Professional development

Learning that feeds the soul and the toolbox

In Short

At last month’s NewCAJE conference we tested a model we had in mind for a while: the opportunity for adults, whether lay people or professional educators, to bring together content and pedagogy.

Take 1: Those of us who lead professional development (PD) programs for teachers in day schools and supplementary schools have frequently heard (often during a coffee break) one teacher saying to another: “We are always expected to give to our students; when do we get to learn just for ourselves? If we talk so much about Torah lishmah, should we not have those opportunities too?”

Take 2: Those of us who work in adult Jewish education have frequently heard learners say they very much enjoy coming to sessions and they leave with an incredible sense of fulfillment and connection to Judaism. Many times this is followed by “If only I could transmit these concepts to my children/grandchildren/nieces and nephews…”

The three of us, Jewish educators with quite a few years of experience, having been at the scenes of both Take 1 and Take 2, decided to try something new. At last month’s NewCAJE conference – the Conference for the Advancement of Jewish Education – we tested a model we had in mind for a while: the opportunity for adults, whether lay people or professional educators, to bring together content and pedagogy. Since each of us has a certain set of skills, we figured that collaboration would lead to a program that could do both: offer Torah lishmah (content) and provide participants with concrete takeaways to work with their learners (pedagogy).

Exploring the topic of teshuvah as the process of returning to oneself, we chose texts that are very much off the beaten path. The more than 60 educators who were attending the session were able to glean some deep concepts about teshuvah, which they either were not familiar with or had been exposed to only superficially. The exchange of ideas was extremely enriching to all who were present, and all teachers felt that they had gained something for themselves, taught at an adult level.

Two of us then explored with the educators ways by which they could make the learning of the deep teshuvah concepts accessible and meaningful to students of all ages. Having received 10 concrete activities that could bring across those concepts to preschoolers, elementary, middle and high school students, with different kinds of games and activities that can be used both in person and virtually (including escape rooms), teachers were inspired and confident that they could bring this content into their classrooms in fun and exciting ways.

It is clear to us that this is the ideal model for professional development. If we are going to ask our teachers to give more, we should give them more not only on a professional level, but on a personal level. If teachers know they will personally be inspired and get something for themselves out of the PD sessions they are asked to attend, they are much more likely to be fully present and to actually look forward to PD days.

We also realized that this is a model that should be applied with adult lifelong learners as well. They are a captive audience, who are there because they want to deepen their understanding of and connection to Judaism. Many of them are in what psychologist Erik Erikson refers to as the stage of generativity in which they feel the responsibility of being role models and guides to the next generations. Unfortunately, though, they feel inept to do so as they have no teaching experience. What if they had “mentoring development” sessions where in addition to learning a topic for their own Torah lishmah, they also received concrete pedagogy strategies to bring their acquired knowledge to their own families?

We are convinced that by bringing together learning and teaching, content and pedagogy, both for teachers and for lay learners, we are able to create a learning environment that is both pleasurable and that gives the participants takeaways that can immediately be applied to their classrooms or their living rooms.

Batsheva Frankel is a veteran educator of all ages, the author of “The Jewish Educators Companion” (Behrman House), host and producer of the podcast Overthrowing Education, a game creator, curriculum designer and an educational consultant through her company New Lens Ed.

Sari Kopitnikoff is an experiential educator, digital artist, published author and the creator of That Jewish Moment. She’s passionate about creating games, activities, shows and virtual challenges that bring Judaism to life. 

Sandra Lilienthal is an adult instructor and curriculum developer, author of the Pillars of Judaism curriculum and of the Living Wisdom series of nine courses recently introduced by the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. She is a 2015 Covenant Award winner.

Together they created D’or L’Dor Delivery to offer high caliber Torah learning for adults along with pedagogical, creative tools to pass along to the next generations.