Enhancing Congregational Learning through Experiential Jewish Education
The William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary is committed to meeting the growing and changing needs of children who receive their Jewish education in supplementary (after school, Sunday, and synagogue) school environments. The stakes are high:
- Approximately 75 percent of non-Orthodox children receiving some form of Jewish education attend supplementary schools.
- Today’s Jewish education must account for shifting trends in individual and family identity, economic pressures, the realities of a consumer-driven marketplace, and technology’s powerful effect on business, education, and social dynamics.
We need to consider how families make decisions about Jewish education for their children, where and how often that education takes place, and how it is formatted. Only by “reframing” our vision for our schools—accounting for the changing nature of families and Jewish life today—can we successfully strengthen them for the 21st century. Only by reframing the agenda of principles by which Jewish education is organized can new and sustainable models of education emerge.
One particular question many in Jewish education are asking is whether supplementary schools can learn from the powerful impact on Jewish identity achieved by Jewish summer camp attendance and trip-to-Israel programs (i.e., experiential education). Young people who participate in one or both of these frequently report a stronger Jewish identity, and are also associated with a deeper knowledge of and commitment to Jewish values and practice. Asking the question “How can the techniques of experiential education, which serve well in camps, increase levels of engagement and learning in schools?” is one way to begin reframing our vision.
The Davidson School is uniquely positioned to answer these and many other kinds of questions. Our faculty and staff are experts in the area of experiential and other approaches to education. JTS is home to the Ramah Camping Movement, and through our overnight camps, day camps, and Ramah programs in Israel, we have the capacity to disseminate new ideas, develop and support new models, and conduct research and evaluation that can be shared. This loop of educational capacity distinguishes JTS as an institution that is both enduring and innovative. Our network of partners—including a wide range of synagogues, schools, professionals, and other agencies of Jewish education—are eager to join our efforts.
Through ReFrame, JTS and The Davidson School will steward educational leaders to plan new models that draw on the best of camps, Israel trips, and other immersive experiences. ReFrame will also allow us to mentor leaders, support program implementation, and develop additional programs as The Davidson School continually studies and updates curricula and pedagogical skills based on observation and field experience.
Our ultimate beneficiaries are the Jewish children and families who yearn for the level of engagement and meaning provided by active participation in a Jewish community. The Davidson School recognizes that these experiences can only occur in schools where educators are properly prepared and supported. As such, ReFrame will focus primarily on the educators who serve Conservative congregations throughout North America. Participating educators can engage in the ReFrame initiative in multiple ways:
- International Online Conversation—Join the conversation on congregational schools and experiential Jewish education through our social media platforms and online technology. Through these platforms, we are disseminating new thinking, exchanging new ideas, and sharing innovative models. Educators can contribute to and gain from the conversations from any location at any time.
- Design Labs—We are convening groups of educators for short-term gatherings during which they can work collaboratively to experiment with ReFrame questions and ideas in a “design laboratory setting.”
- Action-Research Sites—Schools interested in a deeper ReFrame experience will be invited to design and pilot new models of teacher education or student learning. The educators in these schools will benefit from
- training in the approach of experiential Jewish education and skills in assessment
- the opportunity to experiment with powerful models of experiential Jewish education that will strengthen the quality of learning for children and their families
- assessment of new models
- networking opportunities with other professionals and their schools