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Initiatives’ Impact

This report was originally produced as part of a larger report of findings entitled Spreading and Sustaining Innovation: Accomplishments and Lessons Learned. Background information about the Coalition of Innovating Congregations, the partner organizations, and the initiatives for congregations are found in the full report. The full report and executive summary are available online and for download at www.innovatingcongregations.org/all.
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Impact of the Initiatives’ Resources and Strategies in Congregations

In LOMED and LOMED Chadash, educators used multiple approaches to making change in their congregations. Directors of Education valued their consultants most of all the resources they received. Funding enabled them to seed initiatives that they would likely not have started otherwise. Gatherings were helpful in some ways, but could have been more effective. LOMED/Chadash did not create new networks, but could build on existing networks more fruitfully. The educational framework of whole person learning has helped congregations think more broadly about the purposes of Jewish education and has shaped their planning of educational experiences. Doing assessment of learning remains a challenge.

Background

In order to understand the impacts of the initiative’s resources and strategies on the work done in congregations over the course of the last four years, ECE’s evaluation and assessment specialist, Cindy Reich, conducted 11 individual semi-structured phone interviews with directors of education representing congregations of different sizes, denominations, locations, and programs (LOMED vs. LOMED Chadash). The educators included a mix of men and women. The questions focused on the benefits the congregations perceived from the resources and strategies, as well as the challenges they found in using them.

Summary of Lessons Learned from Interviews

A number of lessons emerged from the interviews with congregational directors of education. In making educational change in congregations, educators used multiple approaches. CSI provided consultants, funding, gatherings, and asked congregations to employ new educational approaches, professional learning for teachers, and to involve teachers and lay leaders in new leadership roles.

From the interviews it was not possible to interpret how, exactly, the combination of strategies and resources worked, or whether, if any one of them were left out, the results would have been the same. The interviews did reveal a lot, though, about the various resources that CSI provided and the approaches they asked congregations to use:

  • Directors of Education valued their consultants the most of all the resources provided. Consultants functioned as thought partners, provided expertise and perspective, and served as “nudges” to make sure the work was on track and done at a high level.
  • Directors of Education reported that the funding they received covered start-up costs; many of their initiatives would not have been seeded without this money. The money allowed them to take risks the congregations would not otherwise have supported. Broadly speaking, congregations have been able to sustain the cost of the initiatives once they were established. Education directors also reported that receiving outside funding for their innovative work carried symbolic importance to the leadership and decision-makers in their congregations.
  • Gatherings got mixed reviews. The scheduling of the gatherings was typically not convenient for lay leaders, and gatherings did not allow enough time or the appropriate structures for building networks.
  • The Directors of Education do have networks, and it may make sense to build on and deepen these existing networks. They expressed interest in working with others who share common concerns and issues. They are hungry to talk to others with common capacities and goals.
  • The framework of whole person learning or KDBB (Knowing/Doing/Believing/Belonging) has helped congregations move beyond thinking about the acquisition of knowledge as the sole purpose of Jewish education, and has enabled them to think about purposes more concretely. Teachers have found the framework helpful for thinking about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and for guiding their planning of educational experiences. It has led them to be more intentional and more consistent. In addition, it has been a helpful tool in communicating with parents and lay leaders. The educational approaches of LOMED also increased the amount of experiential education in congregations.
  • It is challenging to do assessment of learning in congregational settings. This may be because of the amount of time it takes, limited expertise, and the challenge of measuring the type of outcomes teachers aspire to.

