Beyond the Classroom: The Unique Role of Jewish Educators in Small Schools and Tight-Knit Communities

Small Jewish schools, often situated in tight-knit communities, can offer educators a unique and appealing opportunity to broaden their professional perspectives and encourage them to extend their impact beyond the classroom. In such communities, where resources are more limited, teachers’ contributions carry greater weight, empowered and inspired to utilize their talents in a wide range of meaningful ways.

As dynamic hubs of academic excellence and community engagement, these institutions possess a wealth of unique assets that, when harnessed effectively, can enrich the wellbeing of both educators and the community as a whole.

Among these assets are the human and social resources, the skilled educators and staff who shape not only minds but also hearts. Serving as mentors, role models and sources of inspiration, these professionals extend their influence, guiding students and enriching the broader community. They are pivotal in shaping Jewish identity and fostering an environment where personal growth and collective learning thrive.

Educators in the Jewish landscape understand that Jewish identity and a sense of belonging extend beyond academics, valuing immersive experiences that connect students to their heritage. The local Jewish community is a substantial resource, offering a “classroom without walls” where students engage in meaningful activities reinforcing their Jewish connection. Whether participating in a communal ceremony, having a role in organizing a communal fundraising run, taking responsibility in a communal garden or having meaningful encounters with community members, students gain firsthand exposure to a broader Jewish framework of belonging.




In smaller communities, these experiences are more intimate, fostering deeper connections and a stronger sense of belonging. This draws educators interested in such schools, recognizing the value of these experiences for both students and themselves. By leveraging this broader classroom perception, educators deepen students’ understanding of their identity and foster pride and a sense of belonging. These experiences also benefit the broader Jewish community, advancing unity and strengthening intergenerational bonds. Through educational programs, community leaders can mentor future Jewish leaders while students contribute fresh perspectives to communal initiatives, ensuring the community’s continuity and vitality.

Furthermore, acting as bustling social hubs, the unique circumstance of often being the sole Jewish educational institution in the area fosters a dynamic where students, parents and families become a distinct “captured group” as they spend most of their formative years (K-6, 8 or 12) together. This shared experience presents an unparalleled opportunity to unite individuals of varying ages through a myriad of events and activities. Whether it be a compelling school play, an exhilarating sports event or the celebration of Jewish holidays, schools are a dedicated space for community members to come together.

These physical assets evolve into versatile venues for an array of community events and activities. This sense of shared experience and communal belonging is indispensable for constructing a robust and sustainable supporting community where each individual feels valued, seen and included.

Lastly, schools, as well-organized institutions, effectively mobilize their organizational assets and resources, and coordinate efforts to address community needs. They serve as catalysts for collaborative community development, and especially in small communities, bringing together stakeholders to work towards shared goals is pivotal to a communal sense of belonging, trust and pride.


Attracting Jewish Educators to Small Communities: Best Practices

In the landscape of small Jewish day schools, successful strategies from around the globe have emerged to entice and retain talented educators. Combining these practices is essential for drawing skilled professionals to smaller communities.


Establish an Elite Leadership Group

Create a robust group of educators to form a leadership team, shaping together the vision and actions within the community they are part of. This team functions as a “mini” framework of belonging. They collaborate as a cohesive unit, strengthening connections among team members while advancing a shared mission. In these small groups, also called Bonding Community Groups (BCGs), members feel they contribute meaningfully by assuming responsibilities based on their strengths and interests. Together works better!


Foster Professional Growth Opportunities

Small communities can entice educators by providing opportunities for professional growth and advancement uniquely tailored to interface with the community. These opportunities go beyond traditional professional development packages typically offered to educators. Instead, they involve meaningful roles and missions within the educational system and the broader community, tapping into assets within the community itself.

This could include involvement in non-formal frameworks, community events and mentorship programs with local experts. Additionally, educators may be offered leadership opportunities and financial support for further education or certifications, all aimed at fostering their development in areas directly relevant to community engagement and impact.


Cultivate a Supportive Work Environment

In addition to fostering a supportive work environment, work-life balance and personal wellbeing, prioritize inclusive practices with belonging in mind. Pair new recruits with peer mentors to guide their integration, establish team-building rituals and traditions celebrating milestones, encourage small gestures of appreciation among team members, and facilitate regular check-ins to ensure everyone feels supported, seen and heard. Invest in relationship-building by providing opportunities for educators to socialize outside the formal school setting, fostering stronger bonds and a more cohesive team.


Showcase Unique Teaching Benefits in Small Communities

Brand and package the benefits and uniqueness of working in your small school or community by spotlighting the distinct assets that define your institution. Showcase the human, social and organizational strengths that set your school apart, and illustrate how these assets complement the advantages we’ve discussed regarding small community or school settings. These include more intimate connections, smaller class sizes, fostering closer relationships with students, parents and peers, as well as ample opportunities for community impact and a strong sense of belonging.


“It Takes a Village”: Make Welcoming Educators a Communitywide Effort


When the entire community or school is invested in welcoming and integrating educators, new engagement opportunities emerge. These can include assigning “adopting families” to welcome and host them and partnering with local businesses, nonprofits and community organizations to establish a strong support network for young educators. This collaborative effort may also entail facilitating access to local services, organizing community events, facilitating networking opportunities and creating programs that promote interaction between educators and residents. Schools should initiate and intentionally design this process to cultivate a communal mindset, ensuring that educators are considered integral members of the local social fabric.

Margaret Mead’s enduring insight, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has,” beautifully captures the transformative potential inherent in fostering relationships among Jewish schools, educators and communities in smaller locales. As we acknowledge the manifold benefits arising from this synergy, we come to understand that meaningful change arises from a strong sense of belonging, multifaceted social connections, collective effort and a shared vision. By embracing best practices that promote a culture of belonging to attract and retain educators in small communities, we set the stage for the collaborative spirit of close-knit communities and small schools to drive progress and enhance the lives of all involved.

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HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
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