Mapping Assets to Rethink Recruitment

Did you always know you wanted to be a Jewish educator? I didn’t. I was working in a lab doing Parkinson’s research and studying to take the LSAT for my potential career in medical ethics when I found teaching. The university I was attending at the time recognized its biology majors’ love of science and flexible schedule. To capitalize on that energy and build capacity, the university placed biology majors as science lesson leaders in public school classrooms after providing a few introductory sessions and access to a closet full of supplies and lesson plans. 

The invitation to try the work of teaching without prior teaching experience led me to fall in love with it. I went on to get a master’s in teaching and a certificate in Jewish education, teaching in public elementary and then congregational schools. Now, I am a doctoral candidate in educational leadership and organizational development, leading professional development and supporting schools in strategic planning. None of this was part of my original plan, but all of this has become central to who I am as a Jewish educator. 

As a field, Jewish education needs to invite more people to fall in love with teaching, particularly those who do not initially see themselves as Jewish educators. I propose using a structured, research-based process called Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) to do just that.


What is Asset-Based Community Development?

ABCD approaches communal problem-solving from an asset-based rather than a deficit-based approach. In ABCD, school community members (administrators, teachers, parents, students, board members, local association members, business partners and funders) collaboratively map physical, geographical, social and relational assets. Then, together, the group thinks creatively about combining those assets in new ways to address challenges. Putting tangible and intangible resources that are already present in school communities to work in creatively new ways reduces reliance on external resources that may not be sustained from year to year (such as single-year grant funding). 

ABCD organizes community and school partnerships with clear steps that elevate collaboration while acknowledging the different roles, responsibilities and perspectives that exist in a school community. The prerequisites are being open to the ideas that many pathways could culminate in teaching at a Jewish day school and that those already invested in Jewish education can encourage more people to start the journey. 

For Jewish education recruitment, ABCD can be used to make visible the people, places and resources that haven’t yet been considered as sources for attracting potential Jewish educators. If you are a current education leader in charge of hiring or part of the hiring process, you are already making choices about candidates’ pedagogical and content skill levels. You also know that professional development and mentoring support teachers in gaining the skills they need to be better teachers. 

While we will always have to assess candidates’ teacher training and content knowledge levels, we also need more people to think about wanting to get that training and gain that knowledge. Applying ABCD to teacher recruitment can help school communities craft invitations so more people ask the question, “Is being a Jewish educator for me?” 

Tackling recruitment to Jewish education at the community level has precedence. Research tells us that despite national trends of teacher shortages, there are local nuances to what those shortages look like and how they impact schools. Local (community-based) factors often offset fieldwide barriers to choosing to be a Jewish educator. Rather than focusing on what we lack, ABCD shifts the focus to what a school community has to offer. What are a local community’s assets that might reduce barriers to deciding to teach in Jewish education? ABCD can help us identify and apply those assets to rethink how we invite new educators into the field.




Step 1: Gathering the Wider Community 

Open your arms wide to learn from a broad representation of the community outside the school walls but with a shared investment in the school’s goals and mission. Since education leaders often look for candidate skills that are not content-driven or purely pedagogical, consider the many people in your school community with skills and dispositions related to learning content and pedagogy. 

Gather teachers, students and parents. Invite local business owners, social workers, philanthropists. Appeal to neighbors, college professors and local librarians. Harness the skills and knowledge people have gained in non-K-12 or non-day school settings (e.g., prior careers in non-education fields, synagogue programming or online opportunities like Hadar, to name a few) as a way to invite the transfer of those skills and knowledge to teaching in Jewish education. What perspectives are missing from your current circle? Bring them in. 

This first step in ABCD activates individuals’ capacity to see themselves as crucial contributors with valued perspectives on who might have skills, interests or potential to contribute to Jewish education, including themselves. At this stage, leaders and those on the hiring team are acknowledging that many individuals have the potential to contribute to the school community and the field as educators; we just don’t know how yet.


