experiments, instruments & measurement book

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!

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