How do you teach Sefer Yeshayahu [Book of Isaiah]?
Fourteen yeshiva high school teachers came together on Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus in late March to ask each other and themselves that question, under the auspices of YU’s Institute for University-School Partnership. Hailing from a range of schools across the tri-state area, the teachers were united by the subject they all taught (Navi, or The Prophets), their desire to enhance their own approach, and the opportunity to learn from others.
“The purpose is to expand teachers’ thinking about what’s possible in the classroom and to help them clarify their own particular focus,” said Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of the YU School Partnership. “Even though their individual schools are so different, it’s productive and important for them to talk about Navi together. They can relate to each other, but the diversity creates a great learning environment.”
The group started as an offshoot of YUHSChinuchCommunity.org – one of the YU School Partnership’s seven online Communities of Practice. These online communities allow educators to organize discussions around a plethora of topics, from incorporating technology into a lesson to creating more meaningful Judaic studies classes for younger children, and provide a forum for shared experiences, ideas and questions. The Navi teachers, now meeting in person for the second time, had already been in touch with each other and additional educators for over a year as part of an online sub-group specifically for Navi teachers, where they compared the specifics of their classrooms and curricula, posted lesson plans and suggested helpful links.
As the teachers sat together around a conference table, Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz, who serves as Rosh Beit Medrash at Ramaz and the Navi group’s facilitator, framed the conversation: “What are our long term goals for teaching Sefer Yeshayahu? What is the value of sharing this discussion with the broader community of teachers?”
Racheli Weiss of The Frisch School demonstrates the use of technology in the teaching of Yeshayahu.
According to Schiowitz, the opportunity for high school teachers to come together to discuss technique is rare but critical to continue their development as educators. “At every convening, including this one, teachers are very appreciative at the end and can’t believe how much they gained,” he said. “This is one of the things necessary to take our field to the next level of advancement and professional growth.”
Miriam Krupka, who also teaches at Ramaz, agreed. “In Jewish education, your demographic as a teacher is so much more limited,” she said. “This community expands that group, allows you to bounce ideas off each other and hear stories about others who are doing what you’re doing. In general, convening like this is an energizing experience and a good reminder of how much talent is out there in the field and how great some of these educators are.”
At this year’s gathering, teachers presented sample lessons, explaining how they contextualized the sefer and what priorities and ideas they hoped to transfer to students. Their colleagues listened, took notes and asked questions. How could Smart board technology be manipulated to offer a layered experience for students of varying capabilities? What chapter serves best as an introduction to the material? How could the harsh mussar [rebuke] segments of the sefer be made relatable to young students?
“Convening like this, both online and in person, provides teachers with emotional support and practical solutions to individual dilemmas, but it also enables them to create new knowledge together,” said Dr. Naava Frank, the YU School Partnership’s director of continuing education and professional development. “You have these experienced professionals in a room, talking about how they each approach the material and they’ll start coming up with a whole new way of teaching a particular chapter. We think that connectivity makes for better teachers who will reach more students more of the time.”
By the end of the day, the group was already planning to visit each other’s classrooms and post their presentations online for the benefit of other Navi teachers across the country.
“It was invigorating to interact with a good cross section of teachers, both veteran and less so, who have good command of the material and are excited about exploring interesting ways and ideas of conveying the richness of the Navi and its message to students,” said Rabbi Nati Helfgot, who teaches at SAR. “I particularly appreciated seeing how some of the younger teachers use the media frameworks at our disposal today to teach a lesson or have students engage in meaningful learning. A number of the motivations and techniques that were used were ones that I am thinking about integrating into my own teaching.”
For more information about how YU School Partnership convenes Jewish educators in Communities of Practice, please visit yuschoolpartnership.org/cops.