Dr. Miriam Heller Stern
"Beautiful" is often a fairly generic descriptor, but in education, "beautiful work" has become a powerful goal for student achievement. In his short but inspiring book, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students, Ron Berger describes a school where elementary school students work diligently to create "beautiful work" for their town. They engage in real projects such as architectural design, scientific evaluation, documenting history, and devising solutions to social problems. They give each other constructive feedback and encouragement to enhance their work. They draft and draft, and aren't satisfied until they can feel truly proud of their contribution. The goal is not a grade, but a sense of accomplishment for having created something beautiful that makes a real difference in people's lives.
We have adopted a similar ethos at the Graduate Center for Education, where the thought and design process is as important as the product. We discourage our students from looking for easy answers and quick fixes. Being a good educator entails knowing what questions to ask, assessing situations individually and efficiently, and making decisions that are both philosophically sound and pragmatic. Whether they are drafting lesson plans, curriculum units, or their visions for Jewish education, our students are also drafting their identities as educators along the way. They are engaged in authentic questions about what the Jewish world needs, what Jewish learners need, and how they can meet those needs as educators.
The lessons of Ed School click for our students when they engage in authentic work that connects theory and practice. They do this in their fieldwork and in their coursework. I would like to encourage alumni and friends of AJU who are shepherding new educational initiatives to bring their drafts to our "Education Laboratory" where our students and faculty can learn from your experience, participate in the drafting and design, and collaborate with you to contribute beautiful work to the community.
We are all works in progress, and an educator's work is never done. Coasting is easier, but after a while, it gets boring. Stretching is invigorating, even when it hurts a little bit. When we stretch ourselves together, the work is all the more fulfilling for us, as teachers and as lifelong learners.