Hebrew schools across North America made a dramatic and rapid shift into virtual classrooms in the wake of COVID-19. Now, with the potential for a second wave of contagion this fall, educational directors are making plans to keep classes online at the start of the next school year.
The impact of COVID-19 on the Jewish education landscape was severe, with many synagogues scrambling to adapt their curricula to online platforms, some more successfully than others. Online curriculum providers were suddenly flooded with inquiries, many from educational directors who had little to no experience with virtual classrooms or blended (online and in-person) teaching models.
One such nonprofit organization, ShalomLearning, which specializes in online and blended curricula for Hebrew schools, saw demand jump sharply. Since mid-March, an additional 210 teachers began using the platform, while the number of students enrolled in their virtual classrooms grew by 2,000 to 7,800, bringing ShalomLearning’s partnership total to 163 congregations across North America.
“We weren’t surprised that interest rose so quickly as our numbers have been growing every year and teachers, students and families are really enjoying our lessons. And there was an enormous increase in demand for teacher training on how to run a virtual classroom since we had the technology in place since 2011 to address this need ,” said Joshua Troderman, ShalomLearning’s CEO. “What was surprising, however, are the reports that we are receiving that student attendance in the virtual classrooms are rising tremendously. Many Jewish educators who were once reluctant to embrace new technologies were caught off-guard, but they now realize the necessity and are getting on-board, especially considering all the summer camp closures that have been announced this month and what’s expected this Fall.”
Public health officials have begun to warn of a potential second wave of COVID infections later this year, which could be further exacerbated by the return of flu season. With this in mind, several synagogues have already declared their intention to operate virtually at the start of the school year, including Kehilat Shalom in Montgomery Village, MD and Temple Sinai in Brookline, MA.
“We look forward to keeping our virtual learning going in the fall,” said Temple Sinai Director of Education Heidi Smith Hyde. “I’ve heard from a few parents that offering an online option will make their lives easier by eliminating the need for transportation to and from religious school, especially during a busy work week.”
One benefit to online platforms that use a blended model is the ability to seamlessly switch from in-person to online as needed. The curriculums are designed to be flexible and adaptable, which is increasingly important to educators given the current uncertainty over COVID.
“Kids were so bored sitting at home, so having something like ShalomLearning that was programmed and familiar made it more enjoyable for them,” Rabbi Charles Arian of Kehilat Shalom added. “No one knows what’s going to happen by September and this uncertainty is what’s making people antsy. Continuing our online classes will help give people a degree of certainty.”
Bikkur cholim בִּיקוּר חִוֹלים (visiting the sick) is a tangible and easy mitzvah מצְוָה for your students to learn about and practice. It is more relevant than ever as we continue to struggle with the effects of Covid-19. Everyone has been sick at one time or another and appreciated the extra attention and love of someone close to them during that time.
We, at ShalomLearning, created a free lesson for teachers to use in a virtual classroom with students ages 5-8 and their parents to explore this Jewish value. Together, the class will learn and share ways to help others feel better even when we are not able to visit in person.
The lesson begins with a social and emotional check in. It is important to connect with families and provide an opportunity for everyone to share feelings. Through observations and personalization, this lesson helps students explore their thoughts and emotions about visiting and helping those who are not feeling well and encourages empathy. We conclude that the ways we help will lead toward healing. Healing does not always mean that there is a cure; it can also be a healing of the spirit.
Throughout the lesson, students actively share things that help them feel better and create a Get Well Card Video to share with others to support their healing. The post lesson extensions are full of great ideas that families can do together to perform the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, even when we can’t visit in person.
ShalomLearning has created a version of this stand alone lesson for our Jewish families in the military. Distributed through our partnership with the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, families on military bases throughout the world will receive this lesson to do together at home.
Refuah Shleima. May we all be blessed with healing and kind helpers.
Access this free lesson here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/19xG-IlRNQNZlh4uaMDc_gi-dpj274WCMODEchwDcUFk/edit?usp=sharing
I am glad so many families in grades K-2 are enjoying the games and activities-based curriculum shared by ShalomLearning earlier this month called, “The Tribe.” I originally created this program for “tribe-size” gatherings of families before joining ShalomLearning’s Board of Directors. With the current pandemic, I modified the activities for individual family use at home.
