Guest Post by Nancy Parkes

Change is hard. It takes time, patience, a lot of soul searching, and a community that is willing to take risks. It also takes some hand holding. I’m not sure anyone really tells you that when you first start any change project. Maybe they tell you that change is “necessary” if you want to stay relevant; or maybe they tell you that everyone is changing, so you better get on board, too; or maybe they tell you that it’s all about the money- that the driving factor behind the change initiative is economics.

Regardless of what they say, I want to let you know that change is hard- really hard. But it is also very much worth the blood, sweat, and tears (of both happiness and frustration).

The Temple Israel Center Religious School, now known as Shorashim, (Roots), has been involved in the process of change for the last five years. It began with The Experiment in Congregational Education as TIC reimagined what our Religious School could be. We moved this process forward with LOMED. LOMED is an initiative through the Jewish Education Project that guides synagogue schools in the creation and design of new kinds of learning experiences. It challenges educators and their communities to clearly articulate their vision and goals, and to rethink what education should look and feel like. We have been working with LOMED for the last three years and will continue to do so next year, as well. Through this process, LOMED has provided us with a mentor, a coalition educator who works with us 10 hour a week, and a cohort of over 50 synagogues to learn from and with. Change takes a team effort in every sense of the word.

With the guidance of LOMED, we have redesigned what our learning looks like and where it takes place. We have also redefined who our learners and educators are.

The first crucial step was to create a vision of education and to clearly define our priority goals, which are building community and living Jewishly. To build community, relationships had to be at the center of everything we did. As educators, we know just how important the educator- learner relationship is; however, there is a big difference between knowing it and being intentional about it. The same is true for building relationships between learners. Creating a safe, non-judgmental environment in which ideas and questions can be explored in depth means that there must exist relationships between learners.

To live Jewishly meant that the learning could not be confined to the classroom, and that creating relationships with parents and families was crucial. We also knew if we wanted what we were teaching to be lived, we needed to take learning outside of the four walls of the classroom. Where and when learning took place became the focus of many of our discussions, and important decisions and changes followed.

All the change that has taken place here at TIC was less about making “school more like camp” and more about aligning the design and settings of learning, the role of the educator, and the language that we use to our vision and priority goals. That took hard work- and it was worth every minute.

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