It’s called the Hub, and true to its name, it’s become a virtual meeting point for Jewish Early Childhood educators looking to share ideas, camaraderie, and support.
Here on its user-generated, members-only Facebook page is everything from how to design a sensory table for two-year olds learning about Havdalah, to a discussion about creating a collaborative school culture that values Jewish Early Childhood Education (JECE).
The Hub is just one interactive manifestation of The Paradigm Project, an ambitious initiative that is engaging, equipping and empowering Jewish Early Childhood educators on the one hand, and by virtue of its existence, elevating the field on the other. On both counts, it is filling a need that is increasingly urgent.
“Children’s development in the early years is rapid and dramatic,” said Anna Hartman, Director of The Paradigm Project and one of its founders. “Just as they are growing during this period, so too are their families. And if families are exposed to a quality program, it opens their eyes to the possibilities of Jewish engagement and identity, especially if they have a neutral view of Jewish community and practice to begin with.
“If we can introduce, inspire or excite them through Judaism and meaningful education at that early point, then they have potential to be part of Jewish life very long term and it can transform the whole community.”
Often overlooked within education, viewed by some as organized babysitting, Early Childhood Education is beginning to garner the attention it deserves. Its value and priority on the secular side gets mentioned in State of the Union addresses, is being discussed in the presidential campaign, and municipalities are establishing guaranteed pre-K programs for families.
Advancing the Jewish take on all of this, The Paradigm Project was established just four years ago. It is the initiative of a small group of visionary and young Jewish Early Childhood Educators who recognized the importance of their work to children, families and community, but who felt generally constrained, even frustrated, by lack of Jewish communal support or attention to the field.
The founding group members were all alumni of the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative Fellowship – supported by The Covenant Foundation – and emerged from it dedicated to creating a movement that would earn recognition for – and bolster – JECE.
What emerged is a robust and growing group of JECE educators leveraging the power of social media, specialized communities of practice, expert coaching and in-person conferences to redefine and refuel the field for the 21st century.
It is a group married to the notion of egalitarian, grassroots energy pushing ideas, forward-thinking pedagogies, and impact – the antithesis of a top-down hierarchy that founders believe would have squashed an emerging field, rather than nourishing it.
“In the absence of something, you create something,”said Ellen Dietrick, Director of Early Childhood Learning at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA, and one of The Paradigm Project’s founders.
“As Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative Fellows, we had an experience that was transformational for us. We wanted to give that to other educators. No other platform existed for us. We created our own with our own stamp, approach and energy.”
That 21st century entrepreneurial spirit is driving this group to disrupt more traditional approaches to building and sustaining JECE and give it its place on the Jewish communal table.
By plugging powerfully into the connectivity of social media, for example, teachers who may be the sole advocates for JECE in their schools – isolated organizationally and even geographically – find common purpose. Sharing in and contributing to such channels as The Hub, and even Pinterest, JECE teachers are creating home and community.
Take Amy Meltzer, for example. The 2015 Covenant Award recipient, who teaches kindergarten at Lander-Grinspoon Academy in Northampton, MA, is the only JECE teacher at her school and only two other JECE classrooms are within about a 60-mile radius. Active participation in The Paradigm Project has shattered a sense that she is going it alone, she said.
“I’ve been figuring things out all by myself,” she said, “so just being part of Facebook conversations alone and engaging in topics there is huge for me. It gives me exposures that are not available to me as a teacher in a small community. My practice is exponentially better when I can reflect in conversation with others.”
This very real and tangible sense of connection – this culture of sharing and support – that is facilitated by The Paradigm Project is proof positive that this sector of Jewish education is hungry, the Project’s founders said
In fact, teachers connected to the initiative are dubbed as “Paradigm Shifters,” emboldened through connection to stamp legitimacy, stature, and pride on the field.
“As we share our work and learn from each other, we are becoming advocates for the dignity and importance of our work,” said Hartman, a recipient of The Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize for leadership and potential as a young Jewish educator. “The image of high-quality JECE is taking hold and spreading.”
The Paradigm Project convened its second, multi-day national conference for JECE teachers earlier this year near Washington, DC. The conference attracted 160 participants representing 84 schools from throughout 20 states.
The multiplying effect is huge. Knowledge, insights and approaches discussed and shared there continue to reach untold numbers of educators as participants, once home, spread the wealth with colleagues and inject their institutions with new focus and attention to JECE.
Jenna Kalkman-Turner, Director of Early Childhood Education at the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Centernear Milwaukee, said the influence of The Paradigm Project had infused nearly 75 educators there from the trickle-down effect of her active participation.
“We see lots of change at the JCC because of it,” she said. “Lay and executive leadership are giving us more of a platform, our educators are not seeing themselves so much in a vacuum, and lots of conversations are being started and continued here.”
With two major grants from The Covenant Foundation to support its establishment and work, and support from other Jewish organizations, as well, founders believe that the impact The Paradigm Project is having on JECE practices is getting noticed and being given weight.
“Our orientation is toward change,” Hartman said.“We are impatient in our desire to take agency, ownership and control and move forward. This is what propels us as a network. There is an opportunity to elevate this field and do even more incredible work and so we want to just do it and get it done.”
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project