For more than three decades, Wendy Rosov has evaluated and researched Jewish education and engagement programs, collected data and provided analysis for community studies, and developed theories of change and logic models for organizations. For the past 15 years, Wendy has been the founder and director of Rosov Consulting, which works with national organizations and local federations and foundations. Before opening Rosov Consulting, she worked at the Berman Center for Research and Evaluation and the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA).
Long ago, in a land far away, great beasts known as central agencies for Jewish education (affectionately known as councils or offices of Jewish education) roamed our national landscape. Their job was to advocate, increase visibility, secure funding to support and provide professional development for their educators. There was even a Central Agency of Central Agencies…the mothership so to speak, affectionately known as JESNA. These agencies (including the Agency of All Agencies) were led by capable and talented professionals, working tirelessly to ensure that Jewish education of all types was a priority on the communal bucket list. These agencies were often underfunded and underfunded, relative to other community entities, somewhat reflecting the “second-class citizenship” of local Jewish education and, by extension, the minions of Jewish educators serving ground.
Although some central agencies still exist and a few have prominent status within their communities (as well as household names such as Builders of Jewish Education, The Jewish Education Project, Jewish LearningWorks, etc.), many folded into other community entities or ceased to exist altogether (just like JESNA, which closed in 2013).
Three years ago, Rosov Consulting began work on a major research project on the career trajectories of Jewish educators. We sought to hear (through surveys and interviews) from educators from eight communities (purely chosen for their diversity in geography, demographics, and the Jewish educational ecosystem) about why they chose this profession. ; what they like and dislike about their job; what are their future professional aspirations; and much more. We thought it would be easy to get access to these educators to find out more about them – just identify someone at the central agency for Jewish education (or similar) in each community who would be a one-stop shop facilitating connections. We referred to these individuals as “Community Connectors,” reflecting our assumption that they could easily facilitate introductions to all educators in their community and advocate for major engagement in the study (in addition to being part of a national study supported by some Major donors, each community was promised its own data set and data report as a bonus). Through the efforts of the Community Connectors, we believed that educators and their host institutions would understand the benefit of participating in the study. What is the saying: people plan and someone (“up there”) laughs?
Here’s what really happened.
A few of the communities no longer had central agencies for Jewish education – any ongoing work around advocacy, resource development, professional development of educators, etc. was completely decentralized and seemed somewhat fragmented. As such, no one in these communities could (much) help us establish the sorts of connections to local Jewish educational institutions and their educators that we needed to obtain solid samples. Even in some of the communities that still have strong central bodies, we learned that not all areas of Jewish education are served by them. Apart from the fact that this made our work more difficult than expected, it made us wonder: who is watching the educators? Who thinks of global career grids and ladders for educators? Who ensures that the local education ecosystem is nurtured and that local Jewish educators have professional development opportunities that best suit them and their community’s learners and their ever-changing needs? With the dissolution or disappearance of central bodies at the local level, who defends, connects, elevates and otherwise guarantees the career experiences and healthy trajectories of Jewish educators?
Seemingly coinciding with the dwindling and eventual demise of JESNA and many of these central community organizations for Jewish education, the field has seen a veritable explosion of national (and even international) providers offering opportunities for networking and professional development. high level for the Jews. educators in all sectors. Across the country, Jewish educators can learn about best practices and access the highest quality resources. Positively, other research we’ve conducted shows a significant amount of cross-pollination among Jewish professional networks today (after all the musings and calls to “break down the silos,” a lot has actually been broken down).
Out of necessity to conduct this research, our team ended up doing a unique deep dive into the local Jewish education ecosystems of what is likely a cross-section of communities across the country. We have interacted with hundreds of talented and committed educators who work with different age cohorts. We saw ecosystems that supported these educators and enabled exceptional professional development. And we saw communities where very little of that existed.
From my perspective, this is an opportune time to reflect on what leaders and educators want for the field. Even amid the great virtual learning opportunities that now exist, the bulk of learning for Jewish youth and teens is happening locally, in person. Most educators do their education in local communities. These educators generally do not travel from town to town. What is, and what should, the field offer to support them the? Finding the answers to that question, I think the field could lift all boats across the many distinct sectors in which Jewish education takes place.
I appreciate your comments and ideas on how we could strengthen local ecosystems – if you think that’s the right way – without taking away from the many gains of the past decade on the national stage. Who’s eyes are on educators?
Wendy Rosov is the founder and director of Rosov Consulting.