experiments, instruments & measurement book

Register Now for Coalition Peer Groups 2015-2016!

We’ve added two new additional Peer Groups and extended the Registration deadline!

Congregational educators, please take advantage of a free opportunity for high-quality professional learning and connecting to other innovators. You can sign up for Coalition Peer Groups until Friday, September 11th. Check out the full appendix of Coalition Peer Groups for 2015-2016.

Register HERE!

New Beginnings: Familiarity and Freshness

 

By Suri Jacknis, Co-Director, Congregational Learning

It is Hodesh Elul.  Time to prepare for the High Holidays emotionally, spiritually and physically.  It is a time for reflection on our lives and taking stock, for reconnecting with our personal vision for how we want to live.  It is also a time for connecting with and sending holiday greetings to family and friends, preparing for setting or joining a holiday table and doing some cleaning so we feel like we are making a clean and fresh start.  Doing these preparations connects us with the cycle of Jewish time as we remember with familiarity doing these things in other years.   This gives us comfort and continuity. At the same time, engaging in these pre-holiday activities is exciting and energizing as we anticipate the new start ahead.

As an educator, I feel like my Jewish self and my professional self are in sync as I also prepare for the start of the new school year.  I reflect on the past school year and the lessons learned and focus on the things I have decided to revise for the future.   I also think about my vision for myself as an educator and resolve to do certain things that will bring me closer to my aspirations. There are elements of familiarity and comfort with my rituals in leading up to the opening days of school.  At the same time, I can feel the adrenaline flowing and the anticipation growing.  I am a little nervous, but mostly joyful as I am lucky to be doing what I love.

This New Year in particular also brings the excitement of being able to build on Cyd Weissman’s amazing legacy for our Coalition of Innovating Congregations.  Cyd gave us the courage to work on new models for 21st century families, to attend to the whole person, to pay attention to outcomes and assessment and to embed the design principles for powerful learning. For many of us, these concepts are familiar and comfortable, as we have worked with and on them in past years.  Yet, they are also alive and exciting as there are new goals to set and new ways that we can deepen our work aligned to these important foundational ideas.

This year, I am excited to partner with my wonderful colleague, Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith to lead the work in congregational learning as we continue some of our successful initiatives such as I*Express, Coalition Peer Networks, and Congregational Consulting as well as begin to imagine new possibilities.  Collaborating with Jennifer is helping me to grow, to hear new perspectives and to appreciate the great talents and strengths that she brings to this work.

I am also very happy to continue working with our congregational learning team of wonderful professionals including core staff members, Ellen Rank and Susie Tessel, our project manager, Catherine Schwartz, and our consultants Jo Kay, Mike Mellen, Susan Ticker and some other talented educational leaders that will be contributing to our work.  Our main goal remains to offer thought leadership and skilled consultancy to our congregations.

In honor of this New Year, I want to share something inspirational that has both familiar and new elements.  I read an interesting article on Edutopia about the work of Bernajean Porter, a teacher interested in digital storytelling.    Bernajean has a project called I-Imagine:  Taking My Place in the world.  She asks learners to produce “vision videos” in which they star as protagonists of the lives they are living, 20 years into the future.  This process includes asking learners about their hopes and dreams and what gives them joy and energy and “fires up their engines.”  Porter adds, “We ask students to tell the story of how they will shine their light for good in the world.”  Students reflect on what is special about them and what their gifts are.  http://www.edutopia.org/blog/start-school-year-awakening-your-dreamers-suzie-boss?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=081915%20enews%20ibl%20ngm%20remainder&utm_content=&utm_term=fea1hed&spMailingID=12173425&spUserID=NDYxNTY5OTMzODAS1&spJobID=601358453&spReportId=NjAxMzU4NDUzS0

This kind of a project captured my imagination as a wonderful way to start the year by building relationships with learners.  At its heart, it is about listening to learners share their hopes and dreams and what they are passionate about.  It gives us a chance to learn about each learner’s special gifts.  It gives us educators the opportunity to encourage each learner to embrace his/her own uniqueness and value in this world.

