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Understandings of the Heart: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

For directors of congregational schools and early childhood programs as well as day school educators. This network represents a partnership among The William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of JTS, Hebrew Union CollegeSel4US, Reconstructing Judaism and others who have joined together as the SEL in Jewish Education Committee. We seek to engage the Jewish community in collaboratively sharing and building educational practices that forge understanding about SEL and its connection with a Jewish life.

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Best Practices in Professional Development

Facilitated by Nancy Parkes and Moshe Ben Lev

Mondays, 7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m, Feb 4, Feb 11, Feb 25, March 4 

children playing
In this network, we will work together to help teachers use Jewish text and traditions to teach and cultivate the five core competencies of SEL identified by CASEL:  self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Together we will work to identify concrete ways to teach social emotional skills that will help both our teachers and learners develop, practice, and live these skills both in and out of the classroom.


Nancy Parkes Headshot
Nancy Parkes is a teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary and serves as an educational consultant for JTS on two projects focused on social emotional learning.  Nancy received her M.A. degree in Jewish Studies and Education at the The William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of JTS​​​​​​​ and is currently earning her Ed.D there.  As the founder of JTeachNOW, Nancy supports schools, organizations, and educators that are embarking on, or in the process of change, as they redefine Jewish education for the 21st century. Nancy has written several articles about synagogue education, social emotional learning, and Jewish leadership, and gave an influential ELItalk about the need for change in the congregational setting.  

Moshe Ben Lev Headshot
Moshe Ben Lev is originally from London, UK, and received degrees in Biblical Archaeology and Jewish Studies from the Jewish Free School. Moshe has been an Education Director for over twenty five years working in Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative congregations in the Washington DC area. Over the last ten years,  he has created a duel curriculum that incorporates the educational concept of a Social Emotional philosophy into his schools. This work and experimentation has allowed him to explore SEL through many prisms. Creative, dynamic, out-of-box instruction is what he strives for in his philosophical approach to Jewish education.

Early Childhood Education

Faciliated by Shellie Dickstein

Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m., Feb 6,  March 12, April 17

Children Playing 2
As Jews, resiliency has been the cornerstone that has led to our surviving and thriving. Early Childhood educators support young children’s growth in all aspects of their lives - physically, cognitively, socially, spiritually, and emotionally- that help them thrive. Yet today we see a rise in anxiety and stress in even our youngest students.  What are the causes of this growing phenomenon? How can we draw on young children’s strengths to help them cope? How do Jewish values and experiences contribute to their social-emotional well-being?  One of the findings in the seminal research done by Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith noted the “extraordinary importance of the early childhood years in laying the foundation for resilience,” (Journeys from Childhood to Midlife: Risk, Resilience, and Recovery, July 2001). As early childhood educational leaders are you noticing a change in the social-emotional development of the children in your care?  Is it time to refocus our attention on the social-emotional growth of our learners during these very important early years?  In this network we will share experiences related to these questions; explore a framework for social-emotional learning; learn about a rubric to identify children’s character strengths; examine how constructivist models of learning contribute to social-emotional growth; and work on articulating how Jewish learning experiences contribute to their well-being. 

shelly dickstein
Shellie Dickstein is Managing Director of Early Childhood and Family Engagement for the Jewish Education Project.  Shellie and her team facilitate networks and professional development initiatives that spread innovative approaches and new models in Jewish early childhood education and early family engagement that help children and families thrive. 


Measuring Outcomes and Impact in SEL

Facilitated by Evie Rotstein and Jeffrey Kress

Tuesdays, 3 p.m. - 4p.m. March 19, April 2, April 9

hands holding ipad
Many educators have been working to promote social and emotional growth and to enhance feelings of community in their settings. How do we know if we are having the desired impact? Assessment of social and emotional growth presents unique challenges. Doing so in the Jewish educational context may be even more complex! Even if one can measure social and emotional growth, how do we know whether learners are connecting this to Jewish traditions, texts, and ideas? Although we don’t have “the answer” to these questions, we believe it is important to explore the topic. We are looking for partners in doing so. This group is for those who are implementing initiatives in social and emotional learning and want to focus on ways to adapt, develop and share tools and approaches that can guide this work.    

Evie Rotstein
Dr. Evie Rotstein is the director of the New York School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She was previously the director of the Leadership Institute for Congregational Educators, the professional learning project co- sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and HUC-JIR. Evie is an education consultant working with communities to create value driven meaningful learning for Jewish educators.




Dr. Jeff Kress is the Dr. Bernard Heller Professor of Jewish Education at the The William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of JTS​​​​​​​. His book Development, Learning, and Community: Educating for Identity in Pluralistic Jewish High Schools (Academic Studies Press, 2012) won a National Jewish Book Award. In addition, he is the editor a volume titled Growing Jewish Minds, Growing Jewish Souls: Promoting Spiritual, Social, and Emotional Growth in Jewish Education (URJ Press, 2013). Dr. Kress is the coauthor, with Drs. Bernard Novick and Maurice Elias, of Building Learning Communities with Character: How to Integrate Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002).



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