From the Professional Staff

Filling a Void: Kevah’s Evolution into Educator Training

By Jeff Tiell on August 11th, 2016

Earlier this summer I spent a half-day with this year’s cohort of Kevah Teaching Fellows. Kevah is a nonprofit that empowers individuals and organizations to build Jewish learning communities by creating Kevah Groups matched to an outstanding Kevah educator.

The Kevah Teaching Fellowship is a two-week cohort-based immersive learning experience for which 20 pluralistic Jewish educators from across the country come together to learn from experts in Adult Jewish Education, practice techniques in teaching workshops, and develop their teaching and facilitation skills in relationship with one another. Sitting in the sun-drenched Kevah offices in Berkeley, listening and learning with the Fellows and their program leader, Kevah’s Senior Rabbinic Educator Rabbi David Kasher, I was struck by how important it is as a representative of a funder to get outside the office walls and connect with the people and organizations with which the Foundation invests.

Fellows are trained through a specific pedagogical model that harnesses the power of a decentralized, interactive, and conversational approach. During the morning I was there, I witnessed both a large facilitated discussion led by Rabbi Kasher in which the Fellows exemplifying a diversity of denomination and geography were able to engage one another as a group, as well as chavruta study where the larger group broke into pairs to discuss text together. I came away with an incredible appreciation for the process of the Kevah Fellowship; indeed, the masterful ways in which Kevah’s educational leadership frames the issues, provides for discussion and conversation, as well as reflects on the lessons learned from the participants.

Beyond the significance and value of site visits for Foundation board and staff—the opportunity to see how a grant program is actually implemented, along with the chance to build deeper relationships with grantees, for example—my visit with the Kevah Teaching Fellows offers additional lessons about an organization’s evolution. First, the Fellowship was initiated a few years after the founding of Kevah itself, which, as an organization, did not have educator training as one of its aspirations. The Fellowship was a result of Kevah’s leaders seeing a need both within the organization and in the broader field of Jewish education. Rather than being complacent in what Kevah already had achieved (numerous Jewish learning communities), the organization’s founders instead reflected on what might emerge that could provide a value-add to their mission and helps to fulfill their vision. Kevah consistently demonstrates this forward looking approach under the leadership of their Board, Staff, and Founder Sara Bamberger.

Second, both Kevah and the Foundation have benefited from the timing of this emphasis on educator training. The growth together in this area is part of the interwoven story of the funder and grantee. As Kevah sought to grow its Jewish educator base, in part through this Fellowship, the Foundation began to emphasize educator development in organizations that employ cohort-based teaching models. The notion of “educating the educators” is a basic strategy for the Foundation, with its investments in high performing organizations and initiatives such as the Pardes Center for Jewish Educators, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and Jewish Outdoor, Food,  and Environmental Education (JOFEE). These investments of course build on the Foundation’s early Education Initiative investments to HUC-JIR, JTS, and YU.

The opportunity for the Foundation and Kevah to work together in this realm, continually infusing our shared learning back into each other’s work, has strengthened the funder-grantee relationship, led to improved project outcomes, and resulted in learning that both Kevah and the Foundation share with the field.

 

 

 

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.