This kind of project is also about putting learners at the center, empowering learners to take charge of their own learning and their own lives. It is a way to develop the idea of having a personal vision for the way that you live your life, of having long-term goals and aspirations for yourself that can be about careers but can also be about Mitzvot, doing acts of Kindness and showing responsibility for others and for this planet.  And it can be about Midot, developing desired character traits/virtues and being the type of person that you want to be.  What a great way to start the school year both with reflection and aspiration.  How very fitting for this Rosh Hashana season in which we both rejoice in the familiar and welcome in fresh ideas and possibilities.

May this New Year Ahead, 5776, be one of good health and many blessings for each of you!  My best wishes for a Shana Tova U’metukah, a Good and Sweet Year!

 

Suri Jacknis

August 2015

Elul 5775

Radical Empathy

by Rabbi Lynnda Targan, June 29, 2015

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself (Leviticus 19:18)

 

The question posed by Dr. David Bryman, the Chief Innovation Officer at The Jewish Education Project for the recent Jewish Futures Conference was, “What would happen if we embraced empathy as the core value of our time?”

It’s a stellar question that has its roots firmly implanted in solid Jewish Tradition. One of the most recognized commandments our Torah teaches is, “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) As teachers, educators and clergy members we are fundamentally committed to loving our students and congregants from the outset. We chose to be Jewish educators because deep in our nishamot we’ve committed to embracing the concept of empathy for others. As we teach, preach, commiserate and celebrate with our communities in times of sorrow and celebration and lift our students out of the miasma of disconnection and into the heart of the Jewish community, we are guided into sacred service through the concept of empathy. But how are we able to sustain this ideal of loving “the other,” of being perennially and perpetually empathetic if we don’t love ourselves first—if we don’t have empathy for our own nishamot?

Rabbi Hillel teaches, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?” (Avot 1:14) So, what does it mean to be for “yourself” first, for each of us to love ourselves, to be empathetic to our personal internal forces that sustain and motivate us into holy action on behalf of others?

We are blessed to have many Jewish insights at our disposal to help us with the moral imperative to love ourselves. First, know that we are created betzelem elohim (Genesis 1:27), in the image of God, and God is gracious and good. How then can we be otherwise? Our mere existence signifies the fulfillment of God’s design for fruitfulness in the world. Rabbi Abraham Twersky writes that because we exist, there is light in the constellation of the cosmos. God wants us to be lit up by the joy of our unique existence and desires that we bring our exceptional light into the world.

For each of us, loving ourselves enough to ignite sparks in the universe becomes a personal journey and a moral imperative that precedes an empathetic response to the other. Whatever the vehicle, be it therapy, silence, meditation, prayer, performance of mitzvot, the development of a midot refinement practice or the cultivation of an inner climate of gratitude, the path to self-love must be nurtured before empathy ensues. “And if not now, when?”

 

 

TEXT ME MAYBE?!

by Susie Tessel, June 18, 2015

 

Did you really go to that concert if you didn’t take a selfie?

If something isn’t documented by a digital photo did it happen?

 

Dr. Jeffrey Schein, a beloved Cleveland educator and the retiring Cleveland Shinnui representative, has been exploring the issue of technology and its impact upon us for years.  He has created a myriad of engaging, thought provoking, interactive curricular materials called “Text me!”.  He won a Covenant Grant for his materials – endorsing the quality of construction and efficacy of these provocative materials.  He is now- most generously sharing these many, many strategies and techniques.  They are suitable for all ages, in a variety of forums, with or without parents.

How do we achieve a balance of technology to enhance our lives? How do we identify and acknowledge the benefits and detriments that technology offers us?  How do we converse about the use of technology to our greatest advantage?

Last week, staff members at The Jewish Education Project and Rabbi Schein explored some of his materials in “Text me!” that he has successfully used in a variety of settings for all ages. These interactive materials generate valuable discussion through a variety of engaging vehicles to help us examine our positions on technology. His goal, as is ours, is to assist educators to think about these issue.  Without being dogmatic, Rabbi Schein offers a myriad of engaging techniques to explore our relationships with technology and the unintended consequences on our lives. For example, he culled the internet for a variety of “Awkward pictures posts”.  In pairs, we then had to consider which of these “awkward” photos we would want circulating around the internet about us for time immemorial!!? The conversations were rich, and thought provoking.  I can imagine students of all ages considering, perhaps for the first time, the story their internet pictorial history tells, and what certain pictures say or reflect about them.  In another exercise, they are asked to ask how well they balance their desire to be connected with their desire to connect with both animate and inanimate objects and beings.   They reflect on the statements like following: In the 21st century, “I think therefore I am.” becomes “I share therefore I am.”

