Oct 252018

Rabbi Levingston (left) at CIE Workshop in Atlanta

How does your school find and utilize materials for Israel education?

One of the goals of the Center for Israel Education (CIE) is to serve as a clearinghouse for best practices in Israel education by providing access to primary and secondary sources through the production and dissemination of innovative curricula and programming.

In service of this goal, for the past 17 years CIE has offered an Educator Enrichment Workshop on Modern Israel, with funding from AVI CHAI. Currently, the Workshop is a five-day opportunity for educators and educational leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel’s history, politics, economy and culture, while cultivating participants’ skills in classroom application and best practices. Each day is filled with content, curriculum development sessions, and time for reflecting and processing ideas culled. Over the course of the workshop, participants receive a wide array of tools for curriculum development and teaching which they take back to their schools, relevant for grades 2-12.

Last summer’s participants are now hard at work implementing the tools and materials they received in Jewish day school classrooms across the country. We checked in with Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston of Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy (to see a previous post from Sharon Eretz, Frankel Jewish Academy, visit here, and for a post from Rabbi Reuven Travis of Atlanta Jewish Academy, visit here).

Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy

When did you attend the Workshop?
Summer 2016

What subject do you teach in your school?
Jewish Studies

What resources from the Workshop have you used in your work in your school, and how?
The weekly chronology of Israel-related events/milestones; the story of the song “Hatikvah”; material on songs of Israel and changing musical tastes.

How has your students’ experience changed since your participation in the Workshop?

They are more aware of world antisemitism and of Israeli culture beyond falafel and the hora. They become interested in Israeli music, art and architecture in different decades. They also have a more nuanced view of the complexities of Israeli society beyond the Ashkenazic-Sephardic binary view.

Please share a story or stories about how your experience at the workshop has benefitted your work at school or changed how you teach Israel education.
In my tenth grade Jewish studies class, we look at different ethnic groups within Israel, beyond Ashkenazim and Sephardim.  In my eighth grade Jewish studies class, students take up independent projects after studying the origins of “Hatikva.” They choose a topic of interest in the arts or politics, or they choose a particular person to study. They undertake research to develop expertise around their chosen topic or to develop a well-rounded biography called “Hero Israel!”

Oct 242018

How does your school find and utilize materials for Israel education?

At the CIE Workshop in Atlanta.

One of the goals of the Center for Israel Education (CIE) is to serve as a clearinghouse for best practices in Israel education by providing access to primary and secondary sources through the production and dissemination of innovative curricula and programming.

In service of this goal, for the past 17 years CIE has offered an Educator Enrichment Workshop on Modern Israel, with funding from AVI CHAI. Currently, the Workshop is a five-day opportunity for educators and educational leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel’s history, politics, economy and culture, while cultivating participants’ skills in classroom application and best practices. Each day is filled with content, curriculum development sessions, and time for reflecting and processing ideas culled. Over the course of the workshop, participants receive a wide array of tools for curriculum development and teaching which they take back to their schools, relevant for grades 2-12.

Last summer’s participants are now hard at work implementing the tools and materials they received in Jewish day school classrooms across the country. We checked in with Rabbi Reuven Travis of Atlanta Jewish Academy (to see a previous post from Sharon Eretz, Frankel Jewish Academy, visit here and from Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, visit here).

Rabbi Reuben Travis, Atlanta Jewish Academy:

When did you attend the Workshop?
2008 and again in 2016 with a team of four colleagues.

What subject do you teach in your school?
Judaics (Chumash, Halakha, Zionism, Shoah, Israel advocacy) and General Studies (African-American History)

What resources from the Workshop have you used in your work in your school, and how?
Various videos as well as many, many articles from the CIE website and archives in my Zionsim and Shoah classes. The quality of these resources is excellent, and having them in a “central clearing house” just makes it so much easier to find and access such important materials.

How has your students’ experience changed since your participation in the Workshop?
The biggest plus has been the many original documents I can find via CIE. Using primary source documents is so critical to teaching history courses such as my classes on Zionism and the Shoah. I have made particular use of the Arab primary source documents in teaching Zionism so that students have a better understanding of both sides of the events during the founding of the State.

How has participating in the Workshop benefited you in your professional development as an educator?
I have benefited from the personal ties I developed with the CIE staff. I feel that I can always turn to them for help and guidance. Rich in particular was so very helpful when I was first development my course on Zionism.

The curriculum for Rabbi Travis’s course can be accessed via this link.

Oct 232018

How does your school find and utilize materials for Israel education?

