How do we maintain a solid educational program with decreasing resources?
It is not difficult to understand the frustration of synagogue leaders as they try to maintain or build a quality program with fewer teachers and less student contact hours. Here are a few things to consider:
Think inclusively about contact hours. Look at all congregational learning opportunities in which students and families engage. (Opportunities can include retreats, prayer experiences and social action programs.) Plan each of these as part of an overall lifelong Jewish learning program.
Work to meet the needs of individuals. Projects such as the Personal Teen Portfolios for teen engagement serve as models for other populations as we look to expanding learning to what takes place throughout the congregation and community.
Consider technology as a partner in Jewish learning. Meet people where they are: online. Bring students together on social networking sites and electronically send families information about holidays and parashat hashavuah. Save money by going paperless for report cards and bulletins.
Make use of family and home experiences. One way to increase our instructional time is to engage families in the process. Give parents the tools to teach their children, such as books to read together or guidelines for discussing key issues or current events.
Consider parent volunteer teachers. While the most important factor in the classroom is the teacher, take advantage of volunteers to assume positions of real responsibility.
How do we get more or different people to come to our educational programs?
In order to expand the number of participants in your education programs, try some of the following:
Figure out your target audience and once you've done that, engage with members of that group during your planning. Ask them if the topic seems of interest, if the timing is convenient and if they would be willing to bring a friend to the event.
Send personal invitations to individuals who might be interested. A few well-placed phone calls can go a long way.
Vary the timing of sessions. Consider offering a session more than once, for example midday and evening.
Broaden the involvement in the planning process by including congregants from a range of age groups and stated interests (social action, worship, Israel, etc.).
Create a program which reflects the interests of the community and is appropriate for your target audience. For thematic resources, visit the adult study page.
Check your congregation's and community's calendar. This way you can try to avoid scheduling your program at the same as another program, and potential participants won't have to choose.
How do we get parents of young children to become involved in the synagogue (outside of the preschool, for example) and invest in their own adult Jewish learning?
We get this question a lot, and we ask people to take a step back and consider what they're asking. Our top goal should not be filling the seats at our programs or services, but meeting the needs of our constituents. If we are able to do that, we won't have to beg people to show up. Our first step, then, is to understand the top priorities of our young parents and the conflicting demands on their time and energy. We must also keep in mind that we are not only competing with other Jewish institutions and their offerings, but with all of the resources, programs and events that are aimed at meeting this population's needs. Whatever we decide to offer, it must be as sophisticated as secular offerings and tuned in to parents' needs today.
Also keep in mind that parents are looking for resources to raise Jewish children that don't require attending a program at a fixed time and place. Online resources and tools to use at home are a way of connecting with and serving parents of young children. Meeting parents' needs this way is a first step in building a relationship with them and sending the message that you understand their needs and that you have high quality resources to offer. Parents do want to raise Jewish children and learn more about Judaism themselves. We need to think creatively about how we help them do that. The following are highlights of some of the outstanding resources the URJ offers to meet the needs of today's parents:
The URJ's Parenting Podcasts are perfect for today's parents on the go, meeting them where they are in terms of technology and content. Once you pass on the link, follow up by creating parenting groups that can meet at your synagogue or around town to talk about parenting issues that are important to them.
A key component of raising Jewish children is home Shabbat celebration. Got Shabbat offers weekly Torah portion guides parents can use for personal reflection and family discussion.
Holiday Happenings is a fun holiday resource designed to provide creative and exciting ways to integrate Jewish tradition into the lives of our youngest students in school and at home.
The Jewish Parent Page gives parents background information about each holiday, plus recipes and family activities. Different volumes focus on different areas of enrichment, including art, mitzvot, American Jewish history, blessings and Israel.