Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Congregational Learning the Next Big Leap

The data is in. The Congregational Learning Department of The Jewish Education Project in partnership with the Experiment in Congregational Education has made great strides in transforming the landscape of Jewish Education in New York. Three thousand children in over 2000 families now experience 17 different models of Jewish education(e.g. home based, project based, learning in authentic settings). These new models are better suited than traditional Hebrew Schools to enable learning that is content rich; relational; enables inquiry and meaning making and speaks to learners' lives. An outside evaluator compared learning in Hebrew Schools with excellent reputations with a range of new models to draw this conclusion.  And over 90% of congregations now have ongoing professional development, have second-tier leadership and create learning guided by 21st century best practices. These numbers reveal a qualitatively different landscape of Jewish education.

What is next? 

Spread the innovations that have developed/are developing
Transformed Hebrew Schools, new models , are better than the iconic version of a few hours of classroom experiences dotted by family education projects.  Therefore our work is to spread these innovations to new congregations and to congregations that are in a state of creating and recreating.

We hold ourselves to a high standard. Congregational schools should enable Judaism to play a key role in their lives, enabling the learner to contribute to his/her communities; express a sense of belonging to his/her people and to have the knowledge to enact these connections. 

We see these worthy goals and humbly say that "no matter how powerful these models are it is time to recognize the limits of the reach of a 4-6 hour a week program." We can either diminish the goals we seek or we can expand our field of influence. We choose the later.  Our next phase of work, in addition to spreading the innovations that are emerging, is to end the abdication of raising a child to Jewish to the "school" and to elevate ways the congregation can take a more holistic stance and:

1. Activate parents' role in raising their child as Jewish and creating the circumstances to achieve that goal
2. Enable congregations to facilitate meaning making of the many stops on a child's journey
3. Foster Jewish engagement beyond "participation" in the "program"

Activate parents' role in raising their child as Jewish and creating the circumstances to achieve that goal
 For a child to have a chance to grow into an engaged adult the family must play a critical part. There is no substitute for the values, questions and practices of a family. So we ask ourselves: What is the work of deeply engaging parents in actualizing their true ownership in raising a Jewish child.What is the work to uncover and speak to the real life questions and desires of parents? Family education as it has been practiced hasn't achieved these goals, so what will? What enables parents--today's Jewish adults-- to take on their right and role? We are designing a series of experiments that we believe we engage parents as activists for change and for their own meaningful experiences.

Enable congregations to facilitate meaning making of the many stops on a child's journey
We humbly also say that parents and models, as powerful as they are, can not usher a child to Jewish adulthood alone. Let's recognize that a child has many stops in their calendar. Children are with relationships with grandparents, attend day/overnight camp and engage in social activities in a secular universe. What does it look like when a congregation sees itself as one node within the broader context of learner's experience? . Can we elevate the map of the landscape?  What does it look like when the congregation takes an active role to integrate or reconcile within a Jewish context meaning? To this end we are creating experiments that extend the reach of congregational learning --congregations--to amplify experiences beyond the four walls of the congregation.

 Foster Jewish engagement beyond "participation"in the "program"
And we believe the congregation can play a key role in increasing the Jewish stops along the way for children. As an example of amplifying the , our work has revealed the top five things a congregation can do to help families choose Jewish overnight camp (the clergy's bully pulpit is not one of them). We are hypothesizing that the congregation can play a unique role in connecting learners to a diverse field of opportunities and relationships within and without the walls of the synagogue.And to this end we are proposing experiments to test this role of the congregation.

These three strategies lead us to a big idea we are calling "Connected Education." It seeks to honor the unique opportunity that congregations can play in educating and connecting. We believe only with this more connected and integrated approach can liberal part time Jewish education achieve the worthy outcome we refuse to abandon.

Is Connected Education the direction for us to move?
What experiments would you try?