The Kehillah Collective – 1st Edition
Welcome to the first edition of The Kehillah Collective. We are excited to share this new channel for parents to learn more about the academic program here at Kehillah. We intend to publish The Kehillah Collective three times a year, so be on the lookout in late November and March for the next editions. For this first edition, we are highlighting some of the professional development opportunities members of our faculty have participated in this summer.
Darren Kleinberg, Head of School
During my late teens and twenties, I spent eight extraordinary years studying in two Orthodox Yeshivot (plural for Yeshiva, or Seminary). Four of those eight years were spent in a seminary in Israel, where students came to study the classical sources of Judaism in-depth “for their own sake” (i.e. no grades, transcripts, or graduations). The other four years were spent at a Rabbinical School in New York City, where I studied and trained for ordination as a rabbi. Consistent with the 19th century Lithuanian tradition, both institutions considered mastery of the Babylonian Talmud as the most highly valued intellectual pursuit with which we could engage.
The Babylonian Talmud is one of the great repositories of human wisdom. Running more than 2,700 pages, it contains material spanning seven centuries (~150BCE to the 6th Century of the Common Era) and describes the development of Rabbinic Judaism (if anyone is interested in learning more about this, let’s get lunch ☺).
Here is one of the most important teachings in the Talmud:
Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper story of Nitza’s house in Lod, when this question was raised before them: Is study greater, or practice?
Rabbi Tarfon answered, saying, “Action is greater.”
Rabbi Akiva answered, saying, “Study is greater.”
Then all the Elders answered and said, “Study is greater, for it leads to action.”
(Babylonian Talmud, tractate Kiddushin 40b)
The conclusion of the Elders stands as an important reminder for all of us about the real purpose of education: it must lead to action. Yes, gaining knowledge about a subject is valuable, but the real learning is detected in the way students act in the world.
I was reminded of this during the summer as I read Aryeh Ben David’s wonderful book, Becoming a Soulful Educator. He writes that, “I began to realize that the goal was not just teaching a good class and that the mark of a good class was not just students with a good understanding of the material. I came to see that the moment of truth – the true test of my teaching – occurred after the class was over, that it was measured in the way that students approached their lives over time. The goal of teaching was not teaching, it was living…that the big-picture teaching goal should be to impact lives for the long term…” (xvi, xxv).
This commitment to the real purpose of education is echoed in Kehillah’s story:
At Kehillah, students embark on a journey of self-discovery guided by a community of passionate educators. They graduate with the knowledge, values, and community that enable them to create extraordinary futures.
Ben David continued, “…the goal of Jewish learning is future oriented, focused on ‘becoming’ rather than on the past…” (xxii). This is the work that we undertake every day at Kehillah, with the strongly-held belief that tomorrow can only be better than yesterday if we remember why we do this work.
As we begin the new school year I invite us all to reflect on the real purpose of education and to partner with each other to ensure its realization.
Patti Carbery, Principal
“What Should a Kehillah Student Know and Be Able to Do?” At first, this question might seem relatively easy to answer, given the accessibility of research and handbooks on 21st century schools. For the past several decades, educators, business leaders, and policymakers have written extensively about the skills and competencies our students need for successful, meaningful lives in a rapidly-changing world. Amongst the many schools of thought, the highly-regarded Partnership for 21st Century Skills recommends the “4 C’s (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity) in the context of its overall framework. Harvard’s renowned researcher and author, Tony Wagner, writes about the “7 Survival Skills” needed in today’s workplace, extending the argument into such ideas as “initiative and entrepreneurialism” and “agility and adaptability.” The body of research will certainly continue to evolve as we get deeper into this century.
During the 2016-2017 school year, Kehillah’s faculty engaged in a deep exploration of the fundamental question of what we believe our students should know and be able to do upon graduation. Towards this goal, we held a series of robust discussions centered on this question last fall with a particular focus on what 21st century learning means to the Kehillah community. After a series of meetings, including the viewing of a clip from the 2015 film, Most Likely to Succeed, we began to articulate the themes that would help center our academic department work for the rest of the year. Specifically, we identified the following ideas:
- In this era, humans want to live a purposeful, meaningful life.
- Motivation and engagement are at the core of a student’s education.
- Today’s workplace is highly collaborative.
- The “real world” is not divided into departments.
- Schools need to prepare students to solve problems in today’s world.
- Schools are preparing students for careers that don’t yet exist.
Perhaps the most essential part of this initiative took place in academic department meetings throughout the year. These teams were charged with developing a scope and sequence of skills and understandings for their respective disciplines, centered on our core philosophical question and themes. While some of this endeavor was about identifying the myriad, extensive ways that our curriculum already works so well at Kehillah, our faculty went far beyond just listing what they have always taught.
