MOFET JTEC - From Yoga Chair Pose to Congregational School Poised for Change

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Section: Teacher Education
From Yoga Chair Pose to Congregational School Poised for Change
October 23, 2013    |   Type: Abstract

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


I attribute my strides in yoga to a particular teaching style. Enter a yoga studio for your first class and you will not see a desk, book, or whiteboard. Your tools are a mat, blocks, and a blanket. When class starts you engage in the “practice” of yoga. We need to “practice” or “do” Judaism with our learners in the same way that they put their hands to piano keys to learn music, dribble on the basketball court to become athletes, or dissect a frog as young biologists. How is it that the same kid who struggles to recite the Amidah prayer can shine on the basketball court and recall statistics for players and games? Of course, part of it is motivation. I am self-motivated to take on yoga. Still, we spend a lot of time with kids on mastering the Amidah. How can we be more successful?...


The simple answer is to engage kids in the many different forms of prayer and guide them towards opportunities in which to be prayerful, rather than stick them behind a desk forced to recite the words from a photocopy or textbook. Fortunately, many congregational schools are already moving past overly frontal techniques. The more mindful answer is to strategically employ the approach of experiential learning, currently at the center of many conversations about Jewish education. For years we have seen the fruitful impact of this approach in the setting of Jewish summer camp or through organized trips to Israel. Current debates question whether experiential methods can be integrated more prominently in non-immersive settings where educators lack the luxuries of residential living, lakes, and fields.


I am constantly struck by the incredible skill set of yoga instructors. They are authentic experiential educators. As pedagogues they are knowledgeable about the mechanics of yoga, appropriately challenge students while scaffolding us to success, assess progress and offer feedback, and draw connections between our practice of yoga and daily lives. As classroom managers they are generally patient and nurturing, and bring us together as a group while also offering individual “hands on” support as needed. Much of this success can be attributed to their training. A minimum standard in the industry is that yoga instructors receive 200 hours of training in areas ranging from alignment and anatomy to the science and art of sequencing a class, and as well as how to offer hands on adjustments. Many receive a total of 500 hours to deepen their abilities and benefit from a larger amount of mentoring and practice teaching.


If we want congregational schools to adopt an experiential approach, then our top priority must be to prepare teachers to integrate these techniques into their pedagogy and classroom management. The profile for congregational school teachers varies greatly from emerging adults who teach while in college to adults for whom teaching is a secondary avocation. Most bring some combination of interest, personal experiences in Jewish education, and varying levels of content knowledge. However, few arrive with any formal training in experiential learning. Those who have benefited directly from experiential programs have strong instincts, but need guidance on how to explicitly modify for settings that are not residential.


I am eager to continue my exploration of this approach, and giving thought to the art of yoga helps clarify some immediate needs. Leaders in Jewish education must allocate resources in time and funding for the preparation of experiential educators on a local or national level. This preparation should certainly include the school educators, but must also include other professionals in the synagogue community so that the school is truly embedded in a larger community. In turn, our educators have an obligation to collaborate internally and externally to ensure that schools, camps, and youth groups take advantage of opportunities for joint training, programming, and communication as we steward families through an increasingly wide network of experiences.


Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

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