Theory in Practice

It does not matter what you say or how you say it; rather, it matters how it is received.

—Rabbi Yaacov Leider

The relationship between an educator and a learner is built upon the ability of the educator to effectively communicate material, emotion, and passion to their learners. The role of the educator is to foster and maintain among their learner a sense of purpose and drive to grow and learn. This is manifested by the educator providing with their entire being mutual moral aid and support for the learner to maximize the educational experience. The learner must be trusted, empowered, and understood by the educator in order for the relationship to grow. The way in which the educator communicates to the learner is paramount in the development of this relationship.

At Adath Israel, a conservative synagogue here in Cincinnati, the philosophy of education is predicated on the communication between the educator and the learner. As a Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati education fellow at Adath Israel, I served as the educator for the sixth-grade class and the madrichim program. The students who passed through the doors of my classroom had different learning styles, different educational desires, and because of the diverse background of the conservative community, different Jewish practices at home. 

In building a relationship with these students, ranging from sixth grade to high school seniors, the style in which I taught and communicated had to be different for each student. It did not matter what I taught, or how I taught it. But it did matter how the material was internalized and applied. It did not matter what I said, or how I said it. But it did matter how it was received by a multitude of students with different thoughts, interests, and purposes. My educational theory course gave me an opportunity to synthesize different theories in my head. When I practiced them in the classroom, I discovered that practice outweighed theory. Education theory often assumes the full, eager, and enthusiastic participation of students. But this is not always the case in a supplementary Jewish education setting. But, by combining the educational theories I learned with my previous teaching experiences, I was able to develop project-based lesson plans tailored to run the gamut of the students who I served. I learned that previous experience, integrity, and intellectual and emotional intelligence help develop lessons and programs specific to my students’ needs.

“Whoever finds a clash between theory and practice has not developed emotionally to the level of current theory,” wrote Janusz Korczak, a prominent Polish-Jewish educator and child advocate. “Let him not learn any more from books and prints but from life; he does not lack ready prescriptions but the moral strength, won by sweat, to feel truth, to make a blood brother of the truth of theory.” The practical application of this idea and the emotional development of the educator derive from the relationship that is built between educator and learner. As an educator, I strive to develop such relationships with my learners by identifying how they could synthesize and internalize Jewish content and feeding their educational desires accordingly. 

My experience taught me the importance of fostering purpose amongst my learners and how to practically apply that insight to an educational environment. I also learned what those in Jewish education might aspire to: the educator and learner coexisting in an environment predicated on trust, empowerment, and passion. How we receive and synthesize what we are taught in a Jewish educational setting is predicated on the emotional connection and integrity of the educator. The teacher must fulfill their responsibility to foster these three things aspects in order to build the foundation for Jewish community through a strong sense of purpose in education. When combined, these factors develop Jewish learning and living and are foundational to continuity and fluency among the Jewish people. 

Rand Burke is a second-year student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, OH. 

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