Investing in Congregational Education Teachers

Posted on 02/11/2022 @ 07:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

Photo by koogstrasse 140

Congregational Education- commonly referred to as Religious School, Hebrew School, Sunday School among other names- is perhaps the most challenging of all Jewish education settings. 
Who wants to learn more after a full day of school? 
Who wants to get up early for school on a weekend morning? 
Who wants and is available to teach in the late afternoon or on a weekend?  
As Joel Grishaver, co-founder of Torah Aura Productions, once said “Religious School has many design flaws inherent in its very foundation.” 
Yet, Congregational Education programs are, in many Jewish communities across the country, the mainstay of Jewish learning for children. More children and teens attend congregational education than Jewish day schools. 
In Miami Dade County, almost 50% of children in Jewish learning programs participate in congregational educational settings at some point in their lives.
Over the decades, CAJE, through the Congregational Education Department, has consulted with, guided and supported our congregational education programs and their directors, on their ever-evolving journeys to make the learning in their schools relevant and accessible for our children, teens and their families. 
CAJE leverages community funding and resources through the Sharsheret program, generously funded by the GMJF, that brings quality professional learning to our congregational directors so they can expand their thinking and creativity. 
CAJE has offered in depth opportunities for directors to explore the theories and practices of quality family education, Israel education, Hebrew trends, project-based learning and experiential Jewish education, among many other subjects. 
CAJE is proud to announce that this year we are adding a new component to Sharsheret-- focusing on the professional development of teachers. 
As mentioned above, one of the biggest challenges in directing a congregational education program is finding and hiring qualified teachers. The majority of these teachers are avocational, meaning that they love children and Judaism and are learning how to teach as they move through the school year. 
One of the very real effects of the Covid pandemic has been an exodus of teachers from all kinds of learning settings, including congregational education, making it even more difficult to find candidates who are qualified and can teach the days and hours required in our programs. 
CAJE recognizes that we must be proactive in nurturing current congregational education teachers in order for them to stay in the field, and we must help build the skill sets of teachers who are new to the field of congregational education.  
This is why the Congregational Education Department is investing funding, resources and time into a new pilot program that addresses training and retaining teachers through a collaboration with BetterLesson (BL). 
BetterLesson is an education company founded by teachers that offers high-quality professional development specifically for teachers in all different kinds of secular education settings. Over the past 10 years, BL expanded its reach to Jewish day schools.
Through CAJE’s Day School Department, Miami was one of the first communities to partner with BL to train teachers. 
BetterLesson’s emphasis on professional development for teachers is based on data that shows that it is teachers who have the most impact on student learning and success. A school may have endless resources, a state-of-the-art campus, a dynamic director, but ultimately, it is the teacher who affects the greatest development in each child’s learning. 
The pilot program, which consists of 5 teachers from 4 congregations, includes participation in three virtual workshops on targeted areas of teaching, one-on-one professional coaching twice a month and meetings of the Miami cohort to reflect on their learning.  
Kol haKavod to the directors of and teachers from Aventura Turnberry Jewish CenterBeth Torah Benny Rok CampusTemple Beth Am and Temple Beth Sholom, who are leading the way in this new initiative. We will keep you posted on what we learn and its impact on a new generation of congregational education teachers.
If you or anyone you know is interested in learning more about the gratifying mitzvah work of teaching within a congregational education setting, please contact Joy Schandler, Director of Early Childhood and Congregational Education,