Saturday, February 6, 2010

Establishing A Madrichim Program

I had the privilege and honor last month of being asked to present two workshops at the Annual JEA Conference. The second one was entitled "Madrichim: They're Not Just for Photocopying Anymore!"

As with any good program plan, we set the framework out at the beginning:

· Define your program objectives

· Establish criteria for participation

· Overcome barriers

· Assess and amend


It’s well worth expending some serious time to figure out exactly what you’re looking for in this program (eg, classroom assistants, one-on-one tutors, service leaders, teachers-in-training, etc.) The skill sets vary somewhat from category to category, as do the job requirements.

Your program will also vary depending on the needs that you’re trying to address. Some of them might include the following: teachers who need an extra set of hands; students who need some one-on-one assistance or attention; teens who need to fill a meaningful role in congregational life; teens that you’re trying to keep involved post-b’nai mitzvah for whom taking classes just won’t cut it. In most of our programs, we try to address several needs. That’s okay – but you should identify for yourself what your primary need is. That will help with marketing the program.

Finally, your approach will be different depending on whether you begin a new program or modify an existing one. Each presents challenges, but each has specific advantages, too.


Here are some questions you’ll need to think through in the early stages of planning your program:

1. Who is eligible to participate? (consider: teens, teachers, students)

2. What availability is required? (during sessions, outside of the school “day”)

3. Is there an application process?

4. Is there a selection process? (is it fair and how is it communicated to applicants)

5. What skill set are you looking for? How much flexibility are you willing to give?

6. Is training required?

a. Pre-service?

b. During the year?

7. Who will make the assignments?

8. Who will supervise/assess the madrichim?

In smaller schools – or sometimes with beginning programs – this work is initially assumed primarily by the Education/School Director. I encourage you to collaborate with either another staff person or a member of your school committee in the planning process. They can be of immense help is seeing things that might not otherwise be on our radar.

BARRIERS TO OVERCOME (aka “Things I’ve learned the hard way, so you don’t have to!”)

For many teens this is a first job (regardless of whether they’re being paid or volunteering)

What does that mean? It means they may not know about proper dress; about showing up “on time” – or a few minutes before class starts; about turning the phones to “vibrate;” about not texting during class; about taking the ear plugs out of their ears (even when the iPod is turned off!; about signing in when they arrive; about filling out paper work; about accepting directions gracefully; about how to talk to kids, their classroom teacher, and parents; about….. you get the idea! Two pieces of advice on this barrier – 1) don’t skip this step in training; and 2) catch them on infractions early and consistently, so they understand that you’re serious. Written, explicit job descriptions, incorporated into madrichim job contracts help. Contact me for a sample, if you’d like.

Teachers’ inexperience – or unwillingness – to work with madrichim

Many teachers simply don’t know “what to do” with these extra, often-significantly-larger bodies in their classrooms. We select our early childhood teachers based on their ability to connect with students in grades PreK-2 – and now we’re asking them to work with high schooler? Some of our teachers are intuitive and have difficulty articulating what they’re doing with their students and how an aide can help. Some are not very well organized and can’t do the extra piece that provides meaningful work for madrichim. Some simply don’t want to bother. Training here can be really helpful – training with teachers alone (perhaps before the year begins); joint training with teachers and madrichim together (on the topic of working together – shortly after the year begins). Also joint professional development (on lesson planning, working with students with special needs, etc = whatever area your school needs to address) helps foster a sense of “teamness.”

Parent support - or lack thereof

This is critical, since oftentimes our younger madrichim don’t drive. Are parents willing/able to bring the madrichim when we need them? Are the family issues that complicate things (shared custody, for example)? Are there extra-curricular activities that might make it difficult for a madrich/ah to participate regularly? Planned absences – a football schedule or dramatic performance – are one thing; waking up in the morning and deciding it’s more fun to sleep in is entirely different.

Budget Impact

You probably should have a line item in your budget – to allocate costs accurately. Regardless of whether your madrichim volunteer, are paid entirely by the school, or the pay is covered half by families and half by the school – there are costs incurred. Food and materials for training sessions; communication time and vehicles (a weekly newsletter – hardcopy or email), supervision time, classroom observations, mailboxes/bulletin board space; holiday “thank yous” (especially if you provide them for your teaching staff), etc.

One school required students to wear school-provided polo shirts, with a logo that identified them as participants in the madrichim program. Another school provided baseball shirts for their madrichim and also required them to wear them. The madrichim in both cases weren’t thrilled at the idea, but over time became to realize that there was merit in being identified as a staff member.

Perhaps the biggest budgetary impact will be for the time of the person who is coordinating/supervising the madrichim program. This can be a shared responsibility, but the dollars allocated do need to be considered in your planning for the entire budget.

Ongoing training and assessment

Just as we plan for professional development for our teachers and ourselves, so must we plan for professional development for our madrichim. Identify who will do the training. What topics will be covered? What reflective piece will be included to determine if the training session met your goals?

The amount of training and the areas that you’ll cover will depend on the goals of your program. The session about On-The-Job training and expectations should remain constant despite the variations in your program. When you plan your training sessions, make sure you cover information that will enhance their skill set for the particular program you have on your site.

Provide feedback for your madrichim informally, when you observe them incorporating new information or strategies. Make yourself accessible so that they can ask you if they have any questions or concerns.


Just as we must do this for teachers, so must we establish a formal procedure for our madrichim. Consider who will do this, how it will be done, and make realistic projections for how much time it will entail. If you’d like a sample evaluation form, please let me know.

I used to promise my madrichim I’d write them recommendations (for jobs or for college) if they performed well as madrichim in our program. It made it easier for them to understand and accept the assessments of their performance, especially since I provided areas in which they could improve.


Leave a comment and I’ll address them as soon as I can!

Thanks to the JEA for the opportunity!

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