New institute seeks to professionalize Jewish experiential education

Founder wants to change perception of jobs, hold on to the best in the field.

January 5, 2017 00:51
3 minute read.
PARTICIPANTS LISTEN to a senior educators’ program designed to enhance Jewish experiential education

PARTICIPANTS LISTEN to a senior educators’ program designed to enhance Jewish experiential education last November in New York.. (photo credit: JASON KRULE)

An organization that seeks to professionalize Jewish experiential education was officially announced by its founder on Wednesday after several months of successes with people working in the field.

M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education began running training programs for educators in North America and Israel in September 2016, with the aim of advancing the field of experiential Jewish education.

“Experiential education” is a philosophy that advocates engaging students in “direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities,” according to the Association for Experiential Education.

The institute’s programs are targeted at people working on campuses, in camps, youth movements, day schools, federations, community agencies, foundations, and other organizations dedicated to service learning (education combined with civic involvement), Israel education and community teen engagement, and a variety of forms of informal education.

According to M² founder and executive director Shuki Taylor, such jobs are often not perceived as “real jobs.”

“You’re sitting at a Shabbat meal with all your friends, who are lawyers and doctors and accountants, and they ask you what’s your profession – and you start to mumble because you don’t really know how to explain what it is that you do,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “And while there is a very strong sense of internal pride and devotion to the work, I don’t think it’s a professional pride,” he said, noting that many people change careers after four or five years, as there is no clear path of progression in the field.

M² has set about to change this, by trying to provide a clearer career trajectory for people working in such jobs, by imparting knowledge, tools and skills and a framework to advance the theory and practice of experiential Jewish education.

“What it will ultimately do, is create better experience and programs delivered to Jews around the world with whom they are working,” Taylor adds. “All these programs aim to impact Jewish individual and community identity. If you want good Jewish experiential education, you need good Jewish educators.”

M² stands for the Hebrew words machshava and ma’aseh, intention and action, which Taylor describes as core values of Jewish life and the foundation of experiential Jewish education. The institution’s flagship program is the M² Senior Educators Cohort, a 10-month program that includes three immersive, weeklong seminars, along with customized mentoring and coaching.

The program is supported by the Maimonides Fund, but though it is heavily subsidized, it also requires investment by participants’ employers, both financially and in terms of time off needed for the program.

The first group – comprised of 31 educators from North America, Israel, and Australia – launched the program in November.

“As someone with nine years of experience as Jewish chaplain at Brandeis University, and upon entering a new position at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, I was looking to hone my craft,” said participant Elyse Winick, the philanthropic organization’s director of adult learning. “What I got at the M² Senior Educators Cohort was a revamp of my entire philosophy of Jewish Education and a stellar group of new colleagues.”

M²’s second program, Community Cohorts, joins communities and organization to form intensive and immersive professional development programs that promote and develop local talent. The Community Cohorts include a series of three “convenings” that blend intensive theory with immediate practical application. This program is focused on developing a community of professionals.

The institution has so far trained over 100 educators in the past 6 months in both programs. “There’s a very big thirst for it,” Taylor said, noting that the first participants of the programs were all drawn to the program via word of mouth. The institution is now beginning to recruit for its second round of the M² Senior Educators Cohort program, which is set to begin in June.

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