Diversity and Commonality: MTEI Embraces a New Learning Principle

May 20, 2024




For more than two decades, the Mandel Teacher Educator Institute (MTEI) has been at the forefront of developing exceptional educational leaders within the Jewish community. While the program’s core mission has remained steadfast, MTEI continuously evolves to better align with its foundational values and respond to the needs of an ever-changing world.

To accomplish this, the program’s faculty and leadership center both teaching and learning rooted in eight core principles that were formalized in 2016 as the MTEI Principles for Professional Development.

Sharon Feiman-Nemser, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor Emerita of Jewish Education at Brandeis University, is an internationally acclaimed scholar of teacher education who has served on the faculty of MTEI since its inception. “From the beginning, the MTEI faculty thought about the animating ideas and values that shaped our work and that we wanted participants to embrace. Over the years, however, these ideas and values were framed in different ways – as program outcomes, program standards, and most recently as guiding principles.”

These principles, which are specific to Jewish education and also reflect best thinking in general education, have shaped the program’s design as well as how it’s enacted, what is taught, and what the faculty hope participants, in turn, will teach. For example, the principle “Jewish learning at the core” affirms MTEI’s commitment to centering Jewish education and the education of Jewish educational leaders in serious and worthwhile Jewish content. One of the program’s core principles drawn from general education, “Teacher, learner, content and context,” emphasizes the dynamic interaction of these four elements in any educational experience.

Similarly, the adoption of a ninth MTEI Principal for Professional Development was influenced by broader cultural and educational concerns while staying firmly rooted in the program’s principles. “As the larger community has been concerned with issues of diversity and inclusion, we too have been thinking hard about what that means for our work with Jewish educational leaders,” Feiman-Nemser explained. The MTEI program has always been strengthened by serving a dramatically diverse spectrum of religious affiliations, including ultra-orthodox, modern orthodox, conservative, reform, reconstructionist Jewish perspectives, and non-Jews teaching in Jewish educational settings. This intentional creation of community across lines of difference is a distinctive and significant characteristic of the program that is deeply valued.

“Jews are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic people,” says longtime faculty member Kathy Simon, noting that the Jewish people have deep roots in many places across the globe. “We wanted to be more thoughtful and mindful about having a more diverse group of participants and faculty in MTEI — this involved looking at all the program pieces that might need to adapt. During that process, this principle seemed important.”

“Embracing our diversity and our commonalities” is the summary phrase describing MTEI’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. The principle was introduced this spring during the opening seminar of MTEI’s eleventh cohort. Feedback from participants and faculty affirmed that the new principle was an extension of what they already felt and experienced in the program. Because of MTEI’s commitment to culture building and its emphasis on the relational aspects of education in all settings, Feiman-Nemser sees the introduction of the ninth core principle as “our way of making more explicit the diversity of the Jewish people and the need to be mindful of that in building a respectful, relational Jewish community of learners among students, teachers and educational leaders.”

For Simon, adding a ninth principle underscores MTEI’s commitment to creating a safe and supportive environment where participants can engage in open dialogue, share their perspectives, and learn from one another’s experiences. “By embracing the multiplicity of the Jewish experience and encouraging genuine connections among participants, MTEI has always sought to nurture a community where each person feels valued, respected, and empowered.” As MTEI participants and graduates continue to shape the future of Jewish education, these nine principles will serve as guideposts for transforming educational settings and building cultures where inclusion, belonging, teaching, and learning are at the core.