Expanding Your Reach: A New Networking and Learning Series Open to All Youth Professionals

Informed By Current Research and Best Practices From the 10 Communities of the Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative, Workshops Will Fuel Teen Engagement Efforts

Year-Long Series Launches September 3, 2020

By Sara Myers Allen & Debra Sagan Massey

In times of uncertainty, shrinking budgets and competing priorities, professional development (PD) is often one of the first things on the chopping block. Yet it is precisely at these challenging moments when investing in employees is most critical. Employees who feel they have the skills to perform at their peak and have a supportive network of trusted colleagues are more confident, more engaged, and more satisfied in their roles. Particularly amid a pandemic with an instantaneous shift into virtual experiences and social upheaval, fostering strong relationships is equally as important as helping to hone the skills youth professionals need to be successful.

With that in mind, the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative is bringing its collective power to the field with a new networking and learning series open to all: Expanding Your Reach.

After more than seven years of effective individual efforts in 10 local communities, the Funder Collaborative is drawing from key learnings and current research to offer best-in-class professional development and networking to all youth professionals nationwide who connect with, mentor, and inspire thousands of Jewish teens.

The Funder Collaborative is an innovative philanthropic experiment in which national and local funders work together to develop, nurture and scale new approaches to teen engagement. When we set out on our ambitious endeavor to dramatically increase the number and diversity of Jewish teens engaged in meaningful Jewish experiences, the 10 communities which comprise the Collaborative quickly identified a key driver to success – educators themselves. PD is an important through line cutting across all of the teen initiatives. As a Collaborative, we articulated a shared Measure of Success recognizing and valuing the pivotal role of educators (see “Measure of Success #6” below), and collectively have invested millions of dollars into PD offerings that educate, connect, and inspire.

On the ground, each communities’ approach to PD is varied and tailored to local needs. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Initiative has modeled various professional development practices over the past three years. Jewish LearningWorks implemented a mentor program, community convenings, off-site retreats, immersive learning experiences and a variety of network opportunities. In March, the regional Pop Up gatherings that bring together youth professionals for a casual conversation about important issues, went virtual. And ever since then, these Monday Lunchtime Pop Ups have extended to participants around the country and globe. Topics have ranged from supporting the mental health of our teens, to building community online, to discussions about racism and white privilege. A collaborative effort drawing on the learnings from the 10 communities that makes high caliber and relevant PD accessible and available to any teen educator across the country is a natural and thrilling progression.

Other communities are experimenting with monthly workshops and training sessions; community-based cohorts with experiential education experts; specialty incubators; subsidies for university-level courses; and significant network-weaving. All of these experiments recognize that investment in youth professionals is linked to strong programmatic outcomes and impact – and that the networking and collaboration opportunities PD provides are valuable beyond measure.

Four years of data from our Cross-Community Evaluation’s youth professional surveys, focus groups, and interviews offer invaluable insight into how we might best position these professionals to create dynamic, innovative and sustainable teen Jewish experiences. Strikingly, only about half of the nearly 400 professionals in the evaluations reported receiving sufficient on-the-job training to do their work effectively. The surveys have also uncovered that teen professionals specifically seek:

  • information about recruitment models
  • new models to attract diverse teens
  • training in social media and digital content
  • effective ways to track participant data
  • information about where to find funding for programs
  • more knowledge on adolescent development and the growing needs around mental health and wellness.

In addition to critical skill development, the shared learning will help create a sense of trusted community that colleagues can lean on during the course of their careers.  Therefore, each of the monthly sessions from September 2020 – May 2021 outlined here will include both the sharing of skills and best practices and a focus on networking and relationship-building. The CCE evaluation clearly showed that professionals value networking among a diverse and pluralistic set of colleagues dealing with a similar set of issues. These connections lead to fresh perspectives and the sharing of resources.  Most professionals surveyed attributed distinct professional growth to the teen initiative’s PD opportunities. They report gaining confidence, knowledge, and practical skills. Similar to how the Funder Collaborative itself is structured – with diverse communities across the country learning from each other, finding common ground and collegiality regardless of geography or area of focus – this networking will provide an opportunity for collaboration and new ways of thinking.

Although in-person professional development may be on an indefinite hold, we look forward to translating the energy, support, and fresh ideas that come from new networks online. This will be another step forward in our mission to help make sustainable change in the teen ecosystem. Register today.


Measure of Success #6


Youth professionals working with Jewish teens feel well-prepared and confident to do their work; have appropriate skills and knowledge to do their work; exhibit core competencies as required by their career stage and position, and feel valued as professionals in their organization and by the Jewish community at large.

Understanding the importance of roles models in teens’ lives, and recognizing that new teen initiatives are built upon the quality of the education and experiences they provide, we support the professional development of youth professionals, and aspire to establish teen education as a valued and enduring profession. Youth professionals (defined as those who work directly with teens on a full-time, part-time, or volunteer basis in programs associated with community initiatives) should be able to influence the Jewish growth and learning of teens in some or all of the four areas captured by the TJLES: supporting the development of a healthy self in relation to others (Personal); elevating caring about social justice and community service (Universal); strengthening connections to Jewish peoplehood and Israel (Tribal); and strengthening the connection to Jewish heritage and rituals (Sacred).

Knowing that different communities have different goals for professional development, as well as different content areas relevant to their teen programs, we encourage youth professionals to increase the competencies most relevant to their communities, roles, and job duties. At the same time, we appreciate the importance of a common set of skills and competencies that are essential for youth professionals across communities. To that end, we intend to increase youth professionals’ knowledge of adolescent development; and their ability to build strong relationships with teens, provide substantive programmatic content, and help teens explore how Judaism can help them lead more meaningful, productive lives. We intend to increase youth professionals’ competency to serve as Jewish role models for teens, and to see themselves as an important part of teens’ lives as emerging Jewish young adults. We intend to equip youth professionals to communicate and work with the parents of the teens they serve, as well as to reach out to parents of teens who have never, or rarely, participated. We aspire to empower youth professionals by establishing that role as one which includes appropriate compensation, benefits, and opportunities for professional growth and advancement.

Sara Allen is the Executive Director of The Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, a cross-community philanthropic experiment whereby national and local funders work together to develop, nurture and scale new approaches to teen engagement. Debra Sagan Massey is Senior Educator of Jewish LearningWorks, a grantee and partner of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund’s San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Teen Initiative, and has been engaged in Jewish education for more than 25 years.