Step 2: Mapping Assets 

With various roles and connections to the community present, begin mapping your assets in a series of five rounds. In each round, brainstorm (perhaps using 1-2-4-All or one of these strategies) what exists in your community as an asset. In Round 1, name the physical assets: What places, spaces and tangible resources does this community group have access to? Be specific and practical; instead of “school building,” think about the number of rooms and how many people they could each hold for volunteer training. 

For Round 2, consider individuals’ capacities: skills, abilities, talents, interests, passions and experiences held by the group you have brought together and people they know. Round 3 of brainstorming centers around associations and relationships: What local organizations, clubs or community groups exist in your community? Consider the relationships the people in the room have with each other and people outside the room. Remain in an asset-based mindset, including associations in and outside the Jewish education world and following the everything-goes rule of brainstorming. 

Round 4 invites brainstorming around local organizations and institutions present in the community that share a connection to the school: What organizations share similar goals for students and families? Which institutions support children and families? Where do people in the community go for resource support or job information? Finally, Round 5 focuses on economic assets: Where is money currently being spent? Where are existing resources being allocated?

Mapping assets collaboratively activates multiple ways of knowing. It provides space for making visible the increased power of combining our knowledge and understanding. As a community with diverse backgrounds, ideas, skills and perspectives, you are systematically documenting the potential you see in each other that individuals might not see in themselves. As a step towards thinking more broadly about inviting educators into the field, mapping community assets expands the potential people and places where education leaders and hiring committees might look to generate interest around the question, “Could I be a Jewish educator?”


Step 3: Applying Assets in New and Creative Ways 

In a large-scale version of mix and match, how might assets be combined in new ways to attract people into the field of education? This third ABCD step invokes creativity to create novel combinations of assets to invite more people to consider participating in Jewish education and choosing the field as a career. Resist categorizing across your brainstorm lists. Instead, select two or more assets that appear unrelated, then collaborate on how the combination might provide an opportunity to invite someone into the field or address school staffing shortages in innovative ways. 

ABCD is a way to think about how our immediate use of community assets and resources can help us build long-term sustainability. This is about more than filling a singular position. Instead, it is about accessing potential that could help us look at filling positions and growing the field differently from within our communities based on what we have, not what we lack. 

At this point, you may be asking for examples. And while I would like to provide examples, it is also hard to do so. ABCD’s outcomes are rooted in the community that embraces it and hold particularly local relevance. What you find in your community will likely be more surprising and practical than examples out of context. The beauty of a participatory community process parallels the anxiety of not exactly knowing what you will get but knowing that you will get there together.


Step 4: Taking Action 

Getting there together includes committing to the agency and the momentum the group gains from working together and putting identified assets into action. This means staying in a collaborative space as community energy plus organizational knowhow moves assets to actionable new ideas. The burdens of relying solely on a single education leader or small administrative team to address school challenges can be ameliorated by ABCD’s more distributed leadership approach. However, wanting to collaborate and knowing how to do that across school leadership and community roles are not the same. ABCD helps build shared leadership muscles by providing structure to school leaders’ and community members’ collaborative efforts, a known need.

ABCD (summarized in this quick guide) will not solve all our challenges in recruiting teachers to Jewish education (e.g., salary discrepancies or content knowledge). It doesn’t replace the need for ongoing professional development. However, ABCD can help us think differently about how we invite people to consider making Jewish education their first (or second or third) career. ABCD will work best in a community with a history of and current focus on communicating the value of multiple perspectives and collaboration in school success. Refinements and adaptations of ABCD to fit your specific school community are likely, expected even. 

Perhaps, as you read, some of these ideas weren’t entirely new. That is part of the point. ABCD is about seeing and raising up who and what we have in front of us that we might have overlooked or not considered as we help others see their potential in Jewish education. The ABCD process mobilizes our available resources to think beyond filling positions to building the field from the community level, where commitment to Jewish day school education is already strong. 

Who might be our next Jewish educators? They might be just around the corner, waiting for your invitation. 

Return to the issue home page:
HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
ad banner