CIE Workshop, Atlanta

One of the goals of the Center for Israel Education (CIE) is to serve as a clearinghouse for best practices in Israel education by providing access to primary and secondary sources through the production and dissemination of innovative curricula and programming.

In service of this goal, for the past 17 years CIE has offered an Educator Enrichment Workshop on Modern Israel, with funding from AVI CHAI. Currently, the Workshop is a five-day opportunity for educators and educational leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel’s history, politics, economy and culture, while cultivating participants’ skills in classroom application and best practices. Each day is filled with content, curriculum development sessions, and time for reflecting and processing ideas culled. Over the course of the workshop, participants receive a wide array of tools for curriculum development and teaching which they take back to their schools, relevant for grades 2-12.

Last summer’s participants are now hard at work implementing the tools and materials they received in Jewish day school classrooms across the country. We checked in with Sharon Eretz, an educator at Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit, to see how she has been translating the content to her teaching for the benefit of her students. (To see subsequent posts from Rabbi Reuven Travis of Atlanta Jewish Academy, visit here and from Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, visit here).

Sharon Eretz, Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit:

When did you attend the Workshop?
Summer of 2017, and then again Summer of 2018 from June 24-28, 2018 in Atlanta

What subject do you teach in your school?
History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Holocaust Studies, Jewish History, Israel Leadership

What resources from the Workshop have you used in your work in your school, and how?
I use Rich Walter’s material on the different Zionist factions, Dr. Tal Grinfas-David’s information on the historical development of Modern Hebrew, and a lot of resources from the general sessions which provide a lot of good background information.  I follow up with my own research (as any good student should).  Due to the nature of the information aligning so closely to my own courses, I use all the resources that we are given permissions for.  This information is extremely helpful.

Please share a story or stories about how your experience at the workshop has benefitted your work at school or changed how you teach Israel education.
Just this past week, I was teaching about the Churchill White Paper of 1922. Ken Stein’s introduction to this primary source, along with the source itself, followed by Arab/Jewish response to this policy, is a complete package to present to students (it is available here).  My students and I went over the material together, and follow it with informed discussions reflecting on the material provided by CIE.

How has your students’ experience changed since your participation in the Workshop?
I have become a better teacher, a more informed teacher, a more passionate teacher – and this directly impacts my students.

Sep 202018

AVI CHAI invests heavily in developing day school leaders, to strengthen their ability to improve the experience of their students. Sometimes that work happens outside the normal school framework, as the case of our guest blogger, Rabbi Fred Elias, middle school principal and school rabbi at the Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, shows. In a message to his school community, Rabbi Elias exhibits the resilience – and vulnerability – we know to be among the core skills leaders must possess to effectively lead their schools. Rabbi Elias is not at Schechter this school year as he works to regain his strength from an illness. Still, his words inspire us, his school community, and the Jewish day school field.

Dear Schechter Faculty and Staff:

One of the most difficult yet empowering moments this year is the fact that I really had the opportunity to take the aseret y’mei teshuvah (10 days of repentance) personally. Normally at this time of year, I have been busily making sure the Schechter students learned about doing kapparot with coins. Even more likely, I am already thinking about Sukkot and working with all of you, my treasured colleagues, on thinking about how each student will participate in Hoshanot, Hallel, and the Sukkah party and experience the feeling of Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (as they get ready to go to shul) and everything else that just comes up. Or in my pulpit days, I was reflecting and refining sermons for the holiday season. Somewhere in between, I built my Sukkah.

I took the task of building my Sukkah very seriously, and it brought out a quality of mine that this year I have been really thinking about: the ability to ask for help. When I built my Sukkah, I never asked for help. The building of the Sukkah generally was not very difficult (by the third year, I finally decided to look at the directions and save myself hours of time). The difficult or the fun part for the observer was to watch me by myself put up an 8×12 piece of skach (bamboo mat) on top of the Sukkah. Minute after minute would pass as the bamboo fell through the Sukkah as I would attempt to throw it from one side of Sukkah to the other. By the time the experience was over (and yes, eventually I would accomplish it), I was covered by acorns, previous year’s decorations that managed to survive, and dirt. Even still, I had that pride of “I put up the Sukkah!” Much like the Chevy Chase character in National Lampoon, I would eagerly await my children’s expression to see the Sukkah up when they came home.

