Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Presents Are You Giving?

Last night Jews around the world celebrated the first night of Chanukah. Chanukah celebrates our religious freedom and I have always found it to be a holiday that spoke to me as a Rabbi and educator. I try to find an appropriate Chanukah message to share with people each year. . This year I came across the words of Lord Rabbi Sacks.

The message is one that we as parents and educators need to take to heart.

Wishing  you all a Happy Chanukah and in the words of lord Rabbi Sacks, “The best present we can give our children is the chance to do something great.”

I hope Rabbi Sacks words speak to us as much as they spoke to me

Editors note: Because of the important message I will be posting this on a number of my blogs 

Here is a link to the complete article:

“The best present we can give our children is the chance to do something great.
Children grow to fill the space we create for them, and if it's big, they grow tall. But if we turn them into mini consumers, we rob them of the chance of greatness, and I've not yet met a child not capable of greatness if given the opportunity and encouragement.
I do a lot of public speaking, and people sometimes ask me who taught me. The answer is simple. I went to a Christian school with a lot of Jewish pupils but no Jewish teachers. So we had to run the Jewish assembly ourselves, and that's how I learned as a teenager how to speak in public, because somebody gave me the chance. It was best piece of education I ever had.
Judaism is a child-centred religion. My earliest memories are of putting the bells on the Torah scroll in the synagogue, asking the Passover questions, lighting the chanukah candles. Judaism stayed young because it made heroes of the young. The best present we can give our children is the chance to do something great. It's a gift that will last a lifetime and transform their lives.” 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011



How many of us have gotten angry or upset at someone for doing something and then we do the same things. Well my virtual hand is raised. Today that happened to me. I sent out an email by mistake that wasn’t meant to be sent out.

Believe me when I tell you that I was consumed with guilt and had a tough time functioning after that. I sent out an apology email and took responsibility for my actions right away but still felt bad.

I learned a few important lessons from this episode:

1. We are all human and we all make mistakes
2. As we learn in Ethics of our Fathers don’t judge others until you are in their place. SO TRUE!
3. Take responsibility for your actions

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mixed Emotions

I found out the other day that I was nominated and made the short list for an Edublog award for Best Administrator Blog.

To be honest I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I never started blogging to get awards and to be honest for that reason and others I didn't nominate others. ( I am very honored and thankful that I was nominated)

On the other hand to be honest it felt good to be nominated and recognized for what I have done. Hence my mixed emotions.

Then I started thinking that there must be a bigger message here, after all the whole concept of awards is one that has been debated on twitter. Tonight I RT the following:

RT @phsprincipal: Finding meaning in the edublog awards by @stumpteacher <--very well said! Was thinking the same

This post sums up a lot of what I was thinking but I return to my original question what is the bigger message, what can I take away from all this

To me the biggest take away I have from being nominated is that "WE ALL MATTER". Who would have thought an orthodox Rabbi from Memphis TN would have almost 2,100 followers on twitter and start a blog that would actually be nominated for an Edublog award. Well I would never have!

So whether it is education reform, or just changing the way you teach. Or maybe it is why or what can I learn or offer others on Twitter, and for some maybe it is why should I blog what can I say that people want to read about

To all of you I say "YOU MATTER" and don't let anything stop you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is the Job of a Teacher 24/7

I haven't blogged for a while and have been thinking about what to blog about. I am jealous of all of those in my PLN that blog daily and sometimes more than once a day. After thinking about this for a while I decided to put my thoughts down on "paper".

Today we talk about child centered learning and the teacher as a facilitator to learning and allowing students to drive the learning with their questions. They are right and this is a major part of the role of the teacher in the 21st Century and it must change from the Sage on the Stage model.

However I believe that this is only part of the role of a teacher. A teacher needs to be a leader and a change agent. We may not be able to change the world or accomplish everything but as it says in "Ethics of our Fathers" that doesn't mean that we could just absolve ourselves of our responsibility.

It doesn't end there to me the most important thing teachers need to do or be is a role model. One who leads by examples in a moral and ethical way. Their motto should be "Do as I Do."
They need to show their students that they care about them not only in the classroom but out of the classroom as well.

I posed the following question as one of the possible topics for #jedchat

Is the the role /job of a Rebbe( Judaic male teacher)/Teacher 24/7 (ie are they expected to attend a school basketball game on Sunday)?

I think you could tell what I would say!

What do you think?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Just Be Honest - Be Yourself


In almost everything you read today about leadership you read about the importance of Transparency. To be honest the concepts scares some people. How can a be completely open and honest? Another common idea/question is How can I be open if that happens I will loose control.

