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As the Teachers, So the Students

Many schools claim a pedagogic goal of “lifelong learning”.  I’ve been on accreditation teams where the team asks schools to provide the evidence that supports their claim of lifelong learning.  Most schools struggle to find the supporting evidence.

Though our school does not claim lifelong learning as a goal in our mission statement, we actualize it as we encourage a climate in which teachers and staff are continuous learners.  This creates the very important modeling for children.  Everyday, they see teachers who enjoy learning and are reflective thinkers. 

As our teachers learn, so do I.  This Wednesday, I spent all day in Los Angeles being oriented as a member of cohort IX for the AviChai funded National Standards and Benchmark project for teaching Torah texts. Our participation in the cohort means that all of our staff will receive on-going training for two years by experts in text teaching and that we will establish a standards and benchmark sequence for our entire school for the teaching of Torah texts.  It means that we will be using the same curriculum lense (UbD) that we use to teach general studies.  We will also create units and lessons that emphasize critical thinking.  It means that the work that is done in general studies with respect to literature study and analysis will be parallel and supported in Judaic Studies. 

This grant for text study is one of several prestigious grants that we have received this year to support teacher enrichment.  Michele Ban has been selected to be a fellow in the first cohort for “emerging communities for mathematical practice and assessment” at Drexel University funded by the National Science Foundation.  She was invited to apply for this program.  Debbi Seligman has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the Spanish Mission System which is part of the fourth grade curricula. Melissa Koh has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the second year.  She will be studying the transcontinental railroad.

And that’s not all – we have been carefully honing our STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics) initiatives.  Both Cynthia Pellegrini (middle school science and mathematics) and Nicole Haire have participated in the Gruss Foundation’s E2K STEM enrichment training that took place in Israel and in New York over the past two years.   This program has introduced STEM enrichment units in our middle school and the Gruss foundation provides us with science equipment for the science laboratory to accompany the education units. 

Middle School Judaic Studies teacher, Joel Abramovitz, participated this year in the training for JCAT (Jewish Court of All Times) a program funded by RAVSAK (the community day school network).  This program connected our sixth grade students to their peers in several other schools.  Through an on-line secure network, each sixth grader assumed the character of someone from Jewish history, researched the character and then participated in a debate with students from other schools where each side needed to prepare a response to an ethical dilemma while remaining in character. 

Today I received an invitation to continue for a second year as part of the jdigitallearning network.  This is a group of like-minded schools throughout the country who are chatting and testing different technology solutions in Jewish day schools.  There are frequent webinars for members and a helpful website where we share what we’ve learned. 

There’s more:  Our school received a 2-year grant from the Avi Chai foundation to test on-line learning. Hebrew teacher, Dina and mathematics/science teacher, Mr. Panasuk have been teaming with counterparts at the Tucson Hebrew Academy to create both ulpan classes and geometry classes for each other. As we test, we  also submit our evaluation of the process with an eye to bring on other schools in the coming year.

When I first began working at Wornick, I spoke about the importance of teachers and staff being actively involved and engaged in their own learning.  I do believe that enthusiasm generates enthusiasm – thus, teachers who are passionate about their own learning, model and transmit that passion to their students.  I spoke about the idea of turning our school into a lab school (like a teaching hospital) where the boundaries between learning and teaching are constantly interconnecting.  Our DELET model where teachers train in our school was the seed for this.  Each year we train one or two DELET fellows, and when possible, we bring them on to our staff.  This means that we have a steady stream of outside field supervisors giving the DELET fellows and the rest of us feedback on our teaching.  It also means that a few of our teachers become trained mentor teachers – this year, Debbi Seligman, Michele Ban and Kaylee Frayger were mentor teachers.  This spring, we added teacher training from Notre Dame de Namur as well. 

I believe that teachers who are lifelong engaged learners produce students who are similarly engaged. The evidence supporting this statement is palpable at Wornick JDS.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. G.