This year, it was a different story. Though I am feeling stronger and stronger, building a Sukkah on my own was not going to happen. I needed to ask for help. This wasn’t easy for me. After all, this Sukkah was “my baby.” Yet, this time that I have gained for self-reflection taught me that asking for help even if it is “my baby” not only is OK, but it actually makes you feel more accomplished. Imagine this group of five boys, including two from Schechter, who (in their words) would likely have been playing Fortnite on just another Sunday morning instead, decided to help their community member build a Sukkah. Given the directions, it was a little shaky at first (literally) but five minutes in, they had a plan and in the shortest time ever (by far), my Sukkah was put up. As for the rolling of the skach (bamboo mat that goes on top), it turns out when more than one person does it, it can be done in 30 seconds. Who knew?!?! And additionally, as it turns out, my children had the same expression of awe and excitement when it was done with help in 30 minutes instead of 300 minutes.

A second lesson I explored over the aseret y’mei teshuvah (which may seem to be a contradiction to the above but it is really not) is also seizing the opportunity to be a risk-taker. This past Shabbat, they were looking for a prayer leader for Musaf (additional prayer service that is special for the Sabbath and other holidays). They tapped my friend in the next seat over (who also happens to be my across-the-street neighbor) and he turned to me and said, “Why don’t you do it?” At first, I said nothing and then after a moment, I said, “Sure, I will do it.” When I walked toward the bimah, I could see the look of shock on many people’s faces. “Will I be able to carry the Torah?” “Will I be able to lead a 200-person filled sanctuary in prayer?” I wasn’t so sure myself, but the answer as it turned out is yes! I got all the special insertions right for the special readings of the day (Shabbat Shuvah) and then in a heart-warming moment I will never forget, my son joined me on the bimah to lead the final prayers together. As I stood there with him, I reflected on 45 days earlier when I barely could walk into my house and now here I was (having walked to synagogue) leading the congregation in prayer. After services, several people wished me well; one particular person made it a point to thank me for leading her in prayer, modeling perseverance, and being so brave to take the risk.

So as I reflected over these last 10 days, I realized I have made a career of helping students feel like the most important things that they can do are to ask for help and be a risk-taker, and yet I myself am one of the most hesitant to do either when it comes to my own needs. I have spent the last 10 days, but really the last two months, learning the incredible value of these two ideas: asking for help and simultaneously being a risk taker. I am not fully there yet as there is more work to be done, but I am getting closer. It turns out that asking for help and being a risk-taker are not contradictions; in fact, they can work hand in hand. Even while either can be a thorn in your side, it turns out that you can rise above the thorns and, as the expression goes, experiences can come up smelling like roses.

Nineteenth century French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote in his A Tour Around My Garden, “some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

May this year be a year that comes up roses for us, but may the thorns we experience lift us to greater growth in smelling the roses that we want for ourselves, our family and friends, our community, and the greater community.

Gmar Hatima Tovah, May we all be inscribed for Good.

Rabbi Fred Elias

Back to School: A Path to Sustainability

 Posted by on August 27, 2018 at 10:06 am  No Responses »  Categories:
Aug 272018

September is nearly upon us. As the school year begins anew, the “tuition crisis” is front and center. Shabbat table talk is dominated once again by exasperated adults bemoaning the economic burden of day school tuition. Over the course of those conversation, some may refer to the September 2016 massive Google public spreadsheet sharing JDS tuitions, and others to the September 2017 blog posting “I can ‘do Jewish’ on just $40,000 a year.” Some parents have even felt compelled to educate their children in other venues.

Why is day school so expensive? I am grateful to my colleague Rabbi Rafi Eis for surveying the various cost factors that impact JDS tuition, and his Lehrhaus piece provides a starting point for the discussion of what we can do to effect change on the ground. Broadly speaking, the overarching challenge to the educational ecosystem, which it shares with the independent school landscape, is the fundamental fragility of the JDS business model. Costs have risen steadily over the last decade. This upturn is largely related to increased compensation costs due to the uptick in total educator and administrative compensation and benefits. What is more, given heightened academic expectations and regulatory requirements, there are more adults in the school building today relative to the number of students than ever before. Our senior administrative leadership is asked to achieve the near impossible: maintain excellent faculties, administrative staff, and facilities and oversee a spectrum of extracurricular programming, while at the same time deliver a flat budget. Heads of School often are forced to fundraise for “special projects” such as needed capital improvements, all while financial aid as a percentage of the annual budget has continued to increase year after year since 2008. To be sustainable, the JDS ecosystem requires a rejiggering.

