Over the past six months Matan, founded 12 years ago, launched the inaugural Matan Institutes for Jewish Educators. In March, 18 Education Directors came together for two days of intense learning related to Jewish special education; in August, 40 congregational school teachers spent one day with Matan learning how to make their classrooms accessible to all learners.
What we love about special education is that in actuality, it is simply really good education. Special educators pay close attention to the learning styles of each of their students – whether their preferences are visual, oral, tactile or kinesthetic. These teachers plan their lessons making sure there are elements within that will reach every type of student. In the 21st century classroom, technology is a remarkable tool that helps students access information in the ways that work best for them, often bridging the divide between different types of learners.
And so, when Matan was accepted into Darim’s Boot Camp for Jewish Educators, we saw a remarkable opportunity to combine the best of what special education and technology have to offer. We made a conscious decision to focus our time with Darim on the educators that we train, with a particular eye towards the launch of The Matan Institutes. In so doing, we have had the unique opportunity to model the use of technology with educators looking to increase their skill set for engaging children with special needs, thereby impacting over 8,000 congregational school students across the country. In “social media speak”, Darim and Matan went viral.
Matan modeled various techniques we learned from Darim, and we will continue to do so with future cohorts of educators. Among the most well-received: a thumb-drive for participants containing every presentation, every handout and lists of relevant resources (in addition to printed and screen-projected documents, because every adult also learns differently from one another); the use of Poll Everywhere (never before seen by Matan’s participants and a great way to engage tweens and teens in the classroom); and tweets that highlighted the messages of our nationally-renowned speakers with a much wider online audience.
Perhaps most importantly, we have the opportunity to continue working with these educators through webinars (a skillset learned from Darim), thereby making Matan the first Jewish Special Education organization that provides ongoing support and mentoring to the educators we train. Having the ability to move beyond “one off” professional development sessions provides Matan with the opportunity to truly change the landscape of how children with special needs are included in Jewish education. Thank you, Covenant Foundation! Thank you, Darim!
Meredith Englander Polsky is the Director of Training and Advocacy at Matan, and, along with Orlee Krass, Matan's Director of Education, participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, which is generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.