Our academic program has always maintained a keen focus on teaching 21st-century skills and developing engaging classrooms. One look at our diverse science elective offerings, dynamic Jewish Studies courses, or design and coding classes is a reminder of the school’s absolute commitment to world class academics. Equally as important were the deep dives into what and when we teach particular skills and content across our program. The English department reassessed core texts and requirements at each grade level, while the history department revised its curricular progression for the teaching of research skills. The math, language, and science department wrote dynamic mission statements that shaped their reviews of their curriculum. Each team identified the threads of connections between our academic program and the broader themes of 21st century learning.
At our year-end faculty meetings, every department did a “share out” of its scope and sequence work. It was inspiring to hear so many talk about always keeping the learner at the heart of what we do in the classroom. The presenters shared a discipline by discipline commitment to further possibilities of interdisciplinary curriculum at Kehillah, as well as a rededication to our Four Commitments within our program. While this work with certainly be ongoing, we now have comprehensive scope and sequence documents that provide blueprints for what we currently do, along with an aspirational look at the future.
Sarah Canfield-Dafilou, Student & Jewish life Coordinator
This year, I was selected to participate in M2: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education’s inaugural Senior Educators Cohort, a program created in an effort to professionalize the field of experiential Jewish education. These 8 months have given me a better understanding of the theories embedded in experiential education, opportunities to practice and hone my craft, and a community of global peers.
The common language we learned helped reframe known pedagogic concepts into usable and relevant tools. One of the concepts we explored at our first session was conflict pedagogy—the educational approach that suggests conflict between two values or within one value is what motivates learning. This idea had always been presented to me as “essential questions”—the questions at the heart of the lesson that students (ideally) grapple with in order to get the “enduring understanding” (the big idea) that drove our lesson. Exploring essential questions from a framework of conflict as taught by a television screenwriter and a psychotherapist was eye opening. By using new language and completely unexpected methods, M2 gave me an entirely new understanding of the purpose and value of essential questions.
Over the course of the program, we evolved from being stressed about getting the right answer to taking chances informed by our new understandings. At the first two seminars, small groups had to develop and lead a 30 minute program. At our first seminar, we all spent too long debating ideas and not enough time actually planning the program itself. In our second seminar, we all jumped right into the program, without thinking about the value of our lesson. By the third presentation, my group had come to the conclusion that this lesson should be an experiment. The freedom we took to test ideas allowed us to enjoy what we were doing, rather than stress over perfection or fear of criticism. When our group took away the pressure, we put forth our most successful lesson.
After each seminar, I came back to work inspired by my colleagues and excited to put my learning into action. We’ve maintained a WhatsApp group where we reach out and support each other, personally and professionally. The strength of community our group formed in just 15 days spread out over 8 months was remarkable. While the staff did an amazing job making all of the programming incredibly intentional, the connection that we all felt could not have been orchestrated.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this cohort and meet all of these remarkable people. At our graduation ceremony, we all shared a personal statement, a reflection of what we now had learned as a result of completing the program. As a result of my participation in M2, I am now even more committed to my personal statement conclusion: “my mission as an educator is to empower learners to find personal meaning in Judaism by taking agency for naming and identifying values and committing to use those values to guide their lives.”
Christopher Chiang, History Teacher & Education Technology Integrator
For the first time, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem brought together Jewish school educators from around the globe to study the Holocaust with the world’s top scholars in an extended program lasting 12 days. We were tasked to define how Holocaust education is uniquely different in a Jewish educational setting.
While organizations like Facing History and Ourselves work to convert tragedy into social justice, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum provides a broader socio-political viewpoint, Yad Vashem focuses on sharing the stories of strong lives before the war, the striving for life and belief during the war, and the rebuilding of life and belief after the war. Yad Vashem provides a critical voice in the worldwide community of Holocaust education by asking us to look between the illogical and immeasurable tragedy and give attention to the dignity and strength of individual experiences, particularly survivor testimony.
Whether reading about the pre-war life and pedagogical philosophies of Janusz Korczak, examining the artifacts of Emanuel Ringelblum’s Oyneg Shabes (lit: “the joy of the Sabbath”) archives, walking the grounds of the Lohamei HaGeta’ot Kibbutz (The Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz) founded by Warsaw ghetto fighter Yitzhak Zuckerman, or observing students at the Hand in Hand integrated school for Jewish-Arab children, each experience made me a stronger teacher and human being.
Janusz Korczak, in particular, left the largest impression on my practice. Korczak was one-part education reformer of the likes of John Dewey and Maria Montessori and one-part children’s book writer, writing moral adventures of young Kaytek the wizard well before J.K. Rowling. That was in addition to his contributions to the Zionist movement in Poland and his founding of an orphanage, in which he gave his life protecting the children. The accomplishments of his life are enough to inspire any educator, but his pedagogical philosophy is even more impactful to my work at Kehillah.
Successful work with teenagers is a delicate balance, for they are no longer children, but not fully adults. Korczak argues for giving students great rights and, equally, great responsibilities. He writes, “Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and respect, as equals. They should be allowed to grow into whoever they were meant to be – the unknown person inside each of them is the hope for the future.” Yad Vashem has gifted me with a deeper awareness of the lives of those murdered in the Holocaust. It is in their lives that I find wisdom.