COVID-19 has created an urgent need for physical distancing, making it more important than ever to connect socially with family and friends. I’m excited to share a new program for K-2 families to use at home: Living Jewish Values. This program creates an additional opportunity for families to “check-in” for virtual, intergenerational values exploration and storytelling visits regularly with grandparents, aunts, and uncles, cousins, and anyone else you care about who may be feeling isolated.
Research by Emory psychologists, Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush, has shown that children raised with family stories that give them a sense of being part of something bigger–an “intergenerational sense of self”-show increased resilience, less anxiety, fewer behavior problems, higher self-esteem, greater family cohesiveness, and improved chances of good educational outcomes.
As my Grandma Rose used to say: “Use it in good health!”
Five Easy Steps to Get Started
- Let your family/friends know you want them to join you in “Living Jewish Values.” Contact a family member/friend to let them know about the program and the first value “Welcoming Guests.” Ask your relative/friend to think of a 2-3 minute family story to share about the value.
- Watch the video about the value with your child(ren) about an hour before the scheduled call with the storyteller.
- Discuss the video with your child(ren). Please follow your natural curiosity or use our provided prompts.
- Have the scheduled call with your family or friend and child(ren).
- Process the video call with your child(ren). Answer questions, provide additional background or reframing and discuss connections between family stories on the call and the video.
Get started today with this lesson about Welcoming Guests: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Od-P4b4TjEj3M7LdJRFDCFgAIKNXmGCzRABVZvEWmmE/edit?usp=sharing
If you have questions or suggestions about this program, please be in touch with me at: Arinne@ToStrength.com.
ShalomLearning has been providing our educational materials and training for free to help Jewish educators in their sudden transition to virtual classes. We’ve been listening to all the requests and noticed there was a large demand for Passover lessons to use in Zoom (or any other video-classroom tool). Therefore, we pulled sections from our Koach Hadibbur units, edited it to work as a stand alone lesson, and made it available for free.
In this lesson, students learn about the story of Passover, and then use Google Slides collaboratively to retell the story in ten words or less with one image on one slide. Teachers can share the student-created slides for families to see and/or use at their seders.
The notes under the slides provide instructions for the teachers and a link to the “activity deck.”
We hope many educators are able to use this interactive Pesach lesson
There are many resources educators can use to provide Jewish learning, but ShalomLearning’s holistic approach to supporting the educator sets them apart. When an organization uses the ShalomLearning program, the staff, the students, and the families benefit.
ShalomLearning’s Jewish values-based curriculum and Hebrew teaching programs provide the Hebrew School teacher with detailed lesson plans and the necessary resources to engage students. When class is over, the learning doesn’t stop. The program includes email summaries for the teacher to personalize and send to parents with questions to ask at the dinner table or during the car ride that evening. Additionally, there are self-paced activities students can complete online from anywhere to reinforce the learning, make up a missed class, or move ahead.
This comprehensive approach ensures that students, parents, and teachers remain more involved around the clock.
Let’s dive a little deeper and see what makes ShalomLearning one of today’s most unique and successful Jewish educational programs.
1. Detailed Jewish Lesson Plans
A leading benefit of ShalomLearning is the detailed lesson plans that provide the teacher with clear learning objectives and detailed activities to achieve the objectives. These Jewish lesson plans are valuable to new and experienced teachers alike. In some Jewish communities, particularly those in rural areas, it is an insurmountable task to find a great teacher who is also well-versed in Jewish text. ShalomLearning’s lesson plans help every educator feel prepared since they include an introduction with links to find out more about the topic, translations of Jewish texts, and details to illustrate the real-world application of Jewish values.
2. Best Practices in Secular Education & Use of Technology
ShalomLearning incorporates best practices from secular education into the program. Educators have options to integrate the latest tools in education technology. For example, the teacher can select to have the students complete an activity on a posterboard, using Google Slides or using Padlet.