Detailed Findings: Resources and Strategies

Resources

Work with consultants. The educators are currently working with eight different consultants, and several of the educators worked with other consultants over the duration of the initiative. The consultants are considered the most valuable resource provided to the congregations. Consultants both supported and pushed the directors of education in their work. They served as beloved “nudges,” helping educators stay focused on this part of their work, holding them accountable for their responsibilities as project participants, and assisting them in meeting their obligations. As intermediaries or liaisons to the staff of the Jewish Education Project and ECE, consultants helped to translate the language, concepts, and requirements of LOMED to congregations and also helped congregations to see their own work in the larger perspective of the Coalition. Another role consultants played was “expert guide.” They provided ideas for models and programs and for their implementation. They worked with directors of education to plan Educational Leadership Team (ELT) and Professional Learning Team (PLT) meetings and, in some cases, led parts of those meetings. They reminded the educators and others in the congregations about vision and the higher purpose of innovation. They helped move things forward at pivotal moments, and sometimes pushed people beyond their comfort zones.

As thought partners with the directors of education, consultants helped directors to develop goals, flesh out plans for models and programs, and challenged them through questioning. Another consultant role was coach. In their coaching role, consultants challenged directors of education to try new things, helped them get unstuck, asked questions so they could figure things out themselves, guided them in reflecting on progress, and pointed out problems and challenges. Directors of education appreciated the support of their consultants who served as confidants and sounding boards from outside the congregational system. They acknowledged for the directors the difficulty of doing the work of change. They also were able to tailor LOMED requirements to the specific needs of the congregation. Finally, consultants provided perspective. Their perspective grew out of a familiarity with the culture and politics of the congregation, its history, its goals and realities. Sometimes the consultant, who served congregations over the course of several years and personnel changes, provided institutional memory. The consultants’ perspective on the congregation helped individual congregations understand their work in the context of the larger community, enabled them to see their work as part of the congregation’s development, and helped educators learn about their own strengths.

Education directors also experienced challenges in working with consultants. Because consultants worked with several congregations, scheduling time with them was a challenge, though consultants made it work. There were cases in which congregations worked with consultants who were not a good fit, and in those cases they changed consultants. In these cases, or when a consultant left the project, educators found it challenging to start over with a new consultant. Another difficulty was the amount of documentation congregations were required to do with their consultants. Some people, teachers in particular, were not experienced in working with consultants and it felt intimidating at first for them to learn to do so. Consultants served as liaisons between the Jewish Education Project and the congregation. If there were differences of perspective between them, some but not all consultants were adept at mediating.

Funding. The directors of education identified a number of benefits of the funding they received through their participation in LOMED. The money allowed them to start programs they might not otherwise have gotten support for if they had been dependent on congregational resources. Congregational leaders bought-in to the programs more quickly because, with LOMED funding, programs required fewer of the congregation’s scarce resources. In working with congregational leadership, the funding held symbolic importance; by helping leadership see that an outside source valued the work of their education program it validated the work. Receiving funding had a cache that congregations used as a marketing tool. In many cases the models and programs launched with these funds became a regular part of the congregation’s budget, as congregations saw the success that the outside funding enabled. Congregations used the funding to raise the quality of their programs, to increase the participation level of families, and to support teachers’ participation in professional learning.

While directors of education all appreciated the funding they received, they pointed out some challenges of the funding process. Applying for a grant required a lot of paperwork, especially relative to the amount of money received. Many considered the required paperwork and reporting burdensome. Some educators perceived a lack of clarity about what was expected in order to qualify for different funding levels—the criteria were not clear. Congregations were sometimes in a situation where they had to start a program or model before they knew if they would receive funding or how much funding; the timeline could have been more convenient for them. Some perceived taking on a grant as risky because of the need to sustain financial support after the grant ended, something they were not confident they could do.

Gatherings. Many of the benefits of gatherings on which the directors of education commented were related to connecting to others. The gatherings presented an opportunity to see colleagues and reconnect with people they had not seen in a while. They heard about things going on in other congregations and were exposed to other movements. Encounters with people at these gatherings led to some unanticipated outcomes—finding out about a meaningful resource in an informal conversation, finding a group of people interested in exploring the use of educational technology and organizing a conference with them. In terms of content, some of the speakers were considered engaging and their presentations useful; Ron Wolfson’s session was meaningful. Educators appreciated the way gatherings modeled educational approaches. Of particular value was being grouped with others in congregations who had similar interests, challenges or models, and having the opportunity to choose what learning to do at the gathering. For some congregations preparing products for sharing at the year-end gatherings served other purposes such as PR with families and informing the board.

