Connecting K-8 classrooms with tools for social justice education

Leo Baeck helps build program for educational excellence far beyond its school 


By Daniel Abramson, Tikkun Project Curriculum Development Director, Leo Baeck Day School 

A new educational initiative rooted in Jewish values is changing the way students tackle local and global issues and is boosting confidence in their ability to bring about meaningful change. 

The Tikkun Project puts social action at the heart of the Kindergarten to grade 8 curriculum and turns UN Sustainable Development Goals into educational targets for public, independent, and faith-based schools. 

The word Tikkun, which means to fix or repair, is most often seen in the context of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. The Tikkun Project's name, however, intentionally opens a space for students and teachers to explore two other important types of repair that are vital to forming identity and healthy and enduring communities, Tikkun Nefesh and Tikkun Ha'am.  

Tikkun Nefesh is the concept of looking inward to inspire and encourage oneself to make personal improvements. Tikkun Ha'Am means repair of the people and connotes the concurrent need to examine one's community as an equally important driver in bringing about lasting and meaningful change based on shared values.

For teachers, the Tikkun Project provides an educational framework and methodology that can be applied across the Ontario curriculum to integrate concepts such as community wellbeing, accessibility, environmental stewardship, homelessness, immigration, and diversity. For students, the Project fosters a sense of agency and the ability to tackle these real-world problems through social action. 

Over the past four years, the Tikkun Project has been piloted in K-8 classes at The Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto. Units were collaboratively designed in consultation with a broad group of expert educators and with ongoing guidance of committed community partners.

To date, partners of the Project have included JIAS Toronto, Ve'Ahavta, Toronto Zoo, Romero House, Toronto & Region Conservation Authority, Na Me Res (Native Men’s Residence), Rick Hansen Foundation, Sistering, Millennium Kids, and other experienced educators, including Dr. Jill Andrew MPP and Kim Wheatley, an Anishinaabe Cultural Consultant.

What makes Tikkun Project methodology unique in the field of education is its ability to bring together critical thinking, Jewish values, and hands-on actions. It encourages students and teachers to consider both 'emic' and 'etic' perspectives in learning by asking students to look at problems from multiple viewpoints. Students are encouraged to reflect on their experiences and beliefs and how these differ from others'. This strategy helps students seek out and identify alternative perspectives and unique insights that they might not otherwise consider.  

Another unique element of the Tikkun Project are the tools for teachers to support students through the investigation of Jewish texts. These tools connect Jewish ethics and values with a framework for engaging in social action. At The Leo Baeck Day School, students used Jewish texts to inform their strategies to solve real-life questions in ways that are reflective of the tenets of Reform Judaism. 

In addition to teaching impactful social action skills, the Tikkun Project makes Jewish education more relevant by connecting day-to-day actions to students' identities as Jewish people. 

For example, Senior Kindergarten students developed an understanding of the text Ve'ahavta Le'Rayacha Kamocha (treating your neighbour as you would yourself), applying lessons about healthy food and creating a plan to ensure all people in our community have fair access to healthy food. Students refined their plan using data management to survey favourite foods and used the new Canada Food Guide to evaluate healthy food options. They consulted with experts from a local women's shelter to learn about the kinds of foods the clients liked best and then worked together to prepare jars of homemade soup that they donated to the shelter's clients.

In Grade 2, Leo Baeck students investigated ways that their actions could positively impact the environment. One class worked with experts at the Toronto Zoo to restore extirpated salmon to the local watershed. Another class worked with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to participate in wetland habitat restoration. Students also had a chance to learn about Indigenous beliefs about stewardship from Kim Wheatley, a local Anishinaabe Cultural Educator.

The next milestone for the Tikkun Project is to expand to other schools and communities. A group of educators are contributing sources from a range of religions and cultures to add diverse perspectives to Tikkun Project Resource Bank with the vision that all schools will be able to adapt the Tikkun Project to reflect the cultural, social, economic, and political contexts of their student population.

The Tikkun Project has been made possible through the generous support of the Arthur N. Bielfeld Fund for Social Justice Education and other donors who make this Project accessible to any Ontario school free of charge. Their continued dedication to transformative education is the inspiration behind this important work.