Aizehu Ashir/ Who is Wealthy?... In a Classroom

Aizehu Ashir/ Who is Wealthy?... In a Classroom

Usually in a Judaic Studies classroom, a teacher might measure the success of a lesson based on the compliance of students or the ability of students to repeat back the information from class or a summary worksheet.  This evaluation method allows students to show progress and the teacher to feel the accomplishment of delivering material or skill development.

But imagine a different paradigm. Consider education as a form of engagement instead of a delivery of goods so that education requires intention and effort in addition to acquisition.

Celebrate Students' Potential by Balancing Mesorah and Our Modern World

Celebrate Students' Potential by Balancing Mesorah and Our Modern World

Take a look at the image above.  What do you see? Do you see children who are distracted, lazy, or perhaps even addicted?  If yes, you’re not alone. In fact, many parents and educators feel that our children are unable to balance the advantages of technology and that it does more harm than gain.  Many seek to blame our children for their reliance on technology and believe that the current generation is deteriorating and incapable.

To be honest, I strongly disagree with this perception and hope the rest of this article opens conversation, dialogue, and perhaps even debate so that educators will stop and think about technology’s implications in the world of chinuch now and in the future.  

The word mesorah, literally refers to that which is passed from one generation to the next.  Appreciating mesorah and celebrating the past does not, however, give us a license to scorn the present and future or blame our children which unfortunately, is a theme which has repeated itself for generations.

Unfortunately, a sizable number of adults -- across many generations -- have long viewed the future as bleak.  Many parents and grandparents remember their own childhood as the “golden days” and look down upon the current and next generation.  Celebrating past generations and recognizing their great contributions is essential, but not the issue here. We stand on the shoulders of those giants.  In Judaism we call this, mesorah.  The word mesorah, literally refers to that which is passed from one generation to the next.  Appreciating mesorah and celebrating the past does not, however, give us a license to scorn the present and future or blame our children which unfortunately, is a theme which has repeated itself for generations.

Socrates said, “Children today have detestable manners, flout authority, and have no respect for their elders. What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow up?”  In its July 1859 issue, Scientific American discouraged children playing chess because authorities felt it “robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements.”  In 1936, it was determined that children could not resist the “compelling excitement of the loudspeaker” and announcements at school and the radio, itself, were things that students could not overcome.

Unfortunately, this mindset has continued through time.  Technology has only increased the trend to blame our kids.

This picture is a perfect example:

Rembrandt.jpg

When this picture went viral, social media blew up blaming kids for their obsession with their iPhones. Herein lies the issue. While at first glance it seems the observer of this scene is correct, the real details place it in an opposite light.

In the back of the scene is the famous Rembrandt painting, The Night Watch, and this group of students had just observed and discussed the painting.  In the past, the field trip would have ended there. If the teacher was more creatively inclined, a follow up lesson would have taken place, but ultimately the painting would slowly drift into the recesses of the students’ memories. However, in this photo, after analyzing the painting in real life, the students were asked to begin researching Rembrandt’s art in totality.  Through the use of the museum’s app, the students were able to research more about Rembrandt’s life and works of art to compare, contrast, and critically review the famous work they had just discovered and seen live. At a young age these children were able to think, discover independently, and work collaboratively to deepen their knowledge. This was because of technology, not despite it.

This is only one example.

We need to embrace these gifts and reflect on our pedagogical approaches and educational philosophies to maximize and deepen our students learning so that they can soar to new heights while partnering with G-d in creating a world we could have never imagined.

We are living in an incredible time.  The average person holding a cell phone has access to more information than entire generations of people who lived long ago.  Our children are learning in ways never before possible.  Augmented reality, Coding, Robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality, the list goes on and on!  We need to embrace these gifts and reflect on our pedagogical approaches and educational philosophies to maximize and deepen our students learning so that they can soar to new heights while partnering with G-d in creating a world we could have never imagined.

