In "Undercover Boss," the CBS show that follows high-level executives as they slip anonymously into the rank-and-file of their organizations, executives often learn just how hard their staff are working and what motivates them to continue. Episodes end with the boss revealing themselves to the employees and gifting them something meaningful that relates to their situation, such as a car, rent, tuition scholarship, or money to cover a specific need.
Just like some of the employees that are spotlighted in Undercover Boss, congregational educators do work that is critical, yet often underappreciated and undervalued for their impact on the community and their role in vibrant congregations. In her recent article in eJewish Philanthropy, Micol Zimmerman Burkeman asserts that "It is time to align the value we ascribe to congregational educators to the value they bring to our communities. It is time to match their valuation with their value added." We couldn't agree more.
There is no need to go undercover, but we do urge you to reach out to your educational professionals in early childhood, elementary, teen, or family spaces to learn more about their work - you will be amazed and awed! Unite with other decision makers in your synagogue to understand the educator role. What do their days look like? What skills, expertise, and attitudes do they show as leaders? How many members do they engage with each week? What do they love about their work? What are they most proud of? What makes their work challenging?
What roles do the early childhood center, religious school, or youth group play in attracting, engaging, and retaining members? In what ways are educational leaders also engagement professionals, welcoming families from a wide range of backgrounds to the community and supporting their sense of belonging?
Ask yourself, how should the congregation support these professionals? Does your budget allocation reflect the value your community places on education and educators?
Consult the compensation landscape for Jewish educational leaders and their peers by reading recent studies such as the ARJE Compensation Benefits Study, the JUF 2022 Early Childhood Compensation Study, and this summary of professional compensation throughout the Reform Movement. Once you've done your research, match the valuation with the value that your educator brings. Consider salary, health care, and pension (ARJE and ECE-RJ members are eligible to participate in the Reform Pension Board). Think creatively about perks you might offer that acknowledge the contributions your educational leaders make to your congregation. Perhaps that means more vacation time and, if helpful for the educator, working together on a plan for them to actually take time off. Perhaps you can add opportunities for professional development to model lifelong learning and personal growth.
Pirkei Avot teaches "...faithful is your employer to pay you the reward of your labor" (6:5).
When Jewish educators are recognized and compensated for the value of their work, job satisfaction and tenure are strengthened. Happy leaders contribute to vibrant Jewish communities - and that is something we all want to sustain!