Divrei Torah from 3 Teachers at our Simchat Torah Celebration

Simchat Torah

 

Below are the 3 Divrei Torah that were shared by our teachers at our incredible Simchat Torah Celebration

Boker tov and Chag Sameach, everyone!

I have been asked to share the meaning of Torah this morning, and to do this, I would like to have your participation as well.  If you will please think of the oldest person in your family… whether or not they are still here with us… just keep them in mind.

Now think of the youngest person in your family… maybe a younger sibling, or for the parents and teachers here, maybe your own child.  Everyone thinking of these two people?  Great…

So my reason for asking you to think of these two people is to make a connection with your family and Torah.  When I think of the oldest people in my family, I think of my great-grandparents.  I was fortunate enough to know six out of eight of them, and many of them were not born in this country.  When I think of the youngest person in my family, I think of my 8 month old son.

The reason that Torah is so amazing to me is that it spans the  generations.  The same Torah that my great-grandparents read in the Island of Rhodes and Lithuania is the one that my son will hear as he grows up.  This goes for my students as well – they are hearing and learning from the same Torah of their great-grandparents.

It is up to you students, the future generations, to carry it forward.  May we all strive to find something special in the Torah this year!

Thank you.

Jennifer

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The word “Torah” can mean many things.  A Torah—or a Torah scroll— refers to the parchment roll containing the Five Books of Moses. Torah can also mean teaching.  Torah to me specifically applies to this idea of teaching and guidance.  Torah is the sum of all the knowledge of the Jewish people.

Torah also teaches us about making choices, good and bad.  The choices that we make every day can be small or large in our lives.  I think the biggest influence of Torah on me has inspired me to always continue learning—to be a constant student, no matter what my age is.

With all this talk of Jewish learning, some of you may know that I finished my conversion to Judaism this past April.  It took me about five years.  Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was hard, but I always kept learning.  I made a conscious choice to join the Jewish people. Without Torah in my life, I would not have experienced the richness of my journey to make Judaism part of my life.

Thank you.

Ashley

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Sometimes you hear of torah as Capital Letter T-o-r-a-h, which is the scroll of Jewish tradition that surrounds you today, supported on the fingertips of the middle school students.  Sometimes you can think of torah as lowercase t-o-r-a-h which means different things to different people.  When Rabbi Micah asked me to speak about torah today I didn’t think I had anything to share. I don’t really have a connection to torah.  You see…

I didn’t grow up in a religious home,

or go to a jewish school.

I didn’t learn Hebrew

or have a Bat Mitvah.

So what connection do I have to the torah?

I do have a connection to being Jewish.  I have memories of being in synagogue with my father.  While my lack of Hebrew kept me from understanding the service, I felt the Ruach, the energy, in the singing and the ritual.

I did grow up in a home where we celebrated Jewish holidays and told stories of Passover, ate in a Sukkah and lite Hanukkah candles.

But I still didn’t feel a connection to the Capital T-o-r-a-h.

And when I first started at Davis I felt I really didn’t know anything about Capital T-o-r-a-h.  What’s Tefillah?  (Thank you Stacy Schleicher for teaching me.) What are the four names of Rosh Hashana?  (Thank you Suzanne Friedman for teaching me.) What’s that prayer?  (Thank you to every class for teaching me.)

I came into the gym for simchat torah that first year with no experience and no expectations.  I sat with my third graders anxious to see what would happen.  Then I watched in wonder as two teachers started to unroll the two torahs.

I had Torah Euphoria.  Uncontrolled tears and laughing.  The wonder of it! We are surrounded in torah, not just this scroll, but what this scroll means for all of us.  We are surrounded in our history.  In our education.  In our community.  In our desire to learn. In our shared goal to change the world.  Suddenly, as I was surrounded by the Torah I felt a connection to Capital T-o-r-a-h and to our shared history – full of differences, but very much the same.

Thank you,

Rebecca

 

 

Radical Sharing (Joint Post with Stacy Brown @21ststacy)

A number of weeks ago I came across an excellent post by Amy Burvall, “There’s No Copyright for Cookies: Why Educators Should Embrace Sharing” link.  In the post she presents the compelling argument that instructional ideas, student work, and resources, much like homemade cookies, are indeed enhanced through sharing their “sweetness” with others.  This concept of “Radical Sharing” is visible on a daily basis through the power of my growing PLN, and evident in the activities and environment of our teachers and students.

