Deborah Fishman

Mar 192018

Are your students becoming excited for the Passover break? How much more excited would they be if after the Passover break they were going on a school trip to Israel!

This is what happens for students at Gesher JDS in DC, as documented in the case study “Getting Ready to Fly,” which can be accessed here on the AVI CHAI site. It is part of the case studies project released by AVI CHAI in 2015, “How Schools Enact Their Jewish Missions: 20 Case Studies of Jewish Day Schools.”

This case study may be resonant and relevant if you are thinking about your school’s Israel education, and how an Israel trip may serve to catalyze the curriculum and unite the school. At Gesher, and, as found by AVI CHAI research , at many day schools across the country, Israel provides the glue holding people together. Jewish identity appears anchored in the relationship to Israel. How true is that at your school?

Here are some other questions that the case study might elicit for you, about this school and about your own, for discussion by your school leadership, board, and other stakeholders:

  • What do you think of the way in which the school presents Israel? What do you think are the core messages and values about Israel that the school seeks to convey?
  • What constellation of stakeholders coalesces at Gesher to make the school’s vision of Israel come to fruition?
  • For all of its planfulness and creativity in providing students with an experience of Israel education, educators in the school feel that they could do still better in these matters. What examples do you find in this case of opportunities missed and of opportunities seized when it comes to Israel education?
  • How do you think these students will feel about Gesher and about Israel five to ten years down the road?

We encourage you to read the full case study here and share it with your schools stakeholders.

Shine a Light on: Jewish Day Schools as Communal Hubs

 Posted by on December 19, 2017 at 2:38 pm  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 192017

Since Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, we wanted to shine a light on some bright spots we are seeing in the Jewish day school field. It is our hope that each day of Chanukah will grow even brighter as you learn about these bright spots and consider your work in a new light.

Shine a Light on: Jewish Day Schools as Communal Hubs

Speaking of bright spots… Jewish day schools ensure a shining Jewish future by nurturing and teaching the next generation Jewish traditions, texts, and a sense of peoplehood. But day schools also act as communal resources for parent and family engagement, and as a purveyor of innovative approaches to Jewish learning. Let’s look at some creative ways Jewish day schools are becoming beacons of light in their communities.

Day School Programming Bringing in Parents

This Chanukah was made brighter by the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto’s STEAM Night, which brought parents and students into the school to celebrate STEAM learning and Chanukah. Rather than tell about the evening, here is a video showing this mode of engaging the community:

The idea was spearheaded by Lee-Ron Kaye, Vice Principal at the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto. Lee-Ron says STEAM Night was sparked by her participation in the AVI CHAI Harvard program, where her year-long change initiative was creating a faith-based makerspace – a creative, DIY space where students can gather to create, invent, and learn – and her involvement in the JDS Collaborative group STEAM in the Chagim. “I truly feel inspired by my Harvard learning and being able to continue to connect with my cohort and be a part of the JDS Collaborative,” she explained.

At Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago, a program for every grade level invites parents to take part in Jewish learning with their children. For instance, the upcoming second grade “chagigat ha’nilmad’ has a theme of Tu B’Shevat. Using a station-rotation model, parents and kids will rotate through a station on water use in Israel, one on recycling, one on making nature friendly to people with disabilities (through Project LOTEM), and one on technology involving a green screen creating the illusion that families are planting trees together in Israel.

“Parents seem to enjoy brief encounters that give them a taste of what and how their kids learn, while learning new things themselves,” said Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning at the school. Way to grow the light!

PJ Library Day School Engagement and Enrollment Initiative (DSEE)

A partnership with PJ Library provides another bright way day schools can offer communal engagement opportunities.

At the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ one Sunday last month, the school was transformed into a STEM Extravaganza. Partnering with PJ Library Greater MetroWest NJ and with Genius Gems, a STEM-based play space for children and adults featuring thousands of magnetic tiles, Golda Och provided parents and children alike with the opportunity to enjoy STEM-building activities and rotate through four stations in their Dr. Lynne B. Harrison STEM Center. Participants made electric birthday candles, learned coding through a fun app, used LEDs to make light-up pins, and saw the laser cutter in action! The event wrapped up with a snack and story time featuring a PJ Library book about Albert Einstein. Participants went home with a great handout with Jewish/STEM-related activities that can be done at home, produced in coordination with the school science teacher.

