Whether you’re a teen or someone working in informal Jewish education, imagine the difficulties that come with figuring out how to create the perfect teen program. Just when you think you have master the art of engaging teens, trends change and suddenly, they are interested in something new. Add to that, the complexity of engaging teens in Jewish content and you have an even greater challenge. I often find myself turning to fun catch-phrase titled programs and games to attract our participants, but I struggle with balancing strong Jewish content with our youth group's casual laid back atmosphere.
This dynamic of understanding what teens are really looking for from our programming, and getting them to attend our programs is something that my colleagues and I in the youth field discuss often. I was fortunate to have gotten insight into this when I attended the M² workshop in October. The workshop was focused on intrinsic motivation, or how to have our participants get the most for themselves from what we provide them.
The activity that stood out most involved five different stations, with each station focused on a different sense, talent or thought process. After going to all five stations (one of which was the game Bop-It, a personal favorite of mine), we reflected on how everyone thinks differently and has different talents and interests. We talked about how to take this into account when thinking about the teens who will attend our programs and also had an opportunity to hear directly from teens about how they feel about the activities they are involved in. A key takeaway was the importance of creating diverse programming, using creativity and thinking outside the box, in order to motivate and meet the needs of our different participants.
The reason I love attending workshops is because as a full time Jewish professional, there are few opportunities to take time away from my desk just to be with other professionals. I learn more from five minutes chatting over bagels, than I ever do researching “teen trends” online. Through this workshop I was reminded that there is no end to learning the art of engagement, especially for those of us working with teens. It’s very reaffirming to me, however, to be able to look around a room at this workshop and know that there are others doing everything they can to engage our teens, youth and young families. Chicago is very fortunate to have such a strong group of Jewish professionals, and I was honored to have spent two days with many of them at this workshop. I am thankful for programs like Springboard and M² because they allow me to reignite my passion by spending time with professionals doing similar work while focusing on relevant topics.
Matt Rissien is the Director of Youth Activities at Congregation Beth Shalom. For more information on upcoming Professional Development opportunities, click here.