Source: Journal of Jewish Education
This special issue of the Journal of Jewish Education marks a double milestone: one for the Journal itself, and one for the Mandel Teacher Educator Institute (MTEI), whose graduates are this issue’s authors. For the JJE, this is the first volume entirely devoted to practitioner research. For MTEI, this is the first publication of research done by graduates. I will share a bit about each of these enterprises before I introduce the articles which make up this special issue.
The history of practitioner/action research in JJE has been complicated. As an associate editor for a decade, I saw that while practitioners submit, the journal’s guidelines to authors and the articles that were submitted were not a good fit. As a result, except for a few notable exceptions, practitioner/action research has been absent from our journal.
Mandel Teacher Educator Institute
In addition to the genre of their inquiry, what links these articles together is that all of the researchers were part of the seventh national cohort of MTEI, which concluded its program in March, 2017. MTEI actually owes its existence to research showing that teachers and leaders in Jewish schools, though committed to their roles, were professionally underprepared for their work and engaged in little professional development that could address these gaps. MTEI was created in 1995 to build capacity in the field of Jewish education by growing the knowledge and skills of Jewish educational leaders and to address some of the gaps that had surfaced.
The MTEI team designed a program that would challenge participants to think more deeply about teaching and learning and inspire them to develop a more sophisticated understanding of Jewish content. We also wanted these participants to think about how, as leaders of professional learning, they could strengthen the quality of teaching and learning in their own schools. Through hevruta learning, video investigations, classroom observations, mentoring relationships, and interacting with a cohort of critical colleagues, we hoped that participants would sharpen their skills, gain new insights, and join a like-minded network of Jewish educators to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Jewish schools (day and afterschool) and other educating institutions.
One of the hallmarks of MTEI over the years has been the way in which the faculty has incorporated participants’ feedback into our pedagogical practice. Over the years, our faculty has been fortunate to include Deborah Ball, Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Barry Holtz, Elie Holzer, Seymour Kopelowitz, Jennifer Lewis, Miriam Raider-Roth, Kathy Simon, and Jeff Stanzler. During each seminar, the faculty met daily. We gathered feedback cards from participants and reflected on what could be learned from them and from on our own reflections about what happened on any given day, and on how these sources of data might inform the way we would proceed the next day and into the future. MTEI’s achievements owe a great deal to this kind of practice-based, practice-enriching self-study. Such reflective practice has served to improve our program in both immediate and long-term ways, and we have used the questions this reflection generated as we conducted more formal research on MTEI.
This themed issue of the journal reflects a new stage for MTEI and its associated research. Thus far, we (the faculty and the field) have learned both from the research of the faculty and our outside evaluators. Additionally, participants have learned from ongoing reflection on their own learning via journal writing and sharing assignments highlighting the work they were doing in their own settings. In this issue, we continue to hear about MTEI from members of the faculty, but we are also hearing the perspective of eight participants who are now sharing their learning with the Jewish educational research community at large. This move from reflection on practice to systematic investigation of one’s own practice builds on the scholarship and research of the current director of MTEI, Miriam Raider-Roth, a professor of Educational Studies and Educational & Community-Based Action Research at the University of Cincinnati.