. For instance, some students may choose to present a video of themselves reading and translating a text. Others may opt to create an interactive text with their translations and explanations becoming audible when the words are touched on the screen. Animated slideshows are another technology-integrated student product where learners can include knowledge about texts into their creative work.

It takes a different approach to teaching and learning for an instructor to design a classroom where students are given a range of options during a study period. It also takes time for students to become comfortable using different learning tools and technologies to their advantage. However, the increase in student motivation and intrinsic desire to learn are well worth the tradeoff in our experience.

Striking a Balance Between a School’s Structure and Culture

Striking a Balance Between a School’s Structure and Culture

Schools have both structural and cultural elements. Structural elements deal with top down school laws or expectations by which a person can be held accountable as a driver of behavior.  Cultural elements deal with bottom-up or socially-driven behaviors.  Both have strong influences in a school.  The knowledgeable head of school knows that the right combination will help a school succeed.  

The key is knowing when to build capacity by creating a more resilient and adaptable school and when to use that capacity to solve challenges.  The structural side helps keep the school on one consistent plan.  The best a school can achieve with only that lens is compliance.  The cultural side invites a rejuvenating energy and a feeling of solidarity.  The best a school can achieve with only that lens is mission-driven collaboration with the danger of going in a wrong direction.  When the two sides work in sync, you get the best of both.

Sometimes a school's structural and cultural elements are at odds. These two powerful forces can damage a school when cultural and structural designs do not mesh.  This can happen when a culture resists structural change.  In that case, a school sees cliques of teachers forcing the head of school to manage instead of lead.  This may occur when the culture shifts because of a change in population or turnover of staff, and the structure no longer serves the school’s goals.  In that case, the head of school needs to change the structural side to harness the energy of the culture instead of fighting to keep the structural side sacred and immutable.  It is the difference between surfing a wave and trying to stop the tide from coming in.   

In order to make this work, the head of school needs to develop feedback loops supplying data necessary to make good choices.  While the data may be different from school to school, the head of school can see how the staff make choices when they are not held directly accountable.  These situations point to how much structural responsibility, social esteem and mission has “sunk in” and how much the staff thinks that the culture of responsibility to each other, self-esteem and personal success has superior value.  This insight is essential for a head of school in determining how best to move forward to re-establish an equilibrium.

Recognizing the potential for this tension and balancing structure and culture are some of the most important leadership skills a head of school can exercise.


JEIC Announces 2017 Grantees

JEIC Announces 2017 Grantees


Every year we award grants to programs that can fundamentally change Jewish education, inspiring students to learn, grow and connect as part of our Day School Educators' Challenge. We received 48 proposals and after careful review, we are excited to announce our 2017 grantees. 

    PRESS RELEASE: Design Thinking Takes Center Stage

    PRESS RELEASE: Design Thinking Takes Center Stage

    Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC) convened nearly 100 Jewish educators and community leaders from across North America to participate in its 5th annual Innovators Retreat – Oases of Change – at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. 

    Innovator Grantee Updates

    Innovator Grantee Updates

    Video updates from our 2015 and 2016 Day School Educators Challenge grant recipients. 

    Tefilah Reimagined - Rabbi Michael Ribalt Guest Post

    Tefilah Reimagined - Rabbi Michael Ribalt Guest Post

    Guest blogger Rabbi Michael Ribalt discusses the three relationships to tefilah, including one’s relationship with Klal Yisrael through Halakha, one’s personal relationship with Hashem, and one’s relationship with “self.”

    The Holistic Student

    The Holistic Student

    Ultimately, caring about the holistic student necessitates prioritizing identity development over textual engagement.  While the two do not mutually exclude each other, the notion that Judaism bases its construct exclusively on text loses the core of community and the soul of the individual.

    A Conversation with Ruchel Green, HaKaveret Designer

    A Conversation with Ruchel Green, HaKaveret Designer

    HaKaveret Designer, Ruchel Green, is a teacher and technology specialist at the Silver Spring Learning Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. She brings an interesting perspective to the work group as the only designer working in early education.

    Jewish Literacy - Unfortunately, it's Not Enough

    Jewish Literacy - Unfortunately, it's Not Enough

    Recently, eJewishPhilanthropy published an article about Jewish literacy. We wanted to share this article because it underlines two JEIC focus points.

    1. Heads of School (or Principals) lead and shape culture at their school either by engagement or disengagement. In order to create a more engaging environment, the leaders need more God centered decision making, motivation, and tool sets.
    2. School leaders who value the primacy of a relationship with God will generate a culture with a vast vocabulary, deep self worth, and sensitivity to the Divine in this world.

    We encourage you to read the full article and share your thoughts