10 Commandments for Jewish Educators

10 commandments

As Jewish educators, we serve the people who inspired the tongue-in-cheek joke of ‘2 Jews/3 opinions,’ so it’s no surprise that everyone [colleagues, bosses, students, parents, clergy, strangers] has strong feelings about how we should fulfill our missions as teachers and leaders. There are probably an infinite number of commandments that could be prescribed to the practice of education, but for the purpose of being concise and on-theme, I’m starting with this set of 10.

  1. Prioritize the process - We’re regularly judged based on outcomes, which makes sense. But the true measure of our work is in the interactions - the small moments, the asides, the debates, the questions. The ongoing, unfolding fostering of relationships and the process of making it all make sense.

  2. Assume the best - It’s easy to get jaded. To be frustrated when our learners don’t seem to have the same priorities that we do, or to be sensitive when it comes to perceived conflicts or slights. But ultimately, rather than spending our time analyzing and ruminating on negatives, we should always assume that intentions are good, and that we’re on the same team [until and unless proven otherwise].

  3. Build your tribe - We are taught that to find oneself a teacher is to acquire a friend [Pirkei Avot 1:6], but once you’re the teacher, you have a renewed need for a network of support and encouragement. From a hevruta to mentors, peers and role models, foster connections that will keep you going and push you forward.

  4. Look without to grow within - We’re blessed to be part of a prolific community of writers, philosophers, and thought leaders. And while there’s more than enough distinctly Jewish content to satisfy the most curious and voracious seeker, we need to look beyond the obvious and take the best practices of other disciplines to apply in our own contexts.

  5. Find your Shabbat - Whether or not the halakhic sabbath speaks to you, finding a time to unplug, unwind, and prioritize togetherness and presence is a need that all of us must find an outlet for. Regardless of when or how it happens, marking time as sacred is central to our self-care.

  6. Give and take - Give of yourself, inside and outside of your work environment. Don’t shut down immediately when the clock runs out. Instead, linger, volunteer, go above and beyond. But on the same token, take what you need. Take time for yourself, take advantage of learning opportunities to grow, and take the ubiquitous free baked goods for the taking in every Jewish institution.

  7. Nourish your soul - Look beyond the assigned texts and experiences, and find continued outlets for your own Jewish growth. Whatever that means for you - study, prayer, travel, food, arguments - prioritize your neshama along with those of your learners.

  8. Embrace the canon - We have an infinite amount of content that we can access, from history to texts, holidays, philosophy, art, literature, and rituals. We’re links in a chain of inheritance, and it’s incumbent upon us to pass on this knowledge.

  9. Lean into innovation - Don’t be afraid to try new things, to push the envelope, and to fail in order to grow.

  10. Find the wonder - Even on days when it seems like it’s all about to-do lists and bureaucracy, seek and find the a-ha moments, the beauty, the timelessness that makes it all worthwhile.

Stay tuned for the 10 Commitments of Jewish Educators, coming next week!