Can children be challenging and lack etiquette at times? Yes, it’s part of the learning curve as they grow up and make mistakes. Can technology be addictive?  Yes, we believe the research. But, this should not blind us from seeing the blessing in the current generation.  Let’s train our students and ourselves how to use these beautiful G-d-given gifts of knowledge, innovation, and technology in a positive way.  Let’s guide our students and teach them how to avoid the pitfalls of technology. And most importantly, let's stop blaming and start celebrating their potential!

Rabbi Zachary Swigard is the Interim Principal and Director of Judaic Studies for Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy’s Middle School. He is a strong advocate for 21st century Judaic Studies education and collaboration; and his Twitter chat, #jschat, provides him with the opportunity to collaborate with Jewish educators all over the world. 

Looking to Create Successful Tefillah Experiences? All Roads Point to Intrinsic Motivation

Looking to Create Successful Tefillah Experiences? All Roads Point to Intrinsic Motivation

It’s been almost 20 years since I sat in a Lookstein professional development seminar in Israel with a diverse group of Jewish day school colleagues, sharing about our common woes. Dress code violations and tefillah seem to transcend school denomination, size and family wealth. While dress code occupies an interesting place in school policy discussion, tefillah gets a lot of attention in the wider Jewish day school world.  In the last few years, a wide range of inspired teachers have reached out to JEIC about eight different tefillah programs, and at least three other new programs have been published since 2016. These numbers do not even include the countless other schools attempting to create a regular and effective tefillah program that students will embrace.

Ironically, what vexes the field about tefillah, I believe, also points to its future success.

Change and Transition are Not the Same Thing In Educational Innovation

Change and Transition are Not the Same Thing In Educational Innovation

When an organization is facing a big change - the arrival of a new leader, a shift in strategy, rapid growth (or decline) - one often hears the well-worn reminder that “change is not an event, it is a process.”  Well-intended advice, perhaps, but not helpful.  It is not helpful because when change is at hand, hard work is needed, not sage advice.  It is not helpful because with all new pressures, we have to focus on the work, not words.

And it is not helpful, most precisely, because it is not true. 

Does More Become Less?

Does More Become Less?

After six months of full time work with JEIC I’m still seeing things with “newbie” eyes. One observation that stands out to me is what appears to be a replication of effort among many precincts, all of which share the cause of improving Jewish day school education. Many of us seem to be simultaneously re-inventing the wheel. Perhaps this is part of what The AVI CHAI Foundation recognized when they approached the various Jewish day school networks to propose the umbrella organization, which has since developed into Prizmah.

Below are three examples from the many I have recently encountered of what may exemplify a less efficient use of resources:

ICYMI: Top 8 JEIC Blog Posts in 2018

ICYMI: Top 8 JEIC Blog Posts in 2018

JEIC is grateful that many experienced, knowledgeable authors contribute to our blog with compelling articles on educational innovation, change, and excellence in Jewish day schools.

We encourage you to peruse through our blog for the content that is most relevant to you. These are the 8 most read links on our blog in 2018:

Rays of Light: 8 Principles Characterizing Stronger Day Schools

Rays of Light: 8 Principles Characterizing Stronger Day Schools

The darkness of our times feels particularly difficult for me.  Gratefully, Hanukkah this year reminded me that even one small light can brighten a relatively big space and more significantly, one small light (the shamash) can extend its power.  

In an era when there is much justified conversation about the fragility of day schools, it is easy to succumb to the dark conversations about our future.  I, however, prefer to see the rays of light, the schools whose trailblazing initiatives illuminate the larger field and serve as models from which we can learn.  In my visits to these schools and conversations with their professional and lay leaders, eight principles emerge that characterize stronger schools, often defying demographic odds:  

Three Common Factors Fueling Schools’ Resistance to Change

Three Common Factors Fueling Schools’ Resistance to Change

Heraclitus, a 5th Century BCE Greek philosopher has been quoted as saying, “The only constant is change.” Conversely, an early 20th Century executive at 20th Century Fox averred that “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Even in modern times the CEO of Microsoft expressed disbelief in the constant nature of change. He once remarked, “There’s no chance that (Apple’s) iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

I think we can all agree that nothing stays the same. Given that, the inevitability of change should apply to educational principles, as well. Why, then, are some Jewish Day Schools so resistant to incorporating change into their approaches to curriculum, pedagogy, and human development (especially social-emotional learning)?

