I have to admit. I am pretty excited about the start of the “new” Cosmos TV series hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson. I really don’t remember the original series hosted by Carl Sagan all that well (although I’m sure that plenty of episodes were played by substitute teachers in my science classes growing up). I am intrigued by the questions asked in the series – How did life evolve? How did the universe begin? Are we alone?

It is that last question that I have been ruminating on over the last several days. As a self confessed science geek, it is one that sets my imagination afire and has probably spurred my heavy viewing diet of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dr. Who while growing up. Right now, though, I am less concerned with the question of are we alone on a universal scale and instead have been thinking about are we alone as educators?

Coming back on Tuesday from the first ever iJed conference, I can answer you with a resounding no.

There is something refreshing and renewing about attending a national conference. iJed gathered together schools that work with both the Schechter Day School Network and Yeshiva University’s Office of School Partnerships (Gross Schechter works with both) for three days of learning, collaborating and exploring all aspects of Jewish day school education.

A major portion of the conference was focused on three learning labs: 21st Century Learning, Financial Sustainability, and Supporting Diverse Learners. Joining me at the conference were Laurie Gross-Kammer and Lisa Loeb. Each of us attended a different set of lab sessions in order to maximize the learning that we could bring back to Cleveland.

This conference was more than just sitting and listening. It was doing.

Lisa explored and tried a variety of new classroom learning tools to support 21st century learning, building bridges between Jewish studies and General studies. Laurie gathered together a group of student services staff representing schools from all of over the country to share strategies on how best to support students in a dual language environment.

Like many heads of school, I spent time learning more about financial sustainability, having conversations around building word of mouth marketing strategies (are you talking about Schechter) and strengthening our board of trustees. I met with coaches to talk about the big picture here in Cleveland, getting advice about the direction of the school.

It was great to get away and collect some new ideas and feel a bit refreshed. It’s wonderful to come home to find ways to start implementing those ideas. And it sure does feel great to know that we’re part of a much larger community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Ari Yares

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