Preparing products for those gatherings had a down-side, as well. Some found the work required to produce a video as burdensome. The directors mentioned other challenges of the gatherings, as well. Some had to do with administrative issues—information sometimes came late (e.g., requirements to prepare something in advance) and seemed to reflect a lack of organization (e.g., people already registered got requests to register). Some of the issues were programmatic. There was not adequate time to talk with people in depth; forging deep bonds with colleagues requires more time and facilitation than the gatherings allowed. In the groupings, people sometimes found themselves with others who were not the “right fit,” for them, preventing valuable kinds of sharing. Some perceived that programs did not address the varied needs and interests of participants—lay and professional, teachers and directors, and congregations more and less advanced in their innovation work. The lack of continuity from one gathering to another presented another challenge. One suggestion was to engage more congregational people in the planning. Many congregations found it difficult to get lay people to participate for varying reasons—the timing and location, the quality of the program, the perceived lack of content appropriate for lay people.

Network. LOMED enabled people to sustain or reinforce existing networks. In many cases relationships with people in other congregations were not created or facilitated by LOMED. Rather, the Leadership Institute was the source of many of the connections among educators, as were the groups of educators that meet on Long Island and in Westchester. LOMED is one source among many for networking by educators, and many of the networks overlap. LOMED did help people to learn about “who’s out there and who’s doing what,” and some educators reached out to the LOMED network. Coalition Educators served as connectors of people and transmitters of ideas in the LOMED network. Among the products of networking through LOMED were a group of educators, all congregations working with the same consultant, that meets regularly; a conference that grew out of contacts made at a LOMED event; and a pair of congregations planning programming and professional learning together.

The directors of education noted that more could be done (by themselves, at gatherings, through facilitated phone conversations) to leverage the networks. Some say they could use their networks more than they do.

Strategies

Educational Leadership Teams (ELTs). Congregations met with varying degrees of success in working with ELTs. For some, the ELT has played a significant role in engaging lay leaders to think and act on educational visioning, planning, and assessment in the congregation. Through the work of ELTs these congregations established shared visions and shared responsibility for them. The ELT offered a forum to reflect on and make changes in the work being done on education in the congregation. In some cases the ELT interrupted existing committee structures and eventually was merged into those structures (e.g. Religious School Committee)

Some congregations never succeeded in maintaining an ongoing ELT. They found it difficult to mobilize lay leaders and teachers to participate. Some lay leaders and clergy were put off by the amount of “process” at ELT meetings. Some congregations that had successful ELTs found it challenging to work with them at the beginning—their purpose was not clear, the processes were unfamiliar or uncomfortable for some people, and scheduling was a challenge. Those that did not succeed with ELTs encountered similar challenges.

Professional Learning Teams (PLTs)/Professional Learning. Professional Learning Teams and professional learning added a new dimension to educational practice in congregations. The teams served as faculty think tanks and fostered collaboration among teachers. Teachers who participated in PLTs increased their sense of confidence, investment and empowerment. The establishment of the teams made possible new roles for teachers, as well as additional income. PLTs distributed leadership beyond the director of education. In some cases teachers served as mentors to other teachers. The focus of PLTs differed among congregations, especially in relationship to congregations’ new models. In some, PLTs focused on their new models, and participating teachers planned experiences for the model.  In others, the PLT served as a forum for reflecting on and improving new models. In still other congregations the PLTs tested out and concretized the education approaches introduced by LOMED and taught them to other teachers, either teachers in the new models only or to all teachers both those who taught in traditional models and in new models. For many congregations this type of professional learning for teachers was new; in some cases doing professional learning at all was a new experience.

