We recently had the honor of presenting at Prizmah – the North American Jewish Day School Conference – with our colleagues, Orit Kent and Allison Cook. Our presentation, Integration Through Strong Teaching Teams, examined how using the skills and strategies of the Pedagogy of Partnership (a relationship-centered pedagogy) in our work allows for us to be a stronger teaching team and provide our students with a better learning experience in our classroom.

JCDS is a leader in the Jewish day school world with regard to team teaching. Our K-4 teaching teams are made up of two full-time, lead teachers – one English-speaking and one Hebrew-speaking – who are in the classroom together throughout the day. This team teaching approach brings together two strong educators who help one another learn and grow, and helps to create a more consistent, well-balanced learning environment for the students. Our Middle School staff also works hard to create strong grade-specific teams by holding regular meetings about students’ educational progress and social-emotional growth using specific protocols.

In our session at Prizmah, we led participants through a series of videos and activities that highlight our teaching “stance,” “practices,” and classroom-specific “structures” (Kent and Cook, 2012). Our goal was for the participants to see how important it is for these three aspects of a partnership to be clear to the students, as well as to the teaching team. When any team – whether it is a classroom-specific team, a grade level team, or a larger team – has the skills and strategies to engage in deep and meaningful conversations about stance, practice, and students, the members of the team become better teachers.

Talmud Berakhot teaches us that it is more powerful to study Torah with a partner than alone:

אין התורה נקנית אלא בחבורה

Torah study is only attained with a group.

The best way to “study,” or understand a child, and what he or she needs to be successful, is with a partner. In our teaching teams, we bring evidence in the form of anecdotes and examples of student work in order to carefully study each child’s needs. We push one another’s thinking and challenge each other’s ideas with the common goal of wanting to do what is in the best interest of our students. We believe in the saying:

חנוך לנער על פי דרכו

Teach a child according to his/her ability

and try to embody this concept in every aspect and moment of our work.

It was an honor to share the JCDS teacher team model with the Jewish day school community. Other day school leaders left our presentation with ideas on how to improve the teamwork in their own schools and adapt our model to fit their needs. Our hope is that more schools will develop stronger teacher teams and will view partnership as essential to their educational model. Modeling this partnership learning for our children will ensure that they will continue to receive the best possible education.

Ayelet Lipton and Michelle Janoschek are the 4th Grade teaching team at JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School in Watertown, MA. Ayelet holds a BA in Psychology from Northeastern University, an MA in Teaching Hebrew from Brandeis University and has studied at Mechon Hadar for the last two summers. This is Ayelet’s 6th year at JCDS, where she is a Teacher Mentor, a member of the Pluralism Taskforce, and a certified OPI tester with the ACTFL. Michelle holds a BA in Biology from Clark University and an MA in Elementary Education from Lesley University. She has been teaching for over 10 years and is currently in her third year at JCDS, where she is the Teacher Leader for Grades 3-5. Michelle is trained in the EmPOWER writing process, Digi-blocks, Responsive Classroom, and has spent time at Mechon Hadar.

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