Jewish Life Coaches for Jewish Schools

Envisioning a Rav/Jewish Life Coach for Jewish Day Schools

Jewish day schools should create Jewish Life Coach positions, and, in many cases, incorporate Rav Bet Sefer and Jewish Life Coach positions.

A number of streams led to this proposal:

  • In the 19th century, the Musar movement within Judaism was founded. It emphasized personal growth of the Jewish soul
  • As part of the Musar movement, many yeshivot created positions of mashgiach ruchani, rabbis whose role was to serve as spiritual life guides for students
  • In the late 20th century a number of American day schools created positions of rav bet sefer, which often included serving as the official rabbi of the school, as well as student advisor or counselor, along with curriculum and teaching responsibilities
  • In the late 20th century, day schools became more than simply schools. Schools increasingly saw education of the whole family as part of its mission. Education was no longer confined to the classroom as day schools initiated experiential programming, social events and other approaches
  • Whole person learning and social and emotional learning gained importance to the point of being almost universally recognized purviews of education today
  • The Emanuel school in suburban Syndey, Australia created the position of Jewish life coach
  • As life coaching became more popular, a number of coaches and rabbis began to blend Jewish values and insights with the practices of coaching

Last week, a conversation on Twitter led to a more serious discussion of what the practice of Jewish Life Coaching (which could overlap with the Rav Bet Sefer role in many cases, but need not be) in a Jewish day school would look like.

These first thoughts are meant to be the beginning of a discussion among those involved in Jewish day schools to flesh this out.

A Jewish Life Coach in a day school would feature the following components (with gratitude to Deborah Grayson Riegel for her valuable ideas):

  • Working with individual students, groups of students and families in mapping out their Jewish life journeys, in a modern iteration of the mashgiach ruchani
  • Helping students and families to make informed Jewish life choices, with an emphasis on individual Jewish choices, rather than an orientation towards a specific set of authoritative Jewish practices or approaches
  • Using approaches such as that of the Positive Psychology movement to strengthen students and  families – an approach that builds on the existing strengths of students and families, rather than on a medical model that identifies illness or dysfunction
  • Coaching students and families in developing lives of meaning built on Jewish spirituality
  • Educating students, faculty and families in how to use Jewish wisdom, texts and insights in approaching their complex lives and challenges
  • Interfacing and leading the faculty in orienting learning towards growth of each child’s neshama, so that s/he is better positioned for lives in which s/he makes a difference in the community and the world
  • Coaching of faculty in developing their personal and professional lives, and could be a corollary to career coaching [distinct from coaching of teachers in their teaching practice, which is already part of many schools]
  • Coaching of school leadership to become more effective as Jewish leaders

Some rationale for the use of coaching in day school education (and I am grateful for the contributions of Maxine Chopard of the Emanuel School:

  • Coaching is a natural fit for the type of whole person learning that is part of Jewish day school education
  • A coaching approach, unlike many counseling approaches, supports students’ growing autonomy, recognizing their abilities
  • Because Jewish day schools run on a Jewish life platform, a coach is able to draw from the strings of students’ rich cultural/religious tapestry and use them to help students weave their paths
  • Coaching in a Jewish day school would give the opportunity to use metaphors and language from Jewish religious and cultural traditions and texts in helping students and families in responding to challenges and in shaping their life journeys
  • Coaching can be a powerful tool in the work of social and emotional learning and growth that is an important part of (Jewish) education

This is the beginning of a conversation about a coaching model for Jewish day schools. Please join the conversation by leaving comments here.

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9 responses

  1. curious…..how do you see the role of someone like this within a community school where not all students and families are from the same denomination?

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  2. The Notorious R.A.V. | Reply

    Actually, I see this as very useful in community schools, as the model I’ve described encourages students and families to set their own paths, without being limited by one particular approach to Judaism or to life. In this type of coaching approach, all are free to determine on their own what Jewish values, texts and practices work for their lives and aspirations.

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    1. I agree that it would be useful in a community school – but the hiring would have to be spot on. this is always the case, but having someone from a pluralistic philosophy is essential. Also, there can be tension between JDSs and synagogues (yes crazy) and I wonder how the local rabbis would view such a position. Just thinking about the politics…

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  3. I think you’re on to something with all this coach-talk, Arnie. As Jewish life in the North America becomes more decentralized, coaching might just well come to the fore. I could imagine a coach being a significant and helpful figure to the JDS community at large.

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  4. This is a great approach that really is the way to go. My concern is the politics of the thing. I know you write about being non-directive and (I guess pluralistic), but I wonder if in a community that is characterized by “turf wars” if there would arise tension between the different synagogues/rabbis (who see their roles as the Life Coaches) and this non-denominational structure.

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  5. Virginie Polster | Reply

    You had me at Musar …. and personal coaching. I would add that in the age of democratization, empowered parents, and invaluable peer connections, this Jewish life coach could also help inspired parents to be more effective mentors / “ambassadors” / models for meaningful Jewish living and learning to fellow or potential day school and community families.

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    1. I second Virginie.

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  6. So, how would any of you see this position integrated into the existing school. What is the real on the ground steps you would take?

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  7. I love the proposal and I foresee it organized as an independent entity. Meaning, as a external consulting service to a Day School. Practically, having a congregation or community rabbi serving in a coach position (as many day schools have today) could create a lot of conflict of interests because of a number of factors such as politics. Often times these rabbis are too entwined with their synagogues and congregant’s lives to be truly objective.Their role is totally depended on the dynamics of the community they serve on. Sometimes, they really don’t have a choice.

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