And while some might suggest abandoning the JDS model, I very much agree with Eis’ premise that day school education is invaluable, and is the premier immersive environment for ensuring connectivity to the Jewish community and to Jewish values for the next generation. While other immersive experiences such as Birthright trips, overnight summer camps, and youth programming also play a critical role in enhancing the connectivity of Jewish youth, research underscores that day schools and yeshiva educations provide the strongest incubators for continued attachment to the Jewish community and preparing the next generation of Jewish leaders.

We return, then, to the seemingly interminable question of how to proceed. We may begin with the assertion that many of the classical proposed solutions simply do not suffice. For example, to the extent that Eis notes that one tactic for an “affordable” JDS tuition might be to go “back in time” to a “parochial education,” this tactic is not viable for many communities. Too many in our community will not settle for anything less than an academically excellent education. The lightning speed of technological advances also increases the pressure on school leadership to respond to pressure on the academic excellence front. Far from going back in time, the JDS system must keep apace by effectively utilizing social media, hosting attractive websites, and disseminating regular digital newsletter updates.

As for other suggested strategies noted by Eis, while the integration of technology into education may be a net positive from an educational perspective, the jury is still out on its impact on the bottom line. Numerous schools jumped on the “blended learning bandwagon,” which promised to save schools money and keep costs down, and indeed many of these schools do feature a lower-cost tuition sticker price. The cost savings achieved by schools featuring blended learning, however, do not come solely from that learning model, but are also a result of cutting costs in other areas, such as administrative and educational staff (including on-site mental health professionals and nurses) and sophisticated extra-curricular programming (such as night seder, advanced tech programming, and varsity sports teams). Additionally, the blended learning model may not be cheaper in the long run. The most important aspect of innovative education is having not physical space, hardware, or software but educators who are trained and knowledgeable enough to teach advanced learning methods, such as problem solving and computational thinking. Adding administrative costs, I have seen schools that started with “every sixth grader gets an Ipad” five years ago, which now are hiring chief technology officers to manage the ever-increasing pressure to ramp up educational technology integration.

Government funding as a vehicle to meaningfully reduce tuition, another oft-proposed solution, may be unrealistic at this time. While several states have adopted initiatives that offer tax credits for contributions to scholarship funds for non-public schools, other states such as New York have not adopted such legislation. Leaving the church-state argument aside, targeted government funding is helping non-public schools in important areas such as security and, in New York, Mandated Services Reimbursement dollars. In the current climate, government funding to significantly reduce a family’s tuition bill remains largely aspirational. Similarly, whole community or “kehillah” dues present a plethora of challenges, and to date have not succeeded in significantly reducing tuition bills.

Certainly, various local interventions have impacted tuition in smaller North American communities. For example, in some communities, communal endowment funds have been effective in providing reduced tuition prices for middle income families. Other successful interventions include freezing tuition and school mergers accompanied by tuition cuts.

These successes notwithstanding, we need a systemic response to this national communal challenge. While day school funding is currently hyper-local, the future of our community depends on moving away from the “I donate to my school” model. Cross-denominational funding initiatives leverage more dollars to secure broader and deeper results. In the endowment arena, matching incentive programs which leverage funds from large donors increase total dollars flowing back to schools. Communities with a defined number of schools can start with a regional perspective, bringing together local funders to build the future of our joint communities. Of course, any collective regional funding initiative comes with inherent challenges, including the recruitment of initial stage funders, second stage funding, implementing a governance model in which philanthropic leaders can discuss and exchange ideas, metrics to track progress, and the scaffolding to distribute the funds on an equitable basis. Yet we can – and must – do it if we want to ensure the Jewish future for our children, grandchildren, and beyond.

What else can we do to impact the high cost of day school tuition? The most viable solution is evidenced by New York University’s recent unexpected announcement of free tuition for all current and future medical students, “regardless of need or merit.” NYU said that the rationale for the impressive initiative was the recognition of “a moral imperative that must be addressed” given the crippling debt burdening today’s medical school graduates. Yet a closer examination of NYU’s strategic initiative also reveals lessons that can be fruitfully applied to day school tuition.

