Discovering the Jewish Education Talent Next Door

January 2020

Source: TalentEducators 

As a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, TalentEducators is tasked with addressing a problem that has existed for decades in education: a shortage of talented educators. Our mission centers on recruiting, retaining, and supporting Jewish educators and Jewish education, and since March, we have consistently experienced and identified a shift that CASJE’s interim report reveal: that employers in day schools are building their benches and that experiential and early childhood employers are hiring fewer full-time staff. In this article, we would like to contribute a new finding from our experience in the field.

Last year, in our first year of operation, we matched 38 educators in educational institutions across the US and the UK, with the help of Prizmah and PaJes respectively, from London to Philadelphia and from Dallas to Seattle. These educators identify across the Jewish practice spectrum: from pluralist and largely unaffiliated to Orthodox. Most of our fellows were placed in day schools, as many of the positions outside of day schools disappeared with the advent of COVID-19 and remote learning.

Something unexpected that we learned which dovetails perfectly with the identified shift in hiring practices is a new and valuable pipeline for Jewish educators: those already in the community who are not in full-time lead positions.

Let’s back up for a moment. When we thought about our work with educational institutions, we identified three circles of impact for recruiting new talent to the field of Jewish education:

  • New talent recruited to the field of Jewish education. In order to increase the pipeline, we need to recruit new talented people to the field of Jewish education, while raising the profile of the Jewish educator. This is our long-term goal and one that we have built framework and systems around.
  • Existing educators outside the reach of the employer. While at first resistant to the idea of playing “musical chairs” and fearful of poaching, we soon learned that with a global view of the world of Jewish educators and education, we can essentially optimize the market while avoiding the aforementioned issues. With our global view, this means that we can match excellent educators who have not found the right position in their current location with educational institutions who are eager to hire an educator with that specific skill set.
  • Existing educators within reach of the employer. This circle of impact was one in which we understood we could save time and money by providing professional vetting, though we hesitated given what felt like lesser added value. But, here, especially in the midst of the pandemic, we encountered an amazing untapped opportunity already within reach of the employer.

In our pilot year, we focused primarily on recruiting new talent and on optimizing the placement of existing educators with educational institutions out of each other’s reach. What surprised us was the huge potential and benefits that we had not originally recognized, a subcategory of those existing educators within reach of the employers (a subsection of the last bullet point). This group includes people who are in the educational institution’s community: teaching assistants, general studies teachers, alumni, parents, and even board members. These people - who are a great match for the mission and the culture of the institution and do not need to relocate - are the perfect way to both build a bench and hire fewer staff on a more full-time basis. They are also more likely to stay in the institution because much of onboarding and growing pains has passed smoothly.

To this end, in 2019-2020, we helped a synagogue in Denver recognize a parent volunteer who became an excellent curriculum coordinator, a day school in DC recognize a teaching assistant who became e a wonderful Hebrew kindergarten teacher, a high school in London recognize an alum who became an inspiring informal educator… the list goes on.

This untapped talent is a surprise gift that the pandemic has handed us: the necessity to search within our own community to pinpoint the talent that is already there but has not been cultivated.
As the shift in Jewish education continues, we continue to recognize the incredible power of those who are already within our communities -- and resiliently build that bench!

A version of this article appeared in eJewish Philanthropy on January 20, 2021.

Updated: Feb. 17, 2021