Photo of Rachel Lerner
Dr. Rachel Lerner

Rachel Lerner is the Dean of the Graduate Center for Jewish Education.  She holds an EdD from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and double B.A. degrees from Barnard College and Jewish Theological Seminary of America

“I believe that the purpose of education is to empower and inspire our students with information that they can use to make a difference in the world.” 

“I hope [my students] are better people for being in my class.” 

“The purpose of education is to help children better understand the world and how they fit within it.” 

These are three quotations from students’ personal pedagogic mission statements, crafted as part of their capstone course for the Masters of Arts in Teaching program. At the Graduate Center for Jewish Education at AJU, we believe strongly in developing our reflective tools to allow us to grow as educators. Students spend multiple semesters in courses called Reflective Practice, they write their own visions for Jewish education, and they declare their personal pedagogic missions.  

In the busy lives of educators, it is all too easy to lose focus on why we do what we do. What are our core beliefs about learning, the roles of teachers and students, curriculum, and more. By creating a document that can be revisited and revised over time, our students anchor themselves in the profession of Jewish education. Students crafted their missions over the course of a few classes, using writing prompts and peer review to delve deeper into their ideas.  

Completing the assignment during COVID was refreshingly inspiring as during the day teachers are burdened by the reality of wearing masks at all times and limiting their teaching due to space and other restrictions. Educators are exhausted right now, and they are working their hearts out. Taking the time to reflect allowed them to remember their commitments to sentiments such as: 

“The aims of an educator are to assist our students in realizing their unique abilities, understanding the cultural infrastructure around them, developing social skills, and cultivating their capacity for autonomous choice which I believe are all integral for a life of meaning, integrity, and fulfillment.” 

Collectively, they believe in children and in their ability to own their learning: “I believe that the most powerful forms of learning take place when students are given the opportunity to play, workshop, and explore material in a non-threatening way.” “Teaching students how to ask questions about what they are learning and why they are learning it is an important part of education.” 

Our students are educators who see themselves as guides: “During this journey, I engage my students in the learning process where I simply facilitate the learning process...They are part of my team and we are all in it together.” “Students need to explore the subject, not just be given ideas from their teachers.” 

Connecting with the life of children is central to the act of teaching: “I have learned that when I succeed in producing meaning out of my connection to my students’ world, I am rewarded with seeing in their very eyes the desire to learn.”