I would argue that actually by being open and honest you gain respect and build trust amongst those that you lead.

Many times people think that his concept is reserved for corporate leaders and those that lead adults. I would argue that since all teachers are leaders therefore teachers need to be open and honest with their students. The top down approach to teaching " Do it because I am the teacher " should be some thing of the past.

I also believe that by being open and honest we actually build trust and respect with our students.

How can we do that. Perhaps the answer is just Be honest and be your self. Here is a short story that happened to me recently.

Editors Note: The purpose of the story is not to brag but rather just to show the importance of being honest.

Ar a recent Bar Mitzvah ( a celebration when a Jewish boy turns 13) I was asked to speak. This class has a boy that has physical challenges. In my speech I mentioned the Talmudic saying "That I have learned the most from my students" and that I learned from this class how to accept all students and that I was actually a bit scared before teaching this class, but after seeing how they just accept everyone made it easier.

My teenage daughters said to me " You really learned something from your students, and you admitted it" I said Yes it was true.

Truth of the matter is that I just said it without much thinking but realized afterwards that perhaps students aren't used to the fact that teachers can be ( and should be) open and honest.

If we treat our students and for that matter everyone in our lives with honesty and respect we will be treated with respect in return.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Truly Beyond the Classroom Walls-1

Yesterday myself and Rabbi Shira Leibowitz were invited by Mr. Brett Clark to skype with his class about Judaism.

I want to thank Mr. Clark for the opportunity as well as his students at the Lodge Community School in Evansville Indiana.

I also want to thank Rabbi Leibowitz for sharing the stage with me and adding a lot her special and unique insights to the conversation.

Below you will find links to the press coverage of this event.

However I want to share with you my major Take Aways from this experience:

1. Not only did the students learn but it was an engaging and learning experience for me as the presenter ( I would assume Rabbi Leibowitz feels the same way)

2. With not very much technology ( a video camera and mic) the possibilities are endless and we can as the title suggests move "Way Beyond the Classroom Walls" .

3. I was very impressed by the question the students asked and when given the opportunity to think critically, ask questions, and make learning real you will be amazed what our students are truly capable of.

Again thank you to Mr. Clark and his students

As we say in Hebrew Kol Hakavod!!

Lodge Elementary Students Use Video-Chat in Class: EVANSVILLE- Seventh graders at Lodge Elementary School are traveling to New York and to Memphis without any luggage.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Saying Thank You


Below is my Rosh Hashanah ( New Year's ) Message that I sent out to my faculty.

I just wanted to take a moment and say Thank You!

Thank you for your support
Thank you for your help
Thank you for your understanding and patience
Thank you for all your hard work and dedication

The list can go on but I think you get the idea.

This often is a thankless job and I at times are just as guilty as the next person in not showing my appreciation and HaKarat Hatov (recognizing the good) in all that you do.

In the spirit of being open and transparent, I would like to share with you some of my SMART goals for the coming year some personal and some professional.

I hope to be a better friend and keep connected to friends in other communities

I want to set aside at least 30 min to an hour day for my own learning ( small and manageable)

I want to listen better to your ideas

I want to say thank you to each and every one of you at least once a week

I want to spend more quality time with my family

May we be Zocheh ( merit) a year of health and happiness and may this be a year of prosperity and peace

Wishing you all a Ketiva V'Chatima Tova

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Picture from:

This week administrators from across the world picked one day to set aside as No Office Day. Truth be told I have a partial no office day every day. Besides my administrative duties I teach fifth grade for about 2-2.5 hours every day. However today I made a special effort to be out of my office more and go into some other classes.

My day started off with my eating breakfast with our 7/8 boys. Then I went to second grade who were working in groups. I sat down (on the floor) with one of the groups and joined there discussion. Then I sat with another student and started learning with him.

After that I went to teach my Fifth grade and today we did a jigsaw activity on certain Pesukim (verses) in the Chumash (the Bible).
My next stop was lunch and recess and duty (that I do regularly and Thursday just happens to be my day)

After that I decided to eat lunch with the 7/8 girls and had a very nice discussion with them and asked them for feedback for how their year was going so far.
Then I cheated a bit and during my lunch time I did some office work.
In the afternoon I was in the third grade when they played a game based on the Hebrew months and helped the fourth graders work on something about Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year).
Finally before I taught my JH class on digital citizenship I had the chance to play kickball with the sixth grade at recess I was all time pitcher.

