How can whole person learning be applied in Jewish education and how can I adapt it in my work?
Whole person learning has direct application to Jewish education. This learner-centered approach puts a premium on applicability to the learner's life. One characteristic of quality learning is its relevance to the learner. Jewish learning that fails to take the individual and their life into account does not have the same impact on the student. The tools an educator uses are important, but more important is the relevance of the learning for the learner. A number of Jewish institutions and programs work to incorporate a whole person learning approah to their educational initiatives. To view profiles of six such institutions, click here.
The Jewish Education Project in New York is one such institution. The agency works to enhance Jewish supplemental education by training practitioners to utilize whole person learning in their practice. Through a project called LOMED, Learner Outcomes and Measurement for Effective Educational Design, New York congregations work with LOMED consultants to design and deliver professional learning, create and use assessment tools to measure learner impact, and continue to innovate to reach educational visions. As part of this program a team of educators, led by project director Cyd Weissmen, identified five requisites for quality whole person learning. These are featured in the video, High Five: Jewish Learning that Nurtures the Whole Person (To learn more about The Jewish Education Project's Whole Person Learning initiative read their blog, Cyd Weissman Takes the Lomed Challenge and visit www.innovatingcongregations.org.)
Whole person learning is applicable in any Jewish learning context. Below are a list of application suggestions that educators can utilize in planning and implementing whole person learning approaches. These suggestions are based on learning from the Jewish Education Project's work and the writings of J Duane Hoover:
● Enable experience and reflection – To enable impactful experiences it is necessary to create a strong group dynamic, where learners feel safe, cared for, and validated. This can be achieved by: creating group rules that honor each individual, being transparent with group learning goals, creating attainable goals, and providing positive feedback guidelines. Additionally, the environment should provide room for learners to decide for themselves what is important.
Reflection is also key. Research shows that experiences are transformative when there is an opportunity for reflection. Providing reflection (through scheduled debriefing) allows for learners to make meaning for themselves, which is the central ingredient to encouraging lasting impact. Quality debriefing experiences give ample room for learner derived questions, personal reflection, and group discussion that is facilitated but not controlled by the facilitator.
● Attend to each person – The key understanding here is that no one size of education fits all. Learners need choice in order to grow in meaningful ways. Choices give learners the tools to decide what has resonance for them. Listening to the questions and thoughts of the learners provides insight into who they are and what is of interest to them.
Inherent in this is the importance of not just knowing the learners but also guiding them to understand themselves. Learners cannot grow (personally, spiritually, emotionally, or otherwise) if they do not recognize where they are starting from. Educators should provide opportunities for personal exploration before challenging learners' perceptions and values.
● Build Relationships & Community – Relationships should be at the heart of Jewish learning. Individuals grow and learn through their relationships. They get involved and stay involved based on the relationships they create. Relationships allow for personal challenge and growth. True growth cannot occur without relationships – they provide the trust, security and support necessary for growth to occur. The relationships must allow for knowledge of individuals in a deep and meaningful way, one that spans over time and across settings.
Understanding and engaging the learner's family is also necessary. It is through the family that one understands many of the values and beliefs of the learner. Working with the whole family assists in the ability to know learners, their beliefs, and their attitudes.
● Redefine the Role of the Educator – If educators are taking the steps to understand their learners and provide learning that centers on their needs, then the role of the educator changes from disseminator to guide and facilitator. This role moves the relationship from a one way experience to one that is based in exchange and collaboration. This key difference also allows the learners to have control over their learning while receiving the support of the teacher. The role of curriculum, too, must shift from providing knowledge to helping learners know where to access knowledge and empowering them to seek it. Additionally, the learner should have room to draw their own conclusions.
As you read and watch the portraits of the six examples of whole person learning in Jewish education that have been compiled here, look for these five elements and see how they are incorporated across a range of educational settings. To view the six profiled institutions, click here.