Today, Jon A. Levisohn, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Educational Thought at Brandeis, becomes the Mandel Center’s second director. Founding director Sharon Feiman-Nemser will continue at the center as senior scholar and continue to teach at Brandeis. In honor of the occasion we offer these thoughts from Jon about the Center’s future direction.
What is the biggest challenge facing Jewish education today? And how can we address that challenge and contribute to a thriving, vibrant Jewish community? We’ve been thinking about these strategic questions over the last eighteen months or so. As we planned for our leadership transition, we knew that we wanted to take advantage of this moment to clarify what we want the Center to be and do.
Our answer to the first question, about the biggest challenge facing Jewish education, is this: We believe that Jewish educators, policy makers, lay leaders, and curriculum and program designers are flying blind.
What does this mean?
The Mandel Foundation, in partnership with Brandeis, established the Mandel Center in 2002 as an expression of the Foundation’s commitment to the importance of research in Jewish education. Research is not valuable for its own sake. Rather, research helps to build a knowledge base for teaching and learning in diverse Jewish educational settings. Rarely does research tell us “what works.” Rarely does research tell us, definitively, where to invest and where not to invest. But good research – disciplined inquiry based on systematic analysis of evidence and rigorous construction of arguments – helps us to understand practice better, provides us with powerful ideas to guide practice, and generates images and language and tools that can strengthen the work of practitioners.
How do we build the field of research in Jewish education? Continue reading
Morton Mandel and Sharon Feiman-Nemser at the Mandel Center’s 10th Anniversary Celebration
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The future of Jewish educational leadership will depend on creating environments where professionals can continue to learn and grow, according to Rabbi Marc Baker, head of school at Gann Academy in Waltham, who spoke recently at the 10th anniversary colloquium and celebration of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education.
Educators should be able to work in “environments where learning is part of the work: learning the craft of teaching, learning the basic skills of running an organization, and deep, meaningful compelling Jewish learning,” Baker said. “If we’re not actively constructing our own Jewish identities and living engaged Jewish lives, there is no way we’ll be able to transmit it to the next generation we’re trying to inspire.”
This story is reprinted from Brandeis NOW.
Four new books by Brandeis faculty members offer insights resulting from many years of research into questions about what really happens between teachers and learners in classrooms. At a recent book party, Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Vivian Troen of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education and Helen Featherstone and Susan Jean Mayer of the Education Program shared some highlights from their latest works with an enthusiastic audience of faculty members, staff, students and friends.
Moderator Marya Levenson, director of the Education Program, said the books “provide depth and understanding. We need to talk about what teaching is, and what we need to do to support teacher development.” Continue reading
The Mandel Center is committed to research in Jewish education. Our mission statement refers to “advancing knowledge,” but how do we advance knowledge in Jewish education?
At the Mandel Center, some of the research that we do is traditional scholarly work, carried out by the well-trained academic researchers on our staff. Other inquiries are carried out by practitioners who have both close familiarity with and intense curiosity about some aspect of their practice. These studies of practice by practitioners, when done well, can provide powerful insights and images for the field.
But what do these models of research look like? In this short video, you’ll meet a talented elementary day school teacher, who researched her practice in order to develop a webcase, and a well-respected congregational rabbi, who participated in a project in which he researched his practice in order to produce an article (to be published in a forthcoming volume).
As Mandel Center Director Sharon Feiman-Nemser says, “Enabling practitioners to study their work in a systematic way, and to share what they’re learning with a wider audience, is one of the ways that we can tap the expertise of talented teachers and other practitioners, and benefit from their knowledge and their experience.” If we want to add to the knowledge base on teaching and learning in Jewish education, we need to take advantage of the insightful inquiries of those who know the most about it.
What do other models of practitioner research look like? What are some other effective ways to tap the expertise of skillful practitioners?
More on webcases
More on practitioner research
More Mandel Center videos