Jewish educators need to embrace distance learning. That starts with mourning what’s lost.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we must all learn how to manage transition. With COVID-19 precautions in place in schools across the nation, we are all experiencing unprecedented change. For many families, this is a difficult time; parents, teachers, and students alike are struggling to adapt to the new reality. But these immense challenges can also be opportunities for growth, if we approach them the right way and embrace the psychological transition they can offer us.
Our tradition is a great starting point for understanding how to make the most of change. In Rambam’s Laws of Repentance, our great sage explains that Teshuva requires a crucial final step: resolving in his heart to abandon sin. In other words, for Teshuva to be complete, it must result in the transformation of a person’s identity. It must be as if the person says, “I am a different person and not the same one who sinned.” That’s because true Teshuva involves holistic change.
How can we accomplish such an enormous shift in our identities? In his book “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change,” William Bridges suggests a critical three-step process: Letting go of the old ways and grieving the past; embracing a new neutral zone; and launching a new beginning. To make any kind of change work, we need to learn how to manage transitions. Letting go of our old reality can be painful and even traumatic. But by allowing ourselves to grieve, we can leave our past in the past and move forward.
While this is true on the individual level, it is certainly applicable to the educational and Jewish world as well. Of course, some students love the new normal, and are reporting that virtual learning is the best thing that happened to them. But more generally, distance learning simply cannot replace the in-person experience.
Despite this fact, we Jewish educators need to stop trying to replicate the past and embrace the future. Using Bridges’ model, we need to embrace the three steps towards holistic change if we are going to truly make the most of this moment and the opportunities it presents.
How? With the following steps.
Acknowledge that virtual learning is here to stay. Change starts with acknowledging the truth. Even when in-person learning is once again safe, it will not be the same. We have to accept this reality and adapt. This includes grieving for the loss of what our classrooms looked like before the pandemic.
Look for the benefits of virtual learning that we want to retain after the pandemic. This is ultimately a learning opportunity. When we enter the next normal, let’s bring what worked in our virtual classrooms into our physical classrooms. Videos, podcasts, and other digital media should continue to be part of our toolbox.
Build bridges and enhance collaboration across the Jewish world. We can no longer afford for the different components of the Jewish ecosystem to work in silos. Jewish camps, schools, synagogues, digital media companies, youth groups, Israel trips and other organizations need to work together on joint initiatives to reach a broader audience and increase their impact.
Make nimbleness a priority skill set. The Jewish and educational world, like every area, is moving and changing quickly. To navigate this phase effectively, we must be able to create plans and strategies and then quickly pivot and adapt to new circumstances.
Letting go of your old identity does not mean forgetting memories that you cherish. When I was a high school principal, I used to ask my students, “What is the ultimate sign of maturity?” They would respond in unison, “Transition!”
I wanted to make sure they understood that transition is how we meet challenges, evolve and grow. If we allow ourselves to grieve for our losses, embrace the neutral zone, and reimagine our work together, we will be well positioned to create a bright future for ourselves individually and Jewish education collectively.
Noam Weissman is the Senior Vice President of OpenDor media.