Yes it was great to spend more time in the classroom and less time in front of my computer. It was great to see all the learning and engaged students that I know happens every day but actual had a chance to see it and enjoy it for myself. However my biggest take away was how important the simple things and those non class moments are like talking at lunch or playing ball with your students.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Deep Roots a Key for the Future

I have blogged a lot lately about Technology, 21st Century skills and Religion. How does it all fit together. How do we find that necessary balance. For those of you that have read my posts you know that someone who I respect and admire is Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Rabbi Sacks is one who on has achieved this balance between the modern world and religion.
Here are excerpts of a "Though of the Day" from June 2000 called "Dancing with the Past":
"Religious Jews are among the most enthusiastic users of the Internet for educational purposes; and in Israel, a country of only five million, Jews have created the largest high-tech industry outside the United States.
And yet, when it comes to the Torah, we still write the exactly as our ancestors have done by hand on parchment using a quill.
There is a view I hear often in the media almost every day....forget virtues like honour, fidelity,civility;above all,forget religion.They're old...For heaven sake aren't we living in the 21st Century.

It's a view that couldn't be more wrong. It is when the winds blow hardest that you need the deepest roots. When you are entering uncharted territory. it's when you need a compass to give you a sense of direction. What gives us the strength to cope with change are things that don't change....

I knew beyond a flicker of a doubt that those who carry with them the heritage of the past are those who can face the future without fear."

It is clear that as we move forward and face our changing society head on we can only do so if we take our heritage and religion with us.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

One Child at a Time

There is always a lot of talk about school reform. It is a very important topic but at times I think we look at it using a very wide angle lens and we tend to see all the problems. When looking at it through that type of lens type of lens it can seem overwhelming and perhaps our reaction is why bother trying. We are not going to change the system and what can I do?

My faith and religion is something that is very important to me and as many of you know offers me a source of inspiration. When the issue of education reform came up I found inspiration in something that I read this week by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
He tells the story about David who is a pediatrician and David had a favorite story. The story is actually taken from Loren Eiseley, a famous anthropologist.
The story is as follows:
"An old man was walking along the beach when he saw a young man throwing starfish that got stranded by the tide back into the sea one by one. He went up to him and asked why he was doing this. The young man answered that otherwise the starfish would die. The old man said, but the beach goes on for miles and there are thousands of them, you will not be able to save them all. How can your effort make a difference? The young man looked at the starfish in is hand and threw it to safety in the waves.To this one he said it makes a difference."( Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower, New York: Times Books 1978)

Rabbi Sacks adds; "We do it one day at a time, one person at a time, one act at a time. A single life, said the sages, is like a universe. Save a life and you save a world. Change a life you begin to change the world."

Therefore I think we need to take a narrow lens when looking at school reform. Perhaps we can't the change everything and perhaps the system is just too big but if we can change one child or one class then we begin to change the world.

Therefore as it says in the Ethics of our fathers: It is not our responsibility to to finish the work ( it is too great) but you are not able to exempt your self from doing anything.

Let us focus on what we can do within our classrooms and our schools and with that change we can begin to change the world.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What is Your Non Negotiable List

I am reading “Leaders of Learners”. A great book and I highly recommend it. In the book the book the authors discuss that school administrators while needing to be flexible also have to have what they call a “Non Negotiable List”, things that they will not be flexible on. It got me thinking what would be on my
Here is what I would have on my list:
* Putting the needs of the Students
*Improving and ensuring Student learning and growth must be a priority
*To value and care for all students with the understanding that all students can learn but perhaps not in the same way

What would be on your Non Negotiable List?
Please add your thoughts here:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Building a more positive relationship between Teachers and Administrators

Here is a SlideShare from my recent RSCON3 presentation.

Besides all the things alluded to in the slides there is one other important component. That is that both teachers and administrators need to have a common goal. I believe that goal needs to be Student Learning and Growth. I would hope that for all of us in education we would want to and be willing to do almost anything to help our students learn and grow.

I also want to thank all the organizers of RSCON3. I learned so much as a participant and I honored to be asked to present together with others who I admire and are truly leaders in bringing about education reform.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One Year Later

Today my blog is one year old. Happy Birthday!
I did a Google search the other day as to why we celebrate birthdays. The answered ranged from thanking G-D and celebrating life to reflecting on the past year. One post I saw actually said we shouldn't celebrate birthdays since we are getting older and closer to death. Way too morbid for me.

Anyway what would you do for a blogs birthday. I thought perhaps the most appropriate thing to do would be to reflect, give thanks, and offer goals for the next year.