How did NYU do it? In one word: endowment. NYU is planning to raise $600 million to endow the affordability initiative, and has already raised more than $450 million towards its goal. To the extent that NYU’s goal is to encourage more students to enter primary care, there is some pushback on whether this is the best means to achieve that goal. And while NYU’s initiative is expensive and a mere aspiration for many graduate schools, let alone undergraduate programs, we can nonetheless identify three critical takeaways for JDS:

  1. Cultivate and steward donors: Day schools need to cultivate and steward donors, not only for annual fundraising and capital projects, but also for potential planned gifts (bequests) and endowment gifts. Some donors, largely current parents and recent alumni families, want to give to schools to support today’s educational agenda, and don’t necessarily have the funds to make large donations. But other donors can take the long view and donate an endowment gift that is positioned to benefit schools in perpetuity. $100 million of NYU’s endowment was contributed by an existing donor, Kenneth Langone, founder of Home Depot, who had previously named the medical school. Reading between the lines, NYU leadership has worked hard to keep Mr. Langone close to the medical school and maintained a strong relationship with the family.
  2. Create and build endowment funds: While it is true that endowment fundraising can be the toughest dollars to raise, once a school community sees the endowment dollars directly impacting the budget’s bottom line, the school is better positioned to raise even more endowment dollars. In my role as senior professional spearheading UJA-Federation of New York’s Day School Challenge Fund initiative, which is on track to raise $100 million in endowment dollars for twenty-one participating day schools and yeshivot by the end of calendar year 2018, I advise school leadership that each day that a school does not have an endowment fund is a day less that the dollars can grow and ultimately flow back to the school. While there are certainly schools that, for various reasons, are not positioned to raise endowment dollars, there are other schools in which leadership can prioritize endowment fundraising. Often, multi-generational families and alumni are interested in the long-term financial health of the school.
  3. Strengthen the professional and lay leader partnership: A successful endowment campaign has many common elements, including a strong partnership between a school’s professional and lay leadership. Day schools have much to learn in the arena of enhancing and leveraging the professional/lay partnership to raise endowment dollars. Day school boards are learning that a skilled and dedicated development director (one who is not tasked with numerous additional job functions such as marketing, admissions, and communications) nets a positive ROI (return on investment).

Many universities and independent schools have long understood that endowments are a critical feature of a business model that helps ensure the sustainability of an academic institution. Beyond the potential to lower tuition, endowment funds at day schools ensure a third stream of revenue in addition to tuition and annual fundraising. They also allow schools to better weather difficult economic times.

What is more, beyond the dollars that flow back to schools from their endowment funds on an annual basis, endowment funds offer value in other ways. Donors tend to invest in schools with endowment funds, which convey the messages of financial viability, long-term vision, and stability. We can educate school leadership as to the importance of endowment fundraising: what it means, how to do it, and what success looks like. To use a sports analogy, in whitewater rafting, the paddlers on each side of the raft not only need to look at the current immediately in front of them, but also to read the current ahead to adequately prepare a tactical response to upcoming rocks or churning water. Schools with endowment funds, planned giving opportunities, and strategic plans convey that they seek to tackle not only the challenges of today but also those of tomorrow.

Some challenge the viability of the endowment solution, arguing that raising endowment dollars might cannibalize annual fundraising dollars. Others say that their communities don’t have the donors with sufficient resources to give endowment gifts. At least in many cases, these responses remind me of the year we were gearing up for a day school’s annual dinner, and we pushed for the board to offer a $100K donation in that year’s fundraising. “No one has given at that level,” we were told. “The top donation to date has been $50K!” We added the $100K level, engaged in a messaging strategy communicating the increased needs of the school, sat in a number of donors’ living rooms, and received a $100K gift the following year. Endowments are built over time, and are based on relationships that are cultivated over years. It’s hard work, and well worth the effort in the long term.

There is no magic bullet to “solve” the affordability crisis. But since it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we transmit our tradition and values from generation to generation (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Torah Study, Ch. 1), we must strategize, plan, and attract new investors to the day school system, all with the objective of yielding sustainable day schools and yeshivot for years to come. We cannot simply focus on this year and next year’s budget; we need to play the long game. The long-term sustainability of day schools and yeshivot should be on the communal agenda as a key component of a solution to a core communal challenge. And the best players are playing the endowment game.

Chavie Kahn

Chavie N. Kahn is Director of Day School Initiatives at UJA-Federation of New York and leads UJA-Federation’s day school team. She directly manages UJA’s Day School Challenge Fund to help day schools and yeshivas build endowments. Her expertise includes providing strategic campaign consulting for senior school and lay leadership of day schools in campaign management and capacity building. Chavie is a former litigator at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and was in-house litigator at Prudential Securities. She served on a day school board for more than a decade. Chavie and her husband are proud parents of three day school alumni.
Aug 142018

Morah Ziva* has her students working in the iTaLAM digital environment for three periods per week. She feels that—unlike during traditional instruction, when she is aware of everything that happens in class—she doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing. So how can she monitor the students’ learning in this digital environment?

