In this interview, we meet Naomi Schrager, Director of Education for Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy. We thank Naomi for sharing her passions for Jewish education, personalized learning, and more!
1) Please tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and moved to New York City for college. By the time I started my Master’s, I was set on a career in education. I started off in youth groups and adult education before finding my home at Yavneh Academy of Dallas. I had many different roles at the school during my tenure, eventually becoming an Assistant Principal, co-directing the Judaics program. In 2015, together with my husband and children, I moved to Israel.
2) You taught for Lookstein Virtual in the past, but only recently moved into the role of Director of Education. What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Lookstein Virtual since starting this new position?
Over the years I have come to know many different schools and Jewish educational networks (through attendance at conferences, networking with schools across the US…). Still, it has been fascinating to learn about all of the unique cultures and facets of each of the different schools with which we work. Some schools prioritize academic rigor, others prioritize meaningful Jewish experience. We partner with the gamut and work hard to make sure that we are helping each school to reach their specific goals. This is one area where our teachers truly shine. I love watching them take the time to learn and understand each school’s identity, subtly tweak our curricula, and adapt their own teaching style to create the best learning experience for each group.
3) Let’s talk about online learning for a minute. What has been most surprising/empowering about this experience after so many years as a teacher and administrator in a bricks-and-mortar Jewish day school?
As a classroom teacher of 15 years, I had come to feel very comfortable in my classroom. Prior to my involvement with Lookstein Virtual, I thought that online learning was reserved for less than ideal circumstances. I could imagine scenarios where schools would opt for distance learning when there was a dearth of appropriate or experienced educators, or when a particular student’s needs were not able to be met in house. These things certainly hold true, but I never imagined how powerful a tool online learning is on its own. Distance learning is a 21st century skill which schools should teach all students how to employ. Schools can leverage this powerful tool to expose students to new and different voices, viewpoints, and learning modalities, they can allow learning to happen anywhere, anytime, and they can connect students with peers around the world. The possibilities are countless.
4) What are your passions in Jewish education?
My passion for Jewish education stems directly from my identity as a lifelong learner. In fact, I believe the goal of Jewish Education is to help students to view themselves as lifelong Jewish learners. In addition to my own Jewish learning, this passion extends to learning about teaching. I am constantly searching for ways to improve as a teacher. I try to stay informed of developments in general educational trends and I spend a lot of time reading and learning new ideas in the Jewish world. When I look back at my own education, the teachers who had the greatest impact on me were the ones who took the time to get to know each student and personalize the instruction to their educational needs. My greatest moments in teaching are always the ones where I was able to use my relationship with a student to propel them forward.