#JDAMblogs: Rethinking Disability Simulations - Part II

Why we MUST rethink disability simulations; Removing the Stumbling Block

In Rethinking Disability Simulations - Part I, I shared with you one self-advocate’s view that disability simulation activities do not work to change long-term attitudes about disabilities. I took this to heart and have begun to rethink my own practice. So, what are some alternatives to disability simulations for teaching disability awareness?  

1. Watch a few Public Service Announcement (PSA) videos as a class.  Here are some suggestions:


Discuss the message of each PSA and the collective message with students. Connect the message to Jewish text.  Give students an opportunity to create their own PSA.

2. Read a number of children’s books where the main character has a disability.  

Cakes and Miracles: A Purim Story


Joey Pigza (any of the books, really)

Leah's Voice

Discuss the message of each story with students, connecting the message to Jewish values. Give students the opportunity to create their own children’s books and share them with younger students.

3. Give students the opportunity to assess the synagogue for accessibility. Provide them with a checklist or survey from sites such as http://www.ada.gov/ or http://www.wbdg.org/resources/assesstools.php

Do you have other suggestions?

Be sure you never miss a post from Removing the Stumbling Block:



#JDAMblogs - Rethinking Disability Simulations - Part I

I recently read an important article by Emily Ladau. (You remember Emily, right? She was my first guest blogger and wrote The Birthright Israel Foundation: “No Limits” on the Jewish Disability Community)


Emily’s article called “I Won’t Pretend That Disability Simulation Works” struck a nerve; but I didn't really want to confront it. You see, I have led disability simulations and have believed them to be effective, so this article put me in the position of needing to reflect and potentially rethink my practice.


And that’s a good thing. I have written often about the importance of reflection in improving our inclusive practice. It would be hypocritical if this didn’t apply to me, too.


Emily writes, “Herein lies the problem with disability simulation. It may make a person more aware of another person’s experiences, but it doesn’t dig deep to the root of discrimination against people with minority identities. Instead, it’s more likely to evoke empathy or pity than true acceptance.”


I have written a lesson for teens that engages them in multiple, short simulation activities followed by discussions of the experience grounded in Jewish text. We have run this program for the past few years, and each time it has led to insightful conversations and an opportunity for one or more of our teens with disabilities to share their own experiences. I have believed it to be a powerful and significant learning experience for our students. 


But Emily’s post has me wondering what long-term impact such a program has, if any.  She argues, “You can be “aware” of me all you want. You can attempt to roll a mile in my wheelchair. You can analyze and discuss and dissect the experience from a million different angles. But we must move away from equating empathy with acceptance. We must embrace differences as a fact of human existence without first needing to imitate them, for these kinds of activities are not effectively contributing to long-term advancements in the disability rights movement.”


I will share some of my ideas in tomorrow's post.

#JDAMblogs - Hebrew School Inclusion for Children with Special Needs Is Possible, Here's How

I am humbled and proud to share that today's post was originally published on Kveller as a part of their month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

In my role as an Education Director of a synagogue's Hebrew school, I have the good fortune to be able to use my skills to develop programs that enable students of all abilities to learn and thrive in a religious school setting. As an advocate of inclusion, I help guide my community to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate and find meaning through all aspects of synagogue life. Yet, not all synagogues have a Jewish Special Educator. Not all synagogues have a professional who advocates for inclusion. What can parents of children with disabilities do to ensure that their children are fully included in Hebrew school?

First and foremost, open and supportive communication is essential for a successful Jewish Hebrew school experience for any child, but especially those with special learning needs. Be forthcoming about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Do not assume that the school will turn you away or will not be able to accommodate your child’s needs. Share your child’s IEP, successful strategies from home and other information that will make it easier for your child to be successful. I am not suggesting that this is a magic bullet. There may be bumps and disappointments along the way. But without the willingness to have the conversations, you will never know what is possible. Read more...

#JDAMblogs - Resources for Teaching Disability Awareness in Jewish Schools

One of the most common mistakes made by well-meaning educators is “reinventing the wheel.” Teachers often write lessons and recreate materials that have already been successfully developed and utilized. Sharing resources and adapting existing lessons to fit the needs of your students can free you up to devote more time to student’s individual needs and issues. However, it can be hard to know where to look for quality lessons and even harder to know where to look for quality lessons for teaching disability awareness, accessibility and inclusion in a Jewish setting.

