Learning about Learning

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

Tag: teacher preparation (page 1 of 5)

Talking about Race in Jewish Day Schools

Due to a last-minute conflict, Yavilah McCoy of Dimensions Educational Consulting was unable to attend the recent Mandel Center conference, Inside Jewish Day Schools. Instead, she graciously pre-recorded this stirring framing statement for our panel entitled  “Embracing Diversity, Teaching Equity: Race and Ethnicity in Jewish Day Schools,” providing a context and a rationale for centering race and ethnicity in our conversations about teaching and learning and school culture in yeshivas and Jewish day schools.

 

 

 

Continued Reflections from IJDS Conference: Creative Tensions Around Pluralism

by Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Ph.D.

“Rabbi Lev, how come we have to go to Shaharit services?  It’s a pluralistic day school!”
“Rabbi Lev, why can girls wear leggings, but the boys have to wear khakis?  It’s a pluralistic school!”
“Why do boys have to wear a kippa in Jewish studies classes?  Can’t it be optional?  Isn’t this a pluralistic school?”
“Shouldn’t we be hearing more from the pro-Israel community?”
“Why don’t we hear more from the left?”

Attending this conference, Inside Jewish Day Schools, brought a welcome immersion in Jewish day school dilemmas, tensions, successes, and questions, some of which greet me every morning when I walk into my classroom.  Participants came to the conference from universities, professional training programs, and from classrooms and administrative wings of Jewish day schools throughout the country. Each session provided opportunities to hear about research and practice; to question whose voices are loudest; and to consider whose voices from among our many stakeholders might go unheard and stay silent at any given moment.

As the Director of Jewish Studies at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in the Philadelphia area, I oversee the Jewish studies curriculum and Jewish life at our 6th-12th grade pluralistic school, and each day brings questions that call us to take seriously our commitment to pluralism:

Should we emphasize depth or breadth?

Should we continue to emphasize the teaching of Jewish texts in the original Hebrew or should we provide more materials in translation?

When our students say that they love our school because it feels like camp, should we take them seriously and loosen up a little?

Alternatively, when our teachers say that they wish our Jewish studies classes were more like AP Chem, because then our students will take our classes more seriously, should we take them seriously and toughen up a little?

A single conference can’t answer every question, but it certainly validated that my colleagues and I at Barrack Hebrew Academy are not at all alone in wrestling with these questions.

Continue reading

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

Passion in Religious Education

Do we need to cultivate the inner spiritual life of our Jewish educators, as Aryeh Ben David claims? Certainly we do. But as Ziva Reimer Hassenfeld has argued in response, based on recent empirical research at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis, many teachers already bring a passion for Judaism to their teaching. Passion is not enough. What those teachers need, she continues, is “the professional development necessary to foster skilled, reflective practitioners.”

I agree with Ziva’s argument, but I’ve also been thinking recently about another aspect of the issue. Sometimes passion is not enough—but sometimes it is too much. When a teacher demonstrates passion, when a class seems to get drawn into a focus on the teacher’s persona, does that inevitably threaten the boundaries between teacher and student? Does it interfere with learning? Is it simply too dangerous? Continue reading

Great Teaching Takes More Than a Great Jewish Journey

By Ziva R. Hassenfeld

Many believe that being a great Jewish educator is, above all, about being a passionate and spiritual Jew. But decades of education research have shown that good teachers are made, not born.  Ultimately, an inspiring Jewish journey can only take an educator so far.  The best Jewish educators need to have deep knowledge of how to teach as well.

Aryeh Bendavid recently argued that without the “white fire” of a teacher’s spiritual journey, the “black fire” of Jewish learning lacks intensity. This notion of teaching and Jewish studies teachers is what Jewish education scholar Alex Pomson called “the teacher as Rebbe, the oldest and most powerful archetype of Jewish teaching.”[1] Bendavid concludes by arguing that professional development for Jewish educators should focus on cultivating their inner spiritual life.

But in research that I’ve conducted at the Mandel Center, I’ve found that Jewish studies teachers from across the Jewish educational landscape already place a high priority on their own spiritual life as a key factor for success as Jewish educators. One teacher told me, “Either you’re a teacher who’s living by this stuff, or, at the very least, you have some connection to this stuff. That’s why you’re teaching this.” He paused and concluded, “My passion for Judaism just innately comes through when I’m teaching.”

To be sure, powerful role models are a key ingredient for successful Jewish education. But being a good teacher requires much more. Continue reading

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