In the last year, the Foundation has conducted an experiment of sorts with professional directors of ten programs focused on training Jewish educators. Stemming from the Foundation’s first open RFP, these ten programs offer compelling, creative, high quality, and dynamic cohort-based professional development experiences for Jewish educators across a diverse spectrum of content and audiences. As part of the initiative’s Professional Learning Community (PLC), the Foundation convened these directors last month for the first time. Because we realized that success would lie in the synergy of the group, our risk was in not knowing quite what to expect. What we learned and experienced may be helpful for other funders and participants considering engaging in similar communities and convenings.
The convening agenda developed by Rosov Consulting (who also are collaborating with the PLC to evaluate and provide timely learning about the initiative) provided space to 1) get to know each other and our strengths, 2) review the program participant survey results – what do the data say about the field and each program, 3) explore and discuss a case study of one program, 4) experience a “Taste of” presentations by four programs, and 5) participate in an improv session led by Second City designed to broaden participants’ creativity in problem-solving.
Throughout these experiences, the Foundation and participants grew more comfortable and more open during our time together. The benefits of being together in-person were palpable. We could be our whole selves, committed to the moment. Contrast this sentiment with how you might be on a conference call; the difference is stark.
Here are some key insights we are thinking about and on which we are reflecting:
- From Reticence to Openness: While participants were understandably somewhat reticent—would this time away from my work and my home be worthwhile?—they all came in with open minds and open hearts. Their approach in this vein was integral to the success of the convening, as it led to more honest and deep conversations and sessions about the work they are doing.
- Diversity Leads to Learnings: The diversity of the individuals created substantial opportunities for learning. Young professionals and veteran professionals can each offer insights and important perspectives to the others. Participants from small organizations and those from large institutions can share experiences to inform the other’s approach. Even the fact that some participants were there more for personal growth, while others wanted to strengthen their professional skills, fostered healthy give-and-take.
- …And More Learnings: The diversity of the programs was quickly identified too – from delivery modes, to target audiences, to the content of the curricula. Even though this diversity may have originally been perceived as a barrier—what can I possibly learn from someone whose program is so different from mine?—it was eventually appreciated as Rosov Consulting brought relevant insights to the fore.
- Commonalities are Powerful Connections: Among this group defined by differences noted above, commonalities among participants took longer to identify. But, this meant that the process of identifying commonalities was a powerful means to strengthen relationships among professionals as they realized their convening colleagues also worked in areas and/or settings such as Israel, day schools, institutional change, millennials, and more.
- Opportunities for Continued Learning: Being together in such an immersive environment enabled the group to quickly identify areas for continued learning, such as how to support participants when they return into their work environments; the challenges of online learning and relationship building; and how different programs think about alumni support. Many convening participants noted the parallels to their own individual work. After all, these program directors form a learning cohort, just as they oversee their program’s learning cohort of educators. The irony was not lost on them that they face some of these same challenges.
- Strengthening the Foundation and Grantees’ Relationship: The Foundation-grantee relationship building was important and energized by being together. As program officers, we were excited to have face to face time with the program directors to get to know them (and they us) both professionally and personally.
- The Right Space: The space of the retreat was unique and set the tone for a few enjoyable days of reflecting, connecting with each other and connecting larger successes and challenges to individual programs, laughing and relaxing.
- Now, We Wait: It was gratifying to hear some lament that a year was too long to wait to see each other in person again.
The PLC is an integral component of the Educator Training initiative—and the convening proved to be an essential part of the PLC thus far. From past experience, the Foundation understands that program directors often work in silos, do not view their work as part of a larger field of Jewish education, and would benefit from more shared learning and networking. We are excited about the promise of the PLC and the outcomes that come from being together, in-person, for consecutive days. Yes, our experiment was worth it. Our goal is for program directors to learn from each other, for the Foundation to learn about future grantmaking, and for the field to learn too.
More to come in years two and three!
This article was provided by the Jim Joseph Foundation and originally posted on their blog. Click here to view the original.