Engaging Effective Madrichim Training

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Many congregations engage teens as madrichim (“guides”) in Religious School classrooms to serve as role models of continued Jewish involvement, to assist with administrative tasks, and often to lead activities and discussions with students.  Whether your madrichim program involves 10 teens or 100, one of the most important aspects of building and maintaining a strong program is the quality of training provided to the teens.

When developing a madrichim training program, the best place to start is by thinking about what you value in your own professional development. We justify it by saying things like: “Isn’t the important thing that the teens are in the building, engaged in Jewish living and learning?  Don’t ‘required trainings’ provide an unnecessary barrier to participation?”  Well, yes and no.  For most teens, their work in the Religious School is the first job they’ll ever have, especially since many madrichim programs include students as young as 8th grade.  In addition to prepping for assigned tasks, most teens need help developing basic skills in communication, working under supervision, goal setting, and time management.  These are the foundation to their success.

Think about what you value in your own professional development.  It’s more than just program ideas and best practices; you want to develop as a well-rounded professional, learning to be a better leader, speaker, and educator.  Your teens would likely benefit from focusing on the same approach you use to cultivate your own talents.

I’ve identified three challenges that schools/congregations may face when evaluating the “who, when, what” of implementing madrichim training:

When? Time is a finite resource for everyone—especially in the lives of teenagers—many of who are volunteering their limited time to serve their community. Should training take place during Religious School (costing valuable time the teens could be using to build relationships in the classroom) or after school (asking even more time of teens, and having to work around multiple schedules)? Will you offer a few sessions throughout the year, or will you hold weekly meetings?

Who? Madrichim programs tend to fall somewhere between “religious school/formal education” and “youth engagement/informal education.”  Who, then, is responsible for creating and teaching the training sessions?  Often, those coordinating the madrichim program are youth group advisors with no formal teaching background, which may limit the depth of educational content that can be taught. Still, it is a wonderful opportunity for teens to connect with congregational youth professionals in a different context. Consider inviting in guest teachers, including clergy, to supplement the material and provide more connection points for teens.

What? Are your madrichim involved in frontal teaching, or are they more focused on relationship-building with students?  Do they primarily facilitate small group work, tutor Hebrew one-on-one, or lead class discussions?  What about your teens who work in the library or office?  How can you tailor your training to accommodate a diversity of roles within your school?

There is no perfect answer to these questions, and certainly no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges presented.  At Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, (where I served as the madrichim coordinator and Assistant Director of Education from 2009-2014), we experimented with many different training models.  Two years ago, Rabbi Ariel Boxman piloted a new training program called JET (Jewish Educators-in-Training) with the guidance of Director of Lifelong Learning, Barbara Dragul. The course was taught and developed in its second year by rabbinic intern Michael Harvey. JETs are first-year madrichim (primarily 9th graders) who split their time on Sunday mornings between their training and working in an assigned Religious School classroom.  Because Wise Temple’s madrichim primarily work as teachers’ assistants, the JET program is a combination of an introduction to education class and a crash course in life/leadership skills.  JET culminates in a final project, in which the madrichim create an educational resource for the school. At the end of the school year, madrichim “graduate” from JET and are recognized by the youth professionals and clergy for their achievement.

While we were lucky to have the resources to invest in building a new training program from the ground up, there is plenty of material to draw from, most notably The Madrichim Manual by Lisa Bob Howard and The Madrikhim Handbook by Rabbi Samuel Joseph.  Not all madrichim training is created “equally.” It’s important to take an objective look at what concerns your teens and congregations.  Nonetheless, a successful madrichim program should strive to create an integrated experience that is:

Relevant: During a lesson on working with students on the autism spectrum to a group of teens, one 9th grader raised his hand and said, “There aren’t any students like this in the classroom I work in.  Why do I need to learn this?”  Before I could answer, another teen jumped in and pointed out that there were several students in their grade in high school with autism, and that the material was helpful in understanding how to better interact with those students as peers.  What you teach the teens may not always directly correlate to the work they do in the classroom (though much of it should, of course!), but it absolutely should apply to their daily lives and help them grow as young adults.

Reflective: Ask teens to set goals for their work at the beginning of the year, and check in periodically to see if they are on track to achieve them.  Build in time for teens to reflect on their work in the classroom and to troubleshoot with adults and peers. In order to achieve a well-rounded experience, consider including both formal and informal opportunities for self-evaluation.

Rigorous: The JET course has a syllabus, articulated goals, and an assessment process.  If you want teens to take their training commitment seriously, you have to show them that you take it seriously first.  This doesn’t mean your training has to feel like a “class,” but it should have elements of a course that keep your objectives organized. Be sure to set high expectations for your teens; you know they’ll meet them!


Rachel Kasten is a Jewish youth professional and recent transplant to Miami, Florida. She is thrilled to be serving as the Co-Director of Holocaust Impact Theater in Miami and most recently spent five years as the Assistant Director of Education at Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Interested in more resources for madrichim training? Send your teens to the Madrichim Training Seminar at NFTY Convention


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