By: Leah Nadich Meir
We’ve all heard it before (and maybe have said it to ourselves): “Teachers have it great. They work until 3 PM for ten months a year and then get to hang out on the beach all summer!” That may be true of some teachers, but I saw a very different picture last week when I spent a day at the Davidson Graduate School of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. Davidson is known for its pre-service training of educators who go on to careers in Jewish education, both formal and experiential. With all the MA and PhD students off for the summer, you’d think that July would be a VERY quiet month at Davidson. It isn’t. The classrooms, hallways and outdoor spaces are alive with Jewish educators of all stripes: teachers (early childhood through high school), Judaic studies department heads, Jewish day school heads and aspiring heads. They are novice teachers and experienced administrators based in cities across North America and working in schools across the denominations.
Why are all these educators sitting in classrooms in the heat and humidity of a New York summer (especially this one!)? They’re doing this to become better teachers and educational leaders so they can create better schools and educational experiences for our kids. While they may not trumpet their own dedication to the cause when they return home, let me tell you a bit about what they’ve been up to:
- Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI): For three weeks in the summer, heads and aspiring heads of school gather at JTS to develop their leadership skills through DSLTI. The institute, which extends over 15 months, provides a cutting-edge curriculum, dynamic experiences in authentic contexts, collaborative cohort groupings, and ongoing mentoring and support. The school leaders are guided by a group of experienced, skilled mentors who are themselves Jewish day school leaders, and develop a powerful bond with one another that continues to support them throughout their years as leaders.
- Ivriyon: A four-week Hebrew immersion experience for Judaic studies teachers in Jewish day schools enables them to create a Hebrew environment in their classrooms, lead classroom discussions in Hebrew and help students improve their written and spoken Hebrew. Participating teachers take Ivriyon very seriously: I’ve heard them speaking Hebrew with one another walking down Broadway after a long day of classes! This summer’s Ivriyon graduates will work with a mentor throughout the year to help them effectively integrate Hebrew into their classes.
- Jewish Early Childhood Educational Leadership Institute (JECELI): JECELI engages a select group of new and aspiring early childhood directors in intensive Jewish learning, reflective practice, leadership development, and community building. Jewish learning provides the foundation for all of the areas that are studied. JECELI is a collaboration between JTS and HUC (Hebrew Union College), in consultation with the Bank Street College of Education.
- Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project: Since 2003, The Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project has been helping schools transform their teaching of TaNaKH (Bible) through an outcomes-based approach. A year-long professional development program guided by TaNaKH Educator Consultants (TEC) provides Judaic Studies leaders with the skills to lead their faculty members in adopting a Standards-based orientation and performance assessments for the study of TaNaKH in all grade levels. This past week, Judaic studies leaders from seven Conservative and Community day schools met for the first of three intensive instructional leadership institutes to be held this year. The TaNaKH faculty of each school will meet bi-weekly throughout the year to adapt the Standards to its students, and the Judaic studies heads will work closely with their TECs. Read what Dr. Barbara Neufeld, a prominent educational evaluator, had to say about the impact of this program.
What do these programs have in common, in addition to their thoughtful and reflective approaches to education? They all demand considerable time and work from their participants; they all include mentoring, which has been proven immensely valuable in sustaining school change; they all depend on the infusion of philanthropic funds in addition to fees for service (AVI CHAI supports the DSLTI, Ivriyon and Jewish Day School Standards programs, The Alan B. Slifka Foundation supports DSLTI and the Jim Joseph Foundation supports JECELI); and most importantly, they all raise the quality of Jewish early childhood and day school education.
You may be pleasantly surprised at the answer you’d get if you asked your child’s teacher, Judaic studies leader or head of school: “So what did you do during your summer vacation?”