By Yael Kidron and Ariela Greenberg

Note: In October, the Jim Joseph Foundation released the final evaluation from American Institutes for Research on the Education Initiative – the $45 million, six year investment in Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU) for Jewish educator training. The Foundation and AIR shared some of the key findings and lessons learned from the Initiative. AIR also is releasing a series of blogs that delve more deeply into important findings from the evaluation – the first of which, below, discusses programs that promote workforce outcomes.

Operating successful educational programs requires continually evolving skills and knowledge. With the constant growth of educational research on effective strategies to promote student engagement, motivation, and learning outcomes, professionals are required to update and refine their skills periodically.

More and more, institutions of higher education are calibrating their programs to ensure that graduates with diverse career pathways have the skills that employers deem necessary for their organization. The success of programs is judged not only by participants’ satisfaction but also by their employment outcomes.

The Jim Joseph Foundation’s Education Initiative funded the development of many new programs in three institutions with the goal of dramatically increasing the number of Jewish educators and educational leaders with essential skills relevant for employment in multiple educational settings.

Specifically, the Education Initiative grantees—Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU) – identified the skills that programs should build to prepare professionals for success in the workplace, to challenge the status quo in the workplace, and to explore ideas to improve their own practice and their organization’s programs and policies. Then, over the course of the 2010-2016 grant period, the institutions developed a range of new programs through which they could offer this training: six master’s and doctoral degree programs or concentrations; eight certificate programs and leadership institutes; two induction programs; and four seminars within the degree programs.

Developing Work Skills

In designing new programs that provide practical training for improved workforce outcomes, there was a consensus among the three grantees that degree and professional development programs should include, at least, the following:

  • A focus on what makes the Jewish education sector unique;
  • Course instructors who have the unique combination of scholarly knowledge and practitioner experience;
  • A project or practicum that connects theory to practice in the workplace;
  • Mentoring; and
  • Opportunities to network with other professionals in the field.

The new programs developed under the Education Initiative investigate educational challenges in the classroom or seminar from a practitioner’s perspective and address these challenges using research-based tools. One prominent example of research-based tools developed and taught in the new programs is experiential Jewish education. Experiential education – defined as a methodology to “purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities[i]” – is one of the most rapidly expanding sectors in the education field. Experiential Jewish education (EJE) principles are relevant to the work of professionals across the continuum of Jewish education settings (e.g., youth groups, camps, Jewish community centers, day schools, supplemental schools, and Hillel centers). Each of the grantees developed at least one non-degree program on experiential Jewish education and integrated courses or principles of experiential Jewish education into master’s programs. Program participants explored concepts in experiential Jewish education, practiced the application of tools during classes and seminars, and carried out projects in which they applied the new skills to address an educational challenge or goal. Collaboratively, the grantees developed the Experiential Jewish Education Network, which brings together alumni from all EJE programs for continued learning and networking.

The Potential for Ripple Effect

Quality advanced degree and professional development programs can have a ripple effect on the entire organization. Many participants used their new skills to coach and mentor colleagues, deliver workshops to staff, and develop new strategic plans, policies, and teaching resources.

Considering that the grant supported 1,508 individuals across the entire spectrum of Jewish education settings, the potential for the scope of impact is substantial. The potential for ripple effect intensifies by the fact that nearly one-half of the beneficiaries of the Education Initiative currently work in leadership roles in day schools, supplemental schools, Jewish community centers, camps, youth groups, and other nonprofit organization providing or developing educational services. According to evaluation data, the practical skills that program participants acquired affected not only their job performance and career paths but also the professional practice in their organizations. These data suggest that investing in educators and leaders’ continued learning accomplished the goal of a better-prepared workforce in Jewish education.

Transferring Learning to the Workplace

A recent evaluation report of the Education Initiative summarizes the results of the grantees’ efforts to expand the number and variety of their programs with the Foundation support. Several findings of the independent evaluation are noteworthy here:

  • Nearly all (90 percent) graduate students thought their programs were effective or very effective in providing the knowledge and skills they needed to be successful at their jobs.
  • Most of the degree program participants (76 percent) introduced experiential Jewish education (EJE) at their workplaces.
  • Most (85 percent) of the professional development program participants felt that they were better educators and leaders because of their participation in the programs.
  • Most employers reported that their employees had higher levels of professional self-esteem (95 percent), were motivated to train fellow colleagues (90 percent), and introduced new instructional practices (83 percent) in their organization as a result of their participation in the degree or professional development program.
  • Following positive initial experience with the programs, in the later years of the Education Initiative, more than 20 organizations (including day schools and organizations that provide immersive Jewish experiences) sent small teams of employees to participate in non-degree programs.

These findings and others show how the Education Initiative successfully advanced professionals on the career ladder and positively influenced the places at which they work. Given the scale of the Initiative—both the number of educators trained and the number of new training programs—this influence is sustainable and will continue to change the landscape of Jewish education.

Yael Kidron, Ph.D. is a principle researcher and Ariela Greenberg, Ph.D. is a researcher at American Institutes for Research. 

[i] Association for Experiential Education. (2013). What is experiential education? Boulder, CO: Author. Retrieved from

This article is reposted from the Jim Joseph Foundation’s Blog with permission.