Source: AVICHAI Foundation
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. 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.
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.