By Talia Graff
Imagine a classroom where students not only help each other learn, but thank each other for their listening skills and identify strategies for working together. This classroom is more than just a fantasy. It exists at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital. As one fourth grader wrote to her partner: “I noticed you used a lot of attentive silence and the prompt, ‘do you understand what I am saying’ … you helped me realize that the text is really interesting, and you are a great partner to work with.” These students have absorbed the foundational skills for working in havruta, as partners in learning. And these students aren’t the only ones.
In August, teachers and school leaders from four schools across the United States arrived at Hadar. After a year of implementing new classroom techniques, they were meeting to reflect on the changes they saw in their students and their schools. “My students dove deeper … than I ever could have imagined.” One teacher reflected on her practice: “This has brought me to a completely different place in my teaching, and I’ve been teaching for a long time.” What was responsible for these dramatic shifts?
These educators are part of a special two-year long cohort facilitated by Allison Cook and Dr. Orit Kent, directors of the Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP), fueled by Hadar. The educators have devoted themselves to learning the building blocks of what makes for successful havruta partnership in their classrooms. They have reflected on what sorts of tools students should be offered to encourage their social and emotional growth alongside their academic performance. They’ve restructured lesson plans and transformed students into partners, responsible for digging deeper into their studies.
Pedagogy of Partnership has “crystalized the vision of the school” one school leader shared. And the change isn’t only in the Judaic studies classrooms, where havruta learning has long been a pillar of traditional study. One math teacher commented, “It’s great to see kids digging into math problems the way they dig into Tanakh or literature.”
The results are undeniable and go beyond the individual classrooms. A school board member, speaking to one of the participants, summed it up: “It seems like your teachers are really transforming the culture of the school.” As teachers’ expectations have evolved, so has the attitude of their students. “They become very aware” of their behavior and how it reflects on their peers. “My partner depends on me,” one student shared with his teacher. In the words of one school leader: “I love the goals that underlie the work of PoP and I think it will make our students better thinkers and communicators in the long run.” In the short term, if the students from Milton are any example, these students have certainly already learned how to reflect on their learning experiences and to express appreciation to their peers.
The participating schools are: Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, Oakland Hebrew Day School, Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital, and Luria Academy of Brooklyn. This cohort, comprised of teachers and school leaders from each of these institutions, was made possible by the generous support of the AVI CHAI, Kohelet, and Mayberg foundations. To learn more about Pedagogy of Partnership and the work of Allison Cook and Dr. Orit Kent, visit www.hadar.org/pedagogy-partnership
Talia Graff is Associate Director of Public Programs at Hadar.