Thursday, November 10, 2011

Focus on Teaching and Learning: iNACOL Pre-Conference Reflections

While I intuitively felt this for some time, the pre-conference sessions at the iNACOL conference confirmed for me that great teachers share core competencies and dispositions across all domains of learning including online, informal/experiential, and brick and mortar settings. From the sessions led by the National Online Teacher of the Year winner Kristin Kipp (see her blog here and a video about her here to the NOTY runners up and other online teachers and leaders, it has been wonderful to be inspired by great teachers. While there is much to do to improve the systems of online learning, from better online teacher training and professional development to more flexible curricula, it is gratifying to see so many people believe in the power of teachers and the impact they can have on student learning. Indeed, we in the Jewish educational world should heed the lesson from many here at this conference not to focus our energies only on content creation to give to teachers but rather to invest in teachers as designers of learning opportunities. A few additional noteworthy takeaways about the role of teaching and learning:

  • The new iNACOL standards for online teachers ( include the full breadth and depth of the role of the online teacher, investing in the teacher to lead, facilitate, and partner with individual students and groups of students to advance learning. I think it is important that these standards be used by online teachers to self-rate and also by those who support online teachers to provide feedback so that individual professional growth plans can be developed with set goals and a support system in place to monitor and help improve teaching and learning. Developing national benchmarks for each standard and their subcomponents could be helpful towards this end.

  • Andrew Vanden Heuval (as he said “rhymes with snow removal”) a NOTY runner up, suggested that the key to learning is exposing our students to the universe – it is the classroom. Thus, whether brick and mortar or online, classrooms are merely platforms for convenient convening of individuals and groups. The key is getting the students out into the world in which they live and leveraging it for learning.

No doubt, we will need to keep in mind the push for online education as a solution to the challenges of day school affordability. However, we must do so with a commitment to the quality of learning, placing instructional design, teaching, and instructional leadership in all settings at the forefront of our Jewish education agenda.

This post is cross-posted at

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