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The Great Oz behind the curtain

During a two-week study in New York City, the College of Education’s Instruction and Teacher Education Clinical Assistant Professor Rabbi Meir Muller, Ph.D., presented, “Constructivist Family Engagement: The Wizard of Oz Conundrum” at the Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute (JECELI).  


During his session, Muller presented the educational theory of constructivism and discussed how his theory could be applied to family engagement. “One big idea,” Rabbi Muller says, “was to allow families inside the school story — to let the families voice their feelings about the administrator’s perspective, thinking and decision making. We spoke about how the Wizard of Oz hid behind a curtain, and to truly be powerful, the curtain needed to be ripped down metaphorically allowing all the citizens to share in the power and decision making.” Muller concluded his program by asking his participants to create their own checklist to evaluate how engaged families are in their schools.

At JECELI, participants work on discovering meaning in texts and ritual; understanding leadership and relationships through Jewish perspectives; fostering spiritual development; integrating Israel into the life of the early childhood program; and facilitating the development of identity.  Muller’s presentation was a part of the JECELI leadership development program in which participants assessed themselves regarding capacities necessary to direct Jewish early childhood programs and determine specific areas in which they would like to move forward both during and after their JECELI program experience. Equally important were considerations of individual human growth and development across all ages and contexts. The development of Jewish identity in both children and adults is particularly relevant to the work of JECELI participants.

JECELI invited Muller for being both engaging and inspiring in intensive Jewish learning, inquiry and reflective practice, leadership development and community culture building. His research interests include cognitive development, inquiry-based teaching, and pre-service teacher education. Muller, an ordained rabbi, earned his Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education and Masters of Education in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Carolina - Columbia. He earned his bachelors in Talmudic Studies from Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitz.

In 2006, Muller was recognized with the Scholastic Early Childhood Professional of the Year Award, and in 2013, was distinguished with the Early Career Teaching Award by the College of Education. Revered for his expertise in early childhood education locally, nationally and internationally, Muller serves as a National Association for the Education of Young Children advisor, co-president of the National Alliance of Jewish Early Childhood Educators, a member of the SC Governor’s Child Care Council. He recently presented a paper at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem for Haifa University’s International Research Group on Jewish Education in the Early Years. Currently, the SC Department of Social Services has requested Muller be the lead author on rewriting the State Early Learning Standards (birth through five years-old).

Muller serves as principal at the Cutler Jewish Day School in Columbia, SC.

Muller believes there is a strong correlation between the JECELI and the USC College of Education programs in that both are committed to ongoing dialogue about theories and best practices, ethics, democracy and equity. “My workshop touched on all of these ideas,” says Muller. As a result of his JECELI presentation, Muller was asked by three communities to give similar presentations in Washington D.C., California and through a webinar.

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