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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Technology in the Classroom: Professional Development No. IV, 5766

This year each issue of V’shinantam will be on a different topic in the area of technology and written by our Educational Technology Specialist, Renée Rittner. Renee received her Master's of Education in educational technology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She also holds her MSW, MAJE, and MAJS degrees. She is currently the Director of Education at Temple Israel of Greater Miami.

V’shinantamis organized around the three pillars of Torah, Avodah, and G’milut Chasadim. In the Torah section you will find an overview of the topic, in Avodah, applications for your classroom, and in G’milut Chasadim additional resources.

Technology as a Tool for Professional Development No. 4, 5766

TORAH: Professional Development for the Avocational Teacher

Congratulations! By taking the time to download and read V’shinantam you are already using technology as one avenue for professional development.

School is out, summer is here and Sundays are again “free.” Aside from relaxation time, summer also represents the perfect time for teachers to play, read and discover. The computer can be a pathway to all of these activities, helping you to grow personally and develop professionally. The essence of a good teacher is a good learner. As models of lifelong Jewish learning, teachers in Jewish settings should make the time to continue their own learning. Many of us are not teachers by profession but decide to teach out of a love for Judaism and a dedication to our congregations. Professional development activities can raise the bar in our classrooms. The computer is a wonderful option, particularly in the summer, for flexible, inexpensive and tailor-made professional development opportunities.

AVODAH: Finding the Professional Development that is Right for You

Professional development includes attending workshops, reading books, watching videos or live presentations, listening to audio feeds or conference calls or using software or the Internet. The process or medium used to learn only is only as good or bad as it contributes to a good professional development experience for the person using it. That said, using advanced technologies to access professional development opportunities has many advantages. Technology-based professional development is multifaceted. It can be self-directed or facilitated, asynchronous or synchronous, on-demand or scheduled, project-based or journal-based, etc. How to choose? Analyze what you want to learn, how you best learn and your ultimate goal for the learning. Also consider the amount of time you have to commit to learning, where and how you can to access learning and your motivation to learn.

Step 1: Personal Teaching Assessment[1] Identify the Development Need

Review the past teaching year and plans or needs for the upcoming year. Look at your successes as well as areas that you might like to improve, refocus or learn. Bring your ideas and self-reflection to your school educator or supervisor and choose an area of focus. For example: work on classroom management skills, broaden your repertoire of teaching styles, learn about differentiated learning, improve your lesson planning, acquire tools for student assessment or learn a new technology to integrate into your classroom.

Step 2: Personal Learning Styles Assessment[2] Identify How You Learn Best

As you decide on learning options first evaluate your learning style. Are you are an independent learner or someone who is motivated to learn by the presence of others? Do you enjoy raising your hand to speak in a class setting or rather thinking and replying at your own pace? There are options using technology that meet all of these needs: Internet-based, software-based, audio-visual distance learning or classroom learning.

In conjunction with your own understanding of how you like to learn, consider the following research on how adults learn best when choosing a professional development option.

Adult learners approach learning with:

  • Diverse life experiences and learning goals or needs
  • “Clock-driven” lives (time conscious)
  • A desire for personal choice in what to learn
  • Rich cognitive skills that should be challenged

Adult distance learners tend to:

  • Want access to speakers or topics they cannot reach another way
  • Want flexibility in their learning
  • Be self-starters and independently motivated
  • Be willing to experience new styles of communication, socialization and collaboration with peers (that they may never meet)

Also use these criteria for excellent professional development, which:

  • Is ongoing
  • Motivates individual reflection and group inquiry into practice
  • Pertains specifically to the teacher’s work in the classroom
  • Provides time for peer collaboration and communication
  • Speaks the language and knowledge base of teaching
  • Is easily accessible and responds to many needs
  • Has a specific outcome (certificate, work towards a degree, recognition, etc.)

Step 3: Personal Development Goal Articulate What You Hope to Achieve

This may be less concrete in the world of supplementary Jewish education. Some religious schools award teachers raises based on their participation in professional development. Others recognize teachers publicly for their achievements. Find out what your school offers. Also get in touch with your own personal motivation for continuing your learning. In the case of Jewish avocational teachers, much learning for professional development is also learning for personal enrichment. For example, taking a class in Hebrew liturgy will help you in class as well as in your own worship. Your community Jewish educational agency might also provide certification or recognition or accomplishments. Distance learning/technology based degrees may also be a viable option. An online advanced degree from an accredited institution rather than a certificate may be a viable option and motivator. The key is to know what motivates you and to choose your learning modality based on that motivation.

