By Veronica Maravankin
“We have to make this moment last…
Scratch that – this is not a moment, it’s the movement.”
Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda
A fictionalized Alexander Hamilton ponders a question that countless leaders have faced: how to create lasting change. Likewise, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his commentary on the recent Torah portion Achrei Mot, advances ritual as the vital system that enables transformative events to endure over time. He cites Moses’ descent from the mountain, tablets in hand, which would later be commemorated annually on its anniversary, Yom Kippur.
Using Sacks’ formulation, I offer a timely example of how educational leadership initiatives can live on, years past the final program evaluation.
The once–and–never–again moment? In July 2007, through the generosity of numerous philanthropists, the Covenant Foundation, in partnership with JECEI, The Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, launched a three-year fellowship, with the goal of raising a new generation of visionary, connected leaders for the field of Jewish Early Childhood Education. As a result, in 2012, five of the original fellows founded The Paradigm Project, a growing network of practitioner-activists in Jewish Early Childhood Education, bound by a shared commitment to multiplying and nurturing the seeds of excellence in our schools and our field for the benefit of children, families, educators, communities, and the world. No small feat, and yet Judaism demands no less of us.
The once–and–ever–again ceremony? Two weeks ago, eleven years later after the original moment, 215 Jewish Early Childhood educators from across the country met at the 4th Annual Paradigm Project Conference to study and learn about the fundamentals of being a #ParadigmShifter – the big ideas of Judaism, progressive early childhood education, and leadership. This year’s focus on the Educator as a lamplighter, the one who illuminates journeys, ignited a three-year cycle of conference themes, which will be followed by the Family in 2019 and then the Child in 2020.
Who are these educators and what do we stand for? #ParadigmShifters are brimming with passion and vital impatience – we respectfully agitate against the status quo in education and know that together we can #MakeShiftHappen. Ours is a vision of highest-quality learning encounters for our youngest citizens in communities that serve as beacons of support, inspiration, and love for families. We will not be satisfied until every Jewish early childhood center in the United States can work at this level. Societal progress always requires a nudge, and we call upon the Jewish lens of d’rash, with its inherent inquiry, dialogue and reflection, to guide us.
With our focus on the educator at this year’s conference, we are committed to raising the status of early education. The associated low wages for educators has been clearly articulated in a recent issue of Scientific American:
Annually they earn between $10,000 and $30,000 less than historically under salaried public school elementary teachers, driving a turnover rate so high it is rivaled only by the fast food industry. Until these funding and workforce problems are addressed, “we can come up with the best strategies for teaching in the world,” says Deborah Stipek, a professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, “but they’re not going to be implemented.”
As Rabbi Sacks instructs, we are charged to be agents of hope, and thus #ParadigmShifters counter this dour assessment with optimism, strategy, and a sense of determination. As Rabbi Sacks continues, “Turning ideals into codes of action that shape habits of the heart is what Judaism and leadership are about. Never lose the inspiration of the prophets, but never lose, either, the routines that turn ideals into acts and dreams into achieved reality.”
Just as the tablets that Moses brought down Mount Sinai became a visible sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, may The Paradigm Project continue to stand as the sign of the covenant between us, today, and the future generations of Jewish educators and Jewish families.
To be a #ParadigmShifter is to be an activist, drawing inspiration from our time together at our gatherings as we advance our schools across the country. Or as Hamilton, with his own Moses reference, puts it, “We roll like Moses, claiming our promised land… We’re gonna rise up.”
Veronica Maravankin ([email protected]) is a consultant and the director of early childhood education at the Mandel JCC in Palm Beach Gardens. She is one of the founders of the Paradigm Project. To register for an upcoming learning opportunity with the Paradigm Project, visit www.jparadigm.org. All photos in this article were taken at the 2018 Paradigm Project conference.