The Internet. Twitter. Facebook. A constantly shifting socio-political landscape: this is the world in which Gann students are coming of age. In a society characterized by rapid change, how can we prepare a new generation to succeed and lead while remaining true to core Jewish values?

These days, “twenty-first century learning” is a popular catchphrase in education. It refers to a broad set of skills—critical thinking, collaboration, digital literacy, problem-solving, flexibility and resilience—all vital to thriving in a dynamic, changing environment. This approach to learning has been the cornerstone of our educational philosophy at Gann Academy since day one.

At Gann, these skills are taught as part of the moral and ethical grounding that is deeply rooted in Jewish values. We encourage students to investigate, ask questions, and test assumptions, not only while they are inside the school’s walls, but also throughout their lives.

 “What students are learning here goes far beyond intellectual skills and critical thinking,” says Jacob Pinnolis, the school’s Director of Teaching and Learning. “We’re teaching them to think about how to facilitate conversations, how to be flexible and how to consider the opinions of others, all through a Jewish ethical lens.”

Gann students have the opportunity to practice active listening, critical thinking and open questioning at Limud Clali, the school’s community learning time. Every week students are exposed to speakers who cover a wide spectrum of subjects. They’re encouraged not to rush to assumptions but to ask thoughtful questions in order to understand the views expressed.

“One of the byproducts of thinking about pluralism, as we do here at Gann, is that it pushes students to put themselves in another’s mind space,” says Pinnolis. “You don’t have to agree with that person. But before you criticize, you have to understand. Once you understand the other individual’s position, the ground is leveled for respectful debate. Pluralism teaches that there is value in the difference. We listen to and respect each other.”

When West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran, Paul Chappell, spoke last year about waging peace and ending war, he noted the probing questions students asked, saying it was one of the most engaged and thoughtful audiences he had ever addressed.

The respect for others that we cultivate at Gann has infinite applications in the wider world. It informs how students respond to peers, how they process what they hear in the news, even what they post on a site like Facebook.

With new technologies posing an endless stream of new ethical questions, Gann engages students in an ongoing social experiment to determine norms around the use of 21st century technology. We ask them: When is it OK to have a phone or tablet in front of you in a class or a meeting? What is an appropriate use of such a device that respects those around you—and what isn’t? As new technologies pose new ethical questions, Gann graduates will have this barometer to gauge each situation.

“A Gann education is unique; it instills qualities rarely seen in most students,” says Pinnolis. “The values of Judaism are always going to help our students make better informed decisions. As the world becomes increasingly global, exposing more cultural, political, and religious differences, the most effective individuals are going to be those who can bridge the differences. At Gann, we’re not merely preparing new generations of adults; we’re equipping future leaders with the 21st-century skills they will need to be successful and ready for whatever changes may come.”

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