A Relational Approach to Building Local Leadership in Jewish Early Childhood Education

Summer, 2017

Source: Gleanings, Volume 4, Issue 2


In recent years, Chicago Jewish early childhood leaders (directors, lay people, and educators) have been gathering together to seek knowledge, support, and understanding. Their work has addressed several needs in our system: cultivating a shared sense of responsibility for each early childhood center, identifying and nurturing future leaders, helping leaders develop non-profit management skills, retaining directors through the challenges of leading a family center, developing an inspired vision for excellence in teaching and learning, and recruiting new teachers.

Already we are seeing an impact on individuals and schools. Remarkably, directors insist that this is an entirely new way of working for them; in their words I hear echoes of my favorite 1980s song: “Til now I always got by on my own; I never really cared until I met you.” Unsurprisingly, then, I regularly hear stories about how caring relationships with colleagues are pushing area leaders to try new practices and lifting them up when their efforts miss the mark.

Below I offer a few examples of the purposeful systems supporting leadership development across our 39 Jewish early childhood programs. Following these examples, I will share hopes and dreams for next steps in our ecosystem.

Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Initiative (CEELI). This cohort of 12 schools gathers regularly for professional development. Each school team is composed of a director, a teacher, and a lay person. Together the cohort focuses on strategic challenges and opportunities such as marketing, communication, and family engagement.

The Jewish Early Childhood Leadership Institute (JECELI). JECELI brings leaders in area schools together regularly for Jewish learning, community building, professional development in Jewish constructivist and experiential education, and leadership development. Through communal study with local and national experts, these 17 participants are building the Jewish knowledge, confidence, and skills to lead Jewish programs. JECELI is a joint initiative of the Leadership Commons, part of The Davidson School of The Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion.

Director’s Council. In Chicago there is a long-standing group of seven schools whose directors meet monthly, sharing dilemmas of practice and working together to offer thoughtful feedback and engender reflection. This group is facilitated by a clinical social worker who is also a child development specialist.

Beginning this summer, the Chicago Teachers Project: A Laboratory for Early Childhood Education, funded by the Covenant Foundation, will onboard a cohort of 12 individuals who have recently been recruited to pursue Jewish early childhood education as a career. Under the guidance of local education leaders, these new educators will meet for a summer retreat and a summer intensive, study and reflect together three times a month, complete a certificate in Progressive Education from the Erikson Institute, and work twice a month with skilled mentor teachers from Jewish schools across the community.

In an effort to enhance coordination between networks and among participants, our Federation, the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF), has initiated a strategic planning process for Jewish early childhood education, incorporating the voices of parents, teachers, and leaders across the city and the country. Chicago’s new strategic plan boldly outlines strategies and tactics for strengthening the pipeline of teachers and leaders, advancing a culture of excellence in our schools, and expanding accessibility for families.

Read the entire article at Gleanings.

Updated: Jul. 19, 2017