So as I reflect I have come a long way. I have developed an amazing PLN through Twitter and I use both Twitter and my PLN to make me a better educator. I am a member of Connected Principal and will be one of the the Presenters at the RSCON3 conference this weekend.

I have also started to blog with edublog and my blog is called Beyond the Classroom Walls.

I want to thank my amazing PLN and I can't name all of you but you have all helped me grow and you are more than just a PLN but you are friends.

However I also realize I have so much to learn and a teacher, administrator, leader, father and husband.

I encourage you to spend a few minutes on Twitter searching the hashtags of #edchat, #cpchat, #rscon3 to get a glimpse of the great educators out there and the progressive and amazing things they are doing.

Learning is a never ending process and we all need to be striving to learn more but as I learned a year ago you need to take risks. If you would have asked me 13 months ago would be on Twitter and blogging the answer would have been an emphatic NO.

Now as I and many others are preparing for the new school year I need to think in what areas do I want to grow as an educational leader. Is it with engaging my students more with technology, or maybe incorporating more 21st Century Skills. The list can go on. One thing I know is that I will need to take some risks.So my hope is that in a year when I celebrate two years of blogging I can reflect and share with you the areas in which I have grown.

Looking forward another year of growing and learning ( and risk taking) together.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Finding a Balance

In June, during our Administrators Retreat, we spent a lot of time talking about 21st Century Learning. The bottom line is that today students are exposed to a lot more information and technological advances and the skills that are currently needed are not the same as in the past. If you don’t believe me I suggest reading “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink. Today our students need to be creative (not necessarily artistic), need to collaborate, and need to be able to problem solve. Learning needs to be more inquiry based and more student driven than teacher driven.

The question is how does this fit into a Judaic Studies classroom where the focus has always been on very basic skills of reading and translating. How can students get more involved if they are missing basic skills? Therefore, we need to strike a balance and to be honest, I am not 100% sure what that balance entails. We have begun the process of integrating technology and updated learning strategies into our classrooms and we plan to progress further each year as newer possibilities are open to us. As we continue to incorporate these components into our Judaic studies program, we must avoid the natural reaction to rebuff change because the end result will be detrimental to our students.

How do we deal with this issue of the future vs. our sacred traditions of the past? While in New York I bought a book by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth. The title of the book is “Jonathan Sacks from Optimism to Hope; A collection of BBC Thoughts of the Day.” In one of the essays he writes the following: “Ours is a very future-oriented religion. We’re not afraid of new technologies precisely because they allow us to fulfill, in ways undreamt by our ancestors…and to become, in that lovely Jewish phrase, ‘G-D’s partners in the work of creation’. …The biggest mistake we could possibly make in the 21st Century is to believe that by embracing the future means jettisoning the past. .. Those most at home in the wisdom of the past can best face the future without fear.”

It is clear that we can’t nor should we do away with the past nor does it mean that we can ignore the future and new technologies. My hope is that this year we find that balance and we can instill not only the wisdom of the past into our students but embrace the future as well.

Enjoy the rest of the summer
Rabbi Akevy Greenblatt

Thursday, July 14, 2011

“Put on Your Own Mask Before You Help Others”

This summer I did something that I have not done in a very long time. We took a family road trip for about three weeks celebrating a family wedding as well as that of a friend’s daughter and visiting places we have lived.

I was a bit leery before I left. This feeling was caused by a) we would be doing a lot of driving and b) that I was taking a lot of time off.

Now that we have returned I can tell you that spending some significant quality family time and being away was exactly what the Doctor ordered. I had a great time connecting with my teenage daughters (we know at times how difficulty that could be), spent time and reconnected and in some cases connected with friends and family. Overall it was one of the best vacations we have had as a family in a long time.

During this time I remembered something I heard a number of years ago. A number of years a go someone told me that you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. They used the following example: That on an airplane you are told that you must first put on your oxygen mask before you assist others, bottom line we need to take care of ourselves before we can help others.

As educators we need rejuvenate and help ourselves so that we can be there to help our students.

Social media and technology and all of these other tools are important, necessary and vital, however sometimes we just need to unplug and reconnect with our family and friends and take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.

Enjoy the rest of the summer

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Goals for Jewish Education (for that matter Education in general.)

The inspiration and ideas for this post came from a speech given by Rabbi Shai Finkelstein, Senior Rabbi of Baron Hirsch Synagogue.

