By Elana Shapiro

The halls of the Lower Division at Denver JDS are eerily quiet during the summer months. Yet, even as our students busy themselves with summer activities, our teachers continue to work in their classrooms, setting up learning spaces, planning next year’s curricular units, and getting a head start as they prepare to welcome students back to school in August.

Summer is not just an opportunity for our faculty to prep and plan; it is also a wonderful time for professional growth and learning. Many of our teachers use these slower summer months to further their education, hone their teaching practice, and collaborate with other educators. This summer, a number of Lower Division teachers have taken part in literacy instruction training seminars, conferences on students with special needs, professional development opportunities about connecting to and teaching Israel, and conferences on 21st century skills and technology.

A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege of attending the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE16) conference here in Denver. Four of us from Denver JDS joined this incredible gathering of innovative and forward thinking educators, which attracted 16,000 participants and boasted more than 1,000 sessions. It was truly mind-boggling to be part of such an incredible event.

I always find conferences exciting and great professional learning opportunities. ISTE, though, was something more. As our school continues on its exciting journey of re-thinking traditional educational practice and more prominently integrating 21st century skills, project-based learning, and student inquiry into the way we educate our students, it was amazing to connect with educators from the United States and around the world who are in that same “construction zone” that we find ourselves in.

Schools across the globe are working towards re-imagining the educational landscape in which  our children are growing up. The “traditional” education model, which served its purpose in preparing students for the industrial era through the 1950s, is no longer as relevant today; being with so many like-minded educators who recognize our need to re-vamp was inspiring for me both professionally and personally. I learned so much by attending sessions given by authors of books I have read and admired or of educational bloggers whom I follow throughout the year. It was great to sit down and share a cup of coffee and some new ideas with a fellow educational leader from an independent school across the country. It was incredible to network with other Jewish Day School educators from America and abroad. All of these connections are critical to our own school’s success.

There is nothing like a multi-day conference to build my empathy for our students and how fatiguing it can be to process and take in so much information all day long. But there is little that can compare to the excitement I feel when I have the opportunity to take part in this type of professional development. It inspires me to hone our teaching practice and to work towards creating a school that inspires our students to innovate, create, have agency over their learning, and be prepared for the world they will face.

In this age of globalization, it is so important for us as educators to remember that there are many ways to connect with networks far and wide, to expand our thinking, grow our ideas, and affect real change in education. There is so much out there to learn from and be inspired by, and it is important that we also share what we are doing and inspire others. Building relationships with other innovative educators is like a school think-tank of sorts, where the power of many thoughts, ideas, and different practice grows exponentially because of the different perspectives brought to the table. This is what fuels me as an educator and as a person.

Elana Shapiro is currently Principal of the Lower Division at Denver Jewish Day School.  She holds a degree in Psychology from the University of Colorado and served on the faculty of the Program for Early Developmental Studies at the University of Health Sciences Center before coming to Denver JDS. Elana is passionate about Jewish day school education, and is the proud parent of two Denver JDS graduates.

[This article is reprinted from The Shofar A Denver Jewish Day School Blog]