Rabbi Schein is a consummate professional who articulately, and passionately presented thoughtful, engaging and interactive experiences for educators to share with learners of all ages.  His mastery of the literature about technology and its effects on us is dazzling.  I was sorry when our time together was over. I was consoled by his generosity in making these materials available on our website. Click here to explore for yourself the materials Rabbi Schein created, as you share his work- albeit virtually!! Thank you Rabbi Schein!!

My Virtual Journey into Online Learning: Week 2

May 15, 2015

“The growing access to knowledge, information, people, and tools that our students are getting demands a shift in how we think about the work they do in school” – Will Richardson – The Steep Unlearning Curve

It’s been fun – and challenging – learning online how to use online technology to look at ways learners can demonstrate what they have learned. Here are a few highlights from Week 2:

 

Online Buddy

I have “met” about 8 educators who are participating in the course. Each of us has uploaded a photo and a brief description of ourselves.

I chose an online buddy, and, as directed, asked a question about something the buddy posted that interested me. I had seen that she lived in NJ for a while. Being a NJ native, I asked her about that. Turns out we have taught in the same school. A nice, personal connection J.

 

My take-away from this experience:

When doing an online class, be sure each person has an online buddy.

Always model what you want the learners to do. Our facilitator, Smadar, had asked each of us a question based on what we wrote in our introduction. Then she asked us each to write to someone in the same way.

 

Creating a Virtual Bulletin Board and a Social Poster

As part of the class, we each put stickies on a virtual bulletin board, indicating our favorite places to travel. Similarly, using a social poster we voted on which type of learning students should be exposed to: Face-to-face; Synchronous; “Collaborative” Asynchronous; or Self-paced Asynchronous. We then explored how to create a virtual bulletin board and a social poster. Part of our assignment this week was to create a bulletin board and/or a social poster. You can see my first attempts at a bulletin board at http://linoit.com/users/erank/canvases/Peer%20Consultancy%20Groups and at a social poster at http://checkthis.com/9iib.

 

My take-away from this experience:

Again, it is essential to model how to use and how to create a tool.

On a practical level, I learned how to make a bulletin board using linoit.com and how to make a social poster on checkthis.com. I think they will be two very useful tools. I have already shared the information about linoit.com with a congregation as another way of getting teen input.

 

I’m thrilled with how much I have learned in just two short weeks and am excited to keep learning as I enter Week 3.

If You Really Listen: Yachdav 2015

By Cyd Weissman

This Thursday, April 30th, at our annual Yachdav Gathering, over 130 educators from The Coalition of Innovating Congregations will gather in NYC to listen. What an odd activity for a group known for doing. The Coalition is known for creating new models of Jewish Enrichment, such as learning that happens in homes, and in yoga studios. We’re known for creating Jewish learning that makes bunks, tribes, buddies, and havurote instead of classrooms. We’re known for making madrichim, chiefs, morei derech, and counselors instead of teachers. Our reputation is for designing Whole Person Learning that speaks to knowing, doing, believing/valuing and belong, not just learning for recitation or fun.  We’re not known for sitting. What emerges when makers and shakers sit and listen?

Josh Nelson, performing song and leading text study, will set the kavanah for Yachdav with a passage from Talmud:

“And it shall come to pass, if listening you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 28:8): if you listen, you will continue to listen, but if not, you will not listen.

והיה אם שמוע תשמע וגו’ אם שמוע תשמע ואם לאו לא תשמע

I confess, I have the bad listening habit described in the latter part of the text. Often, way too often, I only hear the first part of someone’s story, or comment. I hear something said, and my mind starts sparking. I get excited. I have a counter thought. Instead of listening to someone’s full comment, I’m ready to respond mid-way through their sharing.

