B’Yadenu at Maimonides Lower School

Reena Slovin, Elementary School Associate Principal at Maimonides, Brookline, MA

Collaborative Professional Development

Maimonides School Over the last four years, "B'Yadenu" has been the way we have organized our collaborative professional development work at the elementary school at Maimonides.  The B’Yadenu Project has enabled us to address two overarching goals: continued adult learning and improved learning for all of our students. We have been able to sustain our efforts in B'Yadenu through the work of a dedicated faculty leadership team that consists of principals, curriculum coordinators and classroom teachers who collaborate closely to plan our PD activities, coach others in facilitative leadership and assist us in sharing our learning with one another.  Our partnership with B'Yadenu gives us funds to support the work of our faculty leadership team and to cover the costs of outside experts who provide training and consultation.

The overall objectives of faculty growth and student learning are not sufficiently focused to enable measurable progress; we have therefore used B’Yadenu to help us articulate and narrow the purpose of our professional development. Before we could truly determine our focus, we spent our first year in B’Yadenu exploring possibilities. The Maimonides Elementary School functioned as a laboratory where faculty members engaged in action research and experimentation in instructional practices around the topic of increasing students’ executive function skills, an area that seemed of particular need for many.  The following year, we continued our theme of experimentation with a shift in focus, length and style.  Rather than having teachers conduct long-term experiments in their classrooms, instructors ran each day’s lesson as an investigation, testing to see if all students were engaged, if they'd learned what the teacher had wanted them to and considering whether the skills taught were important. If faculty members ran into difficulties, we encouraged them to shift their lessons for the next time and to do something different in order to achieve better results.

Last year we again re-focused our B'Yadenu work and blended it with an additional schoolwide effort to embed the Response To Intervention model across all classrooms and disciplines. This shift was inspired by an increase in our use of assessments and our desire to get better at using data to inform instruction, intervention and referral decisions. To that end, we increased capacity among teachers to use benchmark and formative assessments in all subjects and instructional settings. We developed and used protocols for regularly scheduled data meetings in mathematics, Ivrit (Hebrew) and English language arts, and we applied the findings from the assessments to tailor our instruction. 

This school year, we are advancing our focus on data in order to holistically improve student learning. Thanks to B'Yadenu support, five members of our faculty leadership team participated in the Data Wise Leadership Training Institute at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education this past summer. These leaders are now bringing the course lessons back to the rest of our faculty.  The entire elementary school faculty will learn and follow the eight-step Data Wise process over the course of the year, and we will all focus on reading comprehension in all subject areas. We will look at data that include assessment results, student work samples and teacher visits to one another's classrooms to determine where our reading comprehension instruction may be falling short, and we will then generate and test strategies for improving student proficiency in this area.

Since we joined the B'Yadenu Project, our professional development work has remained collaborative, with Limudei Kodesh (Judaic curriculum) and General Studies teachers working together in vertical grade teams. These teams also include support teachers and other specialists. We will continue to retain this structure, and will utilize our own expertise and learn from one another through participating in well-planned protocol-based meetings during which we follow group norms and take turns facilitating, presenting, note-taking and contributing.  It is important to us to solicit feedback from faculty on a regular basis, and we will continue to use teacher surveys and to run programs that will enable all of us to share our work with one another. Ultimately, the B’Yadenu process has leveraged our commitment to continuous improvement as a faculty and as a learning institution and has enabled us to focus and prioritize our goals in ways that will sustain and enhance student learning and benefit our school, our professional culture and our pupils over the long term.

Reena Slovin is the Elementary School Associate Principal at Maimonides, a Modern Orthodox day school, located in Brookline, Massachusetts, for students from Early Childhood through Grade 12.

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