Monday, February 14, 2011

If Not Now, When - Blurring the Lines for the Future of Jewish Education

The dust is settling after the January JEA and NATE conferences.  Synagogue educators of all stripes and flavors are returning to our old haunts: Congregations and real life. A taste of what is possible still remains in our mouths, though. We need to ask: How do we keep the spirit that we felt in Mt. Laurel and Seattle, alive?  How do we move forward?  What’s next?

Now is the time for us to translate what we started to learn last month into our everyday routines.  What this means, IMHO, is that we need to work harder to create our own Professional Learning Network (PLN). We have learned that we don’t have to be in the same room/city/state/continent to learn from each other.  We have learned the real strength of social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Now we need to take the next step and get involved in these networks, learning from each other and building something brand new.

The laboratory that was NATE or JEA was great:  A controlled environment where the best of the brave new world could be displayed in all its cyber glory, pointing a way to what could be. But we all know that when we’re on our own in our offices back home, life has the annoying habit of happening: Distracting us with emergent issues like the kid and her mom who goes to soccer practice instead of the B’nai Mitzvah family program; the teacher who can’t get it together enough to turn in a legible lesson plan, let alone any; the board member who doesn’t understand why religious school teachers should be paid a reasonable wage. We all face these issues daily. We must not let them get in the way of our moving forward to build a vibrant edifice that IS the Jewish future. We can’t let the mundane get in the way of the sacred: L’mavdil ben kodesh l’hol.

Let it be proclaimed through all the lands and Second Life: The tools we need to learn how to construct tomorrow’s educational systems are available in the cloud, from teachers and thinkers at #jed21, from networks, sites and blogs like the Jewish Education Change Network, YU2.0, Welcome to the Next Level, The jewish-education Daily and many many more. They are a mere mouse click away. 

Yes, these resources are there to teach us, but what we need to do is to organize, to work together, regardless of affiliation or movement. This is my Unified Field Theory for Jewish Education: One “place” where we can all “meet” and discuss and build. Rather than the disparate links that can become overwhelming to us and especially to those who didn’t attend either conference, we should create a clearinghouse that will enable us to learn from each other.  We don’t have time in our ridiculously busy days to follow every tweet or blog. I know how traumatic missing 12 hours of tweets can be. We congregational/supplemental/complimentary school educators need to (If I may mangle my friend and colleague Ira Wise’s blog title) get to the Next Level and create one forum that will be OUR Professional Learning Network, irrespective of denomination or movement. 

I’m ready to work on this experiment.  Anyone want to join me?

And if not now, when?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Testimony to Jewish Educators

Robyn Faintich (@Jewishgps and JewishGPS) posted this piece entitled "Todah Rabah to our Educators!"on Davar Acher-On the Other Hand  blog on Sunday. In it she celebrates the profession of Jewish educators and their role in building the Jewish future. As a Director of Education in a congregational school, I would like to say Todah Rabah to Robyn for her words. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Todah Rabah to our Educators!

In the world of Jewish education, the people who run our synagogue religious schools are often the most under-appreciated and under-recognized. We often defer to the role our rabbis and cantors play when reflecting on the Jewish education of our children and certainly the role a child’s Hebrew tutor plays. But behind the scenes running the religious school is a director of education (sometimes known as the principal) who cares about the Jewish journey of the students and their families.

For the last two weeks, I have traveled across the country to participate and present at professional learning conferences designed for these educators. The Conservative movement’s Jewish Educators’ Assembly (JEA) and the Reform movement’s National Association of Temple Educators (NATE) sponsored the two events held in Philadelphia/New Jersey and Seattle respectively.

Collectively, over 450 educators gathered to learn about the challenges and opportunities that technology and social media offer us in education. (Yes, both conferences engaged in the same theme.) While together in their respective conferences, educators took the opportunity to network, collaborate, and engage in meta-level conversations about Jewish education in the 21st century. If you want a glimpse at all they learned and toiled with, you can check out the twitter feeds for #jea59 and #nateseattle. 

I had the opportunity to present at both conferences, which gave me the chance to learn with the participants in a unique way. These educators work hard. They work hard at their own learning. I only wish their students and the parents could see them hard at work. I wish they saw the role modeling in life-long learning these school leaders engage in. In addition to the core education components, each of the conferences included aspects of Torah L’shma (text study for the sake of study), offered t’filah, and community-building activities. A perfect dugmah (example) of what our synagogues are trying to offer the student learners. From sun-up at 8 a.m. until way past sun-down (sometimes after 11 p.m.) these educators gave 1000% of themselves for the sake of their own learning, for the sake of being better so that they can serve our people better.

These educators don’t make a fortune; they don’t do the work because of the first-class perks they get, or the year-end bonuses. They do this work because it is a true passion for each and every one of them. So the next time you wonder through the halls of your synagogue, take time to peak your head into the office of the education director, and just thank him/her for dedicating themselves to this sacred work.