Field learnings

Key learnings on designing and measuring high-quality educator training programs

In 2017, the Jim Joseph Foundation experimented with a grantmaking method that was new to the Foundation – two open requests for proposals (RFPs). The Foundation wanted to hear from the field, especially from organizations with which we were not already in close relationship, and about potential programs that reflected the field’s best and forward thinking. Ultimately, 12 organizations (out of 21 total) were funded by the Foundation for the very first time.

There were two areas of particular interest to the Foundation in that moment, Jewish educator professional development (PD) and Jewish leadership development. The Foundation believed there were opportunities to leverage in both. Whereas educator training and PD was essentially infused into the Foundation’s DNA from inception, leadership development was a newer arena of investment. Eleven existing programs with strong reputations across the field of Jewish leadership development were funded from that part of the open RFP. While the boundaries, definitions and required skills of “leaders” vs. “educators” can be grey at times, the Foundation’s goal was to build relationships with these eleven organizations so that it could learn more about what makes a Jewish leadership development program effective and why. The Center for Creative Leadership documented these learnings, and those reports and findings will be shared in the coming months.

The Foundation had been deeply involved in Jewish educator training and professional development for a decade and had clear goals for the next phase of investments in this arena: infusing the field with high quality programming that was cohort-based, creative, immersive, and measurably effective. The ten programs that were funded through the Educator Professional Development Initiative were each led by people whom the Foundation trusted for their reputations as field leaders with critical expertise. Many of the programs were new and included experimental components that were often seen before as “nice to haves” but too luxurious to include in many programs. But the Foundation believed that the highest quality programming, equal to any secular educator training program, was essential to the outcome of professionalizing the field. The initiative reached almost 500 Jewish educators over three years, providing experiences that were professionally and personally impactful, even despite the tumult of 2020.

The Educator Professional Development Initiative also included a learning aspect. Rosov Consulting designed and implemented an emergent learning framework in which the ten program directors were convened to form a cohort of their own, a professional learning community that guided the evaluation with timely and relevant questions. These questions, for example, asked about the pacing and content of their programs and about the mix of participants they tried to include in cohorts. The learning community also provided space for them to network (many of them had never met each other before). They connected and strengthened their network by sharing common challenges and themes of program design, recruitment, and unfortunately, navigating the pandemic. Being in a learning cohort also gave the program directors a window into the experiences of their program’s participants and enabled them to see themselves as part of the field of Jewish education.

The evaluation has proven fruitful for the field of Jewish educator professional development (see here for full reports and case studies). Common instruments such as a participant audit to explore the demographics and motivations of incoming educators and a shared outcomes survey were developed with the input of the program directors. These instruments will be introduced to the broader field this summer. The instruments are noteworthy because the ten programs were intentionally diverse in their topics and intended audiences. The fact that a set of shared outcomes could be distilled and measured across the programs compelled the Foundation to begin thinking about common outcomes to measure across the Jewish educator professional development programs it supports. 

Evaluation work with ten very different programs over a three-year period also revealed the extent to which powerful professional development involves designing experiences that take shape around a series of productive tensions: creating experiences with utility and ultimate meaning, space and structure, and a balance of work and play; and providing opportunities for personal growth and professional belonging in groups that include participants with both sufficient diversity and commonality. 

The outcomes yielded by such experiences are strongly related to the professional profiles and personal goals with which participants arrive. Those outcomes gain significance over time, sometimes many months after a program’s conclusion, as participants gain opportunities to apply their learnings and newfound understandings in their places of work. 

Lastly, professional development is not synonymous with professional advancement. It is possible to embark on a meaningful journey of professional development without moving up, or seeking to move up, the career ladder; “staying at home” was an especially appropriate metaphor for this process offered by one participant given how most people have experienced the past 14 months. 

These learnings and instruments can benefit all in the field who want to create and implement effective educator training programs, whether virtual or in person. With these new resources, we can continue this learning journey together.

Stacie Cherner is Director of Learning and Evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation. Alex Pomson is Principal and Managing Director at Rosov Consulting. Click here to access all of the reports and case studies related to the professional development initiatives. Click here to go directly to The Jim Joseph Foundation Professional Development Initiative: A Picture of Learning Coming Together: Year 3 Learnings