Bringing Jewish educators together from across different contexts-- this is something that Dr. Jen Glaser, Co-Director of the Israel Center for Philosophy in Education, feels strongly about. With the support of a Covenant Signature Grant, this conviction has been central to her work over the past 5 years in North America, developing the Engaging Texts Network.
“When I first started doing this work,” she explained, “I was told that it would be difficult to have synagogue educators and day school educators learning together, in the same room, especially when studying Jewish texts, because goals, backgrounds and contexts were seen to be too disparate. But I was sure that actually, that line of thinking was wrong. I knew we could bring them together.”
Glaser believes that the pedagogies of engagement that form the basis of professional development in philosophical inquiry are enriching for everybody, regardless of the space in which they teach.
“We’ve found that educators love being together across the different modes of learning, different fields,” she said.
And that variety doesn’t just concern educational spaces, but also, streams of Judaism. So in practice, Glaser explained, “PI” professional development programs can successfully enrich a teen educator from the reform movement, alongside a teacher from a Conservative day school and an early childhood educator from Chabad.
“Bringing people together from such disparate places on the religious and educational spectrum may seem counterintuitive to some, but it works,” Glaser said.
Perhaps it’s the philosophy behind the philosophy, so to speak, that makes this kind of cross-pollination professional development, succeed. As Glaser explained, this kind of philosophical inquiry implies “a combination of rigorous exploration of meaning with community building and reflection on students’ own lives. The students themselves take control of their learning, and wrestle with texts together as a group, not just as individuals. They ask each other questions and push one another on their responses.”
The same is true when PI is employed in a professional development setting.
“PI aims to instill both empowerment and deep content knowledge, with the goal of helping kids see themselves as part of the ongoing Jewish conversation,” Glaser emphasized, “and ultimately, this contributes to the development of a strong Jewish identity.” And these goals are as relevant for adult educators as they are for kids.
This summer, Glaser will run two philosophical inquiry professional development training seminars-- on opposite coasts. First, she’ll be in at Hebrew College in Newton, MA, from July 17-20, for the Hebrew College Summer Workshop: Philosophy for Children (P4C), which will focus on getting educators initiated into the practice of building communities of philosophical inquiry.
With Hebrew College as the “hub,” and lots of prior local events and demonstrations popping up to get educators in the region interested in how PI fits into Jewish education, Glaser is hoping that the Hebrew College training will appeal to a broad spectrum of educators.
“The ideal participant of these trainings isn’t just a classroom educator,” Glaser said. “These sessions could be of interest to administrators, Directors of life-long learning, family educators, and in the last few years, we have had increasing interest from clergy, too, because dealing with texts and thinking about how to make texts relevant, is something rabbis do all the time. In fact, we’ve found that our workshops which prepare educators to delve into the philosophical dimensions of experience really helps to expand their repertoire.”
The Hebrew College seminar is a truly immersive experience, Glaser said, which is central to her approach to professional development.
As educators know, professional development takes myriad forms. “In some schools,” Glaser offered, “the mode of PD happening might be one where a trainer goes into a classroom and works with the teacher for a few sessions, or conducts PD out of class spread out over a long period of time.”
“What we do is different,” she continued, “in that we are taking educators out of their regular professional environment, and immersing them in a sustained experience over a stretch of time.”
Based on Vygotsky’s Constructivist Theory, our approach immerses educators in a practice with the opportunity to reflect on that practice with other educators, in order to become more sophisticated about it. The Hebrew College seminar is built so that the four days of learning aren’t four independent days. Rather, each day builds on the next, utilizing what was mastered along the way, from one day to the next.
In many ways, the evolution of Glaser’s work is a meta example of the pedagogy she teaches.
“When I first began doing this work and applied for a grant from The Covenant Foundation,” she said, “I was working with individual educators at the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, to train them in a method that they could then bring into their classrooms.” But ultimately, Glaser continued, there was a bigger idea brewing. What would happen if those educators could then develop competencies in teaching this to others? What if they took it, and introduced their colleagues to this approach?
“We set the project up as a ‘proof text,’ or a model of what this kind of teaching might look like, where educators within a network could steep themselves enough within the practice and the theory to then develop a ‘hub’ of professional development in their own city.”
And that’s the motivating idea behind the trainings that Glaser will lead this summer. “We want to help cultivate a community of practitioners who can engage with one another,” she explained. For example, one of educators from Berkeley will be coming to help lead the seminar at Hebrew College. “There’s a lot of modeling that happens in any professional development setting where philosophical inquiry is being taught,” she added. “We always deconstruct, we always translate what is being taught into practical pedagogical tools. The goal is not just a sending educators away with ‘big ideas,’ but also, practical ways that they can operationalize this method in their own classrooms.”
In Berkeley, with her colleagues at Studio 70 and Edah, Glaser will lead workshops on Aug 2 and 3 and then several days later, the workshops resume on the 10th and 11th. While the immersive experience is still central to Glaser’s goals on the west coast, the training model looks slightly different there this summer to accommodate for the New CAJE conference, which happens on the days in between.
Glaser will be running workshops at New CAJE, too, or, as she calls them, “little pockets of professional development,” on topics like bringing an inquiry-based approach to text into conversation with project-based learning and Design Thinking, a new development that’s emerged over the past year in Glaser’s work.
For instance, Glaser explained, if educators are teaching about Israel, in addition to a deep dive into related texts, an integrated curriculum would ask that learners also consider the concept of place and ask questions like ‘what makes a place a home?’ By looking at preconceived notions about familiar ideas, and making connections between those old notions and new discoveries, texts that are then introduced will be all the more enriching for the nuance they bring. In this way, philosophical inquiry enhances and complements many of the current trends in education that look for ways to integration learning across disciplines.
“When this project began,” Glaser said, “it was much more about dealing with an approach of PI with text, but now, in response to what educators have expressed, the focus of our trainings is shifting and we’re excited to explore themes and topics that are current in classrooms right now.”
“In this way, we can truly isolate those concepts that are so rich for exploration,” she said.
“Education holds the key to changing the world and making it better. For education to achieve all that it can, we must have teachers who believe in the moral, ethical, Jewish ideas we teach and who are committed to inspiring their students”
—Rabbi David Eliach, A Covenant of Dreams: Realizing the Promise of Jewish Education, 2009
“There are children, grownups, everywhere
That would love to hear your voices
Singing for our health to be bright
So that we can join together...and paint our world with healing and hope”
-From the original song, Painting Our World with Healing Hope, by Karina and Debora Zilberman
“Families that share stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time...Through sharing the past, families recreate themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
—“Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being
Read more about Dr. Marshall Duke and his work, here.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project