Here are some suggestions of resources to consider for students of various ages:

Disability Awareness Book-Based Program - Cakes and Miracles: A Purim Story
This curriculum, supported by PJ Library, was a collaborative effort by educators from four excellent organizations focused on the inclusion of children with varied abilities in Jewish day and supplemental schools.

Produced by Behrman House and written by Diane Zimmerman, this is an appropriate lesson for a wide variety of ages. It is designed to enable students to address the driving question: “How can we help guide our synagogue in creating a space that is accessible to all and emulates the Jewish value of lifnei iver lo titen michshol (do not put a stumbling block before the blind)?” What I like about this lesson is that it is well grounded in Jewish text and empowers students to drive the direction of the final product. 

Gateways: Access to Jewish education, based in the Boston area, this organization offers downloadable holiday materials including social stories. If you happen to be in their area, they also offer an Understanding Our Differences program in local synagogues and day schools.  Contact them to learn more.

Gabriel’s Ark by Torah Aura Productions is a four-page instant lesson designed for students in PreK-K. It is a story lesson about a family that helps a fearful boy with special needs through his bar mitzvah experience. It opens up the question of inclusion and dealing with disabilities. I have NOT used this lesson and can not formally endorse it. In addition, I do not care for their description “dealing with disabilities” and would prefer, “It opens up a dialogue about inclusion and potential challenges those with disabilities may face.”

A second instant lesson from Torah Aura is Bible Play written by Rabbi Daniel Grossman and intended for students in grade 6 and up. Bible Play is a midrashic play that tells the story of three biblical figures—Isaac, Jacob and Moses—each of whom had a significant disability. I do own this instant lesson and have used pieces successfully.  Additionally, I believe that many of the Torah Aura instant lessons are easily adaptable for students with varying learning needs. As an aside, Rabbi Grossman is a highly respected advocate of disability inclusion and is a regular contributor to the NY Jewish Week.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that curriculum design is one of my own areas of expertise. I have particular strengths in the areas of teen engagement, informal education and creating opportunities for peer leadership.

Finally, one important note:  Inclusion and disability awareness are NOT the same thing. Teaching a lesson or leading a conversation about disabilities does not mean you are inclusive.  It means you have taught about disabilities. It is important in is its own right, and a valuable component of inclusivity, but quality awareness-raising is only one aspect of inclusive practice.

#JDAMblogs - Reforming Jewish Professional Development - Part II

Earlier this month, I wrote about the need to reformJewish professional development opportunities to meet the goals of inclusion. I believe that we need discussions about disabilities to become mainstream, we need keynote addresses by people with disabilities and we need the vision and goals for every professional development workshop or conference to reflect a commitment to inclusion.

Our promotional materials should state that we are inclusive and accessible. Our registration materials should use inclusive language and ask potential participants what accommodations they will need. To be sure, breakout sessions at every conference focused on meeting the needs of diverse learners or ways to facilitate inclusion would be wonderful; but that is not the only way. Workshops themselves, on any topic, must meet the needs of diverse learners; and we, as presenters, must actively state this as an intentional goal. We must ensure that every presenter at every conference uses inclusive, person-first language. All too often has inclusive planning been an effort in reinventing the wheel, starting from scratch for each conference and/or not sharing lessons learned across platforms. We can and must build on past successes to continue the trajectory forward. 

And there is another significant area where we could experience leadership by example to push the agenda of true inclusion forward. This is in the realm of funding and philanthropy. Our generous philanthropists will send a powerful message to all of our institutions if they are seeking truly inclusive organizations and programs for their grants and awards. Jay Ruderman, a leading philanthropist in the field of Jewish disability inclusion, states in an article from the NY Jewish Week, “We are not advocating that philanthropists stop funding their current projects and switch to exclusively supporting programs which are fully inclusive of people with disabilities. Just the opposite! Our aim is to show funders how projects they advocate for can become more inclusive, can reach out and help more people.” When funders ensure that the programs they support are inclusive, it sends a powerful and consistent message.

A wonderful example of this was the 2013 The Covenant Award, which honored Howard Blas among its three recipients. Blas is the longtime director of the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah, an eight-week overnight camping program for 60 campers with special needs, fully integrated within a summer camp attracting 800 children and teens. Other prominent awards offered by Jewish philanthropists include the Grinspoon Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education and Jewish Educator Awards funded by the Milken Family Foundation. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if two things happened; first that each year at least one of the awardees has a specific focus in the area of Jewish disabilities inclusion and second, as Ruderman encourages, that these philanthropic organizations ensure that all of their recipients come from inclusive communities?

