Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Guest Blogging for North American Jewish Day School Conference

This post cross-posted here on The AVI CHAI Blog - check out additional posts there during the conference, Sunday, January 15 - Tuesday, January 17, and in the days following.

I am extremely excited for the opportunity to guest blog for The AVI CHAI Foundation at the North American Jewish Day School Conference in Atlanta next week. With a theme of “Current Landscape – Changing Horizons,” the conference offers an action-packed schedule woven together with the subthemes: Innovations in Jewish Education, Reimaging and Sustaining Day Schools, The Jewish Day School Value Proposition, and 21st Century Skills for Students and Adults in Day Schools. Here are some thoughts on what I would like to see addressed for each:

  • Innovations: There are so many big ideas floating throughout the conference schedule – discussing everything from distributed leadership in the school culture, to new educational techniques such as experiential education, Hebrew immersion, and blended learning, to specific strategies in the classroom such as games-based learning, 1:1 technology, and project-based learning. How do you make sense of this gamut of innovations and come up with a consistent and implementable strategy that is right for your school? Are there support networks for those who are experimenting with the different innovations? How can you measure whether a given innovation is working for you? How can you tell when it’s time to try something new?
  • Reimaging and Sustaining: The key issues here include financial sustainability tied together with issues of growth as well as how to improve the branding and marketing of day schools. To me the linking is brilliant – acknowledging that financial concerns do not exist in a vacuum, but rather are tied into a larger strategic vision of how the schools will grow while fulfilling their value proposition (see next theme). I particularly have many questions around the reimaging part of the conversation: Where do priorities lie in terms of dedicating resources to altering the perceived image versus the intrinsic quality? To what extent is a reimaging process necessary to sustain the work schools are doing? Based on whose concerns should the reimaging take place, and what constituency has jurisdiction over what that image should be?
  • Value Proposition: Some of the issues that come to the forefront include defining the values (and are some more important/“Jewish” than others); defining who are the “ambassadors” of them (board members and alumni are two proposed constituencies); and defining how they position day schools in the overall educational landscape. I indeed am interested in learning more about: How the value propositions of day schools compare or relate pedagogically to those in the field of education as a whole, and how can these differences be leveraged? Also, do board members and alumni have the same understanding of the value proposition?
  • 21st Century Skills: In addition to social media, technology, and learning environments, this category covers the social, emotional and other individual needs of learners. How and to what extent do you accommodate those individual needs? How do 21st century trends affect all the rest of the above themes and serve as the backdrop on which they operate – and how do you make sure you take them into account?

These subthemes are clearly in dialogue with one another – can applying paradigms of 21st-century skills lead to innovations in how to educate? How can day schools be reimaged and sustained based on a focus on the value proposition they provide? What they have as a common subtext seems to be the quest for and expression of new ideas that can lead us into new horizons.

In that vein, I am particularly excited for the ELI Talks: Inspired Jewish Ideas, which will take place two nights of the conference and feature 18-minute TED-style talks designed to foster greater Engagement, Literacy, and Identity.

I am sure many of the 600+ attendees have their own ideas they can contribute to this conversation. I will be serving as a roving reporter capturing some of these for inclusion on the AVI CHAI blog. Do you have an inspired Jewish idea? Will you be at the conference and be willing to share about something that inspires you during it? Feel free to get in touch with me beforehand to arrange a time when I can record your thoughts – or find me there!

Looking forward to hearing what inspires you!

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