Approximately 140 teachers, principals and school administrators from around the English-speaking world gathered July 26 and 27 at the Radisson Hotel in Piscataway, N.J., for the annual conference of Chabad-Lubavitch women educators. Organized by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s Office of Education, the summer getaway examined new classroom techniques and allowed attendees to learn from their peers’ experiences.

All told, educators from 25 states and countries, including Australia, took part in workshops, lectures and sessions on the conference’s dual themes of communication and technology. Speakers covered every stage of formal education from early childhood through senior high school.

Shelley Green, dean of Human Development and Family Services at the Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, gave two presentations on improving communication in educators and young children.

“I think these are very passionate teachers who spend a lot of time thinking and planning so that their kids get the best educations,” said Green, whose relationship with Office of Education began 10 years ago when a group of Chabad-Lubavitch students received their Master’s degrees from her university. “The atmosphere was very warm, intellectual and philosophical.”

Rabbi Nochem Kaplan, director of the Office of Education, stressed the importance of focusing on communication as an educational issue.

“It’s about learning to speak effectively, and it’s a process that transcends any individual subject area,” he explained. “When used properly, it’s effective in building character and helping the child to become thoughtful, to think properly.”

Three specialists in classroom technology led sessions at the conference and urged attendees to take advantage of technological advancement.

Pinpointing an educational agenda focused on new technologies, Kaplan expressed the hope that “there’s no child in the classroom that doesn’t get a lesson that’s geared towards his or her particular needs.”

Rabbi Nochem Kaplan addresses an educators’ conference.
Rabbi Nochem Kaplan addresses an educators’ conference.

Faigy Ravitz gave an interactive presentation about SMART Boards, interactive whiteboards that provide a central space from which instructors can access electronic material and present the information with impromptu comments. Ravitz, a SMART Certified Master Trainer, noted that the technology is quickly becoming more popular in Jewish schools and can be utilized across a range of religious and secular subjects.

“Because students today live in a world full of technology, if you have an opportunity to teach them Torah that way, it’s extremely motivating,” said Ravitz.

She added that she’s found the boards to be highly effective in helping students with different learning style or special needs pick up the material.

Still, SMART Boards remain expensive at approximately $5,000 a unit without training.

Rivkah Adelist, a high school teacher who uses a different electronic blackboard in Melbourne, Australia, said that she appreciated the conference’s focus on technology.

“The way [Ravitz] presented it was so hands-on and so catered to what I teach,” explained Adelist. “She got teachers to come up and demonstrate. She presented it in a very clear way.”

Teachers review some of the latest technology in education.
Teachers review some of the latest technology in education.

New Projects

Others issues covered at the conference included an announcement that the Chabad-Lubavitch network of schools has launched a consortium in order to cooperatively benefit from federal programs, a step hailed as an important move in a stagnating economy.

“We have professionals working with all our schools to see that federal funding available to private schools accrues them their fair share,” said Kaplan.

In addition to the announcement, organizers unveiled a new Chabad Holocaust Education project, which was developed in collaboration with the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel and in partnership with Chabad-Lubavitch schools in Israel and Europe.

“The bottom line is to create a Holocaust curriculum particularly related to the way Chabad looks at tragedy,” said Kaplan. “We want to create a curriculum that says to students that there’s something we need to be able to arrive at, some way to derive positive energy instead of simply dwelling on the past.

Rivkah Denburg, director of the Early Childhood Center at Chabad of Boca Raton, Fla., walked away from the conference inspired and armed with new information.

“The conference really makes me reflect on who I am and the importance of what I’m doing as a educator,” she said. “The goal is bringing Judaism to children and their families and our communities, making it part of their lives. Each family is an essential part of our community. I can’t wait to get back and implement the things I’ve learned in the last two days.”