Leadership by example is possible if we make the commitment.

#JDAMblogs - A Different Look at Noah's Ark

The following is an excerpt from a stunning sermon written by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Rachel Ackerman, Associate Rabbi and Director of Education at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Although written for the Torah portion Noach, I am proud to share it here in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, as its message of inclusion is timeless. Rachel is willing to share the full sermon with anyone interested.

I offer this sermon to you as a teaching – as a conversation – as an opportunity for us to reflect.

It’s a different look at the classic tale of Noah and the ark.

There are a lot of questions we can ask about the animals on Noah’s ark.
How many types of animals were there? How did they all fit? Did they come on by twosies-twosies or by sevens? What did they all eat? How did they all get along?
One question most of us have never asked is, “How did the animals physically get onto the ark?”

Perhaps we don’t ask this question because the answer is obvious. There must have been a ramp.

In nearly every picture of Noah’s ark, every Noah’s ark children’s toy and every image of the ark engrained in our minds, there is a ramp. But, the text never tells us there was a ramp, and the commentaries I’ve sifted through don’t mention anything about it. All we know is that the animals came through an opening and got onto the ark.

Yet, it’s obvious. Without a ramp, it would be challenging for the animals to get on the ark. For some, stairs would be quite difficult, and for those without opposable thumbs, the rope ladder I saw in one picture seemed like a fairly ridiculous option.

The animals needed a ramp to enter the ark.

And many people need ramps to enter our synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions. It’s obvious.

We’d like to imagine that all of our institutions are completely accessible, but we know this isn’t the case. As Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale wrote, “A photograph in my office says it all. It is of a man sitting in his wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of steps, leading up to the entrance of the synagogue. Over its door, is emblazoned the sentence [from Psalms], “Open the gates of righteousness for me, I will enter through them.” The man sits with his back to the doors, unable to enter. As a Jewish community we have failed him…”

When we don’t have ramps, we fail members of our community. The ark needed a ramp. Every Jewish institution needs a ramp. People need ramps to get onto the bimah. They need lifts to get into a mikveh and elevators to access the floor where they have a meeting or class.

And, over the years, we have become better about installing physical ramps.

Stairs, however, are not the only stumbling blocks.

There are Jews with physical, developmental, and learning disabilities; Jews with hearing, speech, language, health, and visual impairments; there are Jews with traumatic brain injuries.

Thinking about the variety of opportunities that our synagogues and other institutions provide: worship, camping, religious school, how many people still sit with their backs to our doors, unable to enter?

As a Jewish community, how many Jews are we failing?


As Jews, particularly Reform Jews, we sometimes look out the windows more often than we illuminate what’s going on inside our institutions.

We look out windows, see injustice, and we leave the walls of the synagogue to engage in tikkun olam.

We look out the windows to people we don’t know, people who will never walk through the walls of our institutions, and we are, rightfully, called to action…But, we also need to shine the light inward to see the people inside our institutions. We need to see the absence of those individuals too afraid to come inside and unable to access Jewish life.

If we shine the light inward we will see the man who stopped coming to services because he was shushed for his uncontrollable ticks.

If we shine the light inward we will see the camper with Asperger’s Syndrome who was spit on by the other kids in the cabin when her counselors left the room.

If we shine the light inward we will see a rabbinical student with a learning disability who, listening to the advice of rabbis on the field based on their personal experiences, did not document this disability on her rabbinical school application. And if we continue to shine the light inward we will see her advising other prospective rabbinical students to do the same.


How long will it be before we build ramps, physical and metaphorical, that allow every person, regardless of ability, to access Judaism?

How long will it be before we shine the light inward so that 100% of our community can look out the window together and engage in tikkun olam?

It is our responsibility to teach everyone according to his or her needs.
It is our responsibility to remove stumbling blocks.
It is our responsibility to make sure that OUR houses of prayer ARE houses of prayer for ALL people.

We need to acknowledge our fear and discomfort, and then allow ourselves to become vulnerable to what we feel ill-equipped to handle; we need to be vulnerable and admit the failures of our community so that we can become more accessible. 

If we shine the light and face what we fear, we can begin to engage in the work of repair. Then, when we shine the light, we have the potential to see:

Camp counselors and teachers who are trained to work with children and adults with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Rabbis, cantors, and lay leaders who employ modalities of service leading and Torah study that are accessible to those with learning disabilities.

A teenager with Autism who leads his congregation in acts of social justice.

