Elevating the early-career teen engagement experience
When we create structures to help early career teen engagement professionals reframe the teen engagement experience from “outcomes” to be achieved to “identities” to be embodied, we are paving the way for a more well resourced, diverse, connected and supported Jewish communal professional now and for the future.
When I began my career as a teen engagement professional, I set a lofty goal of doubling attendance for the local teen program. I tried everything to get teens to show up so I could reach my goal. But I was so focused on this one aspect of my work that my attempts at raising numbers failed each time. In James Clear’s groundbreaking book, Atomic Habits, he argues that when we set goals, we are often so focused on the outcome – whether it’s running a marathon, writing a book or becoming the next president – that we lose sight of the identity we are trying to embody. He states that if we really want to write a book, then we must embody the identity of the writer and approach every situation with the question, “What would a writer do?” Clear identifies that I was missing the mark because I had a faulty strategy. It’s not about the attendance, rather, it’s about embodying a role to better support the teens I served. Instead of setting a goal to get more teens to my programs, I should have embodied an identity that supports teen thriving. Instead of asking, “How do I get more teens to my program,” I should have asked, “What type of environment do I need to create in order to help more teens thrive in my setting?” This shift from outcome to identity would have helped me establish a strategic habit to elevate the teens I served.
For early-career teen engagement professionals, it is essential to help them establish strategic habits that will serve as a foundation for a career in the field of Jewish education. That’s why The Jewish Education Project created The Generate fellowship, a one year fellowship experience aimed to provide early-career teen engagement professionals (0-3 years of experience) with the tools, skills and knowledge to become stronger mentors for the teens they serve. In its inaugural year, the Generate fellowship has begun to transform the field of Jewish teen education and engagement by helping professionals reimagine their roles from setting strategic goals that will enhance their work, to embodying strategic practices that will become the foundation of their identities as Jewish professionals in the field.
Mentors for the Teens They Serve: The Generate fellowship encourages early-career teen engagement professionals to shift away from setting goals to support their teens to embodying the role of “mentor” for the teens they serve. In our pre-survey findings, only 26% of teen engagement professionals articulated they felt equipped to serve as mentors for the teens they serve. As a result of participation in the Generate fellowship, 95% of teen professionals saw themselves as more equipped to serve as a mentor for them. This statistic speaks to the fellowship’s ability to address both the programmatic and adaptive challenges that early career professionals face, and in turn, help them shift their goals from creating 10 new initiatives for the youth group, to embodying the role of mentor for the teens they serve as a guiding principle by which they make decisions.
Resources and Knowledge Sharing: The Generate fellowship encourages early-career teen engagement professionals to embody a professional practice that shifts away from setting goals to locate resources that will elevate their teen programming to becoming professionals who are always engaging with diverse resources in order to elevate their professional practice. When a teen engagement professional begins their professional journey, there is no “guidebook” provided for where to access resources to address the challenges they face and guide the teens they serve. Only 43% of fellows in year one of the fellowship said they actually knew where to access resources around teen engagement. By the time they completed the program, 76% of fellows said they knew where to go in order to access resources related to teen engagement. The diversity of organizations, professionals and resources that were introduced throughout the fellowship will now remain an integral part of a teen professional’s network as they build curriculum for teens and seek support for themselves. These newfound resources will be the foundation for which they will build their professional library that will impact different initiatives.
The Power of Professional Mentorship: The fellowship encourages early-career teen engagement professionals from reactively seeking professional guidance when problems arise to becoming professionals who proactively seek external mentorship in order to enrich their professional practice and enhance their work with teens. Professional mentorship is an essential component when navigating programmatic and adaptive challenges that arise in your setting. While these problems don’t stop mid-career, learning how to navigate them becomes easier with additional experience. The Generate fellowship provided early career teen engagement professionals with opportunities for 1:1 mentorship and group mentorship in order to work through challenges that arose in their setting. We found that 81% of Generate fellows are walking away from the experience with a professional mentor they can turn to for guidance and support throughout their career. We are building a field of educators who are accessing professional mentorship to enhance their work, and in turn, these relationships will provide structures that will support them on their journeys now and hopefully for years to come.
Exploring Beyond the Bubble: The fellowship encourages early-career teen engagement professionals to shift away from setting goals to connect with professionals who hold diverse perspectives, to becoming professionals who access diverse perspectives to enrich their professional practice and elevate their work with teens. The field of Jewish teen education and engagement is large and robust. Its size often lends itself to teen engagement professionals seeking support within a familiar pipeline; close geographic region, aligned professional setting, denominational affiliation or from other professionals who assume the same role within another institution. The Generate fellowship was built around surfacing shared topics and tensions that teen engagement professionals face and inviting professionals across the aisle to grapple, explore and learn from one another’s perspectives. Exposure to a diverse group of professionals is important at any stage of a career but is essential as early career professionals gain an understanding of the field.
Investing in early career teen engagement professionals won’t just impact the Jewish education of today but inform the Jewish education of tomorrow. Early-career teen engagement professionals are current and future leaders of our Jewish Community. When we create structures to help them reframe the teen engagement experience from “outcomes” to be achieved to “identities” to be embodied, we are paving the way for a more well resourced, diverse, connected and supported Jewish communal professional now and for the future. Professional development cohort opportunities can be designed to help early-career teen engagement professionals lead in their roles today and embody a mindset that will inform their work in Jewish education for years to come.
Jodie Goldberg is an education consultant, teen engagement and educator networks, at The Jewish Education Project and is the director of the Generate fellowship. Interested in learning more or to apply for the GENERATE fellowship experience, click here.