Not all congregations followed the same structures for PLTs. One congregation adopted an approach to professional learning in which teachers took responsibility for deciding on areas of interest and working in self-directed groups using materials provided by the director of education. Other congregations found working with PLTs and doing professional learning difficult. In some places teachers did not want to participate—even if offered a stipend. It was challenging to find time to meet, to translate and teach the LOMED educational approaches to others, and to overcome the resistance of teachers to changing their practices. Staff turnover made it necessary to get new PLT members up to speed. In congregations with small staffs, there were few potential candidates to populate a PLT.

Educational Approaches. Of all the educational approaches LOMED introduced to congregations, the most resonant and compelling was the framework of whole person learning or KDBB (Knowing/Doing/Believing/Belonging). This framework has helped congregations move beyond thinking about the acquisition of knowledge as the sole purpose of Jewish education, and has enabled them to think about purposes more concretely. Teachers have found the framework helpful for thinking about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and for guiding their planning of educational experiences. It has led them to be more intentional and more consistent. In addition, it has been a helpful tool in communicating with parents and lay leaders. In light of the lack of assessment in Jewish educational settings, many valued noticing/assessment. Educators reported that the educational approaches helped them and their teachers to see the need to align goals, activities/experiences, and assessment in their settings. Priority goals helped congregations sharpen their focus. The educational approaches of LOMED also increased the amount of experiential education in congregations.

Both educators and teachers found many of the concepts behind these approaches challenging. Even among the congregations that embraced the concepts, educators used more traditional educational terminology to refer to them (e.g., goals or outcomes instead of noticing targets). In fact, the lingo or jargon of LOMED was a source of frustration, and even derision. Educators and teachers with formal educational training, found the need for different terminology confusing. For untrained teachers the concepts were hard to grasp and the language felt cumbersome. Some educators and teachers found it difficult to teach these concepts to others and to help them implement them. One of the challenges derived from the amount of material that was introduced simultaneously. In the beginning, in particular, educators perceived a lack of clarity about the material being taught to participating directors of education and teachers. Both at the beginning and throughout the initiative, concrete examples might have helped them grasp the concepts and implement them more readily.  People found the practice of assessment particularly arduous, and some directors and teachers pushed back against using it. In particular directors of education mentioned the amount of time required for creative assessments, the difficulty teachers had thinking about assessments other than tests, and buying into the possibility of assessing impacts that extend beyond the time and place of the current congregational learning experience.

Suggestions for the Future

All of the educators shared how much they appreciated being part of LOMED and expressed their hopes for continued support of their work in the future. Many offered ideas and suggestions for moving the work forward. Several of the directors of education expressed an interest in or even a need to address transformative change in the whole synagogue, not just its educational program. They want to learn more about and from other congregations. Among the suggestions they made were developing smaller groups of congregations into networks; facilitation by The Jewish Education Project to help cross-fertilize ideas among congregations experimenting on the basis of shared principles; and visiting other congregations to experience directly what they are doing. In addition, they want to strengthen their capacity in the areas of marketing and evaluation, perhaps drawing on the wisdom of consultants with different areas of expertise. Acknowledging the ongoing challenge of developing backing for innovative work in congregations, congregations could benefit from assistance in working with their boards. In terms of process, one suggested a more active partnership between the Jewish Education Project/ECE and the congregations in shaping the agenda. Finally, one educator suggested bringing the work of LOMED to the attention of the field nationally, and creating connections with other communities.

 

This report represents nearly five years of data collection, analysis, and reflection. We wish to thank our consultants Cindy Reich (the Experiment in Congregational Education) and Anna Marx (The Jewish Education Project) for their work in compiling this report as well as collecting and analyzing much of the data presented in the report. We also gratefully acknowledge Cyd Weissman, Director of Innovation in Congregational Learning at The Jewish Education Project, for her leadership, The Experiment in Congregational Education and its director, Dr. Rob Weinberg for taking the lead in coordinating the evaluation efforts for the Collaboration to Sustain Innovation, and Dr. Bill Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer of The Jewish Education Project for his guidance and insight.

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