Shearith Israel is a conservative congregation in Dallas with a strong religious school, approximately 200 students. We have pre-k-10th and we are in the midst of developing a HS component through 12 grade back into our program.
The biggest challenges we face are related: apathy and communication. Over the last couple of years we have tried to address both of these issues. Each of our teachers was required to communicate with parents on a bi-weekly- monthly basis, giving them information about what their children were experiencing in the class.
We also have a weekly newsletter from the school, but this is more general information, and not usually specific to classes. We also decided last fall to use a text system for updates for parents: Remind 101. We had many parents sign up for this- but not all.
Ellen Dietrick has been our mentor in the Darim Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, and she has guided us through various explorations. Each year Dallas has a Yom Limmud- day of learning where all of the educators come together and this past fall one of the featured presentations, from November Learning www.novemberlearning.com , was about tech in the classroom, featuring Twitter. So we eagerly joined Twitter as luddites. Ellen helped us explore what to do with it, but learned that our best bet was to set up blogs for our classrooms. This would be a better focus for students, parents, and even our teachers to interact with and learn from each other. Back in February we presented this idea to our teachers at a professional development session. At first they were reluctant, but they grew very interested when they found out about the various ways to communicate, engage and share the content of what goes on in their classrooms.
Showing the various steps of the learning process, as well as what the students take away for it will definitely serve the students better, and help their parents understand and hopefully engage them and us a bit more. We decided to make this compulsory as of the coming school year and it is written into the teacher contracts that they need to submit a post each week we have school. At this point we are exploring whether to use the template we created on Blogger or to invest in using Edublogs (which is part of WordPress). We are very excited about this and will be suspending our weekly newsletter that we send using Constant Contact in lieu of this improved and interactive tool. I am already thinking about who will be our ‘plants’ on the blog- hoping to quietly designate parents to generate/comment on posts to build and keep the conversation going.
We should tell you as well that back in the fall as part of a separate grant, we began creating a teen Israel blog which is a blog about Israel by teens, for teens. This has been a great learning experience for the teens and the professionals working on this project.
In addition, we are fortunate to have smartboards in our classrooms, as well as iPads for teacher and student use. Our students have been working to create apps…. Now we can actually tell the world about this and use them to enhance our blog communications.
We hope that this project will improve parent communication, as well improve the students’ engagement with what they are learning. We want to thank Ellen Dietrick for her assistance and Darim and The Covenant Foundation for the opportunity to make our school a better learning environment.
Shearith Israel participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation. This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.