If I have a dollar every time I heard my husband say, “Let me finish.” I’m not fully listening. I’m engaged. But that’s not good enough. listening_skills

Thursday’s listening schedule will include:
1. The Innovation Marketplace – A new space for folks who care about Jewish education to listen to one another.. .to shop around like in any marketplace for good ideas and tools for educational change. It is a place to hear a voice and share your own.

2.  Teen Voices – Funded by The Jim Joseph Foundation, the Jewish Education Project went to Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Denver to listen to 150 Jewish teenagers. These teens ranged from high to low engagement in Jewish life. What did we learn from their stories? What do they value? What can you hear in their struggles? What we hear should make us pause before we design one more program for them.

3. Parent Voices – Thanks to UJA-Federation, we hired ICW Consulting, led by Ilene Wasserman, to conduct focus groups with 100 parents across New York. These parents send their children/often join their children in the new models of Jewish Education. Oh my, what we heard! There is a new story to tell about parents. Their voices we’ll urge us to walk through new doors as educators.

4. New ResearchProf. Steven M. Cohen, has heard a new generation of parents and learners. He no longer is quoting a study that says one-day-a-week religious school harms, not helps Jewish identification. He has powerful new research that will equip us for a new trajectory of education.

Educational leaders will hone their listening skills in sessions about listening when God is present; listening as a community organizer; listening for advocacy; listening as a designer and listening for the whole story. Experts can help us have helpful listening habits.

We’re a busy Coalition. We’re constantly on to the next innovation. What happens if we shift the energy from creating to listening? What gets created in that listening? How different is the creation, once we listen? What will emerge if you really listen?

If You Really Listen to Teens

By Rena Fraade, Director of Religious School at Larchmont Temple

There was post on the NATE/ARJE list serve a few months ago asking if anyone felt they were doing middle school education “right.” I chuckled when I saw that. And groaned when I saw the responses – because they were all sharing things that I’ve been trying to do – working with my staff to connect our 7th graders who are having a million other struggles in life in addition to “ugh I have Hebrew School today!”

We want it to be meaningful, connecting, engaging – all those words. And when we sat and talked with our 7th graders, we actually got some info – not necessarily enough – but definitely enough to make some immediate changes. While we know our kids are opinionated, we have to frame conversations to get them to talk about what we need them to talk about.Larchmont-Temple

Background:

I adjusted our 7th grade program this year (I have actually honed it every year for seven years) by bringing our 7th graders in the evening to be with our older kids on Tuesdays (they still come in the afternoon Thursdays). They come from 5:45 – 7:45 which includes an elective, dinner, and a “core” program that overlaps with the 8th graders.

We are using a theme of “Jewish Identity” for the 7th graders, everything relates back to them and their own development of this thing they don’t really understand. The first set of electives were chosen by our teachers, things that help us connect to our Jewish identity, such as cooking, comics, and children’s books. But then we wanted the next options to be based on what they wanted to learn. And we needed to check in with the kids anyway.

Hopes & Dreams:

In November, we had our first Hopes and Dreams meeting during their class time in which the kids, in small groups, talked to me and Rabbi Dena Klein, my Jewish Education Project Consultant. We definitely didn’t have enough time to hear as much as we wanted, but we heard SO much.

Here are some of the key pieces of information:

  • They have a lot going on
  • They listen to music/read books/watch movies and are impacted by the themes they are hearing… but don’t necessarily understand the full scope
  • They find that school takes up a lot of their time and feel like it keeps them from doing what they want to be doing; grades and homework get in the way
  • They want to hang out with friends, listen to music, skateboard, play video games, sleep, be artistic
  • They innately know how they are supposed to act in the world (though they know that they don’t always act that way)
  • The traditions of Judaism matter to them
  • They have mixed connections to their families, though they know family is important

23757_lIn January, we were getting concerned about our post Bar and Bat Mitzvah retention while simultaneously wondering how to keep connecting with our kids in the weeks and months post bar/bat mitzvah. And so we had a follow-up Hopes and Dreams Ice Cream Sundae Schmooze – the Assistant Rabbi and I invited the dozen kids to have a conversation with us. We were joined by six (four of whom had been in attendance at the November conversation).

