Deborah Fishman

Networks: Spreading Ideas Peer to Peer

 Posted by on June 21, 2018 at 11:38 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Jun 212018

This post is cross-posted from Gleanings at the Leadership Commons of The William Davidson School at JTS


Collaborative participants engage in a Game-Based Learning training at the Institute of Play

Being a classroom teacher can be an isolating experience. You may not know where to turn for new ideas and wish there was a way you could benefit from the experimentation and expertise of others in classrooms like yours across the country. Fortunately, in the past few years, Jewish day school educators have been able to find networks designed to incubate and spread ideas and practices. As a network-weaver working at The AVI CHAI Foundation, I have an interest in understanding and documenting these networks, which could range from organized programs, such as the JDS Collaborative, for which I serve as program officer at AVI CHAI, to a much less formal Twitter chat. Let’s look at what these networks are, which ones are more likely to scale through successfully spreading ideas, and why.

Ariella Falack, a teacher of Torah and halakhah at Magen David Yeshivah Celia Esses High School, was an early adopter of game- and project-based learning at her school. She was able to explore this interest through the JDS Collaborative, a program of Prizmah: the Center for Jewish Day Schools led by Educannon Consulting. JDS Collaborative puts together educators from multiple schools to implement a project in their own school’s context, with continual opportunities to collaborate, learn from implementation at other schools, engage in workshopping challenges, and share and document ideas and solutions in a continuous feedback loop. Each project is designed to further some aspect of schools’ Jewish missions. In this case, the focus was on applying game-based learning to the Judaics classroom. As her personal way of implementing the project in her school, Falack experimented with creating an escape room–style experience. She designed this game and executed it in her school, and then posted her game on the Basecamp site used by the collaborative and on JEDLab on Facebook, looking for feedback and suggestions from fellow educators. Falack also presented what she was doing and learning to participants at the 2017 Prizmah Conference, along with Alanna Kotler, project manager for the collaborative.

“In that room, the excitement for this was unbelievable. When it was actually done using Judaic material, the teachers saw the possibilities for their own classrooms,” said Kotler.

As a result of this presentation, five of the teachers got their schools on board to participate in a new collaborative project specifically built around the escape room methodology (“breakout”). The project included a five-part webinar series led by Falack that broke the methodology down into pieces. Then each participant designed his/her own escape room game for use in his or her own classroom.

“It wasn’t easy. It took some educators 20 hours to develop a breakout, but the cohort kept them accountable. They had Ariella to support them, and sharing the challenge of it was a motivator. The network and their fellow teachers kept them going. Now they have a relationship with Ariella and can continue the enthusiasm,” Kotler said.

Ideas spread when networks of peer educators come together to share ideas. This methodology is powerful and most effective when three components are present: trust, a coordinating network-weaver, and documenting and sharing.

First and most importantly, successful networks are built on trust. Teachers trust other teachers in what Kotler calls an “unspoken understanding: they’re more likely to take a risk themselves based on what other teachers doing.” This comes in part from the common language between them, including the challenges and expectations in place. A network can provide the safe space to which teachers can return to address challenges or to celebrate successes.

Andrea Hernandez, associate director of Teaching and Learning at Prizmah, agreed that ideas spread more effectively among educators as opposed to in a top-down way. “There’s a huge difference between things that are marketed to me and things I hear from my fellow practitioners. I tend to be more interested in things that come my way from a fellow practitioner. There’s a difference in the intentions behind sharing: selling a product or sharing honest reflections. Educators are more likely to give a more tempered description with pros and cons.”

While Twitter chats and other informal networks built on trust can spread ideas, they are more impactful when managed by a network-weaver. For instance, Kotler is able to devote her time to project management of the collaborative, increasing accountability through setting deadlines and next steps to make sure the projects remain on track. Another example is the Prizmah affinity groups known as Reshetot, which are run by Prizmah network-weaver Debra Shaffer Seeman. She keeps in close touch with many people and gets to know their passions, strengths, and challenges. She is thus able to develop a birds-eye perspective on the field. Her understanding of the common patterns, hot topics, and emerging ideas allows her to connect the appropriate people to have the conversations that will move their work and, through many such conversations, the entire field forward.