Driving Innovation in Jewish Education: Believe in Your Turning Radius

Driving Innovation in Jewish Education: Believe in Your Turning Radius

An 18-wheeler makes a U-turn on Flatbush Avenue. That’s not a setup to a joke; I watched it with my own two eyes. Based on what you might know about big trucks and Brooklyn, you may realize that this seems like an insurmountable task and incredibly daring. Clearly, this turn was necessary for the driver’s destination. Why else would someone attempt this? Ultimately, even with hundreds of honking cars and onlookers, the driver successfully rerouted the truck -- with a carefully managed maneuver that didn’t even need a do-over. The driver knew what he needed to do to be successful; clearly he received ample training and had great experience on the road.  

How fitting to watch such a memorable turn in direction happen when I was traveling to visit a number of excellent, student-centered schools, who are rerouting the field of Jewish day school education.

Measured, Not Mindless Innovation

Measured, Not Mindless Innovation

There is a frenetic pace that has taken over Jewish education, and education in general. Maybe this is a result of the flood of offerings on social media promoting how to be a #betterschool or the latest technology you must have to be #cuttingedge. Perhaps it comes from a feeling that in order to retain and attract students schools can’t stop moving, training, improving, innovating. This is overwhelming educators and is having a ripple effect into all aspects of Jewish Day Schools. We are losing talented teachers and school leaders who want to keep up, but the speed at which things move may be too fast for even the most dedicated educators.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that training or improving or innovating are bad. In fact, they are a must if we want our children to excel and be engaged citizens who see the world through a Jewish lens. Our students need exposure to a variety of disciplines and skills, and they need to master them. However, what I have felt, seen and heard is a growing grumbling from teachers and leaders alike who are grabbing at the next best thing that is just out of reach. Whether it’s a 3-D printer, a new STEM lab, the latest coding software, SEL curriculum, personalized learning – schools can’t stop figuring out what they are missing. But, perhaps, they are missing the point of day school education in the first place.

It's All About Trust: 6 Tips for Boosting Buy-In with Change Initiatives

It's All About Trust: 6 Tips for Boosting Buy-In with Change Initiatives

The trust-fall — it’s the quintessential team-building go-to game. I love feeling exhilarated and terrified all at once! The key to its success is obvious; you must trust that people will actually deliver on their promise to catch you. It’s not enough just to hear, “We’ve got your back; we won’t let you fall.” Action transforms a promise into proven trustworthiness.

Trust in school leadership is important to productivity, innovation, loyalty, positive morale, and more. There is no shortage of research and opinion pieces citing the ways leaders can earn trust. Clarity, consistency, contribution, compassion, and other traits that don’t begin with a C are essential for building leadership trust.

A slightly interesting twist in the trust game surfaces in a recent article about trust in leadership in the Harvard Business Review by Holly Henderson Brower, et al. “Trust begets trust,” the article’s authors noted. To build trust FROM others, leaders need to show trust IN others.

Modeling the Joy of Judaism

Modeling the Joy of Judaism

The month of Tishrei is filled with Jewish holiday commemorations and celebrations, with all that goes with them. We begin with preparations for Rosh Hashana; hearing the shofar blasts before and during the holidays, making sure our holiday finery--whether white or colorful--is ready, and assuring that our meals with family and friends are fully planned and outstanding with all the attendant necessities: the round challot with honey, the apple, the new fruit. We continue with Yom Kippur, beating our chests, crying [if you are like me] over our distanced relationship from God and from others, and vowing to ourselves to do better in the coming year. Then we embrace Sukkot with all of its pageantry: the Sukkah, the lulav and etrog, and the dancing to celebrate completing another cycle of Torah reading on Simchat Torah.

Most of our schools provide both intellectual and experiential lessons for the students; as much as can be done with the Tishrei holidays so early in the school year. The children complete all sorts of projects on holiday paraphernalia. They learn about the reasons for and the rituals connected with each holiday, and they practice those rituals in a hopefully spiritual environment in school.