Children and adults who have learned that the values of compassion, relationship, and friendship far outweigh the initial discomfort experienced in getting accustomed to symptoms of disabilities.

We need to shine the light inward. 

Be sure you never miss a post from Removing the Stumbling Block:

There is No Room for Exclusion

Jewish Disability Awareness Month is a unified initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities worldwide.

   Image courtesy of sevenly.org

     This really pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

#JDAMblogs - When Will We...

Inclusionis not a program or a classroom or a place. Inclusion isn't social action or something nice we do for other people. Inclusion is an attitude; it's the way we treat people and it reflects the way each of us wants to be treated. Inclusion is belonging.

Inclusion is belonging; Removing the Stumbling Block
And yet….

#JDAMblogs - JDAM Reads! Live Twitter Chat #JDAMreads14

As you may know, one of the national events planned for Jewish Disability Awareness Month is JDAM Reads!  For the past few years, there have been both child and adult book choices.
The adult selection this year is “Hope Will Find You” by Rabbi Naomi Levy. In this novel she shares her journey as a parent of a daughter diagnosed with a potentially life threatening disability. Please join me THIS Thursday, Feb. 13 at 9pm EST for a live Twitter chat to discuss the book using #JDAMreads14.  A Twitter chat is a unique way to share thoughts and reflections and I hope that many of you will participate. If you have never participated in Twitter chat before, here is a good resource to get started. If you are still feeling hesitant, please feel free to reach out and I will be happy to guide you through the process.

In addition to this chat, Rabbi Levy will conduct a live webinar to discuss her novel, sponsored by The Jewish Journal, on Thursday February 20, 2014 at 2pm EST, 1pm CST, noon MST, 11am PST.

A Powerful Example of Inclusion

A Powerful Example of Inclusion; Removng the Stumbling Block

There is an ad for Guinness beer that made the rounds a while back. It’s not your typical splashy display of barely clad women and flashy cars. Rather, a group of men are shown playing a game of wheelchair basketball. At the game’s end, all but one of the men leaves his chair, and together they go out for a beer.  Have you seen it?

#JDAMblogs - A Completely Unremarkable Story

A few weeks ago I attended our synagogue’s Kabbalat Shabbat service. This once-a-month service has an earlier start time than our traditional service and is followed by a congregational potluck dinner. This shorter service is ideal for many; our youngest children who aren’t ready to be out past bedtime, teens who want to go out with friends later in the evening and adult members who don’t want to be out past their bedtimes (come on, be honest, 9:30pm feels late after a full week of work!). Our Kabbalat Shabbat is also a wonderful fit for an adult member of our congregation with developmental disabilities.

I have been thinking about writing this story for some time now. Sharing this man’s story would seem logical and meaningful on this blog. But quite honestly, it’s pretty unremarkable. 

I mean, he’s a really nice guy, but so are a lot of our members. 

He lives in a local group home and another member of our congregation picks him up each month, but he’s not the only congregant who needs a ride. 

Nonetheless, I’ve kept an eye out for something remarkable to share. I’ve watched his level of comfort increase, but that’s true of all of us as we spend more & more time somewhere. The melodies of the prayers have become more familiar to him, but that’s also true for each of us over time. I’ve also noticed how other congregants have come to recognize him, but that, too, is characteristic of people in general. 

So I have been trying, for sake of this blog, to find the right angle. 

I’ve been looking for that aha moment to share. But he’s been a member of our congregation for the better part of four years now, and I have yet to find just the right hook to demonstrate the value of inclusion. I’m sorry, it’s just a pretty unremarkable story.

And that’s the point.

#JDAMblogs - A Review of Jewish Disability Advocacy Day

I’m thrilled to have participated in Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) in Washington DC on February 6.  It was exciting to learn how much this program has grown in just four short years.  What began with a small group of twenty now boasts participation of more than 70!  Hats off to Dave Feinman the Senior Legislative Associate of the Jewish Federations of North America and Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Adviser on Disability Issues for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for not only coordinating but inspiring such vast and meaningful participation.  

There were two components to the advocacy efforts of JDAD: 
  • Asking Members and Senators to sponsor the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which encourages saving private funds for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities
  • Asking Senators to support ratification of the Disabilities Treaty, which promotes the rights of people with disabilities across the globe based on the standard set by the Americans with Disabilities Act
In her d'var torah, Rabbi Landsberg taught that as a Jew, she looks forward to Shabbat. It is an opportunity to rest; to do less than she did all week. However, as an individual with a disability, she recognizes that there are far too many individuals with disabilities who do nothing all week long as they are unable to find suitable employment.  The joy of Shabbat is an opportunity to rest, but we must never mistake rest with doing nothing!

