Change Happens

by Jane Slotin

Thank you, Rabbi Steinberg for shining a light on Hebrew School – a far too often overlooked piece of the Jewish education puzzle. As national funders of the field of complementary Jewish education, PELIE (Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education) has been closely surveying and listening to the field. What follows is a quick summary of our major observations along with the corresponding strategies PELIE has adopted for impacting the field.

  1. Complementary Jewish education is no longer a monolithic model. There is no “one size fits all”. Some kids are educated in classrooms, others in the woods, and others online. Communities are building learning environments and curricula to meet their consumers’ needs, and our consumers span a wide spectrum. This “differentiation of instruction” has allowed for greater meaning-making and individualization. As such, PELIE funds both the adaptation of non-congregational (Kesher, Hebrew Wizards) and congregational (NESS) models to various cities throughout the nation and spends significant time connecting innovative models with communities who are seeking new strategies for Jewish education.
  2. Without the use of technology, there is no future of Jewish education. Technology is not simply a tool. Technology is the culture of our children, and technology is shaping a new Jewish future. PELIE has learned that there are smart professionals who are hungry to learn more about technology, recognizing its significance in the future of Jewish education. Therefore, PELIE in partnership with The AVI CHAI Foundation funds regional one-day Kadima conferences for complementary and day school educators to build skill sets and mindsets about technology integration in Jewish education. PELIE also sponsors Technology Fellows each summer who attend the secular ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, the largest conference about education and technology in the world. These fellows return to their communities as informed and enthusiastic champions for technology integration.
  3. While incentivizing and valuing professionals is an extremely important element of Jewish education, improving the quality of this alone will not improve an overall Jewish education system. The alignment of lay leadership, professional leadership, curriculum, assessment, family involvement and yes, professional development is essential, and improvements in each of these areas need to be based on the mission and vision of the institution (or non-institution) providing the education. Several communities are working toward alignment and systemic change (such as Pittsburgh and Detroit). PELIE trained these communities, and others, in the use of an assessment tool (the JSASIP) which allows Jewish education programs to take a “snapshot” of the current state of their schools, so that they can envision the future.

Jewish education is changing – and this change is challenging and exciting. It affords us the opportunity to abolish the “I HATE HEBREW SCHOOL” mentality.

Jane Slotin is the Executive Director of PELIE, a partnership of funders working to impact complementary Jewish education.

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