Monday, December 16, 2013

The proof: Alternatives are worth the trouble

The Coalition of Innovating Congregations has spent the last five years building new models of Jewish education. Has it been worth it? 

Does it pay for congregations to transform iconic Hebrew School to alternative models?

The answer from The Rosov Consulting group is: Yes. Alternative Models have more 21st century learning than traditional Hebrew Schools. This conclusion came from Rosov observing 14 congregational education programs--some of which were the new models created by The Coalition of Innovating Congregations and others were what we'd all recognize as Hebrew School. Worthy to note:.The "traditional Hebrew Schools" had according to community leaders  "excellent reputations." The alternative models ranged in reputation from high to emergent.

According to a study Rosov Consulting did with The Jewish Education Project and The Experiment in Congregational Education (led by Dr. Rob Weinberg and Cindy Reich):

     the four design principles of 21st century learning (relationships, content, meaning making, life   relevant) are being more fully implemented within alternative models for congregation-based Jewish education than in  traditional models for congregation-based Jewish education. ..consistent patters of differences were seen between alternative and traditional models of Jewish education. (p. 6 of 48)

I expected to hear that these models were better vehicles for learning that spoke to the whole person. I'm glad we don't have to only rely on what I believe..a major study proves it is worth the effort to create alternatives.

Will the proof bring more parents, clergy and educators to act? Not sure. Let's see.
In the meanwhile some
Additional findings:

1.  Movements have different foci
Rosov observed four Reform and four Conservative Congregations with Alternative Models
Conservative Congregations: on average had higher existence of caring relationships and rich content
Reform Congregations: on average had higher existence of seeking answers to the questions of daily life and constructing meaning
This seems to indicate that the educational models are influenced by synagogue cultures

2. Three characteristics were seen most often in new models that fostered powerful learning

Three characteristics were prevalent in alternative models that fostered the implementation of design principles

a. situate learning in real time settings (e.g. live Shabbat on Shabbat vs learning about Shabbat)
b. where families are at the core (not just a three time a year family ed program)
c. structure relationships intentionally among peers and across generations

3. Helpful to have full time educators
Full time educators had higher implementation of 21st century design principles than part time educators. (This pattern confirms).." that the employment of full-time learning facilitators increases the likelihood of implementing the design principles probably because such educators are better informed about and more experienced in the practices of whole person learning." p. 18

4. Three forces seem to enable or impede implementation
a. contextual factors: these are factors that can't be easily changed-e.g. location or congregational culture. They make up the deeply embedded culture, philosophy of the congregation.

b. intensifiers: less fixed than the contextual factors there are broad forces that shape the implementation of the design principles. These include full time vs part time educational leaders and teachers, and  ongoing professional development. 

c. Educational Models: Real time learning, family activities and near peer activities lay the groundwork for high levels of implementation of the design principles. 

5. Content and Relationships accentuate one another ..not cancel one another out
Rosov continually found that learning can and does focus equally on content and fostering relationships. Put to bed the myth that if you do one the other suffers. 

In summary Rosov Consulting wrote about the impact of the work of LOMED 
by using a careful research methodology, the research team has been able to explore the systemic factors that enable and impede the implementation of principles of whole person learning. seems that when educational approaches are carefully grounded in clear and well conceived educational models they can bring about different, alternative ways of doing things. This seems to be why alternative models are correlated with higher levels of implementation of the design principles. The findings suggest that in contrast to approaches that focus only on professional development for teachers or attempts to transform the entire congregation, it may be possible to achieve substantial educational change through a middle path focused on new models. (p. 37)

Shout Out to the Coalition of Innovating Congregations for providing the PROOF 
that if we want children and families to experience powerful whole person learning we need to re-imagine traditional Hebrew School  with new alternatives.