People frequently talk about the magic of camp, youth group, tikkun olam/social action experiences and so many other engagement opportunities for teens. However, as many of us have learned, even magic isn’t exactly magic. Magic is the illusion of performing supernatural feats, but actually it is most often created when people take action and work hard while others are not paying close attention. In New England, one way we experience this is the magic of the New England Patriots. Deep down we know it isn’t actually magic but dedicated practice, the setting of high standards, strong leadership, teamwork and more.

For far too long, professional learning and growth for our local education and engagement professionals has taken place behind a curtain with the illusion of magic, but it is not. The one and only way that teen engagement opportunities become magical is through the hard work, dedication and continued learning of local professionals.

Five years ago, Boston was invited to be one of a select cohort of cities from around the country to partner with the Jim Joseph Foundation on the topic of teen education and engagement. There are many reasons to care about teen education and engagement. For Boston, the reasons include strengthening Judaism now and into the future, and the ability to use Jewish experiences as a way to help young people grow and thrive.

Although we often talk about peer engagement as crucial to teen involvement, we also know that adults are an important backbone of any community and any teen program. We know we must invest in our local professionals so the community has a continual pool of high-quality people working with teens. So, let’s take a look at the “magical” ways that CJP and the Jim Joseph Foundation support the professionals in Boston.

Two years ago, we spent several months engaging Boston’s professionals in a design thinking challenge centered on the essential question: How might we invest the resources of the community in order to recruit and retain high-quality people to engage Jewish preteens and teens? We had a number of conversations and gatherings with professionals in the Jewish community at all stages of their careers. We listened and learned from them. We learned what it was that helped someone stay in their job beyond a year or two and what helped someone think about next steps in their career. We heard about mentors and supervisors. We heard about the desire to grow and to learn. We learned about isolation, frustrations, challenges, opportunities and more.

A common theme emerged from all of these conversations: There is no “one size fits all.” However, we also learned that there were commonalities as well as strands we could and should weave together to create robust opportunity for growth.

These strands include:

  • Networking
  • Communication within the professional community
  • Learning opportunities, both individualized and group
  • Support
  • Involving supervisors
  • Recruiting

We recognize that not everyone needs each strand at all times. However, we believe that if we are committed to recruiting and retaining high-quality adults to work with our young people, we need to be sure we are offering a menu made up of the above strands. There is no required curriculum. We encourage each educator to think about who they are, what they know, what they want to learn, how they want to grow and then we welcome them fully when they participate in our programs.

What might appear to be random offerings actually all fall into the categories identified above. Just as it might seem random or magical when Tom Brady throws a pinpoint pass to Julian Edelman, we know the pass was fully intentional and planned.

Future blog posts will provide more detail about some of our programs, including co-working days, professional development stipends, Youth Mental Health First Aid and more. In the meantime, we are so fortunate to have talented, passionate and committed professionals in our midst who make the magic happen for our teens.