A few “shares” from the first week of school:

On August 9th, Michele White shared “A Closer Look at Math Synergy” link with math ideas that she has learned from friends and used in the class.  I, in turn, shared these same ideas with our 3rd-8th grade math team.  The middle school team loved the idea of the Sudoku of the month board, and thus…

A

On August 17th Deedee Wills shared, “First few days of school, Peek at my Week Linky” link.  The post detailed a number of engaging activities and plans to help make the first week of school special and welcoming to our new classroom communities.  The kindergarten teachers liked a number of the activities, and thus…

B

 

The PLN and Sharing of a 21st Century Learning Coordinator:

In addition to Twitter, I have found that sharing and comparing apps has become another means to enhance our PLN’s.  When Tricia Fugelstad, posted on her award winning educational blog, her students’ experiences using the Wordfoto app to create art-inspired wishes for the world,  I got the idea to use this same app in a 2nd grade lesson in the media center to support their unit on grammar and more specifically, adjectives.  The result was this:

c

 

Pinterest has also been a fantastic source for a wealth of ideas.  For example, when I was searching Pinterest for ideas to integrate Technology into the curriculum, I stumbled upon this job chart outlined in Sheila Mularski’s blog post:

D

 

 

The above inspired me to create my own iHelp job chart as it pertains to my fourth and fifth grade Technology classes.  It looks like this:

E

 

Inspired by the original image of Shelia’s job chart, we now have class Tweeters managing class Twitter accounts at @4thtech and @5thtech.  We also have a 4th grade class blog and a 5th grade class blog created and maintained by the students for the students and parents based on their weekly job assignments.

As part of my role as 21st Century Learning Coordinator I routinely meet with the teachers to brainstorm inventive ways for the students to reflect on and share their work.  During one such discussion, Mrs. Friedman (@3dGradeTeacher) mentioned that she was looking for an engaging way for her students to practice their vocabulary words.  Having made Richard Byrne’s Free Technology For Teacher’s blog into one of my favorite “go to” resources, I knew it should be one of my first stops for ideas and inspiration.  Perusing Richard’s blog, led me to Thinglink.  This turned out to be the perfect technology tool for reviewing vocabulary words and their meanings.  As a result of finding this resource through my PLN, the third grade students created fabulous interactive vocabulary flash cards, such as this one.

“Sharing” the future:

With so many thoughtful educators sharing their engaging educational activities through social media, we have become curators of content.  We sift through information and divvy it out based on who we think it will appeal to and when.  Instead of planning within the confined walls of our classroom or amongst our school teams, we have become a team of global planners connected together with a common goal of enticing our students to learn and enriching their learning experiences.  Just in the examples above, our ideas were inspired from across the United States: Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington D.C., Missouri, and Illinois.  We are energized to have begun knocking down our own and the classroom walls of our colleagues.  We are grateful for the opportunities to connect with talented educators throughout the world, and look forward to reaping the continued collective benefits within our school, our community, and our PLN.

Amy Burvall’s piece speaks to moving to a post-proprietary model in which we embrace the concept of radical sharing in order to enhance all of our experiences.  We are trying each day to actualize this goal, and look forward to contributing to this movement as creators, collaborators, and sharers.

 

Power of Spoken Word (Guest Post by KP)

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate

After watching this powerful and challenging piece by Suli Breaks. My good friend, colleague, and thought provoker, Kendrick (@KHQP) shared her own beautiful take.

 

“My students are more than numbers, figures, or letters.

I refuse to label them or let them define themselves

or their “successes” by A’s for the day or their

“failures” as being “below average”.

No smart ones or slow ones.

No perfection of 100’s or imperfection of 0’s.

My students are works in progress.

We are all works in progress and

success is not defined by numbers and letters but

by intention, passion, investment, engagement and action.

My students are a collection of spirited individuals

who I hope “label” themselves by interests, hopes, dreams, and innovation,

who “grade” & define “success” for themselves through their actions,

their impact and an insatiable thirst to acquire knowledge/learn for themselves

and not for a number or letter on a piece of paper.”

Six weeks down. Life to go.

Adams

 

Six weeks ago I left for The Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston. As I left to attend this conference I brought with me a confidence in the excellent learning institution that I am a part of.  I brought a sense of pride about our excellent teachers who never stop learning and who are eager for new methods and tools to increase student learning and connection.  I brought an appreciation for the building, facilities, and tool rich environment that we get to immerse ourselves and our students in on a daily basis. Lastly, I brought a feeling of personal satisfaction at being able to help lead such an institution.

4 Days in Boston exposed to some amazing thinkers, mind stretching ideas, and passionate practitioners changed my thinking about much of my “luggage.”  In order to offer our students more opportunities to connect their learning to in-field experts; to be participatory citizens as opposed to learning about it; to engage, collaborate, and create content for an ever growing global knowledge base, It became clear to me, there were certainly areas for growth and the majority of that started with me.

