This Jewish Day School Built an R&D Lab

August 29, 2017

Source: Forward

In many ways, Jewish education has remained unchanged for centuries. Students and teachers read texts together, and then they analyze them. But the 21st century has become an age of an unprecedented amount of information, all downloadable in seconds. In just a few decades, it’s already changed the way we think and absorb the world.

Eliezer Jones, the new head of school at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School in Chicago, believes that education needs to evolve to accommodate those changes. “In general,” he said, “educators need to teach skills to children so they will be more flexible when they leave school. They’re living in a global world. Kids are connected everywhere. They need the skills to navigate that.”

He began doing some research and discovered the book “R&D Your School: How to Start, Grow, and Sustain Your School’s Innovation Engine”.

It was based on methods that co-author Shabbi Luthra had developed at the American School of Bombay. Jones contacted Luthra and asked for her advice. Then, with the help of a grant from the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge, he brought her to Chicago to train a group of teachers at Akiba-Schechter.

Participation in Akiba-Schechter’s R&D team is entirely voluntary. Twelve faculty and staff members attended the weeklong training session earlier this month. They learned the rudiments of “design thinking” to construct solutions to problems, as well as how to create prototypes and how to adjust them if they failed. They also discussed the bigger changes they wanted to see in the school, and set up a structure to evaluate proposals for changes, in order to strike a balance between introducing programs too quickly before they’re properly thought through and spending so much time philosophizing that nothing ever happens.

“The R&D department will provide a place for people already doing innovative things to be more thorough in their approach,” said Miriam Kass, Akiba-Schechter’s principal. “We can incorporate those things into the school or not. Not all innovations end up being the right fit. We need to acknowledge things that don’t work are as important as building up things that do. The design thinking process will allow us to be really methodical and careful within a very creative place.”

At the moment, Akiba-Schechter is one of the only schools in the country, and the only Jewish day school, to employ the R&D model. But Jones wants it to become a template for other schools, and wants his teachers to become known as experts in design thinking and innovation.

Read more at the Forward.

Updated: Sep. 18, 2017