A final aspect of effective networks is sharing and documenting. “Our responsibility is to share. When you’re doing something new and different, take the time to document and share with your network,” said Hernandez. While this sounds easy, it can be hard to find the time and discipline for it—but doing it can be so impactful for others in the field. For instance, Hernandez is working with Jewish day schools that are piloting the Altschool and Summit Learning personalized learning platforms to contribute to the Personalized Learning Platforms blog, with funding from AVI CHAI. These platforms are online tools that help students set and track goals, learn content at their own pace, and complete deeper learning projects.

“They’re learning a tremendous amount from what they’re doing. By documenting and sharing it with other educators who are toying with or curious about the idea, they can learn in a way that would make them feel more primed to pay attention and make decisions based on fellow educators’ work. I tried for a long time to learn more about Summit Learning that wasn’t airbrushed by the company. I never understood what it was or if it was as good as they say. Now that I’m hearing from educators, I’m much more inclined to do it.” Hernandez said.

Personalized learning, Maker Spaces, STEAM, and STEM—these are all ideas that are gaining traction and interest in Jewish day school networks, as is using those pedagogies and spaces as a way to shift school culture from learning being linear (you seek to learn something, you learn it, and then it’s completed) to valuing experimentation.

Kotler said, “An idea might be shared into a network of teachers, but what’s interesting is to watch it change as people grow the idea together. That’s a powerful thing. With social media, ideas spread quickly whether they’re good or bad. Within the collaborative, there’s a shared understanding and a trust that will allow good ideas to spread effectively.”

Networks like the collaborative are spreading ideas, even as they improve and build on those ideas through an iterative process. At the end of the day, these networks are about the relationships and trust between educators—with the end result being that they will feel less alone, great ideas can be shared, and success can be adapted and occur on a greater and greater scale.

Deborah Fishman is director of communications at The AVI CHAI Foundation.

Growing Intention around Israel @ Camp

 Posted by on April 13, 2018 at 10:26 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: , ,  Categories:
Apr 132018

Israel @ Camp – a collaboration between the Jewish Agency for Israel, iCenter, and Foundation for Jewish Camp, with funding from AVI CHAI and the Maimonides Fund – is featured in this article in JNS. The article explores how Israel @ Camp helps camps become more intentional about how their Israel education pervades through all aspects of camp life. Here is one excerpt about the three organizations’ collaboration and the program’s Jewish impact:

The Israel @ Camp Initiative combines JAFI’s expertise and role in training shlichim, FJC’s leadership and support nationally in the Jewish camping field, and the iCenter’s years of experience and past initiatives related to fostering Israel education at camp.

Together, the three organizations are not only helping camps re-evaluate and discover their connection to Israel, but also their relationship with being Jewish. Orlow explained that among the ones they’ve worked with, there are a group of camps where “dealing with their ‘Jewish identity’ was inaccessible until they dealt with their Israel identity.”

“There are camps that do not self-understand themselves to be religious camps; they understand themselves as community camps, or secular camps or cultural camps,” he explained. “And the process of thinking about where Israel lived in their camp gave them a place of reflection from which they can ask, ‘Who are we Jewishly?’ So I think the camps we’ve been working with in this process, they’ve really welcomed not only what [it] did for them in terms of bringing Israel more intentionally into camp, it actually helped them think more intentionally about how they do in the larger umbrella of Jewish identity, of which Israel is a huge part of.”

What is one aspect of your work where greater intentionality and a more holistic approach will make a difference?

It’s Almost Pesach: Ideas for School Educators, Leaders and Parents

 Posted by on March 26, 2018 at 12:22 pm  1 Response »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Mar 262018

Are you searching for ideas for Passover lesson plans, seder plans, project ideas or articles? Here is a curated collection of resources that you might find interesting to peruse to augment your Passover learning and experience: at school, at home, and wherever you will be celebrating the holiday. Wishing you a Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

Pesach Resources from the Lookstein Center

Here you will find instructional materials, haggadot, articles, and multimedia resources created by Lookstein Center staff or contributed to the site by Jewish educators.

This platform allows you to create-your-own Hagaddah using a free database of user-generated readings, artwork and video clips.

YouTube Clips and Movies

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s School Twinning Program brings us a variety of Passover-themed clips geared to enrich school twinning joint activities, also applicable to others looking to creatively enliven the Passover story.

Reflections of a Parent-Educator and Amateur Egyptologist on Seder Night
By: Yossi Prager

Yossi Prager, Executive Director – North America for The AVI CHAI Foundation, shares some innovations his family uses to make the Passover seder an experience that transports participants back to the very first seder.

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.