The Practical Problems of Resource Sharing

Imagine a world where Jewish educators had access to a plethora of well-thought-out, polished classroom resources that were inspiring, thoughtful, tried and tested, available through an organized and searchable database and easily editable to make each resource relevant to the content and context of a particular learning environment. Imagine how much stress, time and effort would be saved, allowing teachers to focus on content adaptation and delivery rather than searching, organizing, researching and developing materials from scratch.

One would think that such collections or databases already exist in the Jewish day school world. After all, plenty of teachers have great units on Rashi, or Eilu metziot (from the Talmud), that others could learn from, whether it’s an engaging enduring understanding, a thoughtful discussion question, a novel set induction, a creative assessment technique, a well-designed worksheet or a clearly formulated scope and sequence. We have the experience, resources and technology to pool these incredible resources into an online collaboration for Jewish education, but a variety of factors hinder its implementation.

This article explores some of the general issues faced when cultivating such collections, with specific examples from my work on the Pardes Online Tefilah Resource Database. It concludes with some practical steps forward.

Impediments to Collaboration

There are many challenges when it comes to collecting and sharing resources, and it may be useful to separate the various perspectives to explore each one more fully.

Schools

Many schools have clauses and stipulations in educator contracts that they own the work of the teachers. Some educators negotiate with employers to obtain a clause stipulating that ownership of creative work belongs to them, but there is still an inherent feeling that sharing is wrong and more generally discourages a sense of collaboration. Some educators negotiate with employers to obtain a clause stipulating that ownership of creative work belongs to them.

According to the National Education Association’s Office of General Counsel, “If your employment contract assigns copyright ownership of materials produced for the classroom to the teacher, then you probably have a green light [to share/sell materials]. Absent any written agreement, however, the Copyright Act of 1976 stipulates that materials created by teachers in the scope of their employment are deemed ‘works for hire’ and therefore the school owns them.” The US legal system sets up an inherent conflict in teachers sharing material.

Aside from the law, why are some schools and organizations adding the clause that they own the work of their teachers?

Fame and money. A school may want to distribute or sell the curricula at some future time; they don’t want to risk losing attribution or potential income.

Legal minds. The business office is run by business people who are not clued into wider Jewish communal needs.

History. Often, contracts were negotiated years prior, and school leaders don’t want to pay legal fees to make the changes.

Competition. A particular curriculum may help the school stand out. There is a fear that sharing would remove that competitive edge.

Individuals

The Jewish community is blessed with many gifted and talented educators who create wonderful programs. What is preventing individuals from inspiring other teachers and impacting even more students?

Time. When not teaching, educators may have other jobs, family or personal needs to attend to. Spare time to foster shared learning is a luxury that many Jewish professionals do not have.

Image. An educator does not want to share material that might reflect poorly on themselves. The decision becomes whether to invest time to make it professional or not send it in at all.

Incentive. Some educators get paid to create material, write articles, etc., so why would they give their best material away for free?

Fear of being judged. Maybe people will love the resource—but what if they don’t, and what if people criticize it? Educators may feel they have nothing new to add, or their material is not good enough.

Self-curation. Some experienced educators are trying to separate themselves from the crowd and create a name for themselves. Sharing material freely may run counter to the unique value proposition they are trying to promote. If everyone else has their material/ideas, then they become less unique.

Cross-Communal Organizations

There are Facebook groups, listservs and websites that share information, links to other websites and occasional resources. There are drop-in education centers where teachers can browse diverse educational materials. However, there are still no platforms for teachers to easily share and access materials. The following are some of the reasons:

Budget. A lot goes into creating a functional database. Design, creation and maintenance are required; resources need to be formatted, tagged and uploaded.

Contributions. Even with an infrastructure, a database without a critical mass of resources will not be useful. What campaigns, incentives or shifting of values will get educators to share?

Risk. We all know of projects in the Jewish world that are started one year and disappear the next. Who would fund something so risky? Why would educators invest their time and effort producing resources that few people, for a limited amount of time, might use?

