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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recently, The Jewish Federation of North America released a report prepared by Rosov Consulting detailing the Challenges and Opportunities on the Jewish Day School Landscape.
The published findings provide a beautiful picture of what Jewish Day School is, [...] but those examples are not the primary reason of why it's important.
There are many positives and benefits to a Jewish education, but this blog article is not to highlight our successes. Consider this an acknowledgement of a couple areas that need improvement and use this as a resource to help identify areas where we can progress.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Education announced the top 342 schools for 2017, receiving the National Blue Ribbon Honor. One of our Day School Educators’ Challenge grant recipients, Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford, Connecticut received this honor - the only Jewish school in the country and the only private school in all of Connecticut to achieve this.
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.
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.
Video updates from our 2015 and 2016 Day School Educators Challenge grant recipients.
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.”
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.
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.
What do you find most enjoyable about working in Jewish education?
I think that Jewish day school education is one of the bed rocks of the Jewish community, and to be able to spend each day trying to make it better and more accessible is something I'm really lucky to be able to do.
In Rabbi Goldberg’s recent blog post, he argues that, contrary to popular belief, Rabbinics as a study does not require text; it actually begins with the youngest, pre-literate learners in the form of Jewish values, holidays and traditions. He posits that neglecting to acknowledge that these rituals and ideals come from rabbinic understandings and teaching them in a more deliberate manner is doing a disservice to these young students. I agree, and would expand upon that even further.
Chevy Chase, MD (November 30, 2017) - The Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC), sponsored in part by the Mayberg Foundation, is soliciting proposals to pilot innovative educational models in Jewish day schools. The objective is to identify and fund experimentation with new methodologies that foster and reward student effort and enthusiasm, teacher proficiency, and school effectiveness in creating the next generation of Jews.
Last month, we shared the exciting news about launching HaKaveret: JEIC Team Challenge. HaKaveret will convene a group of ten talented, creative and motivated individuals from around the country to form an innovation design team with a focus on creating a new vision in Jewish education.