18 Sep Daf Kesher

The ELT: Faculty Collaboration at Schechter Manhattan

The Schechter Manhattan teaching faculty is a team.  From the very start, Dr. Lorch led the teachers at Schechter Manhattan to work together to plan and implement high quality instruction. This effort was animated by his belief that people learn and achieve more when they collaborate with others. This is most prominently seen in the co-teaching structure of our elementary school teaching assignments, with two teachers collaborating on all aspects of instruction. Collaboration is also ingrained in the faculty culture in less conspicuous but equally deep ways, such as grade level and department team meetings in the Middle School and our yearly cycle of Professional Development (PD) Working Groups for teachers throughout the school.

All of this work together makes for an exceptionally supportive and collegial faculty culture, in which teachers have many formal opportunities to work together and also turn to each other to collaborate informally. When new teachers join our faculty they notice the positive, collegial, faculty culture right away. After just a few days on the faculty, one teacher new to Schechter Manhattan this year sent a note of thanks to the school administration, writing, “I feel so lucky to be working in such a positive atmosphere that promotes teamwork and relationships.”

This year we have raised the bar on faculty collaboration with a new leadership structure. The Educational Leadership Team (ELT) is working together to lead the educational program at Schechter Manhattan. Led by Gary Pretsfelder, our Principal, the ELT is a group of talented and veteran Schechter Manhattan educators. Shira Jacobson, K-5 Curriculum Coordinator and K-8 Programming Coordinator, brings to the team her experience as a teacher, literacy coach, new teacher mentor, and coordinator of school wide programs. Deanna Stecker, Coordinator of Learning Support, has classroom experience in a variety of settings and is our resident expert in literacy development and special education.  Ruth Servi, Middle School Coordinator, is the senior member of the Middle School faculty and has led teachers as the NETA Hebrew Program coordinator and a mentor for new and pre-service teachers.  Sarah Kay, STEAM Coordinator and Middle School Student Life Coordinator, has taught a variety of elementary and middle school grades at Schechter Manhattan and is expanding the science coaching she provided teachers in the past to lead our STEAM initiative.  And Gary is a seasoned educational leader, whose many years as a Division Head and experience mentoring emerging school leaders position him well to head up the ELT.  Each of the ELT members is also deeply committed to the mission, vision, and philosophy of Schechter Manhattan, making them an especially good group to lead our faculty and students.

The ELT started their work in the spring and have quickly formed an effective leadership team. They worked over the summer months to prepare for the school year and have helped teachers and students get the school year off and running.

There are several advantages to this new leadership structure.  The ELT represents an expansion of leadership within the Schechter Manhattan faculty. Rather than a system reliant on the leadership of one individual, we have a team of educators working together to support teachers, help solve student problems, communicate with parents, refine and develop curriculum, set and implement policies, build community, and all of the other important work that goes into leading a school on the never-ending journey of school improvement.

But even more than the help the ELT are offering Gary and each other, I believe that this expanded leadership structure will pay dividends in better support for teachers and students. Shared leadership means more individuals who are looking after the overall success of the school, which in turns means more opportunities to identify areas of need or students having difficulty and to then plan steps to help.

In addition, the expanded leadership team brings more smart folks around the leadership decision making table. Already, the ELT meetings have been marked by a healthy give and take of varied ideas and perspectives, which enriches our ability to explore issues broadly and deeply and to thereby make better leadership choices.

The ELT also represents our commitment at Schechter Manhattan to afford talented educators the opportunity to expand and share their skills.  It can be a challenge to find such opportunities in schools, where teachers spend so much time and energy focused on their classroom instruction, and we have worked to create spaces for teachers to follow their passions in ways that expand their roles and allow them to collaborate with more of their colleagues. In addition to the members of the ELT a number of other faculty members have important leadership roles. Kitah Bet teacher,Aliza Weinstock, began work leading the faculty in consideration of our approach to teaching Torah through her participation last year in the Legacy Heritage Teacher Institute and is continuing this year as a Torah Coach.  Kitah Gimmel teacher, Amy Martin, coordinates community service programs and the annual Tzedakah Roundtable, and while Amy is out on maternity leave, her co-teacher, Stefanie Shoag, is filling in by reaching out to colleagues to help them facilitate the grade specific service projects.  Middle School math teacher, Larry McMillan, coaches teachers in the planning and implementing of student centered math instruction.  Middle School Jewish Studies teacher, Avital Lazar Paley, coordinates the Middle School tfilah program, collaborating with colleagues to plan and implement age appropriate tfilah learning activities. Art teacher, Ellen Alt, also coordinates art activities throughout the school, working with teachers to help them incorporate art in their teaching and organize yearly trips to art museums throughout the city. Middle School math teacher, Allison Levine, is also our Educational Technology Coordinator, working with teachers throughout the school to help them integrate technology tools in their teaching. And some of our teachers expand their leadership skills and the scope of our collaboration by mentoring pre-service teachers who are studying the theory and practice of teaching in universities. Kitah Alef teacher, Elisa Marcus, is working with a student teacher from the Davidson School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Fifth Grade teacher, Shoshana Fain, is mentoring a student from Stern College at Yeshiva University. They invite these students teachers into their classrooms and another collaborative working relationship.

So, in a way, the new ELT is not so new at Schechter Manhattan. Teachers growing in leadership capacity and teams of educators working together have long been important cultural markers of our faculty. I am so pleased to have these ideals realized in such an impactful new way on the Educational Leadership Team. It is great to collaborate with such talented, committed, and hard working colleagues.

G’mar Chatima Tova,