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Salads, Supervision and Schooling: Demystifying the Work of the Early Childhood Collaborative

October 21, 2020

What’s it like to participate in Chicago’s Jewish Early Childhood Collaborative? We could tell you about our long-term vision for making positive systemic change through our communal work. Or we could tell you about the hard stuff—like learning new ways to communicate data about our programs. But instead we want you to know that being a member of the Collaborative enhances our work on a daily basis and surprises and delights us with the ingenuity and impact of the initiatives we develop.

Let’s look at the practical—the dispositions it takes to do our work—and then a few stories that demonstrate how our participation plays out in our schools.

Participating in The Jewish Early Childhood Collaborative requires: 

Time: Taskforce meetings run two-hours (at one point in person, now virtual) plus any pre- or post-work. We have five taskforces, focused on financial sustainability, staff recruitment, staff retention, culture of excellence and parent satisfaction. They meet roughly every other month, and each taskforce has roughly 10 participants. In addition to meetings, we meet with the Collaborative staff and other coaches to help us with our individual goals.

Thoughtfulness: Participants need to reflect deeply on their work and the issues we are facing. When we assess data about staff satisfaction and parent perceptions, we boldly consider responses to communal trends and consider how we might address challenges surfaced within our own schools.

Vulnerability: The Collaborative isn’t a place to grandstand. Instead, it is a place to share your concerns and your troubles with the intention that we are all in this together and we are stronger when we are open and honest. That said, we definitely share and celebrate the wins of our programs! 

Action: The Collaborative is geared towards action. We review data to identify needs in our programs and system so that we can try new ideas. This is much easier said than done. Testing ideas means altering the way one might typically operate. It requires building buy-in from staff and families, openness to trying things and failing, and a willingness to collect data throughout.

The effort, though, pays off. How do we know this? First of all, people continue to engage in The Collaborative and taskforce meetings. (Wouldn’t you stop attending meetings if they didn’t go anywhere?) And, most importantly, because we try and evaluate new initiatives. This might all sound theoretical, but below are some vignettes that describe promising elements of our participation in the Collaborative. We’ve chosen situations that focus exclusively on staff satisfaction, one of the Collaborative’s core focus areas.

Miriam Aberman, Bernard Horwich JCC

As part of the staff retention task force, we brainstormed ways to show our staff that their wellness and happiness was of utmost importance to us. We know that sometimes it is the small, daily things that matter most. With that in mind, and utilizing a staff retention grant from the Collaborative, we ordered sweatshirts to help them feel part of a team (and keep them warm when the building temperature fluctuated) and we also gave a Chanukah gift to the staff. Lastly, we created a monthly Rosh Chodesh soup and salad lunch. Teaching teams took turns providing the recipes and making soup and salad for their colleagues, and the school leaders shopped and bought all the ingredients that were needed. Everyone loved the healthy lunch and all the recipes were compiled and distributed. How did we know these things would be important to our educators? Because we asked them! Through data analysis, polling our educators, some effort, and a modest budget, we were able to motivate, inspire and show appreciation to our amazing educators in ways we haven’t before!

Cherene Radis, Moriah Early Childhood Center 

After much time, tenacity and vision, the Jewish Early Childhood Collaborative launched and delved into data collection, interviews, dialogues, and conversations with early childhood programs in Greater Chicago. Shema Koleinu—the voices of educators, families, and children were heard. When data revealed that many of our teachers would be more satisfied if they had greater access to feedback, we tried to imagine ways for teachers to regularly access high quality reflective supervision and paid team meetings.

As a result, the Collaborative launched the Whole School Teacher initiative. We were granted the salary for an educator who would make it possible for our staff to find the sacred time throughout the week to leave their rooms to plan as a team, reflect on their work and meet twice monthly with their reflective coaches. This intensive work with the staff was the impetus we as a school needed to scale the culture of the excellence in our school and increase staff satisfaction. The whole school teacher and administration were given guidance and a cohort to learn with.  Every classroom group essentially got an additional teacher who became a familiar and loved member. The process wasn’t simple but we learned as we went along, creating detailed schedules to make this all happen. The result so far is that every educator feels heard, feels supported and works toward the vision of our school. 

Mushky Kulek, Shaarei Chinuch Day School

An assistant teacher in our program participated in the Early Childhood University, the summer opportunity created to help staff continue to learn and engage during school closures. The Collaborative ensured that she, like all the other participants, had the opportunity to take the university-level course of her choice and to earn a meaningful stipend upon completion. 

Recently when I had to take a sick day she was eager to rise to the occasion and take the lead in the classroom. I could see how the course dramatically increased her confidence and enthusiasm.

As a director who is also a teacher, I have for years felt that the development of the teachers fell on me. Now for the first time I can imagine that our teachers will be able to grow into lead teachers and that I might be able to step into more of the administrative and leadership work that our school needs.

These stories are just a snapshot of the work being done in The Collaborative. We are motivated by this work because we are committed to families, educators, and Jewish ECE in total. We know that the time invested up front will have an impact in the long run and we have been gratified by the ways that the work is already demonstrating benefit in the short-term.