Innovating Jewish Supplementary Education

Posted: November 26th, 2013

By Linda Block-Love, Director, Educational Leadership

What comes to mind when you hear the word “innovation?” The iPhone? Online colleges?  Some new medical advance? It seems that just about everywhere we look these days, we encounter changes to the ways things are made or how things are done. Although it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about innovation, the world of Jewish supplementary school education is no different. There was a time when looking across the landscape of congregation-based Jewish education one would see traditional classroom after traditional classroom—children sitting in rows striving to commit to memory information that would move them closer to becoming a bar or bat mitzvah. That picture is changing. In synagogues across the country, educators are looking for ways to make Jewish education more relevant to our children, to connect with them in ways that reflect the changing nature of our kids’ lives, and to actively engage them in the quest to create a meaningful Jewish life.

Synagogues approach making these changes in different ways, and there are myriad reasons for the variations in approach: educational vision, desired learning outcomes, size of the school, and congregational culture, among others. Jewish Learning Venture, a leader in the field of professional development and leadership training, has crafted learning opportunities for educators to strive for innovation and to increase general Judaic and pedagogic skills. Some, like the six congregations in Jewish Learning Venture’s LeV Initiative, have re-envisioned their overall approach to learning for children in elementary school and are implementing substantial changes to the structure of their educational program. Others are maintaining their structure but changing the roles learners and educators play, such as those who have adopted project-based learning (PBL) as the primary way to focus students on authentic Jewish learning.

While congregations in our community are innovating, so are many others across the country. However, there has been no mechanism to network these innovating congregational leaders so that they can learn from each other, and other communities can learn from their successes. To meet that need, six communities across the country have come together to form Shinui (Hebrew for “Change”): Igniting Change in Jewish Education. This national consortium is examining the experiences of innovating congregations in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Houston, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, so that we can learn from what others are doing and bring back to our home communities insights that will help us support our congregations in the best ways possible. Jewish Learning Venture is proud to be one of the lead agencies in this new undertaking. We will continue to share the stories of successful congregational education experiences with you and continue to work towards the goal of relevant and meaningful Jewish education for all.

Join the conversation: What changes in your educational program have you made or would you like to see? Respond in the comments below!

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