Establishing Measurable Competencies in Experiential Jewish Education

[The following article is the third of four responses to the study “Mapping Goals in Experiential Jewish Education”, a study commissioned by the Department of Experiential Jewish Education at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, investigating the role that goals, indicators and outcomes currently play in experiential Jewish education.]

To read the full report “Mapping Goals in Experiential Jewish Education” click here. To read the introduction to this project, click here.

by Carmen Ortiz Hendricks

When I was asked to respond to the study “Mapping Goals in Experiential Jewish Education” I wondered what I, as a social work educator, could contribute to this fascinating discussion.

About ten years ago, I published a book “Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn,” and the book’s title is very relevant to this discussion, in that there is a philosophy that I deeply believe in that says that as you teach you learn, and as you learn you teach; and I think that’s been my philosophy in terms of education.

This study, about the role that goals play in experiential Jewish education is a very well written qualitative study that explores whether what we teach is in fact being heard and being learned. In many ways, this exploration is connected to what we know today as assessments of student outcomes.

In the study it is clear that there a desire to evaluate what is being taught in terms of Jewish education, and it is clear that this type of evaluation is challenging:

On the one hand, there are educators and organizations that work within specific frameworks that can be measured and assessed. These educators and organizations present very clear, well-articulated goals, which are explicit. On the other hand, the study gives voice to educators whose goals – and practice – are implicit. These educators and organizations work though intuition and instinct. They don’t seem to possess a clear map of goals or indicators for whether their goals are being accomplished. They don’t know to explain why they do what they do. Their teaching emerges out of the learning experience that they seem implicitly conduct.

The work of experiential Jewish education, which seems to greatly impact Jewish identity development, clearly works both implicitly and explicitly. It involves learning through teaching and teaching through learning.

Is it possible to measure a practice that is explicit and implicit at the same time?

I’d like to suggest that we reframe the conversation so that it focuses not on the goals of experiential Jewish education and how to reach them, but about the competencies in which this this type of education results. Today competency-based education is what is being discussed in every State, in both undergraduate and graduate education, and I think it directly relates to experiential Jewish education.

In order to establish goals, expect outcomes, and develop indicators that demonstrate that outcomes have been achieved, one need to have a competency-based perspective. I think that the field of experiential Jewish education needs to translate goals into competencies, with behaviors that can be measured.

So I put it into this framework: if the competency is to develop a Jewish identity, so then what are the behaviors that we should be are looking for? If we’re looking to integrate Jewish principles, history, traditions, and culture, into our education – we need to find measurable behaviors that will indicate the success and / or failure of this competency.

It is hard to measure the development of a Jewish identity, but if we translate this process of identity development into certain behaviors, we can measure those. We can measure respecting diversity within the Jewish community and the world and we can measure helping others develop their own Jewish pride connections and commitment. The behaviors we will look to measure include the feelings, the thoughts, the knowledge and the skills associated with this competency. While difficult, the over-arching broad competency must be examined through specific behaviors that can be measured.

From my point of view it is not antithetical for experiential Jewish education to establish its own core competencies and for each competency to establish the behaviors that will indicate that the competency has been achieved. In such a situation, the competency must be widely accepted, the behaviors will be measurable, and we must evaluate not only groups of students but entire programs. Such evaluations can and should then support the establishments of clear benchmarks.

Such rubrics – whose focal points are competencies that are measured by behaviors – will allow us to evaluate not only the explicit behaviors and explicit learning that is taking place; it will also allows us to evaluate the implicit learning. The implicit learning has a great deal to do with the context within which the person is learning; the environment, the educators, and the sense of belonging – that’s implicit, and that too must be measured.

Dr. Carmen Ortiz Hendricks is Dean of and Professor at Yeshiva University Wurzweiler School of Social Work. Dr. Hendricks is the lead author with Jeanne Finch and Cheryl Franks of “Learning to Teach-Teaching to Learn: A Guide to Social Work Field Education” by the Council on Social Work Press, which is widely used in Seminars in Field Instruction throughout the U.S. She was honored to be inducted as a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine (2009) and as a Social Work Pioneer by NASW (2009).

The deadline for applications for Cohort IV of the YU Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education is February 17th 2014.