When we talk about education we most often talk about schools, and yes Jewish Day School and sending Jewish children to Jewish Day Schools is very important. However education covers a lot more than what we would call formal education. There’s informal education which one receives through youth groups, summer camps, Synagogue attendance, and what a child receives at home from his parents.

Using this broader idea of education, what should be our goals?

1. Students need to be engaged and learning needs to be fun and at the same time it needs to be intellectual stimulating as well. However when talking about Jewish education we need to find a way to bring it to life and make it real. We need to see the Amoraim (Rabbis from the Talmud) as if they are in the classroom with us. It is not just some type of medieval study but rather a living Torah that applies today
2. This leads to number two. It needs to be something that we internalize and becomes part of our lives. What we are studying and learning is not just an intellectual pursuit but rather must become part of our lives.
3. What we learn must be real and internalized so that when we are not in school, or when we begin to start families of our own we have the ability to become the teachers and pass it on to the next generation.

How is this accomplished? Our Rabbis gave us a clue when they said that being respectful (a mentch) comes before the learning of Torah. Meaning that if one wants to learn and internalize his learning he first must work on his character and behavior. In other words you need to practice what you preach.

Now that many students have finished their formal education until August or September we need to remember that learning and following the Mitzvoth (commandments) are not something that is just for the 10 months of the school year but rather 24/7/365.
We as teachers and parents need to lead by example showing that our commitment to learning and to our Judaism is something that is year round.
Hopefully if we can practice what we preach and are proper role models we can accomplish our goals and empower our students and children to be the future Jewish leaders.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reflection vs. Retrospection


As we come to the end of a school year many of the tweets and blog posts that I have seen talk about reflections and looking at our past accomplishments and looking forward as well. To be honest when I hear the word reflection the image that comes to my mind is that of looking in a mirror and seeing my own reflection. Yes there are other definitions for the word (one of them being careful thought, especially the process of reconsidering previous actions). But for me I still have that image of the mirror. Therefore at this time of year do I want to see look at see who I am now who is that person in the mirror or do I want to see how far that person has grown. Perhaps more importantly do I want to see the student that stands before me now or how much he has grown. To be honest I think we need to do both. We need to celebrate our successes and accomplishments and celebrate who we have become and the person that stands before us now, and we need to know and realize how much we have grown. Therefore another word comes to mind and that is Retrospection. That means that we think about or review past events especially from a new perspective or with new information.
We need to realize that we are not the same person that we were in September nor are our students the same and therefore as we look back we need to look back based on our new perspective , so that we can appreciate how far we have come and also understand how much more we all can grow.
So as we end the year let us look back on the past in retrospect, let us reflect and celebrate the present, and let us look forward with renewed energy towards the future.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. As a parent and an administrator, I have a tremendous amount of Hakarat Hatov ( Thanks )for all that our teachers do on a daily basis on behalf of our students. We are privileged to have such an outstanding faculty who care so much for their students and our school.

I would like to share you my memories of a teacher who made a difference in my life and I believe he had a lot to do with who I am today. It was my ninth grade Rebbe ( Teacher)in HAFTR, Rabbi Tzvi Bajnon, who today is the Principal of Yeshiva Ketana of Long Island.

Rabbi Bajnon not only was a great teacher but he truly cared and he showed us that he cared. Some of us , myself included, wanted extra learning so Rabbi Bajnon, who lived in Brooklyn, came in half an hour early every day to learn with a few of us before davening( morning prayers) . I remember spending shabbos at his house on more than one occasion, and was even invited to one of his children’s weddings. I still speak with Rabbi Bajnon, admittedly not as often as I would like, but I still have a kesher ( connection)with him today. In fact I called him to tell him that I was writing this article and to express my personal Hakarat Hatov( thanks). Rabbi Bajnon taught me Gemara, Chumash, and Math during my four years of high school, and while I don’t remember every detail of what we learned or even what Mesechta we learned, I continue to feel a strong connection to him and admire him greatly. He made a significant impression on me because of the type of role model he was and because he cared about his students in and out of the classroom.

I recently tweeted that teachers often teach more outside the classroom than inside the classroom.

Rabbi Bajnon thank you for helping me become the educator I am today.

