Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why Are You a Judaic Studies Educator?

On a recent #Jedchat discussion educators were discussing whether grades hinder a students love of Judaism. Some educators questioned the purpose for grades altogether while others felt there still needed to be a win-win where grades were truly earned but didn't hinder a student's ultimate growth for love of Judaism. While I do believe in summative assessment grades of students demonstrating their mastery of skills or content learned, I was firm (and perhaps a tad too firm on #Jedchat!) in my view that we need to teach all students with an inspirational long term Jewish lens. You can educate students on skills and/or content on a particular Judaic subject but ultimately the goal is to instill a life-long love of Judaism. I went so far as to say perhaps on their report cards students should be graded on "Life-long love of Judaism."

As I was engaging in our #Jedchat discussion I started reflecting on a number of conversations I have had over the years from acquaintances to very close friends on their Judaic studies experiences (both positive and negative) as well as my own experiences as a student in Jewish schools. Those with positive experiences felt they connected well their teachers and were inspired to either further their Judaic learning or to play an active role in the Jewish community. A healthy chunk of those who had negative experiences expressed their disappointment on never having been shown the spirit or love of Judaism. Instead they felt their Judaic classes were simply taught either as any other academic subject or as Judaic material taught because "that's the way it's been done"without allowing a forum for students to question their learning or engage in deeper discussions. As someone who attended two different Jewish high schools and had polar opposite experiences I could appreciate both sides of the coin; The school I attended the last half of high school had a very positive impact on me because its' educators inspired me 'Jewishly' first and taught me second. The high school I attended in my early high school years simply taught me.

Whether you are fresh in your Judaic education field or you have been in the field for decades, I implore you- prior to creating your phenomenal lesson plans and units,  developing ways to differentiate your instruction, and before you work on assessments- first ask yourself these questions- "why am I in Jewish education? Why did I choose to devote my time, resources and energy to educating? Am I here to connect students to Judaic knowledge or skills? Or am I here to educate and connect through the knowledge and skills to inspire students to be lifelong Judaic learners and contributors to the Jewish community and Jewish world?" I ascribe to the latter view.

So what do you think? Why did you choose to be a Judaic Studies Educator?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Educators Educating Educators

I have read many articles (and tweets) on how professional development (will use the abbreviation "PD" moving forward) needs to be reformed so educators feel their time is being valued and come away with some truly new-found applicable knowledge. Suggestions have ranged from letting educators go to weekend conferences that are fun and educational to having educators educate their fellow peers on a subject they are passionate/knowledgeable about. I have heard of and experienced the former and have partook of the latter- but not necessarily as an officially built in component of a school's PD.

I recently had the opportunity to direct a PD session for educators on class management web tools. The difference between this time and other groups to whom I speak is I was sharing with educators I work with on a daily basis as a built in school PD session. Although I thought the PD session went well the big question was whether any of it was heard and would be put into practice. How pleasantly surprised was I when I received an e-mail the next school day from an educator attendee. Her e-mail started with: "Set it up last night and am using it for my third class already..." and ended with "Thank you soooo much!!!!!"

This is an example of how peer to peer PD works. One educator gained new knowledge from another educator and decided to put that knowledge to practice. And kudos to the school for making it happen. Don't get me wrong- I am not saying that schools should never bring in anyone from the outside or never send their educators to conferences. I am not saying that peer to peer is the be all end all; there are times when it won't work be it the presenter, the topic, or etc. What I am saying is when professional educators hear from and share with each other, they are inclined to listen to one another and seriously consider acting upon that knowledge. Why?  Because (in my opinion) the underlying message the peer presenter communicates is "I care about you and we both care about our students- let's help our students learn the best way they can."