Are these school activities sufficient for inspiring our children to develop an enduring connection to their Judaism? They are single activities, each limited to a specific episode. How can something enduring emanate from a one-hour experience? Obviously, the atmosphere at Jewish schools should be saturated with Jewish values, practices, and life experiences, but is that enough?

Jewish Educators:  The Heart, Mind and Soul of Jewish Education

Jewish Educators: The Heart, Mind and Soul of Jewish Education

Jewish education is the most important gift we give our children and our communities. This is not because Jewish education supports continuity. Judaism, a religion of growth, of personal evolution, forward movement, Tikun Olam, must grow students, not so they can mirror the present, but so that they can shape the future.  We should not be satisfied with an educational system that merely holds the line or allows continuation of Judaism as we know it.  Jewish education is the key to fulfilled Jewish learning and living that builds beyond where we are now.  It is the most powerful guarantee of a generation that will advance Jewish life and help advance the world in important ways.

The Most Essential Part of a Jewish Education Isn’t What You Think

The Most Essential Part of a Jewish Education Isn’t What You Think

In the 1990’s and 2000’s, Judaic teaching capitalized on newer approaches to curricular scope and sequence (spiralling up), giving way to the development of proven pedagogic approaches for skill-building over the last 10 to 15 years. While we can appreciate and lean on the merits of that effort, it is a misplaced focus. When it comes to Judaic Studies, the most important aspects of pedagogy teachers should embrace are those associated with motivational pedagogy. Whether or not a child wishes to engage in the wisdom of our thoughtful lessons after the school day ends impacts more than our job performance. It is the very reason we perform our jobs.

We all should aspire to create a setting where Jewish students want to learn Judaic Studies when they aren’t in the classroom. We know that the depth and power of our tradition can guide, inspire, and influence their lives in positive ways.

Founding a Day School by Turning Values into Action

Founding a Day School by Turning Values into Action

My commitment to Jewish education drives my work, my philanthropy, and my passions. Among my proudest efforts was helping to create the Jewish Community Day School of Greater Boston (JCDS) over two decades ago.  The school’s founding was rooted in core values that were surfaced from visioning exercises and conversations among a committed and passionate group of day school parents.

We began with “artifacts” (as defined by Edgar Schein), reacting in some ways to what we didn’t want and then flipping the lens from complaining to envisioning. In fact, at an early convening, we set rules giving everyone two uninterrupted minutes to speak with a limited time for complaints and a request to focus most of their time to describe the ideal. We recorded everything we heard; we clarified with each person the essence of what they shared. We asked everyone to listen deeply to each other and got a sense of the varying perspectives in the room. It was a long night. There were over 100 people in the room.

Of Grades and Judaic Studies 2: Syncing the Ecosystem

Of Grades and Judaic Studies 2: Syncing the Ecosystem

Culture change takes times, especially when accompanied by practical systems and structures that need to change.  People set emotional and habitual dependencies within patterns of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration which has worked well enough to be considered valid.  To wit, our world could not make an instantaneous shift to alternative fuels despite the benefits. Among the many necessary transitions, first on many people’s mind would be to solve “How would all the current gasoline based cars on the road run?” So, too, for schools pursuing change.

When a school considers a new system for reporting student learning in Judaic Studies that does not use traditional grading as the barometer for success, one may see this as the domain of the professionals alone to make. The movement toward an unfamiliar definition of accomplishment, despite the overwhelming benefits, requires not only buy-in, but support from all groups in the Jewish Day School Ecosystem.

OP-ED: Of Grades and Judaics – Responding to the Call to “Pursue Distinction”

OP-ED: Of Grades and Judaics – Responding to the Call to “Pursue Distinction”

In "Of Grades and Judaics - Responding to the Call to 'Pursue Distinction,'" featured in EJewishPhilanthropy, Rabbi Feld ups the ante on a conversation that is no longer the elephant in the classroom...

Read his case for why traditional grading in Judaics is counter to our timeless system of Torah education and his observations gleaned from JEIC's work to help schools and teachers produce Judaics classes without grades.