As we remember our teachers and the teachers of our children, let’s remember that what makes a teacher special is not always the content of their daily classroom instruction or how much we learned in their class about a specific topic, but how they helped shape our lives.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Do We Focus On

Justin Tarte (@justintarte) tweeted the following: RT @edteck: Observing a Classroom? Watch the Students, Not the Teacher -
This reminded me of a story that I often tell my teachers. I heard the story many years ago at a Principals conference.
A teacher wanted to submit a video of one his lesson to an organization that at the time was awarding $10,000 to the teacher of the year. He gave the video to his mentor to look at and for feedback. The mentor watched it and to be honest he wasn't very impressed and he said to himself perhaps I am tired and maybe I need to watch it at a different time. So he waits a few days and still nothing too exciting. He decides that he can't call his former student now teacher back he will just have to wait for him to call. And so after a few days he calls and asks so what did you think. Before his mentor could answer the teacher who was so excited said wasn't it great how I moved around the room and wasn't it skillful how I Incorporated material for the visual and the oratory learning and so on. Then it clicked with the mentor. When the teacher watched the video he watched himself but when the mentor watched it he was looking at the class and the students and saw a completely different picture.
Moral of the story we need to remember that we the teachers are not the focus but that we must be always focused on our students.
My quick thoughts

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Plant A Seed and Watch it Grow

Last week someone tweeted the following “Plant a seed and watch it grow”. The tweet had a link. The tweet got my interest as an elementary school principal and teacher. I assumed it was a catchy title about children so I clicked on the link. To my utter amazement it was actually a link about planting seeds.
However the idea was still stuck on my head. In reality that is what we do as elementary school teachers we plant the seeds now and we nurture them, water them and feed them so that they will grow. So times this growth can take many years. I remember when I reconnected with a former student some 15 years after I taught her in fourth grade (I am not that old) that one of the reasons she went into teaching was because of the feeling she got in my class. If we are lucky we can the see growth sooner. Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege to see amazing growth in the students in my school. From their Science Fair projects, preparing questions for skyping with another school, in class presentations, the level of their Hebrew language skills, or the major music production that the First through Fourth graders did, all of it showed how much they have grown.
This past weekend talk show host Michael Medved was a scholar-in-residence at one of the local synagogues and he said one of the problems with Television media is that “If it bleeds it leads’, meaning we focus on the negative. Sometimes in education as well we focus or only hear about how bad things are and all that is wrong. Yes there are things that we need to change but there are also many great things.

I am luck that I get to not only plant and help nurture those seeds I am also able to watch them grow.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Teacher Evaluation and Teacher Professional Development

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter about this concept. I would like to thank @justintarte for taking the lead on this discussion.

Here are some of my quick thoughts:

1. We need to change the culture- Too often teacher evaluations have been seen by teachers as being a very top down process.The Principal evaluates the teacher, fills out a checklist without any type of conversation or follow up. If one of the ideas and skills we need to be promoting as 21st century schools is that of collaboration then the evaluation process must be a collaborative one consisting of several conversations between the teacher and the administrator.
2.The goal of any effective evaluation process or P.D.program must be teacher growth. We as educational leaders should want to see our teachers grow and help them maximize their potential.Therefore the process is not one of “Got You” but rather one of facilitating growth. One of the qualities we need to have as educational leaders is that of humility and we should want to see our teachers succeed.
3. We need to differentiate the process to meet the needs of the individual teacher. A one size fits all professional development plan doesn’t work.Teachers need to feel that the process is worthwhile and meaningful to them.

I will admit that I am in a private school and don’t have the same mandates that many of my colleagues have with regard to the evaluation process and the necessary paper work that is often associated with it.

However I would suggest that to create a culture of learning and growing, we as the educational leaders need to set the example. We need to create an environment that people are comfortable with taking risks and one that leads to growth and not teacher frustration and burnout.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Personal Message: Please Join Me

Editors Note: I know that I am preaching to the choir since most people that read this are on Twitter already.

In the past week much has been made of the fact that as an Orthodox Jewish Educator living in Memphis TN. that I have over 1,300 followers on Twitter. Yes I am still amazed and humbled by this fact and at times when I am asked why people follow me I have a tough time answering.
However when I am asked why I tweet or what I tweet about the answer is easy. I tell people I mostly tweet about education and leadership and through my exposure on Twitter I have grown as an educator. I have created a group on the EDUPLN web site ( for Judaic Studies teachers, I have joined and presented for Connected Principles, and most importantly I have developed an amazing PLN.
The message I have to my fellow educators is join me on this amazing journey. Get a Twitter account, follow other educators, join the EDUPLN,and start a blog. The sky is the limit and the wealth of knowledge out there is amazing. Why reinvent the wheel if it has been done already. I read an article yesterday in which @NMHSPrincipal is mentioned and tells how teachers in his school are sharing and asking for lesson plans via twitter. How cool is that!
There are many great things about Twitter; the sense of collaboration, friendship, and an overall safe environment where taking risks is encouraged. However the greatest thing is a sense of sharing and humility. People are willing to share ideas with others. Too often teachers and administrators seek honor and credit and therefore lack the trait of humility and are unwilling to share. If the 21st Century is the time that we need to focus on people skills and leadership as expressed in the books “Curriculum 21” and “The Leader In Me”, and if the right brain will truly rule with traits like empathy as mentioned in Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind” then we as educators need to model these traits and I believe sharing ideas and working together with others is a great place to start and that is the culture that exists on Twitter.

