Lessons from the Field: Ayeka’s Professional Development of Educators

July 9th, 2019

Source: Jim Joseph Foundation Blog


At Ayeka, we believe that Jewish education must be broadened to engage the whole student in his or her uniqueness: mind, body, heart, and imagination. Only when students personally connect with the material will they find it truly meaningful. We partner with six day schools of different denominations across the country to train teachers in our unique pedagogy of Soulful Education. Our goal is to nurture the inner lives of the teachers themselves and to provide them with the tools to personally, emotionally, and spiritually engage their students. As we near the end of year one, we have successes, challenges, and questions to share.

New Paradigm for Jewish Education

Ayeka shifts the paradigm of Jewish education; as a result, operative questions change. The student no longer asks, “What does this text mean?” but rather, “what does this text mean to me?” The teacher no longer asks, “Have the students mastered the material?” but rather, “Now that the students have mastered the material, how will it impact their lives?” The role of the teacher also changes, from expert source of information to role model of a Jew on a life-long journey of growth, also learning and seeking to grow by engaging in Torah study.

Overcoming Challenges of Shifting to Soulful Education

For teachers to alter their pedagogy, and to both share more of themselves and invite students to do the same, feels risky. This requires teachers to step out of their comfort zones and to be vulnerable. For this kind of change to succeed, program participants need the understanding and support of colleagues and the school administration. Ayeka works with at least two teachers within a school to help cultivate a peer-to-peer support system. We find that keeping the school administration “in the loop,”so they understand and support this new approach to learning is also critical. Ideally, at some point, an administrator participates fully in one of our training cohorts.

Site visits are invaluable, when we offer direct feedback to teachers after observing their lessons and meet administrators in person. Moreover, each school is a universe unto itself. The schools are vastly different sizes and in different geographic regions of the country. They serve different denominational communities, have diverse cultures, and operate in different educational systems. Some schools are thriving and some are struggling. Some buildings are decrepit and some are state-of-the-art. When teachers gather from across the country to attend our training retreats, they are “homogenized” to some extent, and we see only the differences in them as individuals. Yet all of these variable factors and more influence what happens in the classroom, and we can best support our teachers by knowing the ecosystems in which they operate.

Big Questions to Consider Moving Forward

Ayeka partners with schools, but we train educators. We see a surprisingly high rate of transience in the day school workplace. For instance, in our first year working with six schools, two Heads of School transitioned, and several teachers went on leave or are leaving the school. This has led us to question the unit of change we are seeking and effecting. If it is the individual educator, should we “follow” them to their new place of employment? If it is the school, how do we address the inconsistency and lost ground when participants leave?

At Ayeka, we believe we are all works-in-progress and on a lifelong journey of learning and growth. The first year of the Soulful Education Professional Development program yielded important insights and questions. We know there are more to come as we work with schools to make Jewish learning more personally meaningful for students and teachers alike.

Read more at the Jim Joseph Foundation Blog.

Updated: Jul. 17, 2019