Here are some of the key pieces of information we heard from them:

  • They want to know why/how the learning they are doing “applies” to their lives
  • They are busy, they want to feel like their time is being used well
  • They aren’t really thinking about a Jewish future right now, they are living in the now
  • They are listening to their parents AND their friends as influencers
  • They want the opportunity to make choices about their time
  • Technology is part of who they are, they find it annoying when they are asked to put the phone away
  • Some of them are very compassionate and want to act on it
  • They are both scared and excited for the future… they love learning but on their terms… they love their friends but want to meet new people… they yearn for the freedom to BE.

The Struggle Continues:

After the first Hopes and Dreams conversation, I wrote up a list of electives that I “heard” them “saying” they wanted, I sent a survey to their parents asking them to, together, pick their top 5. I then gave the kids sign-up sheets from the top 5 of those top 5, to create our three electives for this semester – Cooking, Comedy, and Social Action. I am teaching Social Action and we just came to a huge schism in our class… we had been working on finding ways to send packages to soldiers – Americans, Lone soldiers, and Israeli soldiers. They gave me their lists of what they found. And I said, “Ok how are we going to get these supplies?”

And they said to me, “Wait we’re actually doing this?”ques

What exactly, beyond the scientific knowledge, happens in the brain of a pre-teen? What do they want, what do they need… who matters to them, who impresses upon them? And why would they want to “do Jewish?” The brain of the pubescent was/is/will always be our biggest challenge in their Jewish lives.

Parents as Partners

By Laurie Landes, Education Director at Community Synagogue of Rye

“Why is this the first I am hearing about this?”  As a Director of Education, I cringe when I hear these words from parents. Think the sounds of scratching your nails down a chalkboard kind of cringe.  It’s an indication to me that two of our goals, communication and relationship building with parents, had fallen far short.  Teachers for the most part, just don’t feel comfortable contacting parents.  Often they wait until the breaking point to finally reach out to parents about poor behavior.  Why the wait?  Many teachers don’t like telling parents bad news about their child. Or the teacher feels that they can handle the behavior on their own.  Or teachers feel it is a negative reflection on their classroom management ability. Some cannot cope with the possibility of confrontation. “If you could engage my child he wouldn’t be bored and act out.  How come you are picking on him and not another child?  He hates Hebrew school…”    

About ten years ago our school began the RE-Imagine journey to explore what Jewish learning could look like at Community Synagogue. This was a two-year, guided process that included, parents, professional staff and lay leaders.  We went beyond the typical religious school monthly meetings consisting of event planning and policy changes. It was the first time that parents were included in a visioning process for Jewish learning.  Among the many outcomes of the Re-Imagine experience was the recognition that parents play a crucial role in transmitting Jewish learning and connection to their children.  Moving forward, we needed to value and strengthen our partnership with parents.  We launched a robust family learning program to give parents the tools needed to be Jewish role models for their children.  Participation in the Jewish Education Project’s Coalition of Innovating Congregations initiative guided us to the creation of an educational leadership team that included parents as well as a Community Learning Council that was charged with a year-long exploration of one educational cohort.  Our educational leadership moved to a new model that included and valued the voices of our parents. 10897104_779938005425460_8627248664542844683_n

The change process takes many steps.  While we now recognize parents as crucial partners in Jewish learning, our teachers needed to also value this association and then gain the tools needed to form solid relationships with the parents of their learners.  We embarked on a path of change:

  • In-service training to gain an understanding of how and why strengthening relationships with parents can impact learner outcomes in powerful ways.
  • Regular e-mail correspondence from teachers to parents giving highlights of the learning, prompts parents could use for initiating conversations with their children, resources that parents could use to extend the learning and an invitation to respond in any way.
  • Contact with individual parents to let them know about an act of kindness or an exceptional thought or contribution their child may have made. This is like putting money in the bank and watching the relationship interest grow. 
  • Training to deal with parent contact when there is a problem: “I would like to be able to partner with you to create a plan so that David will be successful..”
  • Teachers take leadership roles during family learning, helping to facilitate family discussions. This is an opportunity for in-person relationships development.

talking-to-kids-467x267We are still in the process of changing the culture of the teacher /parent relationships. Sometimes I feel like Moses when he confronted the “Golden Calf” and other times I see evidence of success.  It takes time, mentoring and monitoring, but the outcome is that if we can partner with our parents, their family Jewish journey will be a richer and more meaningful one.

