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JCC Association Sheva Center Leadership Institute

August 14th, 2018

Jewish Community Centers (JCC) throughout North America offer rich, welcoming environments for families with young children to engage in meaningful Jewish life and learning. The JCC Association of North America’s new Sheva Center Leadership Institute for Early Childhood Professionals—an initiative of The Sheva Center for Innovation in Early Childhood Jewish Education and Engagement—is a three-year fellowship experience that will help increase the number and quality of educators who create and lead these formative experiences.

A cohort of new early childhood education (ECE) directors, administrators, and classroom educators study together and in tracks at retreats and at virtual learning sessions. They focus on experiences they face with learners and with parents, and how they approach their work and overcome challenges.

At the last retreat we found ourselves saying that “we’ve spent 20 days of our lives together,” but [the other Fellows] feel closer to me than people who have been in my life for years. We are able to relate to our work, to struggle over our situation together.
– Sarah Koffler, Participant in Sheva Covenant ECE Directors Fellowship, the pilot program funded by the Covenant Foundation that preceded the Sheva Center Leadership Institute

The Sheva Center is committed to connecting these educators, who are on the front line of ECE work, to each other for peer support and to inspire them to grow their practice, mindful of the best and latest research in the field. The foundation of the institute is the Sheva framework, which outlines a dynamic vision of excellence in early childhood Jewish education using seven Jewish lenses and seven core elements.

At the first retreat earlier this summer, educators built relationships with each other. As a group, they explored an early 19th century vision of Zionism through study and walking in the footsteps of Mordechai Manuel Noah. They studied the natural disaster of Love Canal and the natural beauty and wonder of Niagara Falls. They examined the threads between these subjects and how they might influence our understanding of leadership, Jewish life, and spirituality.

Faculty engages with each fellow throughout the fellowship, and different scholars-in-residence join the group at retreats. Each fellow also has a Sheva Faculty Mentor with whom she or he works for their entire three-year fellowship, including through monthly virtual meetings and two in-person site visits.

For me that’s the biggest piece: having people to reflect with and grow with and to talk to when you’re struggling, keeping those chavruta learning partnerships going, feeling that that connection is still going on, continuing to push each other and reminding each other of our strengths, and providing support for each other as a group.
Tracy Labrosse, Participant in Sheva Covenant ECE Directors Fellowship

JCC Association creates leadership teams within the home JCC community to bridge the gap between the cohort in the institute and the JCC at large. These working relationships are crucial to the success of the fellow and the growth of the school within the greater JCC community. As the fellowship continues, JCC Association looks for new ways to develop and support leaders and educators. The upcoming second retreat in Boulder, Colorado will include scholar in residence Dr. Assael Romanelli, a certified family and couple therapist, facilitator and trainer, who grew up in Israel and the United States. Now living in Jerusalem, Dr. Romanelli is the artistic advisor and conductor for Or Chozer Playback Theater Ensemble and incorporates psychodrama and action methods in his workshops. Fellows also will spend time at the Boulder Journey School as a window into the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood.

Learning with my cohort has impacted how I want to start reflective learning for my staff and how to foster that in them, so that they’re continually thinking about their own journey as a teacher, to be reflective of their own practice. Before then it was just about imparting information. I need to reformat my staff learning and think how to help educators look at themselves and their practice, and make it similar to how the retreats were coordinated.
Tracy Labrosse

The Jim Joseph Foundation supports the Sheva Center Leadership Institute.