Wednesday, November 13, 2013

7 Lessons Learned When Changing Jewish Education

We've worked for five years in New York to create new models of education that engage today's learners. We reviewed the data to understand what has been accomplished; what has enabled the changes and where are the limitations. Here are seven lessons we've learned.

1. Change is Possible and Happening
In over 50 congregations education, known now as The Coalition of Innovating Congregations, part time Jewish learning:
*Used to look like a "school and classroom."
        Now there are 17 different models (see previous blog for full description)
*Used to have episodic professional development
        Now have regular learning for educators aligned to identified goals
*Used to have random assessment and design
        Now have whole person design and assessment
*Use to have all change fall on the back of the director
        Now have second tier leadership roles and lay ownership

2. Change takes time
The most robustly developed models in NY are in congregations that have been engaged in the work of educational change the longest. Please note, we distinguish a model from a program. Many congregations have added or changed some aspect of their traditional schools. But the congregations that have morphed into fully developed models with change in time, space, purpose, role of learner and role of educator have been working on the change for four or more years. We've learned it takes time to create, develop, and implement models.

3. And it can be done more quickly
We created a "just do it" method of change that we called: Express Innovation. Over a dozen  congregations have been able to implement new models within a year or two. We believe that their ability to do so comes from the scaffolding provided by the pioneers who created the new models. These Express Innovation congregations are able to adapt models rather than invent them, and adaptation takes less time.

4.  New Models are Worth Building 
We worked with Rosov Consulting to understand the impact new models had on creating powerful learning. After an 18 month study their research demonstrated that new models, even those that are not fully developed, support 21st Century learning better than traditional religious schools. In the comparison study they chose only traditional religious schools with excellent reputations in the community.
By 21st Century learning we mean learning that:
1. Learning is anchored in caring purposeful relationships.
2. Learning seeks the answers to the questions, challenges, and meaning of everyday life.
3. Learning enables individuals to construct their own meaning through inquiry, problem solving, and discovery.
4. Learning is content rich and accessible.

An another important headline Rosov consulting's reserach: Stop the debate about content vs relationships. They found that in the new models content and relationships existed in tandem and as amplifiers not in place of one another.  Emphasis on relationships does not sacrifice content.

Their research also demonstrated that certain kinds of models were inherently suited to foster 21st Century learning. Models that feature intergenerational learning, learning in real-time or authentic settings, and that engage the whole family (and not just children) enable 21st Century learning. Lastly they saw that congregations with full time teachers increase  had an increased  likelihood of implementing this kind of learning.

5. No one lever makes the change
In making educational change in congregations, educators used multiple resources. Our work,funded by UJA Federation of New York, provided consultants, funding, gatherings, and support new educational approaches. Congregations were supported in creating professional learning for teachers, and to involve teachers and lay leaders in new leadership roles.

We are not sure exactly how the combination worked to foster the changes that are happening. We were not able to say "If you left out any one of them the results would have been the same." We did learn how the educators perceived, valued and used each of the resources.

a. Educational and Organizational consultants
         Directors of Education valued their CONSULTANTS the most of all the resources provided. They were thought partners, they provided expertise and perspective, and they served as “nudges” to make sure the work was on track and done at a high level.

b. Funding
       Directors of Education reported that the FUNDING they received covered start-up costs; many of their initiatives would not have been seeded without this money. The money allowed them to take risks the congregations would not otherwise have supported. Broadly speaking, congregations have been able to sustain the cost of the initiatives once they were established. They also reported that there was symbolic importance to the leadership and decision-makers in their congregations to have received outside funding for their work.

c.Gatherings got mixed reviews. The scheduling of the gatherings were not convenient for lay leaders, and they did not allow enough time or the appropriate structures for building networks.

d.The Directors of Education do have networks, and its makes more sense for us to build on and deepen these existing networks then try to build artificial networks. Best networks are when educators  are with others who they see offering the value and share common concerns and issues. They are hungry to talk to others with common capacities and goals.

e.    New approaches to learning
    The framework of whole person learning or KDBB (Knowing/Doing/Believing/Belonging). This framework has helped congregations move beyond thinking about the acquisition of knowledge as the only purpose of Jewish education, and has enabled them to think about purposes more concretely. Teachers have found the framework helpful for thinking about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and for guiding the planning of educational experiences. It has allowed for more intentionality and more consistency. In addition, it has been a helpful tool in communicating with parents and lay leaders. The educational approaches of LOMED also increased the amount of experiential education in congregations.

6. Relationships Matter

     Across a variety of research initiatives looking at different aspects of our work, the theme of the importance of relationships recurred.

a. .As we have heard already, directors of education valued their relationship with their consultants above all other resources. In the context of trusting relationships, consultants both supported and pushed the directors of education in their work.  
b. When creating networks it is best to build on existing relationships and to connect people with common interests/needs. 
c.One of the principles of 21st Century learning addresses relationships. We have heard the concern/fear over the years that by focusing on relationships would dilute or supplant rich educational content. Our research, conducted by an outside consulting firm, found that in innovative models this is not the case. This fear need not stand in the way of establishment of innovative educational models; the fear is unfounded.
d.Our research on the work we did in relationship with the Foundation for Jewish Camp uncovered other insights about relationships—this time about relationships among parents and children, and their importance in getting children to Jewish camps.
Children’s Relationships: Research showed that for many families, it is important to send their children to camps where they know other children, suggesting that congregations may be able to encourage Jewish overnight camp attendance to groups of families.
Parents’ Relationships: The research showed that parents value recommendations for camp from friends. Congregations ought to be aware of personal relationships among parents and leverage recommendations among them.

7. There were limits to how much we could achieve  
While we have evidence of a great deal of change, not everything changed...there is more work to do

a.The majority of congregations are still developing their new models rather than having them fully or robustly developed.

b.While a few congregations have the majority of their families enrolled in new models, most have not reached that point.

Looking at the entire coalition, 35% of families were enrolled in new models in 2012-2013. Within the Coalition, some congregations have made great strides to increase the enrollment in their high-impact models while others have remained relatively low in their enrollment proportion. Express Innovation congregations and small congregations have the highest percentages of families enrolled in new models.

c. It is challenging to get congregational educators and teachers to do assessment. This may be because of the amount of time it takes, limited expertise, and the challenge of measuring important aspired to outcomes.

 d. We asked congregations to establish Professional Learning Teams. In many congregations these teams changed (expanded) the roles and investment of teachers in congregational educational settings. The model of the PLT did not work for all congregations.

e.. We asked congregations to establish ELT—Educational Leadership Teams (ed director, clergy, lay leaders, teachers) to do the work of change together. Congregations had varying degrees of success in working with ELTs. For some the ELT has played a significant role in engaging lay leaders to think and act on educational visioning, planning and assessment in the congregation. In some cases congregations had existing committee structes; the ELT interrupted that and eventually was merged into those structures (e.g. Religious School Committee). Some congregations never succeeded in having an ongoing ELT. In those it was difficult to mobilize lay leaders and teachers to participate.

This week we are creating our plan for our next phase of work. We've heard close to 500 voices in the community advising and reflecting on what is possible, what works and what is needed. These seven lessons, gleaned from the hard work of many, speak to us as we shape the next frontier to cross in creating Jewish education for real life. This work has been possible because of the partnership with The ECE (Experiment in Congregational Education).