When I was first entering education, I worked in as a substitute teacher in a school that contained only kindergarten classrooms. It was a warm, friendly place that suffered from one critical flaw, no one shared. This included lesson plans and even classroom supplies (I have long hypothesized that this was because they spent their days surrounded by kindergarten students who were still learning that skill.) For whatever reason, however, the school lacked a culture of collaboration.
Tip O’Neil, former Speak of the House of Representatives, once famously said that all politics is local. After having participated in several national and international professional development opportunities over the past year, I have come to the realization that all Jewish education is local. Much of our knowledge and resources as teachers stays within our own classrooms and at best is shared within our own school building. In a world of shrinking resources, high demands on teachers, and a desire to push Jewish education to adopt 21st century learning skills, this is no longer acceptable. Like my former colleagues, we have yet to fully embrace the key 21st century learning skill of collaboration. There are certainly plenty of places where collaboration is taking place, e.g. the North American Jewish Day School Conference, but this is only the beginnings of where we could go
Imagine that you are looking for educational materials that will connect your study of American government and religious rights with Jewish views on the role of government. Because of how loosely connected Jewish day schools are, we would never know that a day school a thousand miles away from us is working on the same thing or did a special program on this very topic last year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was someplace that served as a clearinghouse for these types of lesson plans and resources?
Andy Smith, Head of Resources for TSL Education in the United Kingdom, recently spoke with me about the efforts to expand TES to be a global resource. Currently, TES (which used to be the Times Educational Supplement and still exists as a subscription based magazine) houses thousands of comprehensive lesson plans, resources and other useful tools for teachers that are cataloged and audited by TES on a regular basis. Just like a social networking site, you can follow people who have post resources and comment on the items that they have posted. Because of this collaborative resource, Andy hypothesized that hours and hours of teacher preparation time has been saved.
Andy made one interesting observation, though, about his company’s efforts in the United States. He shared with me that as they begin to collect and organize materials that American teachers are not great at sharing. Maybe the phenomenon that I saw is more than just that of a single school. It is time for us to move into the 21st century and realize that through collaboration we become stronger. Novice teachers would not spend hours preparing the simplest lessons, rather they can focus on improving existing lessons to work with their personal style in the classroom, as well as building their classroom management skills and monitoring individual student achievement.
So, the question is do we as educators in Jewish day schools have the courage to embrace collaboration and build an on-line clearinghouse for educational materials? What will it take to help us create a virtual home for us to share? Sir Ken Robinson has called collaboration the stuff of growth. Are you ready to grow?