Pam Medjuck Stein, an alumna of the Wexner Heritage Program from Toronto, is a lawyer by training and artist by habit. She chairs the Lola Stein Institute, edits Leadership in Education, the Lola Stein Journal and serves on the Canadian Jewish News Editorial Advisory Board. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each generation faces a journey to transmit values to its children. Parashat Lech Lecha deals with journey, guidance and what it means to be a traveler.
Abraham travelled to take his values into the future. His exploration still confronts teachers today. The Lola Stein Institute has been established to inspire teachers as they seek to educate our children. They are on Abraham’s journey.
Abraham was invoked to “Go for yourself from your land…to the land that I will show you.” Gen.13:1. His physical home would be where truth led. The mixture was fact with faith.
Abraham’s heir was not his first son, but a child of his union with shared aspirations. “Only him that shall come forth from within you shall inherit you.” Gen. 13:4. Isaac came from Sarah. Without the opposite sex, there was no biology but without alignment of purpose, parent to child, teach to student, there would be no inheritance, no future. The mixture was fact with faith. For our children to inherit, we must blend fact with our faith in the Jewish path we travel.
Abraham left home and habit. “And He took him outside, and said, “Gaze now, towards the heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them!” Gen 13:5. Abraham was to step outside and use facts observed around him to perceive all that could be, to be inspired by evidence.
When teachers step outside their habit, they can see the pedagogical opportunity now available through educational psychology and today’s freedoms. When teachers tackle the evidence that exists for ways to deepen learning, they begin to see new possibilities.
While “doing Wexner” in 1998, I helped establish a Jewish day school, The Toronto Heschel School. Five seasoned visionary educators premised the school on the most important proven pedagogical advancements of the day. They voyaged beyond the patterns of Jewish day schools, starting with how best to ensure great pedagogy, then attaching content and constituency. Their programs and methods are now acclaimed internationally. They engage in partnerships and study with PEJE, Columbia, Harvard, Haifa University, York University and the University of Toronto. It’s all very good.
Abraham’s incentive was the promise, “And I will make of you a great nation…(Gen. 13:1) and our incentive remains Jewish continuity and cultural dynamism. We created a level of educational excellence that many schools seek thanks to pedagogical inventiveness and thirteen years of boning original curricula in class. We were happy to share. We set up the Lola Stein Institute preparing educational materials for publication but found our journey had illuminated a further path. The shadowed piece was the identity of the traveler. The Lola Stein Institute now concentrates on the traveler, the teacher.
Abraham went into Canaan as an outsider. So, too, teachers move among students who require translation of messages from the language of the parents’ generation to the idioms of their own. Students have evolved personalities, new social and spiritual norms and unforeseen perspectives. Consequently each generation needs inventive inspired teachers who can think outside the proverbial box, recognizing the novelty of their own journeys and adapting to succeed. When educators translate concepts and synthesize topics in ways the children receive best, the goals of Abraham and Sarah remain in sight.
Young teachers are now graduating familiar with multiple intelligence and “learning for understanding” perspectives. Mid-career teachers and other graduates can attend professional development seminars to gain insight. In progressive Jewish pedagogy today, the mission is to deliver integrated studies and integrative learning. The two labels sound similar but are separate pursuits.
The former happens when schools blend Jewish with universal themes and values, no longer splitting the day half Jewish, half not. School becomes more relevant and the learning more successful as our children do live with a blended religious, cultural, social, and political identity. The latter label, “integrative learning,” implies curriculum interweaving ostensibly disparate topics from across academic disciplines, restructuring learning for more relevant directions. This search for relevance and synthesis is the state of play in advanced pedagogy today. So let’s use it.
Here are two quick examples of how integrated study and integrative learning work together.
1. Metaphor and God, is a workshop guiding teachers to enhance their students’ creative expression across the curriculum through deepening students’ understanding of metaphor. The integrative paradigm centers on metaphors found in prayers, but other nations, eg. Israel, peace would also work. The confluence stretches students’ general capacity to express themselves while pulling them closer to the intents and meanings of prayers. It enhances literacy while engaging spirituality.
2. The workshop, Democratic Citizenship From a Jewish Perspective, guides teachers to connect Jewish sources to civic responsibility. Primary sources, including Talmudic texts, letters and speeches are used to inspire discussion about democracy and human rights. The notion of Tikkun Olam nurtures appreciation for the Jewish ethos to hea the world.
The Lola Stein Institute wants to share the expertise with teachers, schools, summer camps and colleges. We want Jewish children to receive the best pedagogy now. We want to help teachers perfect delivery of the messages they want to send. Workshops are available in Toronto or by road show to other cities. We open this opportunity to the Wexner network and ask you to encourage your community educators to tap into these exciting, worthwhile and ready programs.
If we step out and let educational stars illuminate new paths, we will all be a blessing for the next generation. Inspired teachers are key to excellent education. They need energizing opportunities, impassioned colleagues and wonderful materials. The Lola Stein Institute generates all three, offering workshops, teacher training modules, materials and guides. For information, please see www.lolastein.ac or email info to email@example.com