Teachers from Jewish schools around Seattle came together on May 31 to honor their sacred role as educators and celebrate a year of professional development with Education Services. Jonathan Woocher, Chief Ideas Officer of JESNA and a forward thinker in Jewish education, gave the keynote address, "Engaging a New Generation of Learners and Families." Teachers learned from one another's best practices through table discussions and an exhibition of innovative lessons that encircled the room. Seattle Hebrew Academy hosted the event.
Shoshana Stombaugh, kindergarten and music teacher at Seattle Jewish Community School, accepted this year's Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award, a grant worth a total of $2,000 toward her continued professional development. Everyone at the event took home not only good feelings, but also a framed blessing for teachers, a lasting memento of their dedication. "Last night's event was so special," said Jennifer Birkner, a teacher at the SJCC preschool. "I was glad to be a small part of it. Thank you for the teachers' blessing. I look forward to having it in my classroom."
Coming on the heels of the city-wide Education Summit, Woocher was able to directly challenge teachers to think about the impact of current trends in Jewish learning. For example, in past generations, Jewish schools existed with a narrow mission—to retain Jewish identity in the face of assimilation. Now, Woocher noted, today's generation is fully assimilated, in that people apply Judaism to every area of their lives and no longer compartmentalize Jewish identity. People are looking for meaningful, fluid connections that emphasize relationships over affiliations. Today's students and families seek whole-person, growth experiences over rote practice of rituals and discrete life-cycle events. In this new landscape, teachers are primarily facilitators, and students and families are "prosumers"—producers and consumers of their own experiences—who contribute directly to their learning and feel empowered. Woocher quipped that teachers should rotate among three key roles, "the sage on the stage, the guide on the side, and the mentor in the center." Teachers then discussed key questions with colleagues, considering the new approaches and skills they will employ next year, as well as the impact of "prosumerism" on the realm of Jewish education.
The iCenter, an organization focused on Israel education, is one such group that emphasizes the whole person learning that Woocher sees as integral to a meaningful educational model. Education Services is pleased to bring The iCenter to facilitate a city-wide teacher in-service next October 21 and 22. As teachers learn from one another and see models of holistic learning from experts around the country, Seattle's Jewish preschools, congregational schools, day schools will benefit.
"The teachers' event was a great success. Jonathan is an inspiring speaker," said Shoshana Bilavsky, the head of the Seattle Jewish Community School.
Please check www.JewishInSeattle.org/Educators for all upcoming events and professional development opportunities.