Climbing the mountain

Supporting novice educators through induction

In Short

The view is beautiful once you are up there

CASJE’s latest research paper, “Preparing for Entry: Fresh Perspectives on How and Why People Become Jewish Educators” uses the image of a funnel to describe how candidates enter the field of Jewish education. As someone who leads a program that supports novice educators in Jewish day schools, I would like to suggest that the metaphor of a mountain is more apt. People don’t enter the field through a gravitational force that pulls them in unless they actively step out. We need to provide prospective Jewish educators with evidence-based support structures – “enabling experiences” – that allow the prospects to successfully scale the mountain of knowledge and skills that are needed to thrive in Jewish education careers and effectively serve their learners. 

The CASJE study affirms the importance of induction – providing formal, structured support to new educators during their first few years on the job. The study reflects on the positive impact that new teacher induction has had in the day school sector, leading me to ask: what would it take to establish the structured support that induction programs offer in other Jewish education settings?

New teacher induction draws upon research in the fields of adult learning and professional learning. It is job-embedded. It leverages the expertise of more experienced educators to support novice educators. It is based on a set of teaching standards and best practices that have clear indicators of practice and growth. It involves goal setting along a continuum of practice. It employs a coaching model that solicits reflection rather than instruction. It utilizes an iterative inquiry cycle of idea-implementation-reflection. It focuses more on pedagogy than on subject matter so it is equally effective in Judaic subjects and secular subjects, across all grades, and across all religious denominations.

Some of the key components of induction in the day school space can easily be replicated in other Jewish education sectors (others may prove more challenging). Day schools are the most intensive and consistent learning environments with the most structured schedules and the most hours devoted to learning. All the other sectors examined in the CASJE research study have significantly fewer hours of consistent learning time and/or more irregular schedules, so some of these components may be challenging to achieve in those settings. Ultimately successful induction programs rely on:  

  • Institutions willing to invest in their educators’ professional growth
  • Educators wanting to invest in their own professional growth
  • Shared understanding of educational goals and best practices
  • Veteran educators ready to serve as mentors / coaches to novice educators
  • Structured and consistent time for job-embedded practice, observation of work, and coaching conversations 
  • Tools and protocols that focus on teaching and professional growth, not only on emotional support
  • Funding to invest in the effort on a sector-wide basis

As each sector has its own structure, rhythm, educational goals, and access to experienced educators, flexibility is essential to designing induction programs relevant to the specifics of each context. It takes a commitment of multiple types of resources – time, money, risk-tolerance, human capital – to design induction programs that could strengthen the field of Jewish education across all of its sectors. If we want to bring new educators into the field and set them up for success, we need to provide them with the tools they need to climb the mountain. The view is beautiful once you are up there. 

Nina Bruder is the executive director of the Jewish New Teacher Project of New Teacher Center, which accelerates the effectiveness of new teachers and school leaders in Jewish day schools through mentoring. JNTP has supported hundreds of novice educators and administrators in Jewish day schools for almost 20 years.