Who will lead our children and grandchildren?
Educators will no longer work in environments where they try to teach Jewish values but don’t experience them in their day-to-day interactions with parents, lay leaders or colleagues.
Last week the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies addressed the teacher shortage, writing that, “what was once a challenge is now a crisis.” This crisis is not limited to teachers; we see it in the current efforts to recruit and retain our educational leaders. The authors of the article guide us towards professional development and material support. While both are critical, new research from Dr. Donald Sull & Charlie Sull in the MITSloan Management Review highlights that toxic culture is driving the great resignation This research that cannot be ignored in our own communities. Resources will not solve the current crisis if we do not also ensure that our educational institutions model the values and beliefs we strive to teach.
As the executive director of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators, I hear regularly how professional development is the first line to get cut as communities examine their budgets. A trend is emerging where institutions ask individuals to choose between benefits, lumping health care and retirement benefits with ongoing professional development funds. In reflecting on the ARJE’s recent annual gathering one of our educators said, “These three days did not change my knowledge of Jewish education, but they transformed my outlook for future work and gave me the tools to deepen my practice.” If we want to keep the Jewish educators we have, education and lifelong learning cannot be separated. If we want Jewish educators to feel supported, we cannot ask them to choose between benefits in order to balance our budgets.
The current attrition in the field cannot be linked only to the devaluing of professional development and material support alongside the impacts of COVID. Dr. Donald and Charlie Sull’s research of the current resignation across employment industries highlights that, “a toxic corporate culture… is 10.4 times more powerful than compensation in predicting a company’s attrition rate.” What I see anecdotally, matches the new research, that intuitions that have long been disrespectful, unethical, cutthroat or abusive are losing their educational staff. Educators will no longer work in environments where they try to teach Jewish values but don’t experience them in their day-to-day interactions with parents, lay leaders or colleagues.
At the ARJE annual gathering held in February, ARJE President Marisa Kaiser, RJE shared, “The ARJE is committed and frankly we are obligated to ensure that all Jewish organizations where we work are safe, respectful and equitable work environments. As Reform Jewish educators we must ensure that our youth, teens and young adults are nurtured in safe Jewish environments with clear reporting structures and ethics codes.” The ARJE was proud to launch its own Ethics Task Force and create an ethics code for our members. The work being done by professional organizations must be matched by Jewish communities. We need to change our workplace cultures, develop clear reporting structures, ethics codes and train staff to ensure the protection of our children.
Who will teach our children and grandchildren, and who will lead them? There are individuals who are passionate about Judaism and inspired to work with our young Jewish families. We will find them, recruit them and retain them when we ensure that our educational institutions are places where Jewish educators are nurtured professionally and feel valued. They will keep working for our communities when we not only teach but model our Jewish ethics and traditions.
Rabbi Stacy Rigler, RJE is the executive director of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators. A lifelong learner, Stacy is passionate about inspiring excellence, advancing the field of Jewish education and supporting fellow educators and students.