Internships provide a context that enables students to put into action the knowledge and values they have acquired in the classroom. The mastery of skills grows out of interaction with others. Through action with people one becomes competent to practice one's profession. An internship offers students a laboratory in which to test their competence, knowledge, and values. An internship not only allows students to practice, but at its best, it also encourages reflection on actions. A mentor, in this case an experienced and seasoned rabbi, guides this process of introspection by helping a student to plan and reflect on how best to approach any given assignment. Together, mentor and student work toward increasing the mastery of skill and integrating the student's personal and professional identities. It is through the intimate, regular, and structured contact with mentors, all senior colleagues trained in supervision, that the transition from student to rabbi should become a smooth and individualized process. JTS relies greatly upon the mentors to work with these students, hone their skills, share in their professional and spiritual journeys, and, in fact, become partners with JTS in the preparation of the coming generation of rabbis who will serve and lead our Conservative Movement.
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Each fall, new mentors participate in an orientation conducted by the director of Field Education, Rabbi Mychal Springer. Following orientation (on the same day), all the current mentors, new and old, join with the interns in programs that are designed to address topics of interest to both mentors and interns. The program builds community among all who are engaged in the internship process, helps strengthen the intern–mentor relationship, and helps both mentors and interns to further develop their clinical skills. A second mentor–intern meeting takes place in the spring. Mentors are welcome to be in touch with the director of field education, at any point throughout the year, to consult about any concerns that might arise.
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The Resnick Internship is, in many ways, the culmination of the program of training in professional skills. Prior to the Resnick Internship, students will have completed a number of forty-hour mini-internships, or “rotations,” in different settings. Based on their experiences and future goals in the rabbinate, students will meet with the director of Field Education toward the middle of the third year to discuss the Resnick Internship that would best meet their needs. Students will consult the Directory of Resnick Internship Placement Sites that includes all the current Resnick Internship Field Placement Questionnaires. Each mentor should be sure that his/her questionnaire on file is updated and accurate to aid students in the selection process. Rabbinical students who defer studying in Israel until the fourth year of the program will complete their internships during year three. They will set up their internships during year two. Internships may be completed during the academic year (part-time) or during the summer (full-time). The timeline for students to contact potential mentors is between January 2 and February 15. Students are free to meet with mentors and arrange to complete an internship with a particular mentor. Each mentor is free to select the intern who is the best match for him/her. Where possible, Resnick Internship Field Placement Agreements should be completed before the end of the academic year prior to the beginning of the internship. This will enable the internship site to include the intern in programming that needs to be finalized well in advance. Please see the Resnick Internship Program for comprehensive information about the internship process and guidelines.
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Successful student learning processes rely on the guidance of an experienced, thoughtful, and secure mentor. Successful mentors will quickly put students into action, helping them prepare for what they are about to undertake, allowing them to make mistakes, and helpfully guiding reflection afterward. This “learning by doing” is a far more intense and accelerated educational process than mere observation. However, mentoring should not be confused with therapeutic intervention, another kind of guided insight process. Because the mentor is a teacher and has a relationship with JTS, discussions with the student should focus on work performance and obstacles to it, rather than personality problems. These are best dealt with by a qualified therapist. Still, between the bounds of observation and. therapeutic intervention, there are three appropriate roles for the mentor to play:
Problems in internships, of course, can and do arise. It is not unusual for an intern to have one idea about what an internship will entail and the mentor to have a different vision. Problems occur when the student or mentor are unclear about what each can expect of the other. What the student is expected to accomplish and learn, timelines for accomplishment, how often the student and mentor are expected to meet, and the content of these discussions should all be laid out well ahead of time and mutually agreed on. Clarity of expectations involves a Resnick Internship Field Placement Agreement containing two parts: (1) learning contract and (2) agreement about mentoring.
The purpose of a learning contract is to lay out very clearly the student's goals and responsibilities, what the student is expected to accomplish in each assignment, and what the focus for learning from each task should be. If an assignment has a deadline or specific time requirements, these should also be included. Please see: sample learning contract.
