Seeking to Improve their Craft, Judaic Studies Teachers take Part in YUTeach Fellowship
Rabbi Matan Wexler, a sixth grade teacher at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, believes that a great educator is never done learning. “My goal is to make a difference in Jewish education, and I’m constantly looking for ways to grow and improve my craft, so I can have a positive impact on my students,” he said.
With four years of classroom experience under his belt, Wexler was eager to learn of his acceptance to the Legacy Heritage YUTeach Fellowship, a program from Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership (YU School Partnership) geared toward Judaic Studies educators who have been teaching for at least two years and are looking to advance through unique professional development opportunities.
“It seemed like an ideal way to meet other teachers, see their perspectives and learn how they grapple with similar teaching challenges, while also gaining new skills and techniques to enhance my own teaching,” said Wexler. And so far, he’s been right.
At the end of June, Wexler, a graduate of YU’s Sy Syms School of Business, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, joined 13 other teachers at the Glen Cove Mansion on Long Island for a two-day conference hosted for the Fellows by the YU School Partnership.
The inaugural cohort includes educators of varying backgrounds and experience who teach at over a dozen Jewish day schools and high schools in eight states around the county, and were each nominated for the Fellowship by an administrator from their respective schools.
“In selecting our Fellows, we were looking for teachers who are already successful and want to excel, with a disposition to growth and an ability to reflect,” said Shira Heller, program administrator at the YUSchool Partnership and coordinator of the Fellowship.
Most schools offer professional development to their teachers, but may lack the resources to provide long-term study opportunities.
“Teachers want to grow and are eager to participate in a forum to talk about their work,” said Heller. “The Fellowship is designed to give teachers the opportunity to do in-depth learning on a topic of their choice, develop a cohort of like-minded teachers and create a supportive network of people dedicated to both their own growth and facilitating the growth of their peers.”
During the year, Fellows will complete classes online, taught and facilitated by experts in the field. They can choose to enroll in either a 30-week certificate program or a series of shorter modules on varied topics, including differentiated instruction, blended learning, educational technology and behavior support.
The June conference allowed the Fellows to meet and bond over collaborative activities and discussions.
“Learning from peers who are in the trenches with you is invaluable,” said Rabbi Avrohom Drandoff, a teacher at Columbus Torah Academy in Columbus, Ohio, who has a master’s degree in school counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
In the past, Drandoff participated in the YU Lead Leadership Development program, and was anticipating a similarly positive experience this time around. “I learned an enormous amount and my hope for the YUTeach Fellowship is to have the unique opportunity to compare notes with fellow teachers who are equally as ambitious and driven as I am to raise the bar of Judaic studies throughout the country.”
Dr. John D’Auria, a former school superintendent and current president of Teachers21, delivered the conference’s keynote address, “Developing a Growth Mindset,” an interactive discussion about teaching children to develop resilience when facing a challenge.
One activity required the Fellows to work together in small groups to design a model lesson. Another component of the program was a discussion of dilemmas of practice—a teaching challenge one has encountered—which the Fellows submitted before the conference and later presented to the cohort to receive suggestions on how to best resolve the issue.
“I am blown away by how much I was able to take in during our time together,” said Fellow Jaclyn Sova, an alumna of Stern College for Women and Azrieli, who teaches at the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park, New York. “Being able to plan lessons with teachers I barely knew and working through dilemmas with people I just met was an incredible learning experience for me. Even now, days after, I am still thinking about some of the issues raised during our time together.”
Other Fellows appreciated the support they received when sharing their teaching challenges.
“There was a real sense of camaraderie among the Fellows, stemming from our mutual desire to grow as teachers, and I gained a lot of chizuk [strength] from knowing that I am not alone in many of my struggles,” said Liora Wittlin, a Stern graduate who now teaches at the Margolin Hebrew Academy in Memphis, Tennessee.
In addition to the June meeting, the Fellows will convene two more times during the year, in March and once again in June. They will also participate in Google Hangout group discussions, where they will continue to help each other work through their dilemmas of practice. Other parts of the program will allow Fellows to observe other teachers throughout the year and to record and watch videos of themselves teaching.
“After completing the program, Fellows will be poised to serve as teacher leaders—prepared to impact the field and act as catalysts of innovation and progress within their schools,” said Heller. “The Fellowship paves the way for teachers to cultivate their own vision of educational excellence and gives them the framework and support to actualize that vision.”