The DSEE initiative provides matching grants and professional development to day schools and their local PJ Library chapter to run Jewish engagement programs for young families. The goals are to bring new families into the orbit of the school to ultimately increase enrollment and create engagement hubs for the broader Jewish community at day schools. DSEE is a partnership between Prizmah, PJ Library (The Harold Grinspoon Foundation) and AVI CHAI.

Learn more about the PJ Library Day School Engagement initiative here.

Dec 182017

Since Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, we wanted to shine a light on some bright spots we are seeing in the Jewish day school field. It is our hope that each day of Chanukah will grow even brighter as you learn about these bright spots and consider your work in a new light.

Shine a Light on: Bringing Personalized Learning into the Classroom

Personalized learning seeks to accelerate student learning and enthusiasm by tailoring the instructional environment – what, when, how and where students learn – to address the individual needs, skills and interests of each student. Students are encouraged and supported to take ownership of their own learning, while also developing deep connections with one another, their teachers and other adults. The use of technology alongside face-to-face instruction, otherwise known as blended learning, is a powerful tool for personalized learning. AVI CHAI has been investing in developing personalized learning in Jewish day schools.

Inside The Moriah School

As one example of personalized learning in a day school context, watch this video about The Moriah School in Englewood, NJ and its participation in the BOLD Day Schools program.

Learn more about The Moriah School here.

Dec 152017

Since Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, we wanted to shine a light on some bright spots we are seeing in the Jewish day school field. It is our hope that each day of Chanukah will grow even brighter as you learn about these bright spots and consider your work in a new light.

Shine a Light on: Applying Learning from Outside the Jewish Context

Sometimes it can feel like the Jewish day school environment is completely one-of-a-kind – and it is, in many ways! But it turns out that lessons learned and ideas developed outside of the Jewish context can still be leveraged for the benefit of the Jewish day school system. Let’s learn about two bright spots in the field where this has occurred.

 “The Jewish Community Can Benefit from That”:  Jewish New Teacher Project

That’s Nina Bruder – she’s the head of the Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP). JNTP is the Jewish day school branch of a national secular nonprofit organization that works with teachers in the early stages of their careers in the nation’s public schools. Using a mentoring methodology, the New Teacher Center works to improve new teacher effectiveness and retention.  As Nina explains in the video, “JNTP is unique because of the partnership between the Jewish community funder and the secular provider to create this interplay between the expertise of a much larger, $40 million national organization with a very strong R&D department and research department, and the Jewish community can benefit from that… It really has been very special to be part of a national gold star organization in the secular realm, and to bring the best of their work into the Jewish community.”

This is a clear example of taking a development from outside the Jewish world and bringing that expertise into the day school context – and new teachers who are sticking with careers in their schools due to the mentorship support they are gaining through JNTP are strengthening the field because of it.

The Principals’ Center – Harvard University

Who doesn’t want a Harvard pedigree? In the summer, the Principals’ Center at Harvard offers two one-week institutes for principals and aspiring principals to enhance their ability to improve the quality of their schools. AVI CHAI saw the opportunity to take Jewish day school leaders to benefit from these resources external to our community, but absolutely applicable to improve our schools as well. For 18 years, AVI CHAI has funded Jewish day school leaders to attend these Harvard institutes.

Over time, in addition to simply funding attendance at the institutes, AVI CHAI has developed a year-long program structured around them. This program helps day school leaders work to improve their students’ learning and Jewish experiences and prioritize their own professional growth year-round. It includes some pre-institute work; additional evening sessions during the Institute to apply the day’s learning to the day school context; and follow-up during the following academic year, including executing a significant Jewish mission/vision project at school. Additional sessions and project management support is provided by Educannon Consulting.

Learn more about JNTP here and about Harvard Summer Institutes here.

Dec 142017

Since Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, we wanted to shine a light on some bright spots we are seeing in the Jewish day school field. It is our hope that each day of Chanukah will grow even brighter as you learn about these bright spots and consider your work in a new light.