The learning contract should be developed mutually, with input from both student and mentor. Of course, assignments should fit with student interest and background. However, the workload should also be varied with assignments calling for different skills and areas of knowledge so students can try their hand at different things. Importantly, the workload should include “core assignments.” Core assignments are tasks that all rabbis (no matter the organizational context) should be expected to be able to perform competently, such as planning and leading religious services, involvement in life-cycle events, teaching, working with committees, and individual counseling. The workload should include tasks that the student will find easy to perform (these assignments can enhance the student's confidence), as well as those with which the student expects to have some difficulty (these ensure that the student will learn new areas).
Finally, it is important that work be scheduled to commence immediately so as to forestall any anxiety that naturally comes with inactivity. At least some assigned tasks should be ones that can be done initially. For example, students can be assigned to teach an adult education course or make a hospital sick call early in their internship, while the assignment to work with the fundraising committee can be left until students are more comfortable with the synagogue, its members, and their work.
Agreement About Mentoring
In addition to expectations for assignments, it is important that the mentor and the student reach an agreement about their work together. Such a contract will include the day, time, and place of the weekly mentoring discussions; written requirements for these meetings (see mentoring and written reflections sections); and the process of evaluation (select evaluation section). The confidential nature of these sessions and the process of communicating any information with JTS ought to be discussed as well. These ground rules allow students to know exactly what will be expected of them in their weekly mentoring meetings.
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The expectation that students write an account of an activity, encounter, or meeting is important for many reasons. Requiring students to record, report, and analyze their activities and formulate questions about their work helps guide their processes of introspection. Written reflections assure that insight is neither random nor serendipitous, but accumulates systematically over time. Writing down what happened during an encounter helps students detach enough to conceptualize, and over time they can see patterns emerging in themselves or related to certain activities. For instance, faced with evidence that time after time she/he is tense during a sickroom visit and must fight back the urge to escape, the student may begin to consider why she is so uncomfortable with illness and death. With written work to react to, the mentor is able to teach in greater detail, questioning what happened during a certain moment in an encounter. Finally, recording is a way of holding the student accountable for expected work. Written reflections are time consuming, and as such are often dreaded by both students and mentors. Yet, recording structures introspection, insight, and teaching in a way that simple conversation cannot. There are three useful devices for student writing reflections. Each format is better for writing about certain situations than others, and so should be used differentially, based on each assignment the student is given. A brief review of these devices is available here:
Process recording is a fairly detailed account and analysis of an encounter. It is best matched to the student's work with individuals or families or groups (e.g., sick visits, meetings with grieving families, a conversation with a convert, etc.) A process recording usually runs about four or five pages. It consists of:
The intent of the process record is to allow the student and mentor to inspect closely the way the student interacted with the people involved. Process recordings should focus on such content as:
Critical incident reports are brief written records of surprise encounters. Because the student doesn't enter these encounters with a predetermined purpose or goal, these records try to capture an unexpected event or occurrence. They are best used to describe unexpected conflict or expressions of emotion (for instance, students often are faced with unanticipated conflict at meetings or a congregant may suddenly share a very personal experience). Caught off guard, the student can be helped to reflect on what occurred. Critical incident reports seldom run longer than a page and should include:
The intent of the critical incident report is to allow the student and mentor to reflect on what occurred to uncover its causes, learn to intervene spontaneously, and prepare a plan to cope with the consequences of the event. Critical incident reports should focus on such content as:
Logs are a fairly detailed progress report on a project or program. They are best suited to assignments where there is less personal interaction and more attention to details (e.g., planning a curriculum, planning a speakers series, creating a service for singles, or putting together a synagogue day-care program). Logs are continued for the duration of the project, so length cannot be specified. A log consists of:
The intent of the log is to allow the student and mentor to review closely a project over time, understand that obstacles to plans do occur, and encourage discussion about how to reformulate a plan given new information and obstacles. The log should focus on such content as:
Written reflections should be completed and handed in regularly to mentors, allowing enough time for the mentor to read and think about what the student has written. Written reflections are accompanied by an agenda prepared by the student that raises the questions the student would most like discussed. The agenda and reflections then become the content of the weekly mentoring conference. They are reviewed in detail and used to frame the discussion between mentor and student.