There are definitely issues with how Social Media should be used but in my honest opinion if the culture created by educators and leaders on Twitter was modeled in our schools we would be well on the way to educating the future leaders of 21st Century.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bottom Line: Good Teaching is Good Teaching

Last week I read an article by @plugusin titles “Good Teaching Trumps Good Tools”. Which basically said that you could have all the technology in the world but if you are not using it to teach the skills that our students need then you are doing worse than a teacher meeting those skills and needs with less technology. Here is a quote from the article "Effective teachers have discovered is that good tools can make learning more efficient.” The article ends with the following quote “The key to finding tools you can't live without is to think through the kinds of skills your students can't live without.

Here is a link to the article:

Then today Tom Whitby (@tonwhitby) sent out the following tweet with a link to a video that honestly challenged many of my educational beliefs.

RT@tomwhitby A video to talk about: "Learning Styles Don't Exist" #Edchat #EduCon-

The video shows that according to Professor Daniel T Willingham the age old assumption that some students are visual learners vs. auditory, doesn’t really exist the way many teachers have assumed it does.
I think the video definitely gives one cause to think and reflect but that is not the purpose or topic of this post. What struck me was how the video ended.

Here is the final quote “Good teaching is good teaching and teachers do not need to adjust their teaching tot the individual students learning styles.” Professor Daniel T Willingham Dept of Psychology University of Virginia

Well I am not a big fan of coincidences, and the common denominator is that Good teaching is the key and what is really important.

Yes we need to use Technology and other tools like voice threads, blogs and Google docs just to name a few.

But at the end of the day all of these tools don’t replace good teaching. Give me good teaching over good technology any day.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Back To Basics

“Factual knowledge alone is thus no longer the great differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not. Instead the individuals who are emerging as the new "winners" - the new thrivers-of the twenty-first century are those who possess above average creativity, strong analytical skills, a knack for foresight, and surprise surprise good people skills." From Stephen Covey’s book “The Leader in Me

Last week I used this quote as part of another blog post. The other night I attended the #leadfromwithin chat and the chat focused of things like loyalty, honesty, respect, and other important traits leaders should have. I also attended a class given by @gperl about humility.

All of this got me thinking that we need to go back to basics. We need to teach character development and leadership skills with the same emphasis that we teacher other subjects if not more. I often tell my students that when people meet you on the street they won’t ask you or judge you based on how much of subject “X” you learned but rather they will see and judge you based on what kind of person you are. Here is my partial list of some of those amorphous and less tangible things we need to be teaching:
• Honesty
• Humility
• Trust
• Respect
• Loyalty
• Empathy
• Transparency

How do we teach these skills? I believe these skills need to be modeled and taught by example.
I recently heard the following: You can teach your child about honesty and read about it and give examples from the Bible and other sources and of all that teaching will not mean anything if when the next time you go to the movies and you tell your 13 year old child to tell the cashier that he is 11 to get in at the child price.

If we want to prepare our students for the 21st Century we need to go back to basics and teach them, no show them what it means to be a good person.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taking the First Step

If you pick up almost any educational journal today or read educational blogs you will inevitably come across the term 21st Century Skills or 21st Century curriculum. Yes these terms have been around for a while and I do find it a bit strange that the popularity of this term has grown some ten years into the 21st Century. What is true is that in today’s society perhaps even more so than 10 years ago things are changed at a much faster rate. The cell phone, computer, or even I-pad you bought today will be outdated in less than a year. This means that we as educators have to address this ever changing world we live in. Heidi Hayes Jacobs in her book Curriculum 21 says the following, “As educators, our challenge is to match the needs of our learners to a world that is changing with great rapidity. Therefore the skills of the 21st century focus on problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, design, and leadership. Perhaps Stephen Covey in his book “The Leader in Me” said it best, “Factual knowledge alone is thus no longer the great differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not. Instead the individuals who are emerging as the new "winners" - the new thrivers-of the twenty-first century are those who possess above average creativity, strong analytical skills, a knack for foresight, and surprise surprise good people skills."

