The Talent Next Door: A Hidden Gift of the Pandemic

By Aharoni Carmel and Yael Harari

We’ve been closely following “What’s Going on in Jewish Education” and the CASJE interim report, not only because the research is integral to Jewish education, but additionally since TalentEducators was founded in 2019, we have been experiencing these findings firsthand.

Alex Pomson’s November 30 article in this publication points to two shifts in Jewish educational hiring practices:

  • Employers in day schools building their benches
  • Employers in experiential and early childhood education hiring fewer, more full-time staff

As a project of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, we are tasked with addressing a problem that has existed for decades in education: a shortage of talented educators. When it comes to Jewish education, this problem is more pronounced as educators need additional unique characteristics of inspiring and fostering a meaningful Jewish identity. The global pandemic only exacerbated this issue as it layered a new set of technological and organizational skills required along with multiple new stressors. Our mission centers on recruiting, retaining, and supporting Jewish educators and Jewish education, and since March, we have consistently experienced and identified this shift that CASJE’s findings reveal. In this article, we would like to contribute a new finding from our experience in the field.

Last year, in our first year of operation, we matched 38 educators in educational institutions across the US and the UK, with the help of Prizmah and PaJes respectively, from London to Philadelphia and from Dallas to Seattle. These educators identify across the Jewish practice spectrum: from pluralist and largely unaffiliated to Orthodox. Most of our fellows were placed in day schools, as many of the positions outside of day schools disappeared with the advent of COVID-19 and remote learning.

Something unexpected that we learned which dovetails perfectly with the identified shift in hiring practices is a new and valuable pipeline for Jewish educators: those already in the community who are not in full-time lead positions.

Let’s back up for a moment. When we thought about our work with educational institutions, we identified three circles of impact in terms of recruiting new talent to the field of Jewish education:

  • New talent recruited to the field of Jewish education. In order to increase the pipeline, we need to recruit new talented people to the field of Jewish education, while raising the profile of the Jewish educator. This is our long-term goal and one that we have built framework and systems around.
  • Existing educators outside the reach of the employer. While at first we were resistant to the idea of playing “musical chairs” and fearful of poaching, we soon learned that with a global view of the world of Jewish educators and education, we can essentially optimize the market while avoiding the aforementioned issues. With our global view, this means that we can match excellent educators who have not found the right position in their current location with educational institutions who are eager to hire an educator with that specific skill set.
  • Existing educators within reach of the employer. This circle of impact was one in which we understood we could save time and money by providing professional vetting, though we hesitated given what felt like lesser added value. But, here, especially in the midst of the pandemic, we encountered an amazing untapped opportunity already within reach of the employer.

In our pilot year, we focused primarily on recruiting new talent and on optimizing the placement of existing educators with educational institutions out of each other’s reach (circles 2 and 3 from the diagram above). What surprised us was the huge potential and benefits that we had not originally recognized, a subcategory of those existing educators within reach of the employers (a subsection of circle 1 from the diagram above). This group includes people who are in the educational institution’s community: teaching assistants, general studies teachers, alumni, parents, and even board members. These people – who are a great match for the mission and the culture of the institution and do not need to relocate – are the perfect way to both build a bench and hire fewer staff on a more full time basis. They are also more likely to stay in the institution because much of onboarding and growing pains has passed smoothly.

To this end, in 2019-2020, we helped a synagogue in Denver recognize a parent volunteer who became an excellent curriculum coordinator, a day school in DC recognize a teaching assistant who became e a wonderful Hebrew kindergarten teacher, a high school in London recognize an alum who became an inspiring informal educator… the list goes on.

This untapped talent is a surprise gift that the pandemic has handed us: the necessity to search within our own community to pinpoint the talent that is already there but has not been cultivated. To help transform these individuals into the ideal educators, we have mapped the field of professional development, mentoring, and training in the Jewish education, working with over 50 organizations who do the work and do it well. In conversation with the educational institution and the educator, we can then employ our unique training and mentoring model which identifies and then funds the right program that will instill the optimal skills and knowledge for these aspiring educators.

As the shift in Jewish education continues, we continue to recognize the incredible power of those who are already within our communities – and resiliently build that bench!

Aharoni Carmel is the founding CEO of TalentEducators and a veteran principal of educational institutions both in Israel and the US with over twenty years of experience in the field of education.

Yael Harari is the Chief Operating Officer of TalentEducators and has more than fifteen years of experience in the field of education: as a teacher of literature and language and as a teacher-mentor in American Jewish schools and in Israeli mechinot.