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The relationship between mentor and student is a special one. It is infrequent in education that a student gets the benefit of a one-to-one teaching relationship focused uniquely on his/her individual learning and style. It is also unusual for a teacher to have such an intimate relationship, one in which the teacher gets to see his/her personal experience through the fresh eyes of a newcomer to the rabbinate. Because of the personal nature of the encounter, the tendency to converse freely is often acute. Yet, if the mentoring is to meet fully educational goals, some structure needs to be put in place. Structure for the mentoring occurs in two ways: firstly, a requirement for students to record and report their activities and secondly, a clear and consistent format for the weekly mentoring conference.
The Mentoring Conference
The best mentoring conferences are mutual learning experiences. Students grapple with new situations and questions, and often mentors learn about themselves as they share thoughts, ideas, and warnings. The key to such an intimate and free educational environment is that it is student centered. That is, students, for the most part, determine the agenda for learning and how they best grasp new material. Mentors guide this discovery process by understanding what needs to be learned from each assignment. They prepare students for the undertaking of a task, help to reflect on past action, and generalize the learning. They also tailor their teaching technique to the unique characteristics brought by students. These four areas, preparation, reflection, pattern of learning, and differential teaching, are the mentor's focus during each conference.
The student's evaluation is the culmination of each semester's work. It is the document which confirms what they have learned and done in their year-long effort. A comprehensive and constructive evaluation is a signal to both mentor and student that the internship was a significant experience, one that merits the thought and attention of both parties. You are welcome to use The Rabbinical's School's evaluation form, for your convenience.
An evaluation relates the assignments students have been given to the skills they have mastered. It is simply a summary of each assignment the student has undertaken during the year, what the student has learned from each, and a description of the student's strengths and weaknesses in relation to each assignment. We have stressed the importance of a clear and mutual learning contract, and the consistent patterning of student learning so that strengths and weaknesses are known throughout the year. If these processes have been handled sufficiently, the completion of an evaluation should be relatively simple, and no surprise to either student or mentor.
The mutual process which began with the learning contract should be extended to the evaluation. Mentors and students should each draft an evaluation. These drafts can then be discussed and any issues that are raised can be addressed. Students should be given an opportunity to react, add, or comment on the evaluation before both mentor and student sign the final version, which is sent to JTS. Students are also responsible for submitting their own evaluations to JTS. We should note here that the director of field education at JTS will be responsible for the final grade (Pass/Fail) of the student. This grade will be awarded in the light of the evaluations prepared by the mentors and the students, in full discussion with them.
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Even the best intentioned and most skillful mentor will occasionally find students that are hard to reach. Try as you may, the student will seem to be blocked, continuing to make similar mistakes and not gaining any insight into what is so troublesome. The mentor may begin to suspect that the student is not well suited to the rabbinate. What is to be done?
First, it is incumbent upon the mentor to discuss the seriousness of the situation with the student. The mentor must be able to enumerate the specific instances and areas of problems and to explain that these miscues in knowledge, ethics, skill, or organizational behavior are below acceptable standards. Second, the mentor must be able to point out the pattern of the problem, showing that the same mistake occurs over time and perhaps in different situations.
JTS is an active participant in the internship, and the director of Field Education will be in regular contact with the mentors and students during the year. If problems begin to arise with a student, the director of Field Education should be advised at an early stage. This should not be seen as a sanction invoked against the student, but rather as a move towards mobilizing the best possible team to help and to teach the student. It is possible that the problematic area fits with earlier patterns of behavior displayed by the student. If this should be the case, JTS will have the history of the student available, and perhaps, some insight into ways that the student can be helped to learn.
It may well be that the mentor and JTS will agree that the original learning contract should be revised in light of certain patterns displayed by the student. The contract might be revised to provide for explicit tracking of timeliness by the student or regular reporting concerning other areas (possibly attire, preparation of lessons, or sermons). A student might also be required to undertake extra work if there is some deficiency in technical skills (for example, use of the calendar, reading Torah, etc.)
We have stressed that it is inappropriate for the mentor to enter into a therapeutic relationship with the student (even if the mentor is, in fact, a qualified and practicing therapist). It is certainly possible that a student would be advised, in consultation with the director of Field Education, to consult with a therapist if there seem to be deeper issues surrounding certain areas of rabbinic work. (Such areas could be involved with death or serious illness, addictive behavior, and dysfunctional families).
It is important that such areas of concern be shared with JTS at an early stage. If problems persist, then some account will need to appear in the written evaluations. Many