The Education Directors Group in the Heart of New Jersey, supported by Jewish Federation, hosted its annual Jewish Educators Conference this week. Due to the pandemic, the conference was conducted virtually and it focused on using technology in virtual teaching. The conference aimed to provide local educators with a deeper understanding of key technologies and resources available to help navigate the new reality and create a thriving environment with an interactive virtual classroom for remote learners.
From Monday, August 31, through today, the conference offered two different workshops each day with an overarching topic of "teaching with tech." This year is the group's fourth time organizing a professional development conference for the region's teachers, but its first virtual.
"We are living through unprecedented and challenging times. But we are going through this together. As daunting as technology may seem, it offers us the ability to engage our students in different ways, reevaluate how and what we teach, and reach students where they are," said Inbar Robbins of LEV Academy at Perrienville Jewish Center. She continued, "For many small schools, budgets are tight. But through the work of the Educators Group and the support of Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, we can provide our teachers with invaluable tools, the opportunity to meet and learn from others and show our synagogues, the families we serve, and our staff that we believe in Jewish education and that the investment in our teachers is an investment in our future."
When in-person planning for this year's conference began back in March, the Education Directors Group discussed the need to train local teaching staff at the region's supplemental religious schools in technology and utilizing existing tools to engage students better and upgrade lesson plans. As concerns of COVID-19 grew and talk of the pandemic impacted religious and secular schools alike, the team recognized a need to pivot in their focus.
The Education Directors Group continued to meet (virtually), exploring the best way to address the increasing need for technology training for supplemental schools. Spinning off the original idea of "teaching tech," the idea to create a virtual conference to kick off this school year was adopted.
"Coming together to organize the Virtual Jewish Educators Conference has been a huge team effort. All of our schools will benefit from having teachers with increased familiarity and awareness of the technological tools available to them and how to engage their students effectively. The number one way to make Jewish education the best it can be in our region is to invest in our teachers so that they can bring Judaism alive for our students," said Melissa Pescatore of Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan.
The Directors brought in The Bible Players, a Jewish improv group, as their keynote presenters to teach educators how to use Zoom to engage students with games, the chatbox, and with movement, sign language, and virtual backgrounds. Directors themselves, equipped with knowledge and experience in various educational and technology platforms such as Zoom, Google Suite, Padlet, Kahoot, and FlipGrid, took on teaching these workshops to 70 of the region's Jewish educators.
The Education Directors Group in the Heart of New Jersey is comprised of Education Directors:
- Melissa Pescatore of Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan,
- Inbar Robbins of LEV Academy @Perrienville Jewish Center
- Elie Salomon of Nefesh Yehudi Academy,
- Michael Wikes of Congregation B’nai Israel in Rumson,
- Rabbi Larry Malinger of Temple Shalom of Aberdeen,
- Cantor Bruce Rockman of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick
- Magda Reyes of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls
- Miriam Dobin of Temple Neve Shalom in Metuchen