Avot 4:1-“Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from all people, as it is said:‘From all those who taught me I gained understanding.’” (Psalms 119)
Squeezing around a table designed for sixth graders at a Los Angeles Jewish day school, my classmates and I pored over this text at lunch on the first day of Kallah Bet, our second educational retreat as DeLet fellows. Our teacher challenged us to delve into this text in chavruta, pair learning, and to then share our responses with the larger group. Quickly, we engaged in discussing our teacher’s questions: What can we learn from other people that we cannot learn from text? What qualities must this “wise person” possess in order to learn from all people? It was our capacity for openness, the mindset that would allow us to “learn from all people”, that we, the 12 members of DeLet Cohort 11, were called upon to stretch as we began Kallah Bet.
Our impulse to sit elbow to elbow as we learned Torah came from a strong desire to be together, as my classmates and I had been newly reunited in Los Angeles that morning. While we all study at the HUC-JIR campus in Los Angeles during the summers, every Thursday during the school year we engage in distance learning. Eight of us study in Los Angeles and the other four participate through video conference from San Francisco. So, while we learn from “every one” all year, during our two Kallot, we have the opportunity to learn in each others presence for two intensive days.
The afternoon following the Torah study, during which we would share a video clip of our teaching with our classmates and instructors, presented a significant challenge for me. I would not only expose the teaching that I do in my classroom to the people in the room, but I would face it myself. Could I watch my own video and face a reflection of my teaching that may or may not align with my own perceptions? Even more to the point could I be “wise”? Could I open myself enough to learn from everyone who was watching and the feedback that they would provide?
Over the course of the day, my apprehension about sharing the videos evolved into celebration. To support us as we screened the videos, our teacher structured a feedback protocol that insured that each of us would receive written comments from every person in the room, as well as selected feedback out loud. I watched my classmates respond to students’ questions, encourage critical thinking and infuse lessons with vibrancy. When it was my turn, I felt supported in sharing my foibles and successes and able to learn from my classmates’ feedback. When we concluded, I felt amazed by our transformation as a class. Triumphantly, we traveled to our education director’s home for dinner. What better way to mark this rite of passage in our training as teachers than a festive kosher meal?
The next day presented us with new opportunities to “learn from every person”. Early in the morning, we divided into a city and valley group, and embarked on a day long journey that would take each group to visit three Jewish day schools. Applying what we have learned about day school culture this year, we studied the display boards, questioned administrators about ongoing challenges, and marveled at the evidence of innovative teaching we saw when we peeked into classrooms. Within a few hours, I had hosted my classmates at my own placement, and visited my classmates’ schools, trying in both instances to uncover what each community uniquely offered.
When we reconvened in the afternoon, our education director asked us to reflect on, “what doors had been opened to us on this day?” I realized that through this Kallah, DeLet had encouraged us to learn from as many people, schools, communities, and models of providing Jewish education as it could. In so doing, it had launched us into our next great adventure in learning; finding a teaching position in a place that resonated for us as individuals, and that felt like a future home. That night I reread the slips of written feedback that I had collected from all eleven classmates, and three DeLet educators. They were like party favors, evidence of the learning that I had sought during the Kallah. After I read them, my thoughts turned back to my classmates, each of us returning to our students the next day, equipped with new ideas. Halfway through the DeLet program, my classmates and I were striving to be “wise”, and we had become teachers.