Let’s Do More Together: The Benefits of Collaborative Research Projects

– by Stacie Cherner and Menachem "Manny" Menchel

November 19th, 2021

This summer CASJE released its study on the “Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators.” Almost immediately, Jewish leaders and practitioners began to dig into the findings and share initial insights on the data. These field-grounded perspectives, whether from those running educator training programs, in early childhood education, in part-time Jewish education, or other settings, offer an early glimpse into how this research can inform planning and investments in Jewish education and the Jewish education workforce.

Through the “Career Trajectories” study, our foundations sought to create usable knowledge accessible to all in the field. This knowledge can enable more people and organizations to strengthen the pipeline of Jewish educators and better support educators’ professional journeys. As representatives of the research’s funders, we are grateful to the leaders and organizations who have shared insights on the findings. We also are grateful to the many individuals and organizations, from within and outside of the Jewish world, who contributed their time and wisdom that shaped the research over many years. In fact, bringing this project to fruition was an exercise in collaboration. Three years ago CASJE convened a Problem Formulation Convening, a developmental conversation that brought together  practitioners, funders and researchers to ask critical questions related to the recruitment, retention and development of Jewish educators. We all recognized the need to more deeply understand what factors would help to professionalize the field and support educators’ success.

Like all CASJE efforts, this endeavor was applied research, meant to provide knowledge that addresses a specific challenge or issue that leaders and practitioners encounter. Developing a research project in this vein, and of this breadth and depth, is best with multiple perspectives and expertise around a table. Together, researchers and practitioners coalesced around questions that shaped initial working papers and ultimately the agreed-upon focus of the research: Why do people become or not become Jewish educators? What are work environments like for educators, and how does this impact their satisfaction, efficacy and career commitment? What does the labor market for Jewish educators look like? What are employers looking for and how hard is it for various sectors of the field to find Jewish educators? Building on previous studies and existing literature, the CASJE study ultimately asks: How can we get more high-quality candidates into the field, and how can we better support them and their professional growth?

Having research-based evidence that illuminates these questions can lead to actionable and fundable ideas that grow the pipeline of talented, committed Jewish educators with the skills to succeed in Jewish education’s myriad settings. The final strand of this research, An Invitation to Action: Findings and Implications across the Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators Study, is meant to help leaders and funders in this regard. As the researchers explain, “In this concluding report, we weave together our learnings from these three strands and draw on the learnings produced to address the questions that have animated this work from its start….Here, we bring these findings into conversation with one another.”

Importantly, this “conversation” centers the “front-line” educators—those who work directly with learners—detailing different career stages, work environments, interactions with colleagues and what from their perspective compels them to do this work. By telling the story of Jewish educators across the arc of their careers, this research is positioned to enable policy makers and national umbrella organizations to more strategically plan for and shape the future of Jewish education. Already, Prizmah, Foundation for Jewish Camp, the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies for Jewish Education, JPRO and others are convening their stakeholders to use the data to inform their own work and possible new initiatives.

Additionally, we want other funders to dive into this conversation with us and we have been delighted to share key findings through a series with the Jewish Funders Network. Undoubtedly, thoughtful and substantial action resulting from this research will occur over many years. Yet, at the same time, the data is ready for use now. Our foundation teams are already thinking in new ways about the many sectors  that comprise the larger ecosystem of Jewish education. Recognizing the vast differences between different educational settings—and the educator skill sets needed to succeed in each one—influences our approach to grantmaking. So too does the new data about the number of Jewish educators currently working in the field and the pressing need for educators in a number of settings

The research paints a vivid picture of the dynamic ways and places educator training happens today, and the different ways educators enter the field. More than just taking stock, funders, including the William Davidson Foundation and Jim Joseph Foundation, can have grantmaking strategies that reflect the current training ecosystem. Depending on the funder, these strategies can address local or national educator training. Funders with a strong local presence in particular can help elevate Jewish educators to both demonstrate that they are valued and to show future potential educators the many kinds of Jewish educators that exist, the many interests and skills they have, the many settings in which they work, and the support they can receive in their early career development. These signals would help promote a reliable pipeline into the field.

Our foundations learned a lot from each other during this research journey. We each started with different ideas about how the research would progress and the learnings we might uncover. These predictions were clearly products of our respective foundations’ lens of grantmaking—and they were proven to be too narrow. Through collaboration, the perspectives and experiences of the other grantmaker helped shape our own understanding of the research and how the findings could be relevant and usable in our work. Because of the tangible benefits we experienced, we want to continue learning with more funders and practitioners. We want more convenings and communication with other leaders. The challenge of creating a reliable pipeline of Jewish educators demands a response inspired by a larger collective. Collaboration certainly comes with challenges—we experienced those too—but, ultimately, it leads to higher quality research insights that better benefit the field.

We thank everyone who made Career Trajectories possible. And, after learning so much about their aspirations, needs and professional goals, we express sincere thanks to Jewish educators. They deserve an educational system that sustains, enrichens, and empowers their professional growth. By learning and by doing together, we can help create that.

Stacie Cherner is director of learning and evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation. Menachem “Manny” Menchel is senior program officer, Jewish life at the William Davidson Foundation. To learn more and connect with them, email [email protected] and  [email protected]Click here to read An Invitation to Action: Findings and Implications across the Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators Study

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy