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Focus on Sean Herstein (Cohort 1)

In high school I was inspired by my band director to go into education.  Four years later, my plan to become a music educator had turned into something else.  Still interested in teaching, I switched majors to Jewish Studies and decided that I needed to do some learning in Israel if I was going to have enough background knowledge.  I was fortunate to meet some Pardes alumni at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and, after some meaningful conversations, I determined that a year of learning would help me to fill in my knowledge gaps.  One year of learning at Pardes quickly turned into three with the announcement of the Pardes Educators Program. 

I continue to feel honored to have been part of the first cohort.  We were a diverse group,  who were given the challenge and opportunity to initiate this innovative idea.  Not only did the program give us the professional knowledge necessary to kick-start our careers,  it also exposed us to a vision of what a respectful,  inclusive,  pluralistic Jewish community can be. In many ways I draw upon my Pardes experience to create a vision of what I want my teaching to be.

Here is the “personal” update.  We have lived in the Twin Cities since graduation.  Olivia (whom some of you know from her year at Pardes) and I got married seven years ago and have since welcomed Miriam (4) and Nava (1) to our family. 

Professionally, I have held a number of positions since finishing the program in 2002.  In addition to classroom teaching in the two community day schools in the Twin Cities, I have taught supplementary school, adult education and inter-generational groups. I also served as The Jewish Education Director of the St. Paul JCC.

Most recently, I have had the opportunity to apply elements of two different programs that I attended within my teaching. Our school has been participating in the Standards and Benchmarks project of the Melton Center for Jewish Education at JTS.  This has gotten us to work collaboratively to decide what is important to teach and how to assess what the students have actually learned.  Last summer I attended a workshop about Professional Learning Communities.  This approach is centered on 4 key questions.  This is my version of these questions:

1) What do we want the students to learn?

2) How can we tell if they learned it?

3) What can we do for the students who need more support?

4) What can we do for the ones who need more enrichment?

We are currently creating new curricula for grades 3-7, which is a lot of work, but these two complementary approaches to education really inspire me to create great units of study.

Lastly, I have started blogging by writing a monthly column for TCJewfolk.com, Minneapolis and St. Paul’s hub for all things hip and Jewish. I will conclude with a paragraph that I included in my introductory piece for the blog.  This is how I see my job as an educator in the community.

As a Jewish educator, I feel that much of my job is to present multiple options for finding meaning in our rich tradition. If the traditional   understandings and teachings lack meaning, perhaps one of the multiple alternative interpretations will be a better fit. Similarly, if the new-age,      trendy approaches seem inauthentic or inappropriate, maybe taking a fresh look at a classic text will awaken passion or, at least, appreciation      for our classic values and beliefs.