Enhanced toolbox

Five things we learned from leading the National Madrichim Academy

Across the country, hundreds of synagogues employ teen madrichim (student teachers) to help teachers in religious school classrooms. Some madrichim also assist in larger synagogue programs and youth group activities. Successful madrichim programs often lead to deeper engagement for the teen participants as well as creating opportunities for leadership development through near-to-peer role modeling, adult-youth partnerships, and other experiences. 

URJ Madrichim Learning Academy

As Jewish teens continue to find their path towards meaningful Jewish engagement, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is supporting them with resources and opportunities for community building. In partnership with Association for Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE) and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the URJ piloted a virtual Madrichim Learning Academy during which 33 teens from across North America met for five one-hour virtual sessions. Their congregational educators were invited to join the opening and closing sessions.  

In evaluating the program, most participants rated their experience as excellent, and all said that they are likely or very likely to recommend this program to their friends. Participants said that being in this program has helped them: 

  • Understand how to work with children. 
  • Learn how to deal with problems in the classroom more efficiently.? 
  • Create a deeper relationship with each student and create a better class environment. 
  • Become better madrichim (student teachers). 

Another Madrichim Learning Academy 101 is planned for fall 2021, and an Academy 102 for spring 2022. In the meantime, here are our top five takeaways tips from the pilot: 

Top Five Takeaways 

  1. Use Varied Modalities 

During each session, new virtual platforms and educational tools were used. Keeping the experience interesting for the participants and teaching them how to make online learning fun and interactive in this virtual space became a priority. Online tools included, Lucid Spark, MentiMenter, Polls, Kahoot, Buzzfeed Quiz, Zoom Breakout Rooms, Jam Board, Poll Everywhere, Word Cloud, and more. Learning to use and incorporate these tools took extra preparation time but paid off as the participants remained engaged and excited during each session.

  1. Create Relevant and Meaningful Content 

Developing engaging and actionable lessons increased the value of the learning experience for participants. Each week, they walked away with new information that was immediately relevant to their work as madrichim. Throughout the program, participants learned about 

  • Their personal approach to leadership, especially near-to-peer leadership. 
  • Different ages and stages of child development for children between ages 3 and 11.
  • Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and which multiple intelligence best represents them.
  • Ten behavior management strategies processed in small groups to allow participants time to consider how they might apply these strategies. 
  1. Develop a Holistic Communal Approach 

The Academy offered participants new skills and tools, but much of the real learning came from applying the lessons in their home communities. Maintaining a holistic approach and open line of communication with the educators in each community was a key element in the success of this pilot program. Educators were invited to the opening and closing session and will henceforth also receive post-meeting updates about what was covered during each meeting.? 

  1. Elevate Peer Engagement 

Creating space for peer engagement and teaching allowed participants to truly own their learning experience. Participants frequently met in small groups to learn about a particular topic, after which they prepared a teaching, activity, or presentation on that topic for the rest of the group. As an added benefit, small group participants were able to make new friends and expand their own network of friends from across the country.? 

  1. Make Time for Reflection 

According to John Dewey, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” During the last 10 minutes of each session, time was spent reflecting upon what had been covered that day. Participants were invited to share their takeaways, reinforcing the content shared during their time together. 

Based on the post-program surveys from participants and educators, the Academy offered a powerful learning experience for all involved. Enhancing the toolbox of resources that these teens can utilize both inside and outside of the classroom, we can expect the ripple effect of their learning to benefit them as individuals as well as our communities. 

Learn more  about URJ Madrichim Academies and our other 2021-22 Teen Leadership Opportunities and join us for the next one.  

Emily Messinger, MARE, is a Jewish educator who has been working in the field of youth engagement for 20 years and is deeply committed to creating and supporting Jewish community for youth, young adults, adults, and Jewish professionals. Jennifer Quick is a Jewish educator with 15 years of experience in both secular and Jewish education/engagement and a passion for creating a safe space as well as recognizing the need for people to have a place to belong and grow.