As I embark on my second year at Kehillah, I appreciate that our high school uniquely captures this balance. High schoolers here are deeply respected, and, equally, a great deal is expected from them. As I prepare for my fall courses, instilling this ethos in my classroom is on the forefront of my takeaways from this summer. I am grateful for Yad Vashem and the Kehillah professional development fund for this opportunity.
Lauren McElhatton, English Teacher and Dean
This year, I chose San Jose Area Writing Project Intensive Summer Institute (an arm of the National Writing Project) as my targeted professional development program. The program turns teachers into students for 5 ½ weeks at San Jose State University. I selected the program because it brings extraordinary teachers together to share writing lessons while simultaneously tasks them with honing their own writing. The program’s motto is “Teachers teach. Writers write. We do both.”
I resonate with the ISI’s notion that writing teachers improve as instructors by practicing writing as a craft. So, during the program, I wrote a short story, several poems, curated a writing portfolio, contributed to a cohort anthology of writing completed during the institute, and worked on a long-term piece of futuristic science fiction. I also presented a 2-hour demonstration lesson on teaching tone through creative writing and participated in over 2 dozen seminars with writing experts.
I undertook all of this with an eye on improving writing instruction here at Kehillah. Participating in the institute will help me to continue to challenge students to develop their writing skills, particularly through creative writing and redesigning the way the English department scaffolds writing across the 4 high school years.
Racheli Shandrovsky, Jewish Studies Teacher
Earlier this year, I attended the Buck Institute’s PBL 101 course in San Jose along with fellow Kehillah faculty members Dr. Janet Bordelon, Dr. Ashlee Iyer, and Ms. Wendy Gibbons. PBL, or Project Based Learning, is a student centered pedagogy that emphasizes problem solving and real world application.
What is the difference between PBL and traditional “projects”? According to the Buck Institute, it’s the difference between the main course of the meal and the dessert. In traditional classroom projects, the project is presented at the end of a unit or as a supplement. The required content and skills have already been taught and maybe even formally assessed. The project serves as a final touch, a little bit of “fun” to reward students for their work throughout the unit. When one follows the practices of high quality Project Based Learning, the projects become the main course.
The phrase “21st century learning” is often talked about. Educators are concerned that we are preparing students for an unknown future, for jobs that don’t exist yet. Although we don’t yet know what the jobs of the future look like, we can be sure that our students’ learning has to go beyond isolated disciplines and become more real-world. PBL puts the student at the center and pushes them to become problem solvers using different disciplinary lenses to address a question.
In the process of PBL, both teacher and students are constantly revisiting the question “why does this matter?” and “does what I’m learning/teaching serve a purpose?” Projects are steered by a “Driving Question” which is authentic and engaging to students. Ideally, driving questions will include elements that are actionable, such as “how can we, as students at Kehillah, ensure that the incoming 9th grade class feels welcomed and included”, or “how can we design a playground that is accessible to people with special needs?” The students work in teams, and work in an iterative process that includes honest peer feedback, revision, and critique.
This year, I will be launching some interesting projects with my students. It was fascinating to workshop units I’ve taught and reimagine them to fit the Gold-Standard PBL criteria. One such project that I’m particularly excited about, is called “The Price of Life”. Last year when teaching the class “Medical Ethics and Jewish Law”, I came across an important documentary, called “Tales from the Organ Trade” (HBO, 2013). The film exposes the problem of organ trafficking worldwide. I had not planned on discussing organ trafficking in-depth, but seeing the students’ emotional reactions made me realize that showing this film could be a jumping off point for a human rights project. Students want to contribute to a cause, to make a change, and why not? This year, instead of showing the film at the end of the unit on organ donation, it will be shown as an entry event, to get the students thinking. After discussing the film and defining the problem, the driving question of the project will be introduced as: “What can we propose or design as solutions to the worldwide organ trafficking problem?” In groups, students will research and design a practical idea that will help to reduce the “need” for black market organ procurement. We will then launch a social media campaign to raise awareness about the problem, and to send out a PSA to our community about the ideas we’ve proposed as a class. Stay tuned for the campaign and find out how you can get involved!
Maria Vicenty, Science Teacher
This summer past summer, I participated in the Summer Astronomy Institute on Space Science and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
The workshop content focused on astronomy topics such as the Earth-sun-moon system, the planets, the electromagnetic spectrum, light and optics, galaxies, and the life cycle of stars. I received professional development in different investigations that will help me to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in the new astronomy course that I will offer this year.
The knowledge and ideas obtained during the workshop prepared me to present the concepts in a way that will help students to meet the expectations in the astronomy course in an engaging way. The students will learn the concepts through the development and analysis of models that will be used to explain different phenomena that occur in our universe. The investigations that will be used throughout the course will also encourage students to develop scientific practices such as making claims, finding evidence to support their claims, and engaging in argument from evidence, among others.
It was a great experience that allowed me to gain further knowledge about these topics and obtain resources like solar eclipse glasses for the entire school, a set of Galileoscopes for the students to build in class, and educational games about astronomy.