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Together for the Journey and the Win

October 13, 2020

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

The internet is pretty unsure who first developed this little bit of wisdom, but most of us can agree that it makes sense. Working together seems promising. But as anyone who has ever written a group term paper or sat on a committee knows, there are infinite ways to do this poorly.

As with anything in life, good design is the key to animating wisdom and transforming it into culture. Judaism has its yearly cycle of holidays and rituals; Weight Watchers has its weigh-ins and group therapy. Bombas, with its hip socks, makes customers social change agents by donating a pair to the needy for every pair purchased.

In 2017 we learned about collective impact, a framework that enables interested parties to realize the power of the collective to make a needed impact. In the words of Goldilocks, this design was “just right” for us. As it was first described in 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, collective impact initiatives, “unlike most collaborations...involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.”

With our goal (maximizing the number of children who have access to and enroll in high quality Jewish early childhood education) already developed through a communal strategic planning process that involved hundreds of stakeholders, we developed infrastructure by hiring a uniquely qualified project manager and setting in motion data collection, communication threads, a series of taskforces, and multiple pilot initiatives.

We focus on five key areas: financial sustainability, staff retention, staff recruitment, creating a culture of excellence, and parent satisfaction. Each of these areas is addressed in a taskforce that follows a cycle of plan-do-study-act. We identify a potential solution to a problem (Plan), we pilot the solution (Do), we collect data throughout (Study), and upon completion of the pilot we decide whether or not to continue or to abandon it (Act). Through this process we have launched parent and staff satisfaction initiatives, done deep dives into our schools’ finances and business models, and tested ways to identify quality in the classroom.

Things both changed and stayed entirely the same in March 2020. To summarize this dynamic in an internet-worthy meme, we might say, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. But if you have already been working together for a few years and have built trust, then when a global pandemic threatens your entire industry, you can go both quickly and far.” It’s not quite as catchy as the original, but it’s true. 

Over the past six months as we moved into triage mode, we continued to operate based on the principles of collective impact. We looked for data, we tried new things, and we kept the lines of communication open. A great example of this is the Early Childhood University. Originally, this was an evening of learning with colleagues from around the city and suburbs. Our Covid-19 reimagining turned it into a summer of learning for our educators (many of whom were not working) where we paid for their university level classes and gave them a stipend for completing the classes. Not only did we support educators at a time when the world felt fully unstable, but we now have 140 educators from 28 schools who have completed additional training with nearly 20% of them achieving a credential change (for example: moving from an assistant teacher credential to a lead teacher credential).

The Jewish Early Childhood Collaborative is a mechanism for organizing the actions and aspirations of the community; it is meant to be nimble and to respond to its participants. The design fosters innovation and excellence, multiplying the impact of the top-tier early childhood leaders and educators who comprise it. It is up to the participants to determine the next steps of The Collaborative. There is one thing we have learned for sure, though: togetherness is more than pith—it’s a winning strategy.

Anna Hartman is the Director of Early Childhood Excellence at JUF Education & Kate Warach is the Project Manager of the Jewish Early Childhood Collaborative.