Morah Ziva’s sentiment and question is one shared by many of her colleagues. Yet, there is an answer to the question she poses. In fact, the solution is premised on a basic principle: digital instruction actually offers much more information about what’s happening in the classroom than traditional instruction does. Educators simply need to become comfortable with the different tools that generate precise information about what each student is accomplishing, and what that indicates about the quality of the learning.

Differentiated instruction and teaching toward the needs of each individual student should be the goal of every teacher.  This goal is easy to verbalize but much more difficult to achieve. No two students are exactly alike in their strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. When will the teacher have time to create differentiated and leveled activities for each of the students? Which teacher has time to grade and analyze in depth the work a student does on each assignment and the progress or lack of progress being made?

With these challenges in mind, a digital classroom often plays an integral role in making differentiated instruction a reality. For example, iTaLAM—which is a Hebrew Language and Jewish Heritage curriculum—includes a Learning Management System (LMS) that provide tools to easily and seamlessly differentiate instruction for the individual needs of each and every student in the class. An LMS provides the teacher with quick access to interactive books, songs comprehension activities and games as well as the grading system and automated analysis of student progress.


LMS sample of student progress in 7 different skills compared to class averages.

So, how does this play out in the classroom? First, each student’s progress is tracked in seven different language skill areas. Each learning assignment is available in three different levels and automatically adjusts the level of difficulty that a student encounters based on the student’s ability level in the skills presented in the activity.

Then, at quick glance, a teacher can identify which activities students have completed, how well they performed in each activity and how much time it took to complete. Additionally, they can see which of the seven language skills the student has mastered and which the student still needs to work on.

Morah Shira* works in a rotational model and would like to divide the students into groups according to their learning levels and progress. At the beginning of the year, there is an assessment process to evaluate each student’s level, but by the middle of the year, the students have progressed at different rates and the groups need to be reevaluated and reformulated.

Using the class skill reports and student progress reports a teacher can organize learning groups to work with small groups of students who need additional help with a skill or can tackle enrichment work in a particular area.

Additionally, a new assessment test that was piloted over the past two years for the 2nd and 3rd grade curriculum evaluates a student’s progress over a full year. As with any standardized test, educators and education leaders can use the results to group students by ability for future class placements; to help identify student strengths and weakness, and to evaluate the successes and challenges of the instructional process so that the curriculum and teaching methods in the school can be adjusted to better meet the changing needs of the students.

Digital classrooms equipped with the right programs help teachers and schools identify needs and differentiate the instruction for each individual student. When this interactive and engaging digital environment is combined with adaptive technology and precise reporting, students experience personalized learning that makes for deeper, more meaningful, and more effective educational experiences.

*Generalized, representative examples.

iTaLAM is a new digital blend2ed learning environment based on the successful TaL AM program, a Hebrew language and Jewish heritage curriculum. iTaLAM is re-inventing the world of Hebrew language and Jewish heritage education by transforming the well-established and highly successful TaL AM print program into an engaging, interactive, personalized, and adaptive digital experience.

Aug 072018

By: Lesley Litman

As school leaders and teachers prepare for the new year, many are in the midst of busy planning, of examining their current systems and processes, and of asking big questions. In fact, this is an opportune time for all of us in the field of Jewish education and Israel education to ask some big questions as well: What does it mean to engage in a system-wide process?  How does a school go about doing this kind of work?  What might it look like for Israel to be fully integrated into school life?

iNfuse Infographic August 2018Some answers to the last question above are found within iNfuse, an initiative of The iCenter, which enables Jewish day schools across North America to engage in a system-wide process of “infusing” Israel into all aspects of school life. Over 12 to 18-months, schools seamlessly weave Israel into the experiences of learners, faculty, administration, parents, volunteers and other stakeholders.  As in previous cohorts, the third cohort of iNufse schools engages learners from  Kindergarten through 12th grade.*

Three overarching elements of the initiative help a school chart its path: conceptual (vision and educational outcomes), aspirational (what does the school need to do in order to build on and enhance current strengths to actualize the vision and outcomes for students?) and tachlis (how can the school accomplish this – what resources, personnel and support are required?).  To support their efforts, iNfuse schools have access to a set of online tools, ongoing mentoring from seasoned Israel educators, cutting-edge Israel education resources, professional learning, and a community of schools who care about and engage deeply with Israel.

