Welcome from the Dean

Shira D. Epstein, EdD

I am delighted to welcome you to the January 2022 issue of Gleanings: Portraits of Jewish Educational Leadership from the William Davidson School. This recently revamped format remains true to the original vision of Gleanings, “introducing the cutting-edge principles, concepts, and programs that continue to be developed and implemented by the WDS” through profiles of educational leaders who are impacting the field. The theme of this issue, “Social and Emotional Learning in Jewish Education” highlights four changemakers across Jewish educational settings—in Jewish summer camps, afterschool learning, teacher training, and higher education.

While discourses of “self-care” and “wellness” have gained momentum and prominence in our national culture for several years, Covid has no doubt propelled related mental health concerns to the forefront of educational conversations. The overarching topic of Social and Emotional Learning has several strands:

  • Pedagogies addressing emotions in learning, such as introduction of a “feelings chart” to younger children; teaching of developmentally appropriate approaches to conflict resolution across ages and stages.
  • Integration of contemplative practices into daily schedule that encourage self-awareness, including meditation, yoga, arts-based activities, and journaling.
  • Institutional initiatives that address preventative mental health, such as increased counseling services and interventions.
  • Implementation of positive psychology best practices within learning communities, including protocols for offering feedback to learners and supervisees that convey appreciation, and daily schedules that build in time for both reflection and joy/play.

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, curricula built upon “emotional intelligence” principles proliferated. Until fairly recently, many such approaches have been included in Jewish educational programming as one-offs or electives, dependent upon teachers or camp counselors with specialized training. An exciting shift is occurring today, as communities are exploring how they might foster learning that is “embodied”–we “know” something both in our minds and in our bodies, without privileging one over the other. This type of “knowing” flourishes within a culture that supports emotional health and resiliency.

Jewish educators are uniquely positioned to cultivate learning communities that build upon moral and character education. To this end, the William Davidson School holds growth mindset as a core value of our academic and instructional leadership programs; our training of Jewish educators for all facets of leading and learning is built upon all of the strands suggested above: self-awareness, reflection and contemplation, self-understanding, and appreciative inquiry within cohort and community.

The four portraits in this issue of Gleanings highlight the ways in which four Jewish educational leaders are living out and enacting their commitments to Social and Emotional Learning: Nancy Parkes, alumna of our in-house MA program and current executive doctoral candidate; Jill Goldstein-Smith, current MA distance learning student; Dr. Jeffrey Kress, provost of JTS; and Beverly Socher-Lerner, founding director of Makom Community. I invite you to read these portraits and hope that they will serve as inspirations to your own teaching and leading.