Shine a Light on: Collaboration: Teachers Working with Teachers

Whereas day school leaders often have access to conferences and peer networks, teachers have less opportunities for outside support and inspiration. One exciting new idea is to break down what at times feel like isolating classroom walls and provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate – within schools and across schools.

 “Improving the overall outcome”: The JDS Collaborative

Tashlich set up at Solomon Schechter of Metropolitan Chicago

Tashlich set up at Solomon Schechter of Metropolitan Chicago

Suzanne Mishkin, K-4 Director at the Solomon Schechter of Metropolitan Chicago, had a challenge. The school had started a new initiative called JSTEAM, which incorporates Jewish learning with STEAM education. But, they weren’t sure about how to make the program more effective and meaningful or how to take it to the next level.

She contacted Alanna Kotler at the JDS Collaborative to see if other schools were grappling with similar issues. Alanna told her about a cross-school Collaborative-managed project with the goal of developing and curating STEAM initiatives about the chagim. It was just what Suzanne was looking for. She joined the project and learned from other educators about things they were trying in their schools. The Heschel School in California, for example, had created a tashlich pool for its whole school to use; first and fifth grade students worked together to create a motor and system for the pool, which recycled its own water. As a result of learning about this from the Heschel teachers, Suzanne adapted it to meet the needs of Chicago Schechter. She developed a whole-school project integrating arts into creating a tashlich pool, designed as a Jewish star using different amounts of water and color. The school used this pool to teach the laws of tashlich. Susanne’s participation in the Collaborative helped her develop new thinking, adapt others’ creative ideas to her school’s context, and ultimately helped her take the JSTEAM initiative school-wide.

If you are a Jewish day school teacher or leader with a burning challenge or a new opportunity related to your school’s Jewish mission, you might consider getting involved with the JDS Collaborative. Utilizing networked techniques, the Collaborative connects at least three schools that share a common set of goals. Then, it provides project management and access to outside expertise to help the team of educators and leaders from those schools see the project through to completion. This way each school can solve its unique challenges, using collective resources.

A project of Prizmah, the Collaborative is managed by Educannon Consulting, which is headed by Jonathan Cannon. As Jonathan explained at a recent meeting about the unique approach and success of the JDS Collaborative, “Groups of teachers who are collaborating on the outcome will increase the efficacy of the outcome.  Teachers don’t have the opportunity to work with teachers from other schools, so there is excitement there and it improves the overall outcome.”

iNfuse: Israel at the Heart of Jewish Day Schools

Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton, FL had an “AHA moment” while participating in the iNfuse program, an iCenter program which aligns Israel education across a school’s curriculum and with its mission and goals. Some of the first steps of the iNfuse process include teachers all sharing their curriculum and programs relating to Israel education through staff meetings and other opportunities for dialogue. During this process, teachers and administrators at Donna Klein suddenly recognized that their Israel trip was being planned by the provider in Israel and not according to their educational needs or vision. Moreover, they realized that they were not connecting the children to contemporary Israel, even though it was part of their vision.  As one outcome of these discoveries, the school created a course that focused on the diverse ethnic groups in Israel and used their music, food and other aspects of their culture to introduce the students to the diversity of groups in Israel.

Through such initiatives, the collaborative process to decide how to “iNfuse” Israel education throughout the school creates more coherence and depth across all aspects of school learning. Along the way, participating schools have access to a mentor, as well as other iCenter tools to support teachers to design and implement learning experiences aligned with the vision created during the initial visioning process. In doing so, iNfuse provides a framework to engage students, educators and the greater school community in building personal connections to Israel and to the Israeli people.

Now that’s a way to take us all to our Promised Land!

In what ways does (or could) collaboration happen between teachers at your school?

Learn more about the JDS Collaborative here and about iNfuse here.

Shine a Light on: Cross-School Learning

 Posted by on December 13, 2017 at 1:26 pm  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 132017

Happy Chanukah!

Since Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, we wanted to shine a light on some bright spots we are seeing in the Jewish day school field. It is our hope that each day of Chanukah will grow even brighter as you learn about these bright spots and consider your work in a new light.

Shine a Light on: Cross-School Learning

Let’s start with something that can bring us all together. Learning taking place between educators and leaders at schools from different streams is an important aspect of several exciting developments in the Jewish day school field. Here is a look at two of them.