As one of the leaders of iNfuse, together with my colleagues, I have gleaned many insights from the wisdom of the school leaders with whom we work and from patterns and trends we see across schools.  Over time we have learned, for example, that a system-wide or “systemic” initiative (affecting the entire system) is different from one that is “systematic” (consisting of a serious of linear steps). Whereas in its early stages the iNfuse process consisted of a numbered set of “phases” that schools would go through, as we worked with schools, we discovered that each school engaged in the process in a manner (and order) that worked best for its current conditions and reality.  As a result, we have begun to use the term “elements” instead of “phases” and have removed all references to a specific order.

This past year, for example, as they planned for Israel’s 70th, some schools chose to engage in the more concrete work of school-wide programming.  The tone and texture of this engagement, however, looked different than it might have had the schools not been engaged in an intentional, reflective and systemic Israel education initiative such as iNfuse.  For example, instead of a single school-wide celebration around Yom Ha’atzmaut or a grade-based curriculum, one of the iNfuse schools, the Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas, engaged all of the school’s populations and frameworks as part of a year-long process of learning and creativity, punctuated with opportunities for professional learning for the entire staff.  Students and teachers in all grades, school clubs, early childhood teachers and learners, parents, specialists (arts, music, dance) and others engaged in the creation of a set of 70 windows (based on Chagall’s windows at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem) reflecting 70 facets of Israel, one for each year.

Members of the school’s senior administrative team that oversaw the initiative, together with their iCenter mentor, found that nearly all the elements of the iNfuse process were reflected in their work but in unexpected and organic ways.  The team gained insight into the current state of Israel education in the school (in classrooms, the physical plant, after- and all-school programming and more) through engaging with teachers in planning this year-long process.  They also learned about and created powerful Israel-focused professional learning experiences led by faculty based on their interests and strengths and gained important insights into how they can weave Israel more fully into the day-to-day experience of the school.  Because the elements of the process were clearly articulated and readily accessible, we were able to draw on them at the right time, where they were most salient and impactful.

As we look forward to integrating eight new schools into the iNfuse initiative, we do so with an image of overlapping spheres of activity, conceptualization and planning that feed into each other and lead to each other in unique and surprising ways.  Our hope is that this type of systemic work will serve as a model for other areas of learning and school life and that through ongoing learning and reflection we will continue to refine and deepen the work of iNfusing Israel into Jewish day school life.

*iNfuse emerged from a similar initiative of Jewish LearningWorks in the Bay Area which included 11 Jewish day schools.

Lesley Litman, Ed.D. is a consultant to the iCenter overseeing the iNfuse Initiative.  She is the Director of the Executive MA program in Jewish Education at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.


Jul 192018

By: Amy Wasser

According to John Hattie, Professor of Education at the University of Melbourne whose research includes performance indicators and evaluation in education, collective teacher efficacy is the belief that through their collective action, teachers can positively influence student outcomes. Is that not every educator’s goal: to see his or her teaching impacting student growth? Yet, so often teachers are doing this work in a silo, striving to create the best lessons, most inclusive assessments and find methods to reach each learner in their classroom. How much richer our experiences would be if teachers could do this in teams, so that they intentionally reflect, through collective learning, about successes and misses of both their teaching and their student’s grasp of material.

A group of over 40 educators, from ten diverse Jewish Day Schools, spent three days immersed in Research For Better Teaching’s seminar on High Impact Teacher Teams. Research for Better Teaching (RBT) is a professional development organization dedicated to improving classroom teaching and school leadership. Together with educators from Prizmah: The Center for Jewish Day Schools, these teacher teams prepared to bring back solid practices to their schools that will necessitate strong modeling of teamwork among educators while using data to inform student learning. Chanie Geisinsky, Principal of Silverstein Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, Long Island, reflected, “Unfortunately I was only able to participate the first day, but it was definitely fulfilling and productive. I debriefed today with our head of school and we are looking forward to deploying it gradually in our elementary and middle school classes. I think it will make not only a huge difference and bring change but has the potential to be the ultimate game changer in raising the bar of our teaching and learning.”

The RBT model includes:

Using the FAR (Formative Assessment for Results) Cycle

  • Clarify the learning journey
  • Infuse formative assessments
  • Analyze formative assessments
  • Take FIRME action (feedback, investigation, reteach, move on, extension)

In using the RBT method teams of teachers will:

  • Determine what step in the FAR cycle they will focus on
  • Determine the purpose of each team meeting: then learn, take action and reflect
  • Determine activities to use to achieve the goals

The teams will build their expertise in:

  • Clarifying learning goals for students so steps to success are clear
  • Using formative assessment tools throughout instruction
  • Analyzing success based on pre-established criteria and identifying errors in student thinking
  • Taking FIRME action

More details can be found here.

