Jewish Educational Leadership and Innovation Progam Will Use Blended Learning Techniques to Reach More Educators

Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration will soon be offering a new doctoral degree in Jewish Educational Leadership and Innovation. Slated to begin in the fall, the program will combine virtual learning opportunities with live sessions periodically throughout the year and will replace Azrieli’s existing doctoral degree in Jewish Education and Administration.

Dr. Rona Novick

Dr. Rona Novick, incoming dean at Azrieli

While Azrieli’s current program featured a more traditional model of 14-week semesters and three-credit courses and was accessible only for those living locally, the new program aims to reach a broader group of educators beyond the New York area, through blended learning techniques and a more hands-on approach to learning.

“Azrieli’s and YU’s mission is not limited to the New York geographic region, and we aim to serve Jewish day schools in New York and beyond,” said Dr. Rona Novick, director of the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Doctoral Program and incoming dean of Azrieli, effective July 1. “The idea of a day school leader having to leave their community to access our resources is not ideal. In the past, we’ve had inquiries from people all over the globe and had to turn them away. We want this program to be available to a wider range of educators and communities.”

The new program combines live five-day sessions held during the summers, three-day conferences during the year and virtual learning experiences, to allow Jewish educators from across North America to earn a doctorate while maintaining a professional position.

“We are focused on problem-based learning—redesigning our program to meld the best of research and academics with professional training and on-the-job practical applications,” said Novick. “We present students with problems that they need to solve or provide them with scenarios in which they address issues confronted by typical school leaders.”

One of the projects assigned this year was a case of a fictional neighborhood with three day schools, each having particular struggles. Teams of students collaborated on grant proposals, offering specific strategies to assist the schools. This type of teamwork is a focal point of the new program, where students will work together as cohorts on various projects, utilizing distance learning technology such as Google Hangouts, web and phone conferencing, online discussion boards and webinars, in addition to the face-to-face meetings.

The emphasis on collaboration also helps improve upon the flexibility of the current model and contributes to the valuable dialogue between students and faculty, who serve as mentors to the doctoral candidates.

“I came to Azrieli for the stellar, world-renowned faculty who are experts in psychology, education, leadership, management and cognitive science, and because I wanted close mentoring at the doctoral level,” said doctoral fellow Suzanne Brooks, who is conducting research on the effectiveness of fostering dispositions when using online learning. “The program has surpassed my expectations. This year’s program, which has been a transitional one for current students, received very positive feedback. The collaborative approach infused a positive energy into the program.”

For current students, the coming changes are exciting innovations that aim to serve as a model of teaching and learning for the 21st century.

“The new model is more hands-on,” said Brooks, who helped revamp the program. “We worked backwards, asking ourselves, ‘What do students need to know before they graduate, and what learning activities will ensure that they will acquire the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary for a leader in Jewish education?’ It’s about taking concepts from theory to practice and using cognitive skills to address issues versus just reading about them.”

The program will also focus on engaging students as active learners.

“We want to give students ownership of their learning through thinking deeply when addressing a problem or project,” said Brooks. “This allows students to synthesize and integrate the learning, leading to improved learning outcomes.”

The doctoral program is geared toward aspiring and current leaders in Jewish day schools, and it targets teachers with significant teaching experience who already have some administrative responsibility as well as educators who want to move into administrative roles or advance to a position of leadership.

The classes are taught by current Azrieli faculty and are enriched by the efforts of adjunct professors, many of whom are veteran educators and administrators.

“We want students to benefit from learning with academically and research-based individuals and also those experienced in the field,” Novick said. “The program is extraordinarily fluid and provides students with great potential for learning, harnessing all that technology has to offer. We are also exploring partnerships with other university programs to take advantage of the incredible resources and potential for synergy across the impressive YU landscape.”