“Unique and oftentimes historic”: The Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute

Formerly and affectionately known as the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project, The Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute works with schools from diverse streams to promote a standards-based approach to the study of Tanakh and Rabbinics. Operating under the auspices of the Davidson School at JTS, the program launched in 2003 to help day school develop Tanakh curriculum aligned with their school’s vision. More recently, Rabbinics standards and benchmarks were developed through a unique, collaborative process tapping 16 partner schools that committed time, resources and faculty expertise to the writing process. They were joined at two writing workshops by scholars from across the denominations to determine the most important goals for learning rabbinic texts and make those goals accessible through specific benchmarks and performance assessments.

Here is what Rabbi Sheryl Katzman, Leader of the Rabbinics Initiative of the project, said about the experience of cross-denominational learning as part of this process:

“All last year, 2015-2016, we brought together teachers and scholars from across North America, representing schools and institutions of all denominations, serving students K-12 and even beyond.  We gathered three times in New York at JTS to create the standards and benchmarks.  I don’t want to lose sight of what it felt like, the significance of gathering people from this wide spectrum of denominations of the Jewish community to learn and create something together.  It felt unique and oftentimes historic.”

That is a pretty powerful feeling! Luckily for the field, it is happening in other places too, such as…

The Prizmah Conference, and Prizmah in General!

Last February, Prizmah, the new central address for Jewish day schools, staged an impressive gathering of more than 1000 stakeholders in Jewish education. The conference featured constellations of learning that enabled attendees to choose their own learning adventure through an almost overwhelming array of sessions. Beit Midrash sessions enabled learning together on topics including: “Character Traits for a Complex World,” “Approaching Talmud Study: for Beginners and Scholars,” and “Jewish Textual Responses to Healing.”

The creation of Prizmah itself was a historic process bringing together all streams of day schools into one organization serving the entire field. Now, Prizmah offers enticing opportunities such as Reshet networking groups centered around different topics of interest, as well as leadership development, fundraising and governance, and recruitment and retention programs which bring leaders from across denominations to learn and tackle challenges together. With the field working together in this way, new possibilities are unleashed – including in the realm of learning from and with schools with a diversity of perspectives.

Learn more about the Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute here, and Prizmah here.

Jul 122017

This summer, AVI CHAI is once again sponsoring Jewish day school leaders to participate in the Art of Leadership (AOL) and Leadership: An Evolving Vision (LEV) programs of the Principals’ Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


AOL participants completed the program the week of June 26, and LEV is taking place this week. A total of 36 leaders from across the US and Canada were chosen for the two cohorts.

In addition to learning from educational experts throughthe Harvard program, AVI CHAI participants benefit from being a part of the cohort specifically of Jewish day school leaders. Jonathan Cannon and Alanna Kotler from Educannon Consulting are facilitating evening sessions where leaders process the general learning and its application to the Jewish day school setting, with its particular challenges and opportunities. Each AVI CHAI participant also embarks on a project at his or her day school which will apply Harvard learning to some aspect of the school’s Judaic mission.

In this clip, Lee-Ron Kaye of the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto discusses her impressions of her time at the AOL program:

Follow @AVICHAIFDN and @EduCannon on twitter for more updates from the LEV program this week.

Mar 132017

In this previous blog post, I wrote about one trend in day school Jewish mission and vision that I observed at the Prizmah Conference: an emphasis on standards for different aspects of Judaic studies.

In this second post, I will explore a second takeaway from the sessions I attended: It is crucial for school leaders to make the case for and explain the goals of teaching Jewish studies at your school.

This idea came to a point at the session “Hebrew for What? Hebrew at the Heart of the Jewish Day School.” At this session, Dr. Jack Wertheimer and Dr. Alex Pomson reported on the findings from their soon-to-be-released research report (look out for it on the AVI CHAI website soon!). The study investigated why day schools across North America choose to teach Hebrew, what types of Hebrew they prioritize, and whether stakeholders are aligned in their perceptions of what is being achieved in their schools around Hebrew language study. Schools of all affiliations were studied through surveys of parents, educators, and students.