Practicing What You Preach

By Jennifer Stern, Assistant Director, Congregational School at Park Avenue Synagogue

Experiential education is more than a buzzword. It is an amazing way to teach. At the Park Avenue Synagogue Congregational School, we are constantly looking for ways to make a weekday classroom from 4:00 – 6:00 pm an exciting learning experience, one full of movement rather than textbooks. In line with our mission statement, we do Jewish learning.

So, when it came to creating our professional learning sessions for our teachers, we decided to also align these sessions with our Congregational School’s mission. While sessions in the past were interesting, they often involved a frontal presentation. As part of our Reframe project through The Jewish Theological Seminary, we decided to rethink how we delivered these sessions. We wanted to create experiential professional learning for our teachers, in line with the Jewish learning experiences that were happening in our classrooms.10479736_362655890572202_8166552869148709356_n

Earlier this year, we had our first Teacher Retreat. For four and half hours on Super Bowl Sunday, 40 part-time teachers gathered together for an afternoon of experiential learning. With welcoming remarks and Torah study from Rabbi Cosgrove to start our day, we then had a yoga session… yes yoga! We brought in a wonderful yoga teacher who led us in a 45-minute yoga practice. After our yoga session, we had a Q&A session with the yoga teacher to debrief and reflect on the experience.

You may be wondering, what does this have to do with Jewish education and Hebrew School? And my answer would be — EVERYTHING! From thinking about how to create a community of learners, to dealing with individual learners while also addressing the needs of the group, so much can be applied from a yoga session to a Jewish learning environment. The debrief was especially impactful because our teachers articulated connections between the yoga experience and Jewish education for themselves. While we could have just told our teachers about these connections, part of experiential education is reflection.

The next element of our time together took place in the main sanctuary at PAS. We experienced prayer in different ways, movements and positions — from the traditional way of sitting in pews to laying down on the floor and looking up at the stain glass dome in the ceiling. This experience emphasized the importance of space by actually changing locations and positions.

Having an experiential education retreat for our already great teachers helped us create a team of experiential educators. If experiential education is not the mission of your institution, decide what aligns with your goals and the kind of program you are running or building or creating, and train your team accordingly. Bottom line: practice what you preach!

Make a Difference! Who will be Today’s Midwives?

3/31/15

By Susie Tessel

Everyone wants to make a difference!
But how?
But when?
What simple acts of kindness and compassion can we do?

A powerful story about someone who makes a difference took place in the dark days of the Holocaust – in the Netherlands, which was Nazi-occupied, on a Sunday morning, in a Calvinist Church. An unknown man suddenly appeared, riding up on his bicycle. He entered the church. He quickly but quietly ascended the stairs of the pulpit and read aloud the story of the midwives who had defied Pharaoh’s evil decrees and bravely saved the Hebrew male babies.

He paused, looked around the church, and asked,  “Who is today’s Pharaoh?” The congregation answered in unison,
“Hitler”.
“Who are today’s Hebrew babies?”
“The Jews.”
“Who will be today’s midwives?”

Without waiting for a response, the unidentified man pedaled away, presumably to pose that challenge to others. Between the war years, 1941-1945, seven families from this little church alone hid Jews and other resisters from the Nazis.

Both the Biblical midwives and the unknown bicyclist, serve as inspirational stories which embolden us to find a path to make a difference. It urges us to ask ourselves: “How can I make a difference today?” Obviously, it takes an extraordinary person  – who is both courageous and clear-sighted  – to willfully disobey an evil decree of Pharaoh or of the evil Nazi empire. Most people are not able to be that fearless. But that doesn’t mean we should abnegate our responsibility to our values, to our people, and to our religion.

So, Open your eyes  – and think hard.
Who will be today’s midwives?

Every person will come up with a different answer.  But know that every act you do can make a difference to someone as we continue in our roles as God’s helpers.

geriatrics books