The concluding activity involved each team making a license plate for their next steps. Below find an example of the clear plan for moving forward and bringing RBT into the school.


To sum it up, the teams will use data often to make sure each child succeeds. As the RBT trainer stated, school improvement is a team sport. Nothing is more satisfying to an educator than when they know they have the tools to raise a student’s achievement. This is truly collective teacher efficacy.

Charna Schubert, Principal at Margolin Hebrew Academy in Memphis, TN, attended this conference. She said it was one of the best she have been at in her 20 years of education. Upon return home, the team met and already have a wonderful plan and all the resources they need for implementation. “We have had meetings all morning to plan Readers and Writers workshop alignment and we have been discussing success curriculum all morning!”

Due to the generosity of AVI CHAI, each school team will receive 20 hours of coaching from a Prizmah teaching and learning team member to assist them in implementing the program and honing the practices of RBT. This will also allow for deeper relationships between Prizmah and the schools as we work together to further the strength of our programs and build the pipeline of educational leaders.

Amy Wasser is Director of School Advocacy and Community Day School Advocate at Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.


RBT Seminar on High Impact Teacher Teams

The Power of FJC’s Cornerstone

 Posted by on June 20, 2017 at 10:05 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Jun 202017

Cross-posted from eJewishPhilanthropy

By Mark Kachuck

Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Bazeh,” translates to “all of Israel is responsible for one another.” This spoke to the theme of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Cornerstone Fellowship 2017: “Get Invested,” which had a big impact on me. It resonated with my feelings towards the global Jewish community; together, we have the power to achieve great strength.

This year was my fourth Cornerstone Seminar, where I’ve had the opportunity of being both a Fellow and Liaison for my camps cohort of attendees. Each year I find myself more inspired by the love and passion for Jewish programming at Jewish camp. I cannot think of another opportunity in which I would get to spend 5 days learning with and from young adults and professionals from all over North America, all with different camping experiences.

Regardless of what movement, affiliation, or ideology we believe in, it is evident that we each share the common goal of promoting the values of Jewish camp.

Cornerstone has provided me with an outlet to experience Jewish education in a different way. It has taught me that Judaism should be an experience, and we – the counselors – have the privilege of being able to facilitate that experience for our campers.

Did you know that you could make a program involving yoga, Kabbalah, ninjas and the Kedusha, which takes place in a pool? Or that something as simple as arts and crafts can allow campers to connect with Judaism through glitter and mason jars?

Year after year, I find myself wanting to come back to Cornerstone because these experiences allow me to make a big impact back at my camp. Each program has a way of making Judaism more than just a prayer before a meal. I learn to challenge my own way of programming and adapt basic themes and values to a greater Jewish experience. The power of camp comes alive during the Cornerstone Seminar. In five short days you connect with others who have a passion for Jewish Camp and Jewish learning from all over North America. And just like camp, in five short days you are able to feel as though you have known them for forever.

Every year I find the messages of Cornerstone to be meaningful. I believe strongly that many Jews from around the world have a strong connection. Whether you speak English, French, Hebrew, or Spanish, we all want to help each other. At Cornerstone, as the collective of Jewish camp counselors and staff members, we have the power to influence more than 10,000 young Jewish minds. As the representatives from more than 60 camps, we have the power to shape these young minds and allow them to grow and benefit the Jewish community at large, but also the world. We carry the responsibility to INVEST in these campers, to positively shape the future, and after Cornerstone Seminar 2017, it is very clear that the future is looking very bright.

Returning counselors are the “cornerstones” of their camp. Over the last 14 years, more than 3,000 fellows have participated in this transformative leadership experience the Cornerstone Fellowship includes attending a 5-day seminar in the spring, and bringing new ideas, programs and initiatives back to camp. At the Cornerstone Seminar, 400 staff members from Jewish camps across North America come together for workshops, song sessions, and campfires, learning from seasoned faculty and from each other.

The Cornerstone Fellowship is run by Foundation for Jewish Camp and is generously funded by The AVI CHAI Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, The Marcus Foundation and The Morningstar Foundation.

Mark Kachuck is an active member and madrich of the Canadian Young Judaea movement. This summer he will spend his 15th summer in the movement as one of Camp Solelim’s Program Directors. He will graduate Concordia University next year with a BA Major in History, Minor Film Studies.