even years ago, the Leadership Institute for
Congregational School Educators, fully funded
by UJA-Federation of New York’s Commission
on Jewish Identity and Renewal, made a serious com-
mitment to address the critical need to increase the
leadership capacity of congregational educators in
a multi-faceted professional learning initiative. By
bringing together two national leaders in the pre-
paration and professional development of Jewish
educators, HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education
and the Davidson School of Education at the Jewish
Theological Seminary (JTS), this initiative created
and implemented a model for strengthening the
educational leadership of congregational schools.
While professional development in Jewish educa-
tional settings is gaining ground, it still is often short-
term and episodic in nature, rather than systematic.
It also does not necessarily focus on Jewish content and
is frequently geared to broad rather than specific audi-
ences. This situation is perpetuated because Jewish
educators have few professional development oppor-
tunities available to them. In a system where turnover
is common, novice educational leaders continue to re-
quire expert guidance and assistance.
The Leadership Institute is a two-and-a-half-year
program with the goal to build leadership capacity, en-
hance Judaica knowledge, and develop pedagogic
skills. For the third cohort of educators, the learning
involves two 10-day summer institutes, ten days of
professional symposia during the school year, and an
Israel seminar. The participating educators also have
the opportunity for individualized learning based on a
degree assessment. The educators are requested
to create a leadership team in their own congregation
comprised of clergy, lay people, and teachers who will
meet for a 6-month period to explore issues of vision,
goals, and change theory and then receive funding to
create an innovative learning model and professional
learning program for faculty. Each educator is assigned
a mentor for the duration of the project to support on-
going learning and to provide guidance and coaching.
There are now 77 alumni from the first two cohorts who
completed the Leadership Institute in 2007 and in 2010
and 38 educators in the current cohort.
Evaluation, both formative and summative, plays
a significant role in the ongoing development of the
project. The formal evaluation focuses on the following
How are the participating educators’ leadership,
understanding, skills, attitudes, and behaviors being
shaped by their experiences in the Leadership Insti-
What impact does professional learning have in
implementing change in their schools?
The Fellows in the Leadership Institute report
many significant changes as a result of their participa-
tion in this initiative:
Expanded Sense of Professional Identity
Education directors have moved from seeing them-
selves as school administrators who carry out the
curriculum, supervise teachers, and deal with students
to seeing themselves in an expanded role and able to
impact the greater educational system (e.g. responsi-
ble for helping to develop an overall vision for Jewish
education, partnerships with colleagues, working with
Whereas “politics” and synagogue context were
generally in the far background for the educators at
the start of the Leadership Institute, they became in-
creasingly cognizant of these forces and able to use
them to promote educational change. In this sense the
educators began to see themselves as systems players
who have multiple functions: instructional leadership
for teachers, change agent, and team player.
Experimenting and Taking Risks
Another powerful change has been the educators’
willingness to take risks and to experiment with new
concepts and learning strategies. When the Fellows
were given a mini-grant to implement a professional
learning plan for their own faculty, they were able to
experiment with different professional learning mod-
els, including peer coaching, collaborative lesson
planning, and learning sessions that focused on whole
person learning goals that involve a spiritual dimen-
sion. Other Fellows developed new models for family
learning and student engagement.
Learning during Implementation
Educational leaders are more often poised to grow and
learn if the professional learning experience is embed-
ded in ongoing practice and they have a chance to
transform the constraints they face. Activities and
assignments during the Institute all relate to the
educators’ work and are applied in the work setting.
Since new ideas and actions require practice, the Insti-
tute asks the participants to bring in case studies and
dilemmas to the structured process of a peer consul-
Commitment to All Levels in the System
Over 30 years ago, Donald Schon made the observa-
tion that educational leaders are part of the overall
system. “We must become able not only to transform
our institutions, in response to changing situations and
requirements: we must invest and develop institutions
which are “learning systems,” that is to say systems
capable of bringing about their own continuing trans-
formation.” The Leadership Institute understands that
in order to transform Jewish learning, educational
leaders need to facilitate learning for all stakeholders
in the congregation.
The Leadership Institute:
Shaping Congregational Leaders and Learners
Dr. Evie Rotstein,
Director, Leadership Institute, Shaping Congregational Leaders and Learners, HUC-JIR/New York and JTS
The role of educational leaders in facilitating meaningful change in a school is well established.
Focusing on people is the most effective way to change any organization.
Tallit opening ceremony launching the Leadership Institute’s retreat.
Symposium discussing team collaboration among clergy, lay leaders, and educators.