Opinion | How we support educators through communities of practice

Eli Bass
Eli Bass (Laura Jasso)

By Eli Bass

It has become cliche to say this is a year like no other, but for educators and school staff, this year continues to be unpredictable. Educators work hard to implement best practices that create the best possible learning environments for students, teachers and staff.

Educators have tried to adjust to a new, more demanding normal. Educators have, and will continue to have, to develop new competencies to face the increasingly complex situations in our schools. School professionals facing this challenge sometimes lack the professional space to zoom out to look at the complete educational experience, as they focus daily on the specific needs of their students. Educators find themselves as both educators and IT technical support, both in person and virtually. In the field of education and Jewish education specifically, no educator or school professional should feel alone. Yet we know that whether a school is operating in a virtual setting or as an in-person school under COVID precautions, school staff and teachers are facing increased stress.

The Rand Corporation published a study highlighting worrying trends in education. The study predicts a significant number of teachers leaving the profession this summer nationally. Loss of quality teachers threatens the education we value in our community.

The Macks Center for Jewish Education has increased our engagement and support of educators throughout the pandemic because we recognize the increased needs of educators. One strategy in particular that I have found to be powerful has been developing communities of practice and educator gatherings. At CJE, we have been working to increase communities where school professionals have the opportunity to meet regularly with colleagues in similar positions.

These community of practice groups have helped day school principals and congregational education directors make important logistical decisions with input from peers who are thinking about many of the same challenges. Sometimes the conversations needed by teachers are more relaxed, as we facilitate evening social programs for teachers across Baltimore to get to know each other. In our guidance counselor cohort, we have been able to support counselors by providing access to CJE’s library collection.

Jewish tradition continually emphasizes the need to learn from others. The Talmud shares: “Anyone who learns Torah from one teacher alone never sees a sign of blessing, as it is necessary to acquire knowledge from many teachers” (Avodat Zarah 19a). Our social gatherings and communities of practice enable us to build connection and elevate the work that educators and school staff can do.

One lesson learned this year is that technology enables us to bring together school staff who cannot gather physically and has eased scheduling conflicts that may have prevented some from participating in the past. We have heard from our participants that they have enjoyed connecting with colleagues and gaining professional support through cohorts and informal programming.

In Baltimore, we are blessed with so many caring, thoughtful and engaged professionals who are shaping our next Jewish generations. Jewish tradition reminds us of their value: “There is no honor higher than that which is due to the teacher, no reverence more profound than that which should be bestowed on him” (Mishnah Torah). I’m proud to work in a community so committed to supporting the needs and growth of educators. Together we need to continue to develop ways to support the needs of teachers and education professionals, especially in these difficult times.

Eli Bass is the Jewish education coordinator for the The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education. This is part of a series on topics in education facilitated by the Macks Center, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, with the partnership of local schools and educators. CJE promotes and facilitates lifelong learning that nurtures Jewish identity and strengthens Jewish community.

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