Kohelet Prize to Reward Innovative Jewish Day School Teachers

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In late September, the Narberth-based foundation will begin accepting entries for the Kohelet Prize — six $36,000 awards to be distributed among Jewish educators or teams of educators for what they’re calling “Excellence in Progressive Jewish Education.”

Unlike professional athletes, entertainers and a good number of doctors and lawyers, there’s some agreement that teachers are among the most underpaid of all professions.
The Kohelet Foundation is attempting to do something about that.
In late September, the Narberth-based foundation will begin accepting entries for the Kohelet Prize — six $36,000 awards to be distributed among Jewish educators or teams of educators for what they’re calling “Excellence in Progressive Jewish Education.”
“We know there are incredible, creative and highly effective teachers doing this work in the field right now,” said Holly Cohen, the foundation’s executive director. “We want to inspire them to share what they know about developing the minds and hearts of their students.”
There are six award categories that will be judged by a panel of experts in the fields of education, psychology and neuroscience. Categories include interdisciplinary integration, real-world learning, learning environment, differentiated instruction, development of critical and/or creative thinking, and risk-taking and failure.
While the first five categories are central to getting a quality education, the final category is a bit outside the box.
“We’re shifting the paradigm from ‘failure is bad’ to responsible risk-taking and failure breeding success,” Cohen said. “That’s a game-changer for the field of Jewish education.”
The theory behind the Kohelet Prize is that it will not only foster independent thinking, but since all entries — including videos and PowerPoint presentations — will be shared with Jewish day schools across the country, it will provide equal access to the same kind of progressive thinking and education.
“There are two objectives behind the concept,” explained Rabbi Dr. Gil Perl, the foundation’s chief academic officer. “First, to encourage Jewish educators to be introducing new ways to approaching Jewish teaching. New classroom techniques. New ways of thinking about education, given the fact the world has changed dramatically and the world our kids are headed for is very different from the world we came from.
“Second, it’s a way of showing the field it’s really important in getting a teacher’s attention and helping others try different things. The question we’ve been grappling with is how do we incentivize teachers across the country to take that leap?”
The Kohelet Foundation will begin accepting entries — to be uploaded directly on koheletprize.org — on Sept. 29, continuing through Nov. 29.
That will enable teachers and students from the estimated 400 to 500 Jewish day schools across the country to have the same educational tools.
“We’re convinced there are teachers doing great things right now,” Perl said, “but if they’re doing it in a small classroom in Cleveland, we don’t know about it here in Philly. Or if they’re doing it in Boca Raton, they don’t know about it in Chicago.
“By creating this prize, we want to encourage teachers to be sending us videos, PowerPoints and assignments they’ve completed that we can then share with everybody else. Whether you win the prize or not, the field becomes much improved.”
Winners of the Kohelet Prize will be announced in early 2017.
Contact: jmarks@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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