Monthly Archives: February 2011

Jewish Teens: Underserved

I happened on a Google site that allows you to create a video of a Google search complete with options for music.  The site gave search examples, like those on famous people, places, travel, etc.  There are also options for which music you’d like to play along with the search, like drama, comedy, family, etc. I thought it would be an interesting idea  to see if I would be able to use this medium to create a story about the lack of research on teens in a Jewish supplementary high school setting.  I had a hunch, but no idea whether this would be a ‘story’.  Well, it is. Turns out that the number of searches for Jewish teens in a supplementary high school is something about 355 (when this was posted), so naturally I selected ‘Horror’ for the music theme.  See if you can catch this search story (it moves quickly) on the dearth of information on this underserved population.

Jewish Teens’ Best Kept Secrets

I can’t help thinking about it.  Why do our most committed students keep their Jewish involvements a secret? Even from Jewish professionals?  Are we guilty of modelling  that behavior to them?

I co-facilitated a workshop a week and a half ago that featured a teen panel (volunteers) who were asked to discuss communication and other issues that are important to them.  There was no set criteria to be on the panel and they were not billed as “Super Jews”. These were teens who were willing to share their opinions with a group of Jewish educators and parents.

None of the adults knew the students personally. Ironically, the teens all opted to continue their education past the age of  the infamous Bar/t Mitzvah drop-off, and are enrolled in supplementary synagogue and community high schools.  A majority of them are well into their senior year of high school.  Some are taking college level courses and earning Teaching Certificates. Yet, when introducing themselves to this group of Jewish parents and educators they mentioned their secular high schools, towns of residence, some hobbies, but none said that they were currently enrolled in a Jewish supplementary high school program (ignoring the kvell factor entirely).  Why the secret?

Our students may be compartmentalizing their lives, and we may have trained them to do so: “I go to hebrew school on Sundays and Tuesdays, baseball practice on Wednesdays, debate class on”…..and so on.  I’ve even heard students say on occasion: “When I’m here, this is my time to do things Jewish (sic), I don’t have time to do (extra research, projects, language practice) anything in addition to that. I only have this amount of time for that.”

Even if I get the fact that their time is limited,  the question I still need to ask is “okay, so why are you keeping what you’re doing a secret? Why aren’t you proud of the fact that you’re doing this double academic load? Why is doing this not a cool thing to do? ”

The question I need to ask myself is whether, as a Jewish educator, I’m helping to ‘keep the secret’. Am I complicit in setting this standard by not talking about my Jewish life outside of class? Am I modelling what I want my students to do?

What Jewish teens want us to know

English: Classroom in SIM University.

Image via Wikipedia

A panel of teens expressed their opinions in a workshop at a Jewish educator’s conference in Philadelphia called “Understanding the Teenage Brain.”

Who were they? These were teens already involved in post Bar/t mitzvah education, both in synagogue and community schools, which means they are committed to continuing their Jewish education.

I asked them to talk honestly about what they want from their relationship with their teachers, and from their Jewish education experiences.

Do you want to know the amazing things they said? Can you fathom the tons of resources we’d have to pull together in order to do what they’re asking?

Here are some of their comments:

  • When we come to class, ask us how we’re doing and how our day was
  • Get us involved in what we’re learning
  • Ask us how we want to learn the material
  • Create a sense of enjoyment in the classroom
  • Allow 5 to 10  minutes to debrief from the day, or give us the ‘free space’ to talk about what we want during that time
  • Don’t talk down to us
  • Don’t use language to ‘be cool’
  • Create an environment where we feel comfortable and not judged
  • Recognize that we have a lot of stress in our day, and we have a hard time adding more

Tell me what’s not doable here. And yet they felt the majority of their teachers were not doing these things.

Why not? What is the biggest investment we need to make?

We need to listen, or better:  Na’aseh v’nishmah. (Exodus 24:7 We will do and we will keep listening so we understand).

Just in case versus Just in time.

It’s fascinating to think that these manufacturing terms, originally dealing with inventory, have been recrafted for the digital environment.

They are getting another makeover in being re-envisioned for approaches to Jewish education.

But then again, how far-fetched is it….we are in the business of ‘manufacturing’ committed Jews, aren’t we?

Old school supplementary Jewish education for teens was based on the premise of “Just in case” i.e. let’s put everything in the pot: hebrew language, Jewish identity, Israel education, Holidays and customs, synagogue skills…mix it all up just in case this would be relevant and meaningful at some point in the future.

The ‘just in case’ attitude seemed to be based on a hit or miss approach to education, or rather,” let’s throw enough Jewish stuff in, and something will stick!” Years later, it didn’t stick very well at all.

The approach of “Just enough, Just in time” is a new paradigm that looks at output that is not separate from input.

To be frank, though we’re not creating a car here, we need to really pay attention to the ‘manufacturing process’ as it relates to the consumer in order to have a lean and agile Jewish educational environment.  Then we can provide ‘just enough’ really spectacular educational offerings, ‘just in time’ when the student is ready to learn, to be meaningful.

That doesn’t mean teaching fluff, it means ultimate teaching–teaching with a sense of urgency.

For that to happen, we need to do some things that are not very trendy at all; we need to listen.

Tech not for Tech’s sake

Here at the North American Conference for Jewish Day Schools, we’re being introduced to the importance of technology in reaching our kids. But it can’t just be about the technology to make things current and cool, it has to be about mastering the capabilities  for what we want to accomplish.  So, we are fine with talking twitter and  facebook, but are we capitalizing on each? Are we hiring social media managers who can maximize these tools?

Work with teens? Join the conversation.

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