Outcomes in the inter- and intra-personal realms are central to the goals of Jewish education, yet educators often struggle to address them in a meaningful way. In this article, we describe what we learned from facilitating an online community of practice for congregational school leaders and day school educators seeking to enhance their work in promoting social, emotional, and spiritual growth.
First, we provide a rationale for the importance of outcomes in these arenas. Then, we describe the intervention, which included webinars, mentoring, and an action-research component for participants. Finally, we share what we learned about (a) participants’ conceptualizations of socio-affective elements in the Jewish educational context and (b) the supports and challenges encountered by participants in enhancing the socio-affective dimension of their work.
As noted, the participants came to their work from backgrounds in different approaches (as reflected in the 4M moniker itself), the group successfully overcame what Freud might call the “narcissism of minor differences” to embrace commonalities and learn from one another. All participants expressed a very positive feeling about being part of a community of practice and supporting one another’s efforts. We see this as an important take-away and call for more interchange among practitioners who come to the socio-affective area from overlapping perspectives, rather than a fragmenting of the field along the lines of specific categories of approaches.
To some extent the challenges of bringing educators together around these issues mirrors the experience of educators more generally; despite efforts to build professional learning communities, teachers and leaders often lack meaningful collaborative contact with others. This may be augmented in work in the socio-affective realm in which formal networking structures and curricular dissemination processes are lacking (as opposed to, say, science education). As such, we see it as particularly important for studies to be done to explore and share the lessons learned from innovators in the field. A series of analytic case studies, for example, would provide examples, and perhaps even demonstrate plausibility to those who wonder about their efficacy in innovating in this arena.
We acknowledge the impediments to collaboration—competition for limited resources, busy professionals with little time for additional work—but strongly recommend the creation of structures and venues, in which innovative efforts can be shared. The social, emotional and spiritual elements of Jewish education are vital but challenging; addressing them will require practitioners and researchers to demonstrate the sort of collaborative generosity that we hope to promote among our learners.