Backward Design: How We Teach with Tomorrow in Mind

Stephanie Rotsky
We think first about what we want students to know at the end of the lesson and then think backward about the steps we need to take to get there.
As teachers, when we plan lessons and units of study, we think about the concept of “backward design.” We think first about what we want students to know at the end of the lesson and then think backward about the steps we need to take to get there.

I have always thought that it would be very powerful to invite all of the kindergarten parents to the 8th-grade graduation to give them a glimpse into how Rashi students over their years here come into their own and develop their personal passions and greatness.

They would get a sense of what Rashi 8th graders look like – their confidence, their abilities, their compassion for others, their strong Jewish identities, and their desire to make the world a better place.

What do we do in the years from Kindergarten to 8th grade to enable students to arrive at that place? We might even take a step further – to Rashi graduates in their 20s – what do they look like? Recently I received an email from Rashi alumni parents who wanted to let me know what their two grown children were up to. They wrote:

Dear Stephanie,

We've been thinking about you a lot lately because Ari and Liza's lives have both taken turns this year that are directly related to the social justice curriculum that influenced them at Rashi. Of course, we had a little to do with it, too, but we are incredibly grateful that they had such a unique education where tikkun olam is infused in so much of what they learned in their Rashi kehillah (community). The social justice work with the teachers, students, and parents at Rashi is having very real effects now in the world.

Today Ari flies to Houston to volunteer, mucking out houses of flood victims after the hurricane.

In October, he starts a job at Cambridge Health Alliance working with children in an inpatient psychiatric unit. And Liza is well settled as a volunteer on the island of Lesbos in Greece, working in a children's program with refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, and other war-torn countries. We are incredibly proud of our kids and so very grateful for the partnership the Rashi community offered. Rashi played a critical role in the development of our children's social conscience, helping to make them forces for good. The social justice commitment is deep in their bones.

With love and gratitude,
Jody and Kim Comart

This is just one example of inspirational Rashi alumni - we have alumni who excel in science and medicine, engineering and physics, music and art.

How do we intentionally create curriculum at Rashi that will launch students to be motivated to help refugees and victims of disasters, or want to find a cure for cancer, or create drugs to help children in Africa, or start their own technology firm?

We start by asking essential questions that get to the heart of who we are, and the power we have to make a difference in the world.

Over the course of this year, your children will ponder with me in the social justice curriculum such essential questions as:
  • How can my words and action have the power to change the world?
  • What happens when you stand up and speak for another person?
  • How can prayer help us to appreciate our lives?
  • What does it mean to bring peace to others and myself?
  • What makes a team successful?
  • How can my class take care of others in my community?
  • What does Kavod look like at school? At home? In the world?
  • What does it mean to be hungry?
  • Do you have to be a certain age to be big and do big things?

As we ask these questions and explore the answers together, your children will grapple with big ideas and discover their own passions and abilities to affect change in the ways that matter most to them. We ask you to join us on this journey - asking big questions and continuing the conversations at home, and at Rashi during moments we create for you to learn with your children.

About the Author

Stephanie Rotsky is The Rashi School's Social Justice Coordinator. She was the first full-time Social Justice Coordinator in the nation. At Rashi since 1989, Stephanie's influence has reached nearly every student who has entered our doors.