In addition, ShalomLearning uses Schoology, a Learning Management System (LMS) to provide the curriculum to the teachers and online activities to the students. Teachers can review student work and provide feedback between classes through the portal. By using a digital curriculum in an LMS, ShalomLearning is able to respond to teacher requests and update curriculum to keep it relevant for today’s learners. Teachers are also able to communicate with each other providing peer support and coaching.
3. Outside Class Time & Parental Involvement
In a recent study about ShalomLearning, students, teachers, and parents stressed the opportunities the curriculum provided for continuing the learning process outside of the classroom (or virtual classroom) setting. Many students described how they were able to integrate their new knowledge about Jewish values into discussions and activities at home. They now think more deeply about how the values and lessons from class help them build better relationships and make better decisions whether it is treating peers respectfully, looking for ways to make the world a better place, or standing up for themselves.
4. Increased Teacher Retention Rates
In addition to providing Jewish lesson plans, ShalomLearning provides support to the teachers through ongoing communication and training. This is especially helpful for those who have received less formal pedagogical or Judaic studies training. With the burden of creating lessons lifted and having available support, all teachers, new and experienced, can focus on connecting with their students.
Teachers can take advantage of ongoing professional development opportunities offered by ShalomLearning to gain new skills specific to the program or more universal pedagogical skills. Teachers appreciate the support and resources, and therefore, schools have higher retention rates.
5. Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) Techniques to Make Connections
The ShalomLearning curriculum explores seven Jewish values and their relevance in our everyday lives using an age-appropriate lens. Our Jewish lessons incorporate strategies that promote Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Students see how they relate to the world from a Jewish perspective. They learn how Judaism can guide them to build positive relationships and make responsible decisions.
6. Focus on Hebrew Curriculum
ShalomLearning offers varied approaches to teaching Hebrew reading and prayers. By partnering with two publishers: Torah Aura and JLearnHub, ShalomLearning offers choices for communities. The program includes teaching materials for a traditional or a virtual classroom. Lessons include options for students to use personal devices to explore deeper into the meaning of the liturgy or take a virtual tour of places in Israel.
Students have an option to access materials for independent learning or to reinforce classroom learning, through the ShalomLearning portal on the LMS. Teachers review and provide feedback on student submitted activities such as matching games or recorded readings/chantings of Hebrew words or prayers.
7. The Virtual Classroom
ShalomLearning designed the curriculum to be used in either a traditional or virtual classroom. In the ShalomLearning virtual classroom, students attend a teacher-led class at a scheduled time. The class is held in a virtual meeting room such as Zoom or Adobe Connect, making group work and other collaborative projects possible.
ShalomLearning sites use the virtual classroom in a variety of ways. All of them have found that this option has helped the community see them as forward-thinking and understanding the needs of the families. Geographic and schedule constraints can make the commute to the physical classroom a barrier to a Jewish education. The virtual classroom removes the constraints of commuting time and allows the student to participate from anywhere.
In some communities, classes meet in a traditional classroom once a week and in a virtual classroom for the second weekly class. Others use the virtual classroom as a make-up option for those who weren’t able to attend the weekly class in person. It is currently being used at several locations. Some are only using the values-based curriculum in the virtual classroom. Others are using the Hebrew teaching program. Many are using both in the virtual space. This type of flexibility enables educators to customize the program for the specific needs of his or her community.
Let ShalomLearning provide you with an engaging Jewish learning curriculum!
Founded in 2011, ShalomLearning aims to meet the evolving educational needs of today’s Jewish community by providing the most up-to-date and relevant curriculum for grades K-7. Our lesson plans are engaging and also meant to be affordable and accessible to every institution. The goal of ShalomLearning is to instill a lifelong passion for discovery and give students, teachers, parents, and community members a way to use Jewish values to navigate the modern world.
Currently, we partner with 120 Jewish schools and synagogues. Our Jewish curriculum is both current and flexible to today’s teaching demands. To learn more about the ShalomLearning team, or speak to one of our representatives, contact us online or call (301) 660-3800. You can also visit our FAQ page to learn more about what we offer.