Besides attending to the unique learning needs of new teachers, Jewish day schools must attend to the learning needs of all teachers. All teachers need and value regular opportunities to work with colleagues on issues of teaching and learning. This can be a particular challenge in small day schools, where there may be only one teacher for a grade or content area. Since this kind of embedded, ongoing professional learning is highly rated in terms of its usefulness, Jewish day schools may need to think critically and creatively about how to create the structures and professional culture for ongoing teacher learning across career stages both within and across schools.
Finally, a striking finding is the lack of opportunities for professional advancement on the part of Jewish day school teachers. The teachers who responded to the survey represent a particularly committed group of Jewish education professionals. Those who attended the DeLeT programs at Brandeis University and the Hebrew Union College as well as the masters programs in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminar and Stern College’s undergraduate teacher preparation track have specifically chosen to work in the field of Jewish education and are driven by a strong sense of mission and purpose. In order to capitalize on the commitments and capacities that these teachers bring, Jewish day schools must provide opportunities for professional advancement throughout their careers as day school teachers.
Jewish day schools would benefit from providing professional learning opportunities embedded in teachers’ ongoing work. This research provides evidence that day school teachers value such opportunities, which fits with research in general education. Clearly some day schools do offer ongoing professional development. Extending such opportunities for teacher learning may not only increase teachers’ sense of satisfaction, but also improve their teaching.
Developing new forms of teacher leadership can also expand the responsibilities of accomplished day school teachers without requiring them to leave classroom teaching. Schools with a strong collaborative culture offer venues for experienced teachers to share their practical knowledge and contribute to instructional improvement. For instance, effective veteran teachers can mentor new teachers, lead grade-level teams, facilitate professional learning communities, to name a few forms of teacher leadership that are increasingly popular (e.g., Darling-Hammond, Bullmaster, & Cobb, 1995).
Developing the structures and culture to promote ongoing teacher learning not only advances professional development, it also stimulates growth and renewal on the part of midcareer and veteran teachers. Transforming accomplished teachers into teacher leaders rather than spending school funds on outside consultants builds capacity, strengthens teacher retention and satisfaction, and has the potential to improve both teaching and learning.