Learning about Learning

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Author: Sharon Feiman-Nemser

How Day School Teachers See Their Working Conditions, and Why This Matters

Research shows[1] that school contexts influence teachers’ career decisions and their effectiveness. From the mid-nineteen-seventies to the present, researchers have examined how the organizational contexts of schools support and constrain teachers and teaching. Based on extensive observations and interviews as well as large-scale surveys, a robust body of evidence challenges the belief that teachers’ career decisions and success are mainly related to the students they teach rather than the conditions under which they work.

We know, for example, that teachers who work in supportive schools stay longer and improve faster than teachers in less supportive schools. In supportive schools teachers can count on regular opportunities to collaborate with colleagues, receive feedback and instructional guidance from administrators, and experience an orderly school environment. This is especially true for beginning teachers who leave teaching at alarmingly high rates, often before they have a chance to grow into effective teachers. We know that principals play a critical role in creating these conditions.

So how do Jewish day schools stack up? Continue reading

How to Attract, Prepare and Keep Good Day School Teachers

JCDS-090 smlTeacher retention and effectiveness stem from a clear vision of good teaching, strong alignment between coursework and field experiences, a focus on subject matter preparation, and a year-long internship. That view is supported by a new report from the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education and funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, which finds that graduates of the DeLeT (Day School Leadership Through Teaching) Program at Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion feel well prepared for their responsibilities as day school teachers.

The report comes from the Longitudinal Survey of Day School Teachers, which has been tracking the careers of DeLeT alumni since 2007. Previous reports described graduates’ backgrounds and views of day school teaching, the factors influencing their decisions over time to stay in teaching or leave the classroom, and the opportunities and challenges they face in their schools.

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What We Can Learn from Finland

“If you want to live the American dream, move to Finland.”*

I recently had an opportunity to meet and talk with Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation at the Finnish Ministry of Education and author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland (New York: Teachers College Press, 2010). Finland outperforms other countries on international assessments of mathematics, science and reading, and educational leaders around the world are turning to Finland for insights about how to improve education in their own countries. According to Sahlberg, Finland got its vision from the U.S., but it is taking a very different path to get there.
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The Case for Combining Mentoring and Assessment for New Teachers

In this video from the Teachers College Record series “The Voice,” Mandel Center director Sharon Feiman-Nemser makes the case against the widely accepted view that the person who mentors and supports a new teacher should not be the person who evaluates him or her.

Click the image to be taken to the video.

Sharon Feiman-Nemser

“Not only is it possible,” she argues, “for mentors to combine the functions of assistance and assessment in their work with new teachers, but it’s impossible to separate these functions and take new teachers seriously as learners.” Drawing on her paper with Brian Yusko, “Embracing Contraries: Combining Assistance and Assessment in New Teacher Induction” [PDF], Professor Feiman-Nemser observes that “the person who works closely with the new teacher… is in a much better position to make a determination about that person’s potential for future success and growth.”

Studies IN Jewish Education: The Value of Practitioner Research

People often ask me how the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education got its name and what the name stands for.  In answering this question, I focus on two elements in our name — the noun “studies” and the preposition “in.”

I chose the phrase “studies in Jewish education” rather than “research in Jewish education” because I wanted to signal a broader set of scholarly activities than the word “research” typically suggests. We usually think of research as the province of academics with doctorates in some area of specialization.  In the field of education, however, practitioner research has gained new standing because of its potential to narrow the gap between theory and practice and contribute valuable “insider” perspectives on teaching and learning. Continue reading

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