Allison Wohl, the Executive Director of the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, briefed us on the ABLE Act. In her remarks, she shared her very personal journey of raising a child with Down Syndrome. She shared that after watching the stunning film Praying With Lior (if you haven’t seen it, you must!) her view of congregational life changed. In one of her most compelling statements she remarked that Lior taught her that she wanted to find a congregation that would celebrate her family, not simply accept them.

What a profound way to shape the culture of a synagogue community! 

We also heard from David Morrissey, Executive Director of the US International Council on Disabilities, in a briefing about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He works to remove social discrimination and its barriers, suggesting that what our society must do is move away from the “medical model of disability,” a view of disability as something that can and should be healed. 

Finally, Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center, quoted Leviticus 19:14 where we are commanded, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind,” and taught that we, as advocates for individuals with disabilities, must not allow the stumbling blocks to get in OUR way of advancing the work of inclusion.

As I mentioned, this opportunity pushed me to stretch outside my comfort zone. Political advocacy is not my typical “wheelhouse,” but I am so pleased that I actively participated in this day.

#JDAMblogs - Jewish Special Education Mythbusters, Part 2

In Jewish Special Education MythBusters, Part 1 I discussed some commonly held stereotypes about learning differences and special education in Jewish education.  In this edition I will explore some commonly held social-emotional and economic myths.

Myth #4:  One student’s negative behavior can ruin a whole class.
This is a big one in Jewish education classrooms.  And the honest answer is: negative behavior can “ruin” a class dynamic only if you (the teacher) let it.  Teachers have a responsibility to manage student behavior in a way that provides all students with a warm, supportive and meaningful environment.  If a child’s behavior is challenging, find another way to meet his needs.  This is not meant as an oversimplification, but rather as a call to teachers to employ a wide variety of management techniques to enable students to find success.  Suggestions for how to do this can be found here.  And if those techniques aren’t working, find others.  Do not give up on your students.

Myth #5:  Tailoring a bar/bat mitzvah for a child with disabilities isn’t fair to all the other students
Individualizing expectations does not take anything away from capable students.  Rather, it demonstrates flexibility and a willingness to embrace a wide variety of needs within a synagogue community.  Children may question why another student “did less” than he/she did, but it is up to us, as teachers, parents and clergy, to explain to our children how to welcome differences and to be proud of what he/she accomplishes without comparison to what everyone else is doing.  

Myth #6:  Inclusion costs a lot more money
Not so.  While making a facility full accessible is certainly an investment, there are many inexpensive ways to be sure that a community is inclusive.  Invest in professional development for teachers, lay leaders, clergy and other synagogue staff.  A full-day of learning that brings all of these stakeholders together is a huge opportunity for both learning and leading by example. Training everyone to welcome, accept and embrace diversity will transform your community.  I offer additional low-cost solutions, in Affording Inclusion.

Myths are perpetuated by a lack of understanding.  When Adam and Jamie conduct an experiment on MythBusters, they help us to see, experience and understand what is flawed within our current way of thinking.  Their method of presentation is fun and engaging, and we never feel “put down” or insulted for our lack of knowledge.  Rather, we dive in, learn eagerly and believe what they show us because they make the learning real.  And so it is with inclusion.  When we join in conversation with real-life examples and hands-on experiences, attitudes can change, myths can be eliminated and everyone wins.

This post was reprinted with the permission of the Ruderman Family Foundation blog.

#JDAMblogs - Jewish Special Education Mythbusters, Part 1

The following post originally ran on the blog of the Ruderman Family Foundation, Zeh Lezeh.

 Have you ever seen MythBusters, that science experiment show on the Discovery Channel? It’s the one where the show's hosts, special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, test the validity of commonly held notions and myths from movie scenes, adages, Internet videos, and news stories.  My family loves this show.  There is just something really cool about watching some long-held idea debunked right before your eyes.

Well, I may not be a scientist or a special effects expert, but I am a Jewish Special Educator.  And there are many myths about special education. So here is my version of Jewish Special Education MythBusters.

Myth #1:  Students with special needs and disabilities can’t learn Hebrew.

