DRS is excited to welcome Dr. Hillel Broder as its new principal of general studies. DRS interviewed Dr. Broder to find out more about him and some of his visions for his new position:
Natan Farber: Dr. Broder, let’s begin by getting to know you. Where did you grow up? What schools did you attend? Do you have any special interests or hobbies? What would you like the school community to know about you?
Hillel Broder: While I’ve called New York my home since 2002, I am most definitely not a New Yorker. I grew up in Silver Spring, MD, and attended both the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington and the Yeshiva High School of Greater Washington. My hobbies all have to do with using language creatively: I am an avid reader of nearly anything, and I love writing in a variety of forms—from the academic to the poetic.
NF: What is your educational and professional background? What roles, responsibilities, or past experiences led you to obtain this position at DRS?
HB: I graduated Yeshiva University as an English major and discovered my calling as a teacher leader and as a teacher researcher ten years ago. While teaching for five years at MTA and then five years at SAR, I first completed an M.A. in English, and then I continued on to complete a Ph.D. in English, both in the CUNY system. I found that my practice as a teacher was strengthened and challenged by my alternating practice as a student: each reinforced the other.
NF: What drew you to DRS specifically? What was it about DRS that interested you to apply for this position?
HB: I have to say that my friends from the first graduating classes of DRS were some of the most passionate, well-adjusted, thoughtful, reflective, and smart people that I knew. I heard stories about the culture of DRS from its very inception—and so when I saw a leadership opportunity open at DRS, I knew that this was an opportunity to be a part of something great.
NF: What are your thoughts on the importance of having a general-studies curriculum within a yeshiva setting?
HB: I subscribe to Rav Kook’s teaching that the only difference between kodesh and chol is that chol is not yet kodesh. I know that to live an integrated Modern Orthodox life, our students must see the potential for sanctifying the world. I also know that to live a unified life, our students must see that all branches of knowledge and wisdom can be integrated, correlated, and brought into productive tension.
NF: What do you hope to accomplish during your first year as general-studies principal?
HB: I’ve been telling everyone that I’m on a listening tour. I believe strongly that you can lead by listening, and so in my first year, I hope to listen closely to the educational needs of our students, the professional needs of our faculty, and the greater needs of our community. I also hope to respond to those needs, to address those needs, in whatever ways I can. But I want to start from a place of listening. In the near future, I’m looking forward to growing our new teacher supervision program; to growing our social-emotional curriculum; and to articulating and implementing a 21st-century vision for education founded on collaboration, communication, and critical and creative thinking. Looking forward—and this is really the long view—I’m excited about rethinking the place, form, and role of formative and summative assessment, and I’d like to expand and streamline our elective offerings.
NF: Aside from your principal duties, will you be teaching any classes at DRS?
HB: Yes—AP English Language. I insisted; there was no way that I could leave the joy and life-giving energy of the classroom.
NF: When stopping by a classroom for an informal observation, how would you determine if students were learning and properly engaged?
HB: Every student learns differently, and every teacher’s lesson channels different strengths in our students—so I’d look for a full range of dispositions that demonstrate active learning, and especially those that are least obvious. I’ve always thought that the best lessons (at least in my home discipline, English) are those where each and every student says something, reads something, and writes something. So to answer your question: I’d look for some sort of active engagement, and even if the student were actively listening.
NF: What is your teaching philosophy?
HB: I’m a big believer in process pedagogy, which means one thing in English, but which might mean something comparable in teaching, writ-large: namely, students should be taught that the work produced and understanding achieved are both part of a greater process of becoming. If students are always on the path of learning, school serves as a segment of that greater process. Perhaps the greatest thing we can teach our students is how to become lifelong learners, how to become aware of themselves as learners, and how to challenge themselves independently and appropriately beyond our classrooms.