PoP Update: Spring 2021
Welcome to the April PoP Update! As we enter spring, so much continues to change in PoP schools and all our lives. Lisa Exler, Director of Jewish Studies and Hebrew Language at Beit Rabban Day School in New York City, sent us a brachah she wrote as the closing blessing at the Beit Rabban Torah Reading Ceremony (their second-grade Chumash celebration). We loved the “PoPpy” way that Lisa frames the relationship between her students and Torah, and we share an excerpt from her beautiful words with you here as inspiration for your work.
"At a siyum, after whatever book is has been completed, we recite the following lines:
הדרן עלך . . . והדרך עלן
דעתן עלך . . . ודעתך עלן
לא נתנשי מנך . . . לא תתנשי מנן
‘We will return to you and you will return to us
Our thoughts are about you and your thoughts are about us
We will not forget you and you will not forget us.’
What I love about these lines is that we are talking to a book, to a piece of text, as if it’s a person or even a friend, as if it can think about us, just like we think about it. As if we’re worried that we might drift apart if we’re not seeing each other every day anymore…
My brachah for you... and for all of us, is that Torah always be more than a text, more than words on a page (or scroll). That Torah be our friend and our companion, that we have a real and textured relationship with it, that we find joy in it and that it challenges us, the way that good friends truly do. And that, like the best of friends, we are always better people when it is by our side.”
With thanks to Lisa for sharing her beautiful words of Torah, we wish you all a wonderful spring.
Dr. Orit Kent and Allison Cook
PoP Founders and Co-Directors
Students often feel they are supposed to arrive at a common answer. PoP gives them the language to learn together from disagreement. As we launch our spring work on Supporting & Challenging, we share with you a protocol called “I agree/ disagree.” This protocol engages students in exploring and understanding the content from multiple perspectives. Like all our protocols, you can take this one and use it right away, or adapt it to suit your needs, content, and students. The version for teachers includes guidance about how to use it; the version for students includes just the instructions.
It’s not unusual in a PoP training to hear a teacher start to imagine what it might look like for PoP to be used schoolwide. Even teachers new to PoP often see the potential for these relationships between students and texts to stretch and connect subjects and grades, spiraling to help students become, in the words of one Yavneh Day School teacher, “masters of interpretive thinking, cooperative learning, and thoughtful questioning.” Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper, School Rabbi and Director of Integrated Learning, reflected for PoP about the steps Yavneh took to embed PoP in their learning culture schoolwide.
The recognition that these skills might branch across subjects, living equally in math and Jewish Studies, from early elementary through middle school, was a key part of what spurred Yavneh, a K-8th grade Jewish day school in Los Gatos, California, to grow PoP across and throughout the school. As Yavneh launched an intentional process to integrate across subject matter and strengthen collaboration between co-teachers at each grade level, Laurie recognized in PoP the shared language and skills needed to create a schoolwide culture of learning, partnership, and Jewish identity development.
PoP can create shared language among the teachers to support a schoolwide culture; at Yavneh, it provides teachers with a set of skills and vocabulary to support relationship-building among students and text, in any aspect of their academic day. Laurie recalls the moment when she knew it had taken root: “A parent of a middle-school student emailed me and said, “My daughter said she needs to do something with her science havruta. Are you teaching them science?” It turned out the student had realized that the work she was doing with her lab partner was essentially the same as the work she did in partnership in English and Jewish Studies. These days there are no lab partners at Yavneh — they’ve long since become havrutot — but the story demonstrates to Laurie the power of teaching students a framework and language for partnership. And, she adds, “Living Jewishly within their eight hours at the school has more profound impact on students than anything I will ever teach them about a text. Framing partnership as havruta — and using that consistent methodology — has a Jewish identity impact on the student.”
In other words, Laurie suggests, having havruta exist outside the Jewish Studies classroom not only teaches students the important skills they need for rich textual learning, but also strengthens the connection between the learning students are doing in each class, extending a sacred context to the learning in general studies classes, elevating the importance of the learning they are doing in Jewish Studies, and helping to accomplish a day school’s overall Jewish mission. “The common language is super important,” Laurie notes. “Lots of teachers do lots of things the same, but if they all call it something different, the student doesn’t see the connection; it doesn’t create a culture. But if you can all call those shared skills the same thing, you build language and then culture - students understand the expectations are the same regardless of where they are.”
Yavneh launched PoP thoughtfully, sending Laurie to be trained and coached as a school leader and also making sure that a high percentage of teachers were similarly trained. In addition, Laurie explained one important strategy in launching PoP: “In the first few years, every third or fourth staff meeting, we had a beit midrash. Using PoP techniques, teachers studied in havruta. It wasn’t always Jewish text (though often it was); sometimes it was a poem in English, and so forth. Just like the PoP trainings, it gave teachers the essential experience of being in havruta themselves.” Furthermore, Yavneh’s highly collaborative approach meant that teachers became havrutot for each other in cohort work at the school, drawing on PoP language and attitudes as part of their teaching collaborations.
“As with any school change,” Laurie notes, “in order to have something stick and become absorbed into the culture and seen as critical, you have to have people bought in at all levels. You need a school leader who understands it and can support its growth, in addition to teachers who understand it from all areas and can work on it together. Identify your key groups (by discipline, division, etc); every area needs PoP-trained teachers.” Importantly, over time, the school incorporated partnership skills into report cards and parent teacher conferences. As with any initiative, long-term success takes ongoing reflection; as Yavneh grows and evolves, its teachers and leaders continue to learn from the work they are doing and plan for PoP’s sustained role in the school.
As the weather improves and vaccines become more available, many schools are trying to ensure in-person student learning. Whatever your format, we invite you to share pictures of what learning in partnership looks like at your school. Send them to [email protected] and we will share them in our final PoP Update of the year!
PoP Directors Allison Cook and Dr. Orit Kent recently published an article highlighting the importance of student questioning as a central aspect of learning. They write, “We cannot separate knowledge, skills, and meaning-making but must integrate these domains by putting children’s questions at the center.”