experiments, instruments & measurement book

Report: The Impact of New Models of Congregational Jewish Education

From 2009-2015, The Jewish Education Project, in partnership with the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE), designed and implemented a strategy aimed at reimagining congregational education for children in grades K-8. The initiative, supported by UJA-Federation of New York, operated on the assumption that the prevalent model of “religious school,” as a weekly 2-6 hour classroom model, was flawed by design and inherently produced poor, limited results. Efforts at improvement typically affected little more than isolated programmatic components, and resulted in little to no change overall. (Aron, Lee Weinberg, 2002). The ultimate goal of The Jewish Education Project’s strategy was to generate positive learner-impact by supporting congregations in creating new models of Jewish education. The purpose of this study is to answer the question, what is the impact on learners of new models of congregational education?

To achieve positive learner impact, The Jewish Education Project first supported congregations’ efforts to redesign their educational models from the ground up through provision of consulting, funding, and communal professional development. Following initial redesign, the Jewish Education Project helped guide congregations’ realignment of professional development, leadership roles and responsibilities, and learning design and assessment to support new models. Congregations were also supported in efforts to change when and where learning takes place, in considering who should be regarded as a ‘learner,’ and in training educators to service each congregation’s stated goals. New models emerged as a result of this process, which can be aptly categorized as follows: Camp/Chavurah models, Shabbat models, Online/Blended learning models, Family models, Intergenerational models, and Cross-Congregational models. For the purposes of this report, the term “model” should be understood as referring to a yearlong educational program in which children (and sometimes their parents) participate.

Throughout the 6 years that The Jewish Education Project provided support to congregations for re-imagining models of Jewish education, it conducted frequent assessments of how well congregations were developing aspects of their new models. Studies evaluated leadership capacity for change, the quality of teaching and learning, the degree to which congregations’ leadership had achieved their stated goals, and whether congregations had conducted self-assessment and provided professional development opportunities. In a complementing effort, the ECE conducted a study that rated the extent to which congregations had changed when and where learning took place, identified learner and teacher profiles, and assessed whether organizational structures had developed in support of congregational goals. These research studies reflected a developmental approach to the creation of new models. They are illustrative of a fundamental belief that, in order to eventually achieve the goal of learner impact, congregations first need to build, at least to an extent, the foundations of a totally new model. A congregation, for example, with strong leadership and well-designed professional development could not expect significant impact on learners as a result of its efforts, unless it also changed the ‘when,’ ‘where’ and ‘why’ of the learning experience. In autumn 2014,

The Jewish Education Project began assessing the outcome of its efforts to ultimately achieve positive learner impact through model redesign, the results of that study can be Impact Now Study (755 downloads) .

Practicing What You Preach

Practicing What You Preach
Posted by Ben Alpert in Best Practices

By Jennifer Stern, Assistant Director, Congregational School at Park Avenue Synagogue

Experiential education is more than a buzzword. It is an amazing way to teach. At the Park Avenue Synagogue Congregational School, we are constantly looking for ways to make a weekday classroom from 4:00 – 6:00 pm an exciting learning experience, one full of movement rather than textbooks. In line with our mission statement, we do Jewish learning.

So, when it came to creating our professional learning sessions for our teachers, we decided to also align these sessions with our Congregational School’s mission. While sessions in the past were interesting, they often involved a frontal presentation. As part of our Reframe project through The Jewish Theological Seminary, we decided to rethink how we delivered these sessions. We wanted to create experiential professional learning for our teachers, in line with the Jewish learning experiences that were happening in our classrooms.10479736_362655890572202_8166552869148709356_n

Earlier this year, we had our first Teacher Retreat. For four and half hours on Super Bowl Sunday, 40 part-time teachers gathered together for an afternoon of experiential learning. With welcoming remarks and Torah study from Rabbi Cosgrove to start our day, we then had a yoga session… yes yoga! We brought in a wonderful yoga teacher who led us in a 45-minute yoga practice. After our yoga session, we had a Q&A session with the yoga teacher to debrief and reflect on the experience.

You may be wondering, what does this have to do with Jewish education and Hebrew School? And my answer would be — EVERYTHING! From thinking about how to create a community of learners, to dealing with individual learners while also addressing the needs of the group, so much can be applied from a yoga session to a Jewish learning environment. The debrief was especially impactful because our teachers articulated connections between the yoga experience and Jewish education for themselves. While we could have just told our teachers about these connections, part of experiential education is reflection.

The next element of our time together took place in the main sanctuary at PAS. We experienced prayer in different ways, movements and positions — from the traditional way of sitting in pews to laying down on the floor and looking up at the stain glass dome in the ceiling. This experience emphasized the importance of space by actually changing locations and positions.

Having an experiential education retreat for our already great teachers helped us create a team of experiential educators. If experiential education is not the mission of your institution, decide what aligns with your goals and the kind of program you are running or building or creating, and train your team accordingly. Bottom line: practice what you preach!

How do synagogue educators see these leadership challenges?

How do synagogue educators see these leadership challenges?
Posted by Ben Alpert in Best Practices


By Susan Ticker

Margolis compares navigating a Jewish day school to the behavior of a gyroscope, and the three directions in which it moves, as guiding principles for our work. While his three principles – organizational integrity, contextual complexity, and stakeholder pluralism – are listed in the essay as separate elements, working day school leaders must often navigate all three at once. This can result in our gyroscope being pulled in multiple directions simultaneously, and sometimes it means that our navigation systems are more likely to fall apart than to guide us safely to our destination. – Read the full article by clicking here.

When I read this, it raises the question: How do synagogue educators see these leadership challenges? How do they relate to your practice?


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