I'm busy writing mid-year reports for funders--never a fun activity. Yet, I've learned forced reflection is a helpful thing. We are so busy doing our work, we don't always stop and ask:
What did we accomplish? What did we learn? What's next-adjust?
1. More engaged with less resource.
Since July, the number of educational leaders engaged in the Coalition of Innovating Congregations has doubled-now 100 congregations are actively engaged in their questions around "How do we imagine Jewish leaning that matters in people's lives?" The Coalition in NY participates in the following programs:
a. Peer Networks: meeting at least six times a year to address self identified innovation questions
Thank you Suri Jacknis for your leadership
b. I*Express: launching educational pilots within 12 months by adapting new models of education created by educational pioneers
Thank you Rabbi Jen Goldsmith for your leadership
c. Private consulting for innovation needs; webinars; Innovation bootcamp and In-site ful Journeys (visits to innovation sites)
Thank you Rabbi Mike Mellen, Ellen Rank, Jessica Rothbart, Susan Ticker and Jessica Degrado for your leadership
This year, we have less staff and funding to support the tough task of re-imagining education.
We've learned: leaders are propelled by their own needs to make change and benefit from small groups for emotional support and problem solving. Peer networks benefit from facilitation by well trained staff.
What we don't know: With more self directed innovation work, less financial and outside professional support, and with increased peer support, at what rate/to what degree will changes in the educational system occur?
2. Harnessing the internet to strengthen impact
Duh: No congregation can do this innovation work alone. The wisdom of each program needs to be shared. So we've started documenting the powerful stories of places that have truly re-imagined education. We are working with 12 congregations to capture their stories. What we don't know is how best to tell the story on line so people are inspired to learn more and to act. We do know people want "little bites," meaning easy access and quick to implement.
The innovation stories will be accompanied by demonstration of "learner impact and value." We've started parent focus groups to hear: What do parents hope for? What impact do parents see in their children from the innovative learning? By spring, we'll hear more than 100 parents' stories.
In the spring we'll do more testing of documentation work online. Does it spark and spread innovation? How can we do it effectively? Thank you Mike Mellen, Leah Kopperman, Faigy Gilder, Anna Marx from Shinui, and Catherine Schwartz from NYU for your leadership.
3. Jewish learning Opportunities in non-congregational settings
With a generous grant from the Steinhardt Foundation we entered a new arena: non-congregational settings. Jewish learning is not just for synagogue members. The educational landscape is changing right under our feet. One size of education fits no one.
This grant enabled us to work with a JCC; a cultural center, a Chabad center, a synagogue offering non membership education, and a parent run co-op for children who attend Hebrew Charter Schools. As you know, in the charter school children learn Hebrew and Israeli culture and history, but can not engage in religious education because of church state separation. These programs therefore offer the "Judaism" component to kids who speak Hebrew and are connected to Israel.
Each of these sites has engaged parents in "hopes and dreams" conversations. The innovation work is not beginning with "what do we as leaders want for students," but beginning with the energy and desires of parents. Parents engagement from day one, we believe will bring about greater imagination and impact. This assumption will be tested as we move forward. We are seeing there is great opportunity in these alternative settings. For example, the JCC and cultural centers are prime for experiential-hands on learning. Thank you Rabbi Dena Klein and Tamara Gropper for leading this work.
We've done a lot of work. We set up new systems and processes and taken on new challenges.
This hard and inspiring work is possible because of a remarkable team that "jumps in and figures it out."
I appreciate the leadership of The Jewish Education Project for creating a place that always asks: What might we?
What did we learn?
The story of Jewish Education is unfolding. May we be blessed to slow down and reflect in June 2015 and write to our funders:
What we accomplished, what we learned, what's next.