Professional Development as a Catalyst for Community Change
By Clare Goldwater and Tamara Rebick
January 2020, Montreal: It is snowing and freezing cold. The words “COVID-19” don’t mean anything to us yet. Twenty-four Jewish educators gather at a camp in the beautiful Laurentian mountains of Quebec to kick off the Passport to Jewish Life Fellowship. They are here to gain ideas and tools to enrich their educational practice and to build a Community of Practice. They come from youth organizations and schools, established synagogues and grass-roots communities; they are Francophone and English-speaking; there are rabbis, group leaders, educational entrepreneurs, teachers, and more. Everyone knows someone else, but no one knows everyone. The first gathering focuses on values; the core ideas that animate educational practice and learning experiences. Fellows delve deeply into purpose, meaning, and hearing the multiple voices they bring.
In the past year, despite all the disruptions that COVID-19 has caused, this group of Fellows has evolved into a tight-knit community of educators, the lifeblood of the educational future of Montreal. The seminars (in-person in January and thenceforth online), the Community of Practice meetings, and the individualized coaching have helped them gain the skills and motivation to take on the responsibility for long-term community change and development.
The product of a partnership between M2: The Institute for Experiential Education and Federation CJA, Montreal is the first site for this model of community change. We believe the model has enormous potential for other cities, and we want to share what we have learnt in the past year about bringing together diverse groups of professional educators (as widely defined as possible) to catalyze long-term community change and growth.
Launching a program in the midst of a global pandemic has demonstrated the importance of strong networks and flexibility. The first seminar took place before the crisis hit, but it reached us soon afterwards, before we could implement new ideas or build momentum. Nevertheless, it quickly became clear that even the budding relationships between Fellows could be helpful and motivating. Fellows whose jobs were at risk found support and job-hunting assistance through the group, those whose constituents were suffering found it useful to share their experiences and suggestions for how to address the crisis, and everyone realized that being part of a network outside their specific workplace provided unexpected moral and emotional support that has only strengthened over time. Ironically, it may be that the pressures and stresses of COVID-19 have not only contributed to a stronger group but also taught us all about the necessity of being able to respond quickly to needs of the moment and demonstrate flexibility in the face of forces bigger than ourselves.
The program has clearly illustrated that speaking a shared language of education promotes multiplicity and diversity, while speaking different languages leads to chaos. One of the pillars of the Passport to Jewish Life Fellowship is the focus on acquiring and using a shared language for program design, values clarification, and educational growth, based on M2’s approach. The very diversity of the educators in the program makes it critical that they speak a shared language so that they can communicate, collaborate, and build new things together, all while letting their differences shine. There is an interesting paradox at play; though we are interested in promoting a shared language, this is not to blur participants’ differences or minimize them, but to highlight, recognize, and celebrate them. And then, using the same terminology and through our deep mutual understanding of each other, we work together to imagine new directions and build innovative possibilities for collaboration.
While it has been a full year since the group gathered in person, the bonds have solidified and trust, mutual respect, and admiration have been nurtured. These Fellows show up to every online session fully present, engaged and energized – eager to learn and grow together.
With graduation taking place in June 2021, we now know that a combination of shared language, flexibility, and attention to network-building is sowing the seeds of profound impact for the broader Montreal Jewish community, – both for its institutions, and the individual Fellows.
Clare Goldwater is Vice President, Education at M2: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education.
Tamara Rebick is M2 Faculty and the Founder/CXO of Coriphery Holistic Consulting Solutions.
Passport to Jewish Life Fellowship is an 18-month professional development program for leading educators in Montreal. Fellows gain conceptual ideas and practical tools to strengthen their work, build a collaborative community, and develop a shared language for educational practice. The Fellowship is supported by Federation CJA and The Passport to Jewish Life Funders Collaborative and powered by M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education.