“We shall do; We shall understand”

What a week!

We are at the tail end of what has been the most exciting and enthusiastic Pre-Planning Weeks I have ever been honored to lead.  We have been studying Curriculum 21 as a school for almost half a year and experimenting with nings, wikis, Google docs, Skyping, etc.  As the new head of school, coming into this so recently, the credit for much of this goes to the visionary lay leaders who brought the program to us and to our primary 21st Century Learning Specialist Silvia Tolisano.  I have been impressed at the level of buy-in from all our teachers (regardless of age or stage!) and we have spent much of our week collaborating and planning for an amazing year.  The highlight for many was a Skype call with Curriculum 21 editor and author Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

I have been inspired by my teachers to jump into 21st century learning as well, with this blog, a twitter account, a Skype account, etc.  Each week I hope my sophistication with all these new vehicles for connection and communication deepens.  So too, do I look forward to being enriched by those kind enough to enter into feedback loops with me.

Part of my desire to keep this blog is precisely to reflect on the relationship between 21st century learning and 5,000 year-0ld traditions.  This week was a good week for this kind of reflective practice.  While studying from the Book of Exodus with my Jewish Studies Faculty, we focused on a curious phrase.  When God prepares to give the Torah to the People of Israel, the people respond by saying “We shall do; we shall understand” (Exodus 24:7).  We will do all that God will ask of us and we will (then) understand.

I am greatly paraphrasing and somewhat loosely interpreting, but it is an acceptable translation and understanding to conclude that one can oftentimes gain understanding through action.  This is as true as keeping kosher as it is as learning addition.  You want to know why it is valuable and important to keep kosher?  Try keeping kosher for a while and see how it might enrich your life.  You want to learn how to add?  Take these manipulatives and play with them.  Then you can learn the formulas.  Jump in.  Get your hands dirty.  Experiment.  Play.

In many ways this formulation from the Bible is one of the earliest advocacies of experiential education – we learn best through doing.  It may not be only way of learning, but it is certainly a valuable tool.

These ideas collided during our week-long study of 21st century learning.  If we as a faculty want to see the power of collaborative working through wikispaces and Google Docs…we need to commit to doing it.  If we want to see how podcasting can impact student learning…we need to podcast.  If we want to see how using interactive whiteboards can lead to a paradigm shift in teacher preparation and student achievement…jump in.  Get your hands dirty.  Experiment.  Play.

Our teachers are ready.  I’m ready.  The parents are certainly more than ready!  The students?  We’ll see them on Monday.

A restful weekend to all…

All Teaching is a Sacred Act

One of my favorite books is Teaching & Religious Imagination by Maria Harris.  It is a wonderful book and I am grateful to my doctoral comps for forcing me to become familiar with it.  What I love about it, is how it describes secular teaching in religious language.  The very act of teaching – regardless of subject or location – is a religious act.  This is not just beautiful imagery, which it is, but an important truth to acknowledge as we head back to school.

Those of us who have been charged with the sacred task of providing a child with an education recognize and are humbled by that holy responsibility.  It matters not in a school whether we are the teacher of prayer or the teacher of tennis.  Education is interactional and God can be found in the quality of our relationships.  How we treat our students and each other matters.

Teachers officially report for duty come Monday morning.  The sun rises on a new year.  I am as anxious and excited as anyone to see how it will all play out.  “Man plans; God laughs.”  We’ll see who’s laughing next week…

…a restful Shabbat and weekend to all!

A Calm Before…

…I was going to say “storm,” but that seems a bit pejorative.  Surely the return of teachers to their sacred work is anything, but a “storm”.  However, “calm”?  The week before school?  Well that isn’t quite accurate either…

I’m back for seconds!  Although the raw number of readers is appropriately super-small considering there isn’t much reason for anyone outside of my school community to read what I’m writing, the fact anyone who didn’t “have” to read it, did, still amazes.  It only took one blog for me to realize the power of this new (to me) vehicle of communication.  I found each comment I received in response affirming and instructive – and I appreciate the fact that anyone had a spare moment to send it.  To be part of an unpredictable, ever-changing community of people who share a passion for teaching and learning is nothing less than invigorating.

And so here I sit with a week of summer left before my teachers return and two weeks before my students (still largely unknown to me as I enter my first year as head of this school) fill the hallways with the magical noise that only a school can create.  Items have been checked off the list.  Rooms have been painted.  Handbooks have been edited and await printing.  Teachers have been slowly popping in to get a head start on their rooms. Parents have been slowly popping in to get a head start on being good parents, organized for another year of schooling.

I always find this last week to be a liminal experience – poised between wistful longing for all the things I hoped to do over the summer and the nervous excitement about all that is about to happen.  It is one of those experiences that only those of us who have spent their entire lives on a school calendar can appreciate.  Each year at this time, I feel echoes of my younger student self – only instead of worrying about which color Trapper Keeper to buy, I worry about which iPad app to download.

And so to my colleagues, teachers, parents, and students, I wish you a restful week.  See that last matinee.  Spend those extra minutes with your family before night meetings begin.  Go eat some ice cream and watch the sun set.  Finish that book you were hoping to read this summer (or to my teachers “required” to read!).  Another summer draws to a close and a new school year prepares to begin.  Another opportunity for us all to be better than we were the year before.  Everything is possible.

A question: I have opened a Twitter account…I am just not sure why!  To those who tweet and those who follow…what am I missing?  Discuss…

Southern Hospitality

This is not the view from my office…but it is a view of my new home city – Jacksonville, FL.

“A Floor, But No Ceiling”

In the spirit of practicing what one preaches, I have entered the blogosphere.  I am a month into my new headship at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School after spending five years as the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Our teachers are required to blog and, therefore, so should I.  So here I am.

I didn’t know it was possible to leave Las Vegas and find somewhere even more uncomfortable during the summer, but it is. Differences in humidity aside, my wife, two daughters and I are slowly adjusting to our new home.  We are enjoying the southern hospitality and warm welcome we have received.  I am enjoying getting to know the staff, parents, students, and teachers of my new school.

We are a 21st century learning school invested in the continuity of a five thousand year-old tradition.  Our attempts to marry the past and the future into an engaging present will largely be the focus of my blog.  I have teachers better qualified than I already blogging about the specifics of 21st century learning, technological innovation and global learning.  Once I learn how to link to their blogs, I invite you to read them with regularity.

Most of my blogging will center on experiences here at school, but I hope to be of interest to anyone interested in Jewish day school, Jewish education, education in general, and in the kinds of stuff I think happen to be interesting and worth sharing.  I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

Why “A Floor, But No Ceiling”?  Because it represents what I believe the purpose of education to be – to ensure each child fulfills his or her own individual maximum potentials in academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual terms.  There are appropriate benchmarks to determine minimum standards for each grade level, but our aims are higher.  That is simply the floor upon which we build.  For there to be no ceiling has direct implications about what we teach and how we teach it.  I hope to use this blog to discuss these ideas and more.

I look forward to learning how to best use my blog to communicate and to be in communication with others.  Comments are welcome.