I came home feeling the weight of responsibility and opportunity.

I created a Blog

One of my greatest aspirations for myself, my teachers, and my students is to be reflective.  As such I have tasked myself with blogging twice a week.  I have to admit that this feels a bit daunting.  At the same time, I think it is essential to set aside time to reflect on our experiences.  As all of our perspectives are unique, and therefore the way we experience an experience is specific to our selves, I truly value the ability to reflect and share my own interpretation, and I want to model and encourage my teachers and students to do the same.

The hours of blogging and the many, many hours of setting up, playing with, and changing features of my blog have paid instant dividends.   Our kindergarten and Mechina (kindergarten prep) classes all have blogs.  And our Mechina students all have blogs of their own.   My own time spent working with this tool has better equipped me to make suggestions and assist my team as they too explore these possibilities.

I tweet

I tweet a lot.  I find it to be the tool with the highest density of quality resources, ideas, and people to strengthen my PLN.

I tweet when I have something to share: When there is a topic that I am passionate about (school culture, character education, math education, professional development…etc) and I believe that I may have a resource or an idea that may be of value to another practitioner, I tweet.

I tweet when I have an interest: Just last night I enjoyed a role reversal as I got to play the student on an excellent #5thchat.  @flyonthewall, @paulsolarz, and many others shared the inspiring ways they are incorporating genius hour/passion projects in to their classrooms.  I enjoyed the role of eager student probing for greater knowledge about philosophy, expectations, and outcomes for the projects.

I tweet in my role as match maker: Attempting to deliver the content that I see across my feed to the people in my school who will best appreciate and best incorporate it is one of the essential roles I feel I now play.  A quick tour across the lower and middle school building will show bulletin boards, classroom organizations, and lessons that were generated or inspired by resources that I have been able to push out to specific targeted people.

We tweet for community: All teachers are using grade level hashtags to document and share the excitement of the learning.  This enables parents, grandparents, and loved one to share in the joy and feel a part of the journey.  Additionally it enables us to connect our students and their work with others in our global community, and potentially with experts, authors, and organizations that will further the learning.

I continue to…

Hopefully the end to this sentence is reflect, learn, and grow. A week after returning from Boston, I concluded one of my first posts about the why and how to get started with twitter with the following:

“Finally, to all new and experienced teachers and collaborators in the pool, I thank you.  Thank you for the sharing that you have offered me as I have newly explored the potential of this tool, and thank you for the sharing that you will offer to me and all of my team in the coming weeks, months, and years.”

Still seems right.

 

 

 

Twitter: Moving from Communication to Connection

Teacher: So, I have been reading tweets and of course tweeting some stuff myself. I wanted to know if you are looking for quantity or quality in terms of our tweets. Meaning—is it beneficial for us to tweet something if it is not explained well or if the picture is unclear.

ME: This is a great question.  The goal is certainly not one of quantity, but rather quality. And, I would certainly not suggest unclear photo tweeting and/or meaningless tweets.  That being said, it is important to realize we are only in the first phase of our twitter initiative, and we are currently using twitter as a means of documenting and communicating cute or powerful lessons from the classroom.  This certainly does not mean that every tweet needs a picture, as there have been some great tweets without links, photos or attachments.  The next step, and I think the bigger payoff, is when our tweets start to encompass connections.  Connecting a tweet about our students working on a Georgia landform project with another 3rd grade class elsewhere in order to see photos or info about their studies of their own regions and/or connecting our student’s book reports and research papers with authors, organizations, community experts…etc. is the ultimate goal, as this will still serve the first purpose as well as unlock the true learning potential.  Unfortunately I think it requires familiarity with the first before being comfortable enough to move to the second type.  Therefore I do think quantity is relevant even if not most important.

An example of dipping our toe in to phase two, below is the tweet that I just send of a picture that Julie’s kids made using the Wordfoto app.  When I tweeted it, I included @wordfoto (this is the designers handle) and the #kinderchat (this is the kindergarten teacher hashtag).  Though there is certainly no guarantee of making a connection, but the possibility that the designer or another kindergarten teacher will see this and reach out to us to connect with Julie’s class now exists. I am well aware that this may look like a foreign language or feel overwhelming.  I promise that I will assist in making the transition from phase one to phase two.

a

 

Earlier this week I received this email regarding our current twitter initiative.  In drafting my response I realized that there was great value in the interaction. First, I was pleased to even be engaging in such a discussion where we could be discussing evidence of implementation to reflect on future directions.  With our initiative being 3 weeks young, the more than 400 tweets display as much about the amazing culture of learning and innovation amongst our faculty team as the actual tweets and photos show about our wonderful culture of community and love.  That the producers of Davis content on twitter has gone from 5 or 6 to over 60 in 3 weeks is another reinforcement of this.

