More Than One Way to Document a Model

By Sandy Edwards

In the dead of winter, with a Nor’easter bearing down, what compels someone to travel from Miami to Boston? If you work in Jewish education, it’s the opportunity to see first-hand and learn about all of the elements of a successful project called B’Yadenu. I had the opportunity as well to sit-in on this dissemination, known as the Community Partner Workshop. Important takeaways from this process can help other foundations, schools, and organizations as they decide when and how to disseminate a successful model.

As a demonstration project, B’Yadenu aims to create an effective, sustainable, and adaptable model to provide a Jewish Day School education to more students with a range of special learning needs in the Boston Jewish Day School community. The project is managed by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston in partnership with Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, based in Newton, MA, and Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership in New York. Now in its 3rd year, and with two cohorts of five Boston-area Jewish Days Schools, we are beginning to see positive results. Each participating school has developed a Leadership team consisting of administrators and teacher leaders who plan a professional development program for their school as they create and implement a whole school approach to meet the needs of diverse learners.

For the Jim Joseph Foundation, seeing these initial positive results presents a major opportunity in line with our approach to strategic grantmaking and to model documentation and dissemination. This opportunity is why, for two days last month, community and school representatives from Miami and Detroit flew to Boston to learn about the B’yadenu model and the concepts supporting implementation, the project toolkit, and initial outcomes directly from those leading the project.

The Foundation works with grantees to disseminate models in a variety of ways, from websites to hard copy reports. Different models lend themselves to different forms of dissemination. And, the in-person dissemination of B’Yadenu certainly has its benefits:

  • A Substantive Model: When the “host” community – in this case Boston – invites other communities to fly in and learn first-hand about an initiative, there is an implicit message that “we have something working here, and we want to help you adapt it for your community.” When different communities take the time and resources to come together in this manner, all parties involved make a commitment to learn and to take the steps necessary to make successful adaption more likely.
  • In-person engagement: Even with all of the technology in our world today, the opportunity to interact in-person for two days allows for deep learning. The Miami and Detroit representatives engaged in exercises, asked pointed questions, and had the opportunity to reflect with the Boston representatives on what this might look like in their communities.
  • Seeing is Believing: As part of the two-day dissemination, the Miami and Detroit representatives toured schools where B’Yadenu has led to change. They were able to see what the project actually looks like in implementation. By seeing something working, the planning process – while perhaps still daunting – feels incredibly worthwhile. Julie Lambert, Director of Professional Learning Initiatives at CAJE Miami, attended the Workshop and commented, “It was exciting to learn about the B’Yadenu model. We saw how well the project connects to our work in Miami, and how it can be adapted to further develop what we have accomplished in our day school community. We left Boston with renewed energy and increased knowledge to build our capacity for serving our diverse student population.”
  • Looking Inwards: While the Workshop was designed to benefit the Miami and Detroit communities, the preparation that the Boston B’Yadenu team went through to lead an insightful and productive two-day workshop was helpful to them as well. The process forced the team – in a good way – to think deeply about the B’Yadenu design and implementation process, what has worked well, what it would change, and how the outcomes are beginning to take root.

“As a demonstration project, B’Yadenu has benefitted from an exceptional interchange of learning between all of our partners (both schools and regional/national agencies),” said Alan Oliff, Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement at CJP and the Project Manager for B’Yadenu. “The dissemination workshop expanded our learning through the questions, ideas, and concerns raised by the Miami and Detroit participants. We appreciated the opportunity to share all that we learned and create new networks that can add to the knowledgebase in the field about best practice going forward.”

Sharing the B’Yadenu model at this relatively early juncture in its development provided a substantial learning opportunity for Boston and the communities considering adapting it. The B’Yadenu team will continue to support Miami and Detroit educators as they determine how to adapt B’Yadenu to their communities.

Other Foundation grantees also are currently involved in model documentation and dissemination. As one example, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, and Marin and Sonoma Counties Early Childhood Education Initiative, is about to embark on model documentation of its successful Jewish Resource Specialist program. This four-year-old initiative is expanding the capacity of 15 Jewish pre-schools to enhance the Jewish learning taking place, as well as to engage families more deeply in Jewish family experiences.

The recent Grantee Perception Report on the Jim Joseph Foundation indicated clear field interest in the Foundation continuing to broadly share efforts of its grantees. We hope that the building, documentation, and dissemination of successful models is an effective response to this expressed interest of stakeholders in Jewish education.

Sandy Edwards is Associate Director of the Jim Joseph Foundation.

cross-posted on the Jim Joseph Foundation Blog