Ownership. By definition, communal resource sharing is not owned by any one entity, so no one is making it a priority. For most teachers, it’s a no-brainer for such a mechanism to exist, and it would make their lives easier, but to whom do they suggest this and who will take up their cause?

Priorities. Other causes are considered more pressing, like fundraising, student recruitment and retention, and innovation.

Some organizations and movements have focused on more in-depth curriculum programs and professional development aimed at individual schools. Examples such as the Legacy Heritage Bible and Rabbinic Standards and Benchmarks project and the Melton Curriculum are addressing school needs through thoughtfully designed curriculum with scope and sequence. One could argue that these are better vehicles for addressing teacher needs rather than a collection of teacher submitted resources.

The Kohelet Prize Database is a bold attempt at incentivizing the process to get teachers to share their best ideas (which Jewish day school teacher would not benefit from $36,000?). Yet the motive to win the prize discourages teachers sharing material that is useful but not prizeworthy. The database may be good at collecting the best innovations in Jewish education, but it is not a model for genuine collaboration and sharing.

Torah Umesorah’s online resource database Chinuch.org is a rich repository of 8,700-plus resources, more than 1.4 million downloads and approximately 40,000 registered users. Teachers willingly give materials. The obstacles listed above either don’t exist for them, or the value of sharing for the betterment of Jewish education overrides such impediments. While this may be an effective resource for the Torah Umesorah community, this resource does not meet the needs of other day schools.

However, It Can Work

I was fortunate to work on the creation of the Pardes Online Tefilah Resource Database (tefilah.pardes.org), funded by AVI CHAI. Often tefillah educators have difficulty finding good resources, especially in non-praying minyanim, and this free database is part our approach to improve the quality of instruction in this field. The database contains resources donated by tefillah educators, easily searchable by grade, prayer, etc.

Some of the issues above factored into our own efforts in resource collection, with about 7% of educators contacted actually contributing. We had a much higher rate of respondents saying they were interested in such a resource but did not have anything to contribute, which may be due to the difficult nature of tefilah education. 

Different educators have different types of approaches to sharing:

Newer teachers, veteran educators nearing the end of their professional careers, and educators who created curriculum as part of a program (MA, or research project) were happy to share whatever they had.

Jewish professionals who were not teachers were willing to share their materials.

Experienced educators still working in the field shared a few resources but were reluctant to share more. These educators were affected by the issues of time, image, incentive, fear of being judged and self-curation listed above. Time and incentive appear to be the biggest obstacles.

We went into this project with our eyes open, knowing that any resource collection process will be long and time-consuming. Once the database launches and teachers see its practical use, we will see if teachers more readily overcome inhibitions to sharing their work.

For the Future

We have to consider our options for resource sharing models for all Jewish content (Bible, Rabbinics, Jewish Thought, History, Ethics, etc). If there is not currently enough of an incentive for educators to share, we could design a rewards system (money, recognition, PD funds). There are successful for-profit resource sharing websites that allow teachers to earn extra income; teacherspayteachers.com, for example, is a database of 3 million resources, which 5 million teachers used last year, with more than 1 billion downloads. To move forward in the implementation of a collaborative platform, a funder needs to see the value of the missed opportunity and take ownership of it. Serious research and discussions about the modes of sharing, motivations of contributors and needs of educators, has to take place.

To further encourage collaboration, organizations need to come together and change our culture into one of sharing. If we want teachers to share their material, school leaders have to adopt a mindset of collaboration. Heads of schools, directors and department chairs need to encourage and create forums for their faculty to share with their peers in other schools in the area. Perhaps we can form a network of “sharing” schools that allocate some time for their teachers to format and package their curricula materials to be shared among others in the network.

There is much potential and tremendous benefit when good people are willing to share and collaborate. Teachers could benefit in so many ways from a pool of resources to help them in the hard work they do. We invite your faculty to seize the opportunity.

Author
Reuven Margrett
Issue
Catalyzing Resources
Knowledge Topics
Teaching and Learning