The process of growing and learning is inherently incremental.  Before we can walk, we crawl (most of us). Before we can program computers, we engage in computers.  Unlocking the learning potential that twitter provides for students and teachers will take a similar incremental approach.  Our daily tweets from all members of our community sharing the great success of our students and teachers is a solid start to this end.  Making the change to include more opportunities for global and “expert” connections for our students is the 2nd phase.  While we are fully engaged in phase 1, I can already see some nice beginnings of the transition to this second phase with references to authors, publishers, and community organizations coming across our hashtags in the past 3 days.

I look forward to building on the momentum of a great first three weeks with this initiative, transitioning more solidly in to a phase of connection, and looking ahead to helping students and teachers find, build, and share with a powerful and meaningful PLN in the 3rd phase.

Inaugural Middle School Leadership Training Institute

 

What is Leadership?

The adage that we are currently raising tomorrow’s leaders is not a phrase whose implications are lost on those of us that that teach or work with young people.  One of the interesting challenges, however, in this goal of leadership development is one of vocabulary.  What does Leadership mean?  Ask two (reflective or thoughtful) people, and you are likely to get different responses.  Ask a room full of reflective and thoughtful educators, and you are likely to get a myriad of responses describing personal characteristics, visionary thinking, intra and inter-personal skills, communication strengths…etc.  While the collective of these definitions are all aspirationally beautiful, they present a number of challenges.

  1. If leadership is such a grand concept that it is only attainable by an individual that has perfect balance (life-balance, not gymnastics) and communication ability and is able to perseverate on grand causes to impact all humanity, then the task of leadership is unattainable for most (if not all) reflective individuals.
  2. If the facilitators for children’s journey to leadership all hold different definitions of what leadership is, how can students progress toward this goal.

With the goal of fostering leadership development, we have created the Middle School Leadership Training Institute (MSLTI).

What is MSLTI?

Everything we know about adolescents points to the fact that if they aren’t involved, empowered, and in leadership roles then they are much less likely to “buy in.” MSLTI will support the 3 leadership organizations (SGA, JL, and SA) in  leadership development and securing leadership opportunities for these students to put the training in to motion.

Student Government Association

Members of the Student Government Association (SGA), selected by peers and faculty through an application process, will play a leadership role in the middle school by providing a voice for the student body and a means of disseminating information from school personnel back to the student body.

Jewish Ritual and Student Life Leadership

Involvement and empowerment is a critical realization when it comes to Jewish activities such as holidays, t’filah, and other Jewish experiences including social action projects. The Jewish Ritual and Student Life Leadership cohort will work with the school rabbi as well as members of the Jewish Studies faculty to help shape these school experiences. They will be seen leading t’filah, sharing Divrei Torah at various functions, and helping to inspire their peers to engage with these special school activities.

Ambassadors

Student Ambassadors will play a crucial role in supporting school events and promoting positive public relations. Students will accompany prospective families on school tours, assist at school events or meetings, and participate in other public relations opportunities.

Inaugural Middle School Leadership Training Institute

MSLTIOver twenty 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students joined members of our administration for the first annual Middle School Leadership Training Institute.  The students first were treated to a talk about leadership from Brian Mand, a Davis Academy parent and community leader, who had them participate in a number of exercises to demonstrate the role of communication, vision, and feedback play in effective leadership.  Next the students explored their own definitions of leadership and reflected on whether they saw themselves as meeting the requirements of leadership under their own definition.  We then watched Drew Dudley’s fabulous TED talk on Everyday Leadership (Link):

“We have all changed someone’s life — usually without even realizing it. In this funny talk, Drew Dudley calls on all of us to celebrate leadership as the everyday act of improving each other’s lives. (Filmed at TEDxToronto.)”

With his powerful words as back drop we broke in to groups to try and come up with a common language for both “what is leadership?” and “Am I a leader?”  The students’ openness and reflection was powerful both for each other and for the facilitators.

The participants then separated into their own leadership area cohorts to further explore SGA, Jewish Life leadership, and Ambassadors training.  Each cohort’s activities further affirmed the importance of their engagement in both facilitating the tasks needed of their position and in shaping the ways they can participate and grow.

Conclusion

It was an amazing start to a year of shared learning and growth.  The students and facilitators all left energized by the shared experience and the tasks ahead.

Life, Learning, and Laughter Enthusiast

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