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.