Therefore we need to be looking at and updating what we are teaching. This is true in Judaic Studies as well. Today with the Bar Ilan Cd and a like, students have access to all the Torah and commentaries they need. What we need to be teaching them is how to think, question, and analyze what they have read and learned. We can’t begin to update our curriculum until we clearly state what we are currently doing.

On Monday we took the first major step in moving towards addressing the needs of our 21st Century learners. We established a wiki so that the teachers can put down in detail what they are teaching. This is a major undertaking by the faculty. However the reaction I got was overwhelmingly positive one teacher said, ““This is a great idea and it makes me actually think about what I teach.”
We still have a long journey a head of us but often taking the first is the hardest and today as a faculty we took the first step on a journey that will help prepare our students better for the world that they are entering into.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What Really Matters

Certain events over the last few days have caused me to pause for a second and think about what really matters. The first event was the shooting in Arizona over the weekend and the second a funeral I attended yesterday for a 17 year old boy.
I know for me personally I worry about the economy, what unforeseen expenses I may have, and other what now seem to me as trivial things.

The events of the past few days have given me a perspective of what really matters in my life as a husband, father, friend, and educator.

Here is my list of certain things that really matter
• My faith
• My family
• My friends
• Have I worked up to my potential today
• Did I help others maximize their potential
• Did I have a positive impact on someone’s life
Each one of these things have many different subsets too many to list.

As I tweeted last night we need to care about what really matters and make every day count.

I am fortunate to be in a profession that on a daily basis I have the ability to impact and change the lives of my students. However that comes with a tremendous responsibility as well. Our focus must always be how will this impact my students’ and will this maximize their potential and have a positive impact on them. If Yes then we must Do It!

However what works for one student may not work for another and therefore I think we need to be careful, myself included of not making generalizations about different things. Our barometer or measuring stick should not be is this “thing” good or bad but will this ‘thing” maximize student potential and have a positive effect on my student or students.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

“All or Nothing”- I Don’t Think So

Lately there have been a number of tweets about being a Passion driven school vs. a Data driven schools. Maybe I am crazy but I am not sure what the debate or issue is. I think we need to have both. We need students who are passionate about learning and are engaged in learning, and we need to be teaching them things that they are passionate about and will make a difference when they leave school and enter the “real world”. So yes I agree with those that say when was the last time you had to do a worksheet or answer multiple choice questions once you left school.

At the same time the passion that we hope to instill in our students needs to be channeled towards student learning. Whatever skills we want them to be learning, be it critical thinking, questioning, or analyzing, just to name a few, we still need to make sure that they are learning those skills.

So how do we insure that the students are learning the skills we give them in a Passion driven school?
The answer is through Data. Now Data doesn’t mean tests and more tests. Data could be a survey, a student project, an interview or any other way to measure what students have learned.

Education is a balance it isn’t all or nothing. The question is how to reach that balance,what is the percentage of X vs. Y? I don’t know, but what I do know is that you need both X and Y,or in this case you need the passion and the love for learning but you also need the data to let you know that the passion is being translated into student learning.

Monday, January 3, 2011


During this time of year many people reflect on the past and look towards future goals. This would be my 50 post on this blog and therefore with reaching that milestone and being the start of 2011, I thought I would reflect a bit on the past and look towards the future.

For me personally 2010 was a year filled with a lot of new and exciting things:
• I starting using Twitter in a very significant way
• I started a blog
• Joined Connected Principals
• Presented for a Elluminate Session for Connected Principals
• Developed a PLN
• Became a member of EDU PLN as well as YU2.0

Now I ask myself what is next what goals can I set for myself for 2011? Goals are important and we need to have them but we also have to careful not to take on too much. There is a famous Yiddish saying that I am often reminded of when life throws you a curve ball and that is, “Man plans and G-D laughs”.

Therefore as I posted yesterday on my posterous blog ( that my goal for 2011 is Just Do It! Meaning take one or two things that I am passionate about; perhaps assessments, grading, or differentiated instruction and take my ideas and make them into a reality. If I could accomplish that one in goal in the next 12 months I would feel like I really accomplished something and brought about at least on a small scale some real change which had a positive effect on student learning.
As many others have said perhaps the best way for change to take place is when it takes place one school, or perhaps one division or even one grade level at a time.

Wishing you all only success in the New Year