At the session, we looked at how different denominations ranked different reasons: for studying classical Hebrew, including for prayer, text study, appreciation of Jewish culture and tradition, feeling a part of a synagogue; and for studying modern Hebrew, for forming a connection with Israel/Jews around the world, brain development, feeling included in conversations, and more. Amongst other findings, it was brought to light that many schools could improve how they make the case for why it is important to learn Hebrew – and that a considerable minority of parents and students are unpersuaded. The schools where the perception of the success of the Hebrew program was highest were those that articulated clearly and strongly “why Hebrew? “

Though not discussed or covered in this study, I believe the lesson is applicable to other components of Jewish study and life at the school, including tefillah, kashrut policies, and more.

One approach to addressing the need to communicate your goals came from another conference session: “Leveraging Your Jewish Story for School Leadership,” with Jonathan Cannon and Alanna Kotler of Educannon Consulting. This session supported the larger conference theme of “The Power of Story” by suggesting that stories are a tool for leaders and should be built into leadership practice.  Leaders must make the case and galvanize constituents toward the leaders’ goals and storytelling is an effective technique because it is highly engaging, shows rather than tells, and gives a concrete and personal example.

The session explored how and why leaders tell stories through presenting the general motifs shared by the powerful stories that resonate with us. For instance, stories that resonate are those that point to a greater cause, or leave room for different interpretations. It reviewed the dominant story of charismatic and successful leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. (“There can be an interracial society for all”), what questions it elicited (“Can American society be integrated?”) and how it led to specific actions (sit-ins, directed letters to the president, etc.) and beliefs (about the ideals of America).

What if day school leaders could powerfully leverage their Jewish stories for school leadership? What if they could succinctly and effectively convey the “why” behind conducting Jewish studies, teaching Hebrew and living out Jewish life at day schools? Perhaps this could bring consensus and rally school communities around these crucial aspects at the heart of Jewish day schools.

In upcoming blog posts, Jewish day school leaders who attended the Prizmah conference will share their Jewish stories and what sparks made them into the Jewish educators they are today. Stay tuned!

Reminder: Come to Harvard AOL/LEV!

 Posted by on March 8, 2017 at 10:48 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Mar 082017

Application deadline is next Wednesday, March 15

Time is running out to apply to a structured and proven process for enhancing the quality of your school’s Jewish mission sponsored by AVI CHAI.

The year-long program includes:

  • A week of professional development at Harvard Principals’ Center world-famous Summer Institutes for educational leaders – Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership (AOL) or Leadership: An Evolving Vision (LEV);
  • Nightly facilitated sessions while in Cambridge, applying the day’s lessons to your change project;
  • Project management throughout the year to support you and help you stay on track.

Past participants include Yoni Fein, Assistant Principal of The Moriah School in Englewood, New Jersey, who recently won the Kohelet Prize for Differentiated Instruction for Personalized Talmud Learning, a project that was born through the Harvard experience. Yoni explains the impact that the Harvard experience had on him as follows:

“As a school leader, I have seen firsthand that even the best ideas sometimes fail to reach the desired sustainable results. It was only after my training at Harvard along with the talented consultants from AVI CHAI and fellow cohort members that I truly understood what it means to lead. I was able to reflect on my own practice and explore my own personal growth plan to hone my leadership styles. I walked away with a tremendous amount of resources including professional development ideas, protocols and data management templates, and research-based approaches to my work. Most importantly, I walked away with strong relationships with dozens of talented school leaders from across the country, most of whom I am still in contact with today on a regular basis.

“When I started the program at Harvard, I was at the beginning stages of launching a new approach to teaching Talmud utilizing a personalized learning model. While I understood where I wanted to go with it, and had research to back it up, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to lead such a drastic change from what has been done in the past at our school without negatively affecting our school culture. We are now 6 months into the project and already the initiative has gotten national recognition as a Kohelet Prize winner, and we are only just getting started. I know that without the training at the Harvard/AVI CHAI program that this would not have been nearly as successful.

“I never thought that one week of professional development could transform my understanding and practice of leadership. This program did that for me, and it is the single most important professional development I have ever participated in. I can’t wait for the chance to attend the LEV training in the future.”

Are you inspired to take action? More information, including program dates this summer and how to apply, can be found here.

Additionally, you can contact Nechama Leibowitz with questions at: