On Monday, Oct. 19, Hebrew school teachers and administrators from as close as Newton and as far as Montreal gathered on Zoom with David Moss, a Jerusalem-based artist whose artwork hangs throughout Hebrew College, to talk about their journeys over the past seven months of the pandemic; to explore artistic and creative expressions of journeys, maps and itineraries; and to discuss how to implement these ideas with their students.
This was the second fall session of Hebrew College’s “For Our Teachers and Their Students,” a professional development program generously supported by CJP that brings together Jewish educators for conversation and learning during this time of physical isolation. Typically, between 20 and 50 educators and administrators attend each session.
Hebrew College’s Congregational Education Initiative (CEI) has been offering these free Zoom sessions since March, expanding upon the professional development that it has offered to educators for many years and enabling teachers to continue participating in deep conversation and hands-on experiments that can transform student learning, even during the pandemic. During each session, participants explore and practice virtual educational modalities, grapple with Jewish texts and share content and practices to support one another’s teaching and learning.
“Teaching is complex intellectual work, especially during this complicated time,” said Susie Tanchel, Hebrew College vice president of community education. “We want to give teachers the support and resources they need so they can focus on what their students need. Ongoing professional learning is a key ingredient to being a strong educator, and we are honored to partner with teachers in our community who are committed to reaching kids in new ways.”
In the spring, sessions were offered bi-weekly, with topics including “Lessons from the Four Children of the Haggadah” and “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” as well as mussar, mindfulness and meditations, and social and emotional learning during these times. Upcoming topics include political freedom and the intersection of Jewish experiences in American history; Jewish teaching about climate change; racism and racial equity; and diversity in the Jewish community.
Marion Gribetz, director of educational initiatives at Hebrew College, who organizes the monthly sessions, said this is the first time the program has engaged educators beyond the Boston area. CEI has been providing in-person professional development to educators throughout Greater Boston for at least a decade, but the Zoom format enables Hebrew College to reach new audiences.
“These sessions serve as a place of refuge, inspiration, learning, pedagogic and spiritual offerings in our educational community as we navigate our professional responsibilities during this time,” she said. “I felt it was my responsibility through Hebrew College to provide value at this time. I think it’s kind of unique that we are providing this and also that we’re making it open to everyone, local Boston educators and Hebrew College alumni all over the world. It’s really become a wonderful community of professionals sharing with each other genuinely and working together, harnessing what we provide for them, to bring that to their students.”
Roberta Axeloons, ’19, a master’s in Jewish education alumna and assistant director of education at Temple Israel of Boston, who led a session on Zoom best practices, said the CEI program has been an opportunity to “gather and process what’s going on in the world” and “connect with others from different organizations who are doing the same thing.”
Beth Pennamacoor, ’17, a master’s in Jewish education alumna and cantorial soloist and director of education at Temple Beit Hayam in Stuart, Florida, said she is grateful to hear other educators’ ideas. “I loved being at Hebrew College, so it’s really exciting to me to have these sessions available,” she said. “It benefits my teachers, my students and my congregation.”
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