About the Prize Winners: Rabbi Daniel Rosenberg

Meet Rabbi Daniel Rosenberg

Rabbi Daniel Rosenberg won The Kohelet Prize for Development of Critical and/or Creative Thinking for his work at Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy. Check out his winning entry, Making a Talmudic Sugya Occupy Space, here: http://koheletprize.org/database/making-talmudic-sugya-occupy-space/

In your experience, what is the greatest challenge facing students/teachers today?

I think the screen-technology culture that secondary (and younger) students fully inhabit is the interface for this challenge. For adults who grew up as computerization grew up, we (teachers) don’t understand because we (humans) don’t yet know how different the students’ brains are. The immediacy of information accessibility in the web world feels like it can play out as student impatience in the in-person world, especially where learning processes may  be slower and require more work for skills-building. Knowledge-location has been displaced from “on-site” to “off-site” (and specifically accessible through a search interface), which makes critical thinking skills even more important – and the more so because we have already arrived at the point at which digital information may be patently false and difficult or impossible to distinguish from truth (Russian bots, hacking, deep fakes). There is a pressure for teachers to meet the digital culture by individualizing instruction and focusing on personal relevance in a way that puts constant stress on the schooling model.

In implementing your winning project in the classroom, was there a moment when you knew that you had hit upon something really powerful?  If so, describe that moment.

I think it wasn’t until students were actually presenting their designs, or more often their finished projects, that I felt like they realized they were flying. And even then, I think I realized they were flying more than they did. In explaining their own work, they verbalized sophistication of thought and depth of affective wisdom that I have rarely seen except in this kind of setting where people are empowered to communicate creatively.

What advice would you give teachers who want to attempt something new and different in their own classrooms?

Be clear about what you want to achieve with the new-and-different, and how you believe it will improve the students’ learning experience. Pay attention to bridging students’ anxiety (as it may be) around learning modes that they may not be used to, especially by planning learning activities that introduce them to the things that are new-and-different so that it’s not shockingly foreign. For all the fact that the students live in constantly changing worlds, they are still human beings who have a need to know what is expected and what they can expect, in order to succeed.

What’s your favorite part of your teaching day and why?

The class days when I can give the students the keys and let them drive – when they feel adequately prepared and supported, and – almost without realizing it – take ownership of their own learning.

How do you ensure that you’re always growing professionally?

I try to spend a lot of time talking with other people: with other teachers, within and beyond my department, with parents, and with colleagues who are teachers at other schools and universities. I try to make sure that I’m learning new things regularly – whether it is new pedagogic approaches or whether it is new skills in other things (like a glassblowing course) – so that I both gain new content knowledge and have to reflect on myself as a learner when someone else is in the teaching role.

If you had one piece of advice to share with a new teacher walking into his/her classroom for the first time…

You’re a student all over again, even though you’re standing in the front of the classroom. Your students will teach you the most important things about them which you will be tested on every single day. As much as your job is to know your subject and establish a classroom culture, within your school, you must get to know your students as learners. Then, next year, you’ll start from scratch all over again.

What are some ways in which you motivate your students to become lifelong learners?

I try to treat all student questions seriously, so that they know they are important as questioning learners (they generally don’t abuse this, and I still politely steer when they’re getting tangential).  I try to help them to develop independent competence, so that they are confident when they encounter texts like or unlike our texts in the future.

I also try to model that knowledge is both interconnected (so contemporary science, and math, and the novels they’re reading in English class may all come up in our Talmud class) and ongoing (so that I will ask them to apply their thinking skills in the context of headline/contemporary questions).

When I’m not in the classroom I love to _____________. This strengthens my teaching by …

When I’m not in the classroom, I love to travel. This strengthens my teaching my challenging me to adapt to new settings and situations, and to encounter different people who have different ways of thinking.