Training Experiential Jewish Educators for an Evolving and Advancing Field
December 10th, 2012
Last month, my colleague Renee Rubin Ross discussed the changing role of today’s Jewish Educators (Jewish Education “in a Café, Under a Tree, or in a Dorm”) and the methods that these talented individuals employ to reach young Jews outside of traditional classroom settings. Through Hillel, BBYO, the Foundation for Jewish Camp and many other organizations, the experiential education landscape is brimming with dynamic new experiments and we are watching closely, with our grantee partners, to learn from early results in the field.
With a growing recognition that the most effective educational experiences are centered around a dynamic Jewish educator, the Jim Joseph Foundation embraces the importance of investing in new program models to engage young Jews and the creation of new training programs to prepare and enhance the skills of Jewish educators. By pursuing both of these strategies simultaneously, more Jewish educators will be effectively trained for this new kind of work and, ultimately, more young Jews will connect and become engaged Jewishly through the interactions with these educators.
In 2008, as we were designing the Foundation’s Education Initiative with our grantee partners at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, each of these institutions identified the training of Experiential Jewish Educators as a gap in the field. Today, as the field continues to change and grow, educational institutions are developing new training opportunities for both aspiring and seasoned Jewish educators, and rethinking current training programs to address the new skills needed for this kind of work.
These three programs each attract different student populations and offer a unique curricular emphasis and pedagogic approach. However, collectively, they are professionalizing both the training ground for experiential Jewish educators as well as the field. The programs also are creating stronger integration between different settings and applications of Experiential Jewish Education, enabling the professionals to apply the principles of practice to a variety of educational spaces. The existence of new training programs for experiential educators will create opportunities for career growth and advance the profession to potentially attract future educators who would not necessarily have pursued this career.
In fact, we are seeing early evidence of these positive changes. JTS, for example, has attracted students who were not drawn to a traditional degree in Jewish Education. Instead, many of these students have chosen their career path because of the unique elements of experiential education and the new professional opportunities it offers them.
Through creative program design and utilization of social media and online learning, the Certificate programs offered both by Yeshiva Universityand Hebrew Union College have been able to expand their reach to educators from around the country. From San Francisco to Jackson Hole to Memphis, professionals can participate in a rigorous cohort-based learning experience while continuing to serve in their current positions, thus pushing new ideas and training out to the field.
And these three programs do not stand alone but rather exist in a dynamic ecosystem of established training programs and new initiatives. Last year, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah developed an Educator’s Track as part of their four year rabbinical program. Due to high demand, a sub-track was developed for campus educators, including coursework on engaging emerging adults and experiential education. This spring, NYU will offer a new course on the “Theory and Practice of Experiential Jewish Education” as part of the Education and Jewish Studies program.
Along with the rapid development of new training programs, the Foundation has followed the growing discourse among academicians and experts in the field about the skills and training most relevant for educators working outside of the formal classroom and in these new settings. With more programs focused on Experiential Jewish Education in the field, educational leaders are beginning to discuss standards and shared curriculum and the best strategies to develop and support these valuable educators working in different settings.
Already, some interesting early observations about shared strategies and positive elements of these new programs are apparent:
Utilizing mentors: All three programs have placed a priority on the role of mentors. Over thirty experts from the experiential education arena have been engaged as mentors during this academic year to support students in these new programs. Training for mentors has also been developed, including a Professional Development Day on Mentoring and Jewish Experiential Education that was hosted by and for the Davidson School at JTS.
Developing rich dialogue between training institutions and practitioners: By prioritizing field placement and ongoing conversations with employers (throughout the training process) these programs are adding capacity and new talent to existing organizations.
Creating new experiences for learners: Whether it is an insider’s tour of Disneyland, an intensive seminar on Jewish Service Learning with Repair the World staff, or a retreat at Camp Eden Village, each program carefully curates dynamic new experiences for their educators in order to stimulate learning and growth and prepare them for their vital work as the most influential figure in shaping a young person’s Jewish journey.
In the next few years, as these programs mature and greater numbers of graduates populate the landscape, we anticipate learning more about the skills, knowledge and traits most necessary for effective experiential education. That, in turn, will result in the programs’ further adaptation and differentiation.