Helping teachers grow at each stage of their careers

Through a combination of ongoing support and professional development, teachers continue to learn from the Mandel Center

Jocelyn Segal (right) and Cohen Hillel Academy's third grade record a song together

When Jocelyn Segal received her Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Brandeis University in 2005, she still had a lot of learning to do. That’s not a reflection of her preparation in the DeLeT (Day School Leadership Through Teaching) program, but the need that all teachers have for continued, on-the-job development. Fortunately for Segal, the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education provided her with the tools and opportunities she needed to grow – from connecting her with a network of beginning day school teachers during her first two years of teaching, to giving her a teaching intern to mentor, and inviting her to participate in a monthly mentor teacher study group.

“Mentoring a DeLeT/MAT intern was constant professional development,” Segal said. “Every day I was forced to think about why I do everything, because I had to break it down for my intern. I feel that the resources that come from having an intern are not just beneficial for me, but also for my school. It keeps teachers on the cutting edge because we’re still connected to the university.”

This is the kind of professional growth that the Mandel Center has been working to foster not only with its own graduates, but also in the wider world of Jewish day schools. The center’s focus, says Vivian Troen, director of the Mandel Center’s Induction Partnership, is on making schools a setting for teacher learning.

“We found that well prepared day school teachers were still not finding success in their very first job,” Troen said. “Often that’s because their schools did not have a comprehensive support system; there was no detailed curriculum and no explicit framework for supporting and assessing teachers’ progress.”

To help address the problem, the Mandel Center has spent the past three years piloting and studying support and development programs for beginning teachers in five area day schools, including Cohen Hillel Academy in Marblehead, Mass., where Jocelyn teaches. The ultimate goal is to transform lessons learned from these pilot programs into an induction “tool kit” that can help any Jewish day school create the conditions to retain and develop beginning teachers.

Ken Shulman, Head of Cohen Hillel Academy, says he has already seen changes in his school because of the pilot induction program. “The Mandel Center’s ongoing support to our teachers and administrators has enhanced and positively influenced the entire school,” Shulman said. “We’re hoping to maintain this connection for as long as possible.”

Reaching out to distant day schools is at the core of another Mandel Center initiative. The center is working with the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), to create a Community of Practice (CoP) for new teacher induction. The program brings teachers and educational leaders together for a monthly study group conducted via conference call and the Internet. This means participants can join the conversation from anywhere, even if they’re in isolated Jewish communities.

“All of this is about helping teachers continue to develop their practice,” says Mandel Center Director Sharon Feiman-Nemser. “A teacher preparation program like ours can lay a strong foundation, but there are many things you can’t learn until you start teaching. You can’t know what your students are like. You can’t know the school’s curriculum or what parents expect. We want to help new teachers learn these things in a timely and thoughtful way so they can get the year off to a good start and not make mistakes in the beginning which are hard to recover from. Then, as teachers gain confidence, we want to help them strengthen and develop their practice, and grow into teacher-leaders.”

Jocelyn Segal says that’s just what the Mandel Center has done for her career. “Their guidance has helped me strengthen my teaching skills, broaden the scope of resources I use, and feel a part of a growing professional learning community. I’m so grateful that as I transitioned from new teacher in the field to a mentor teacher, the Mandel Center faculty was there with open and supporting arms.”

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