Letter from the Editor

by: Beverly A. Buncher

One of my mentors, Fred Jones (www.fredjones.com) says there are two kinds of new teachers: those who are naturals and those who are not. The first time I heard him say that it really hit me – mainly because I was not a natural. I spent my first two years of teaching in two private schools, one a Jewish day school and the other an independent school, neither of which had the resources to provide a new, ‘non-natural’, with the tools to become a professional educator. Trial and error (mostly error) became my best friend and worst enemy and I left the classroom for a couple of years to regroup as an administrator of a Head Start Home Based Program.

Missing the classroom greatly, I had the good fortune to be hired by the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. In Fairfax, I was exposed to massive amounts of professional development for free. All I had to do was sign up, show up, and then go back to my classroom and practice what I had learned.

Still, I figured out early on that I needed more than just the workshops. I needed mentors to guide me in between. I sought them out at those workshops, and afterwards, and in my school, asking them to share their knowledge with me so I could grow professionally.

I returned to the Jewish day school world after eight growth-filled years in Fairfax to become an administrator at Hillel Community Day School in Miami, Florida. I watched the Jewish day schools continue to struggle with providing professional growth opportunities for teachers, and I made it my mission to do it well. Through trial and error, both with funding and without, I worked closely with other Hillel administrators to help teachers flourish.

Professional development has come a long way since my first years as a teacher in the 80’s and so has the Jewish day school world’s ability to deliver it. Whether the need is for mentors, curriculum help, or pedagogic support, organizations like the Jewish New Teacher Project, the Mandel Center, PEJE, Lookstein, and Avi Chai are doing their best to help make it happen.

This year, as the incoming Upper School Principal of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, I find myself working in a setting that thrives on providing growth opportunities for teachers and administrators, because today, both administrators and funders are aware that providing targeted teacher growth and development opportunities will provide the optimal learning environment for students.

This issue, my last as Editor-in-Chief, is dedicated to providing a wide range of ideas, research, models, and resources in the area of building what we now know works best to make teacher growth happen: Professional Learning Communities. As usual, the authors come both from within and from outside the Jewish day school community.

Listed below are just some of the articles you will find in these pages:

  • Heather Clifton and Peggy Kasloff (Denver Torah Academy) open the issue with an introduction to PLCs.
  • Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Sara Birkeland (Mandel Center of Brandeis University) write about a mentoring and induction program.
  • Patricia Ruanne (Hopedale, Massachusetts School District) writes about transforming an entire district into a community of learners.
  • Avi Baran Munro (CDS in Pittsburgh, PA) describes her school’s transformation through the development of a school-wide professional learning community.
  • Shalom Berger and Eli Kohn each describe Lookstein Center projects that build PLCs among day school leaders around the world.
  • Roni Raab (Hebrew Academy of Miami Beach, Florida) wraps up the issue by sharing his research and perspective on the leader’s impact on a school’s PLC and how to increase leadership stability in the Jewish world.

These and so much more await you inside this issue! Enjoy the journey and let us hear from you as you read and grow from the articles. The Lookjed list provides a wonderful cross-continental venue to discuss issues that emerge from the journal.

As I move on to my new role at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, I will continue as a contributing editor for JEL, assisting our new Editor-in-Chief Zvi Grumet in the Journal’s ongoing quest to uncover the great things Jewish educators are doing to make learning happen for students around the world.

Zvi, who has served as my Associate Editor, has the editorial expertise and educational know-how to take the Journal to the next level and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to continue working with him. Before leaving my post, I’d like to give a special thanks to him, Shalom Berger, Chana German, and Elana Sztokman, our Managing Editor and writer par excellence, for a job well done.

As always, I’m available to you at beverly@lookstein.org.


Beverly Buncher