Step 4: Commitment Decide What Kind of Commitment You Can Make

Once the issues of what to study, how to study and why to study are hammered out, the “where” question must be considered. The “where” question includes both physical location and time commitment. For example, am I going to move to Los Angeles and pursue my Master’s of Jewish Education at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education (HUC-JIR), am I going to Kutz Camp for a Hebrew retreat, am I going to watch a DVD on using Mikadem in my pajamas, or am I going to take an online course in using the CHAI Curriculum once or twice a week at my computer? “Where” you study is linked to your overall goal. Perceptions that “real” degrees come from “real” schools with walls now need to be reexamined. Today the lines are blurred. Legitimate institutions of higher learning offer distance learning opportunities using technology. Accredited universities offer online learning opportunities either for a degree (e.g. Siegal College of Jewish Studies, Cleveland, OH), for a certificate (e.g. Spertus College, Chicago, IL) or simply for the sake of learning (e.g. Princeton University, NJ). The choice of where to learn really comes down to your own resources, such as time and money, that you can devote to the learning experience.

A Personal Story

When you go through this four-step process to select a professional development experience, you may be surprised by your own answers. When I was encouraged to learn about educational technology, I planned to take a few classes in the topic. When I answered the above questions for myself, I realized the only way to really understand the topic was to take classes towards some type of certification. I lived near the University of Missouri-Columbia (MIZZOU) that offered a masters program, but I traveled for work so I could not be time bound to attend classes. I learn by manipulating things in the physical world and I am energized by learning with others. Online learning should not have been my cup of tea, but it was the best option considering my goals and resources. As it turned out, the online courses I took were constructed to encourage interaction between people through joint projects and papers. To do many of the projects I had to set up mini-experiments or surveys of my colleagues, so I learned by doing. I was able to speak both synchronously in town meetings and asynchronously in chats. I traveled with my computer for two years to earn the degree, and it was conferred on the campus. Although the result was different than I anticipated at first, the process outlined above helped me to find an option that best met my needs.

G’MILUT CHASADIM: Additional Resources

When deciding if distance learning is for you, remember:

· Many universities and programs allow you to take a class online before enrolling in the full program, sometimes for a reduced fee. There are also free courses available for some types of professional development.

· Distance learning might involve many modalities, such as:

o Watching a streaming video online and then answering questions or posting to a discussion

o Watching home video or live feed of an event at your home and attending a one-time a year retreat on site

o Reading articles online and creating projects you can post for others to view

Following is a partial list of Web sites and articles to help you in choosing a professional development opportunity. Read the previous two V’shinantam issues for more ideas.

Articles and Web Sites about Online Professional Development

Online Teacher Communities and Continuing Professional Development – research based article about teachers and professional development online

Education World – the educator’s eclectic learning website

ASCD – Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development offers many types of professional development (some require membership)

Opportunities for Online Professional Development

Teacher-to-Teacher: Digital Workshops sponsored by No Child Left Behind – look at the section titled “Other”); much of the learning is through online video feed

PBS Teacher Online – offers online courses, as well as other useful information for teachers for course)

Tapped-In – online teacher community for professional development and much more

Jewish Online Professional and/or Personal Development

Union for Reform Judaism Online Teacher Development Courses – courses on different topics appropriate for Jewish teachers, either available as a CD-ROM or facilitated online throughout the year

URJ’s 10 Minutes of Torah – sends topical Torah discussions to your inbox, available daily

URJ’s Eilu V’eilu – weekly point-counterpoint discussion on different topics

Jskyway – a learning portal for Jewish teachers offering professional development and more

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion – Reform Movement’s seminary offers personal growth and knowledge courses, some for alumni only (Look under continuing education and then distance education.)

Hebrew College – degree granting institution in Boston, MA offers online degree and certificate options

Siegal College of Judaic Studies – degree granting institution in Cleveland, OH offers online degree and certificate options

Spertus College – degree granting institution in Chicago, IL offers online degree and certificate options

[1] For more information on personal evaluation refer to Evaluating Your Own Teaching by L. Dee Fink at

[2] You can access a learning styles self-assessment from North Carolina State University at

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