The iCenter- Anne Lanski (Executive Director), Natalie Blitt (Director of Community Initiatives), Cari Schulman (Operations Manager), Ginger Mailin (Director of Professional Development), Aliza Goodman (Director of Communications)
How would you describe your general philosophy of Jewish education?
Jewish education is about identity development. We take a learner-centered approach in instilling experience and knowledge to developing a learner's identity. This ensures that "Jewish" and "Israel" are integral components of identity. A content-centered approach starts with a random list of facts and information that we want them to know. Our approach doesn't start with the content. We start with the learner. Education is about experiencing and engaging around a topic followed by reflecting, processing, and internalizing that experience as a part of who you are. That is how learners are able to internalize and construct meaning from their experiences. It's not about what they know. It's how they know it, why, and what it means to them. Additionally, we need to think of ourselves as learners first. Then learning becomes engaging and relevant because we understand the process instead of the product.
What do you see as the primary goals of Jewish education and how, in general terms, can we best go about trying to achieve these?
Jewish education is for our kids. One of our primary goals is to create people who are interested in life-long learning and who are going to connect with their identity throughout their lives. The goal is to give them not only the knowledge and to connect them to the content but to allow it to be something they see as their life-long journey. As Jewish educators, we want to allow our students to perceive and read the world through a Jewish-focused lens.
As a community, one of the things we see most often is fear of change and taking risks. We shouldn't be afraid to change. We should be afraid to stay the same. Our students have changed. Understanding who they are, what their needs are, how they want to learn, and how they learn is the reason for us to change and take risks. There are such amazing opportunities in people and things that could be if we could empower our kids, ourselves, and our structures to get there. Most things unintentionally stifle that process now. An hour a week after school for Hebrew school to learn prayer in Hebrew is never going to develop that Jewish identity that an immersive experience in Modern Hebrew could do. Immersive Jewish educational experiences are far more successful than supplemental or one-time experiences. A trip to Israel, camp, day school, Hebrew in public high school are all immersive. These are significantly more contextualized. They have sculpt and sequence, curricular, and systemic approaches. Things that have context enable learning to feel more relevant. It is our duty as people who want to find the best ways of educating children to take risks. Some things will fail, some will succeed, and some will take us to unintended places that are far more rich and beautiful than we could have imagined.
There are three iCenter values that encompass what we do and what our values are. We are learner-centered, interested in executing everything we do with excellence, and are collaborative by design. In learner-centered education, the learner can be a kid or it can be a community. It can be an educator or it can be a colleague. Within learner-centered, we are focused on identity development and formation. The transmission of ideas should be experiential, relevant, meaningful and cutting-edge. Experiential learning is not just feeding the information but allowing learners to experience it. Both from their context of learning, but also visiting, being multi-modal: feeling, seeing, tasting, and experiencing what life is like.
Secondly, everything we do must be geared towards excellence. We have the best, most creative, most knowledgeable, and wisest minds working for us. In addition to high quality and creative or innovative, another important word in excellence is authenticity.
Thirdly, we are collaborative by design. That means we both celebrate and leverage the diversity of the Jewish education community. In order to bring people of different backgrounds together, we leverage all of the possible partnerships and collaborations that we can. The end product becomes something stronger than any of us could have created individually.
What impact is it having on its participants? Can you give some examples?
Our contribution to the field is to take Israel education back from the media and to begin to insure that Israel education belongs to all Jewish educators. There needs to be a professionalized area of expertise known as Israel education and Israel educators. Israel must be something that unites people and Jewish educators particularly. We envision a learner-centered approach to become second nature and a top priority. That means learning is content and excellence, it is relevant and meaningful, and it's experiential. It's not one or the other. It's all. The things we've learned and excelled at in Israel Education are totally applicable to any other area of Jewish education. It's not like we hired three experts to figure it out and now we know "the answers." It's because we are constantly learning at least as much if not more than we're able to educate. The field deserves to be surrounded by great minds. We're trying to do it justice. We try and benefit from the best practices, best minds, and the best of what's out there essentially. We're branding excellence, not branding iCenter.
What words of wisdom or advice could you give to someone who is embarking to put an innovative idea to work?
They should follow their passion, have vision, and surround themselves with the best and the brightest. The best things are yet to be created, so they may be among them. We need to trust that we have important contributions to make.You must be in a place that cultivates and enhances the ability to create your vision. Idealism isn't always important. At every reasonable point, stop and think, "Is there another place?" No matter how things are going, stop, look back, and think, "Where is my actual opportunity right now?" Remember that in the end, people make the difference. Finally, always make sure you're always learning as much as you're teaching.
The following blogs and articles will help you better understand the work of the iCenter.
MZ Teen Israel Internship Blog http://www.theicenter.org/mzteens
Dancing Into the Future: Teens and Israel, by Peter Eckstein http://www.theicenter.org/voices/dancing-future-teens-and-israel
Echoes of a Shofar, by Leora Isaacs http://www.theicenter.org/echoes-shofar
Article by Anne Lanski in eJewishPhilanthropy.org http://www.theicenter.org/voices/new-look-israel-education-mapping-field-and-charting-future
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