It is a misconception that all students with learning challenges struggle enough learning to read English and should not even try to learn Hebrew.  While it is true that children who have difficulty with their primary language may encounter similar struggles when learning a second language, some children have a natural propensity toward language acquisition, even if they have a learning disability.  Hebrew, in many situations, is taught traditionally.  Read & repeat exercises that require children to sit still and wait their turn are common.  Employing multi-sensory strategies that cater to a wide variety of learning styles can enable all students to learn Hebrew in ways that meet their individual needs.

Myth #2:  Special Education (or inclusion) holds back the “other” students

A classroom rich with activities to meet students at their current level of functioning maximizes all students’ potential for success.  It is a misnomer that having different expectations for different students within in the same classroom isn't fair.  This is just wrong.  Students should not be compared to one another or to an arbitrary level of expectation.  All students should be working toward progress from their current level of functioning.  When this is done successfully, no student is “held back” or exposed to less challenging content that he or she is capable of encountering.

Myth #3:  Special Education is just a watered down curriculum.
The strength of special education is in individualizing instruction, which is not a watered down curriculum.  Modifying teaching strategies and offering multi-sensory activities does not compromise the content.  Rather, it is a way to ensure that all students can be exposed to and grapple with the same content in a way that is both meaningful and productive.  

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Jewish Special Education MythBusters.

#JDAMblogs - Jewish Disability Advocacy Day

Tomorrow (February 6) is Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) in Washington DC. It is coordinated by The Jewish Disability Network; a network of national Jewish organizations engaging in advocacy on disability issues. Co-chaired by The Jewish Federations of North America and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, this is an exciting opportunity to learn about legislative issues of importance to individuals with disabilities and their families. The advocacy efforts will focus on two key issues:  

  • Asking Members and Senators to sponsor the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which encourages saving private funds for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities 
  • Asking Senators to support ratification of the Disabilities Treaty, which promotes the rights of people with disabilities across the globe based on the standard set by the Americans with Disabilities Act
I anticipate that this will be a little bit like a mini L’Taken Seminar for Social Justice for grown-ups! 

I’m looking forward to meeting quite a few people that I only know online or by their Twitter handles. I intend to tweet throughout the day, so feel free to follow me at @JewishSpecialEd and keep an eye on #JDAM14

Finally, this will be an opportunity to stretch outside my comfort zone since political advocacy is not my typical “wheelhouse”. I think that it is genuinely significant for us to embrace such opportunities as educators and leaders. I have written in the past about leading by example, and recognize the importance of practicing what I preach.

#JDAMblogs - Reforming Professional Development to Meet the Goals of Inclusion

In secular education there is a cry for reform in the methodology of professional development for educators. Teachers are increasingly expected to reach their learners in authentic and meaningful ways through such practices as project-based learning and innovative uses of technology. Despite this, most professional development continues to be offered in a "one and done" fashion, with someone lecturing on a given topic and no follow-up offered.  Tom Murray, in an article called professional-development reform: 8 steps to make it happen illustrates this point by writing, “Every year, school districts around the country waste a tremendous amount of time and money on ineffective professional development. The traditional model of “sit and get,” where a one-size-fits-all approach is utilized, yields abhorrent results…Professional development must undergo radical reform, from a model that’s outdated and ineffective to one that’s differentiated, meaningful and engaging.”  Differentiated, meaningful and engaging; that’s exactly the kind of education we want for our children, right? So why wouldn’t we want the same for those facilitating that education?

The Jewish world can benefit from this lesson, as well; particularly when the conversation shifts to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Jewish professional conferences are increasingly offering workshops and sessions on inclusion, accessibility and meeting the needs of diverse learners, but they continue to be offered as optional sessions. This perpetuates the notion that inclusion is a fringe issue for a select group of people to address. We need a model that includes keynote speakers of varying abilities, speaking of their own experiences. We need to incorporate sessions that address methodology and concrete strategies for everyone, not "just the special education teachers" or only "those who care about this issue the most". We need everyone to advocate for inclusion and we need everyone to feel confident in his/her ability to do so.

This very notion was echoed by Michelle Wolf in an article about a recent conference for Jewish day school educators, “I worry that these breakout sessions were attended by small numbers of already motivated educators. The main issue is that educating and including students in Jewish day schools with special needs is still viewed as a nice “optional” activity, but not a core, essential mandate of our communal schools.Tachlis (concrete strategies) for meeting the needs of diverse Jews has to be woven into the fabric of every presentation, with all speakers and facilitators modeling appropriate ways to reach every learner.

Inclusion must be a core value of all stakeholders and accountability must be high. We have the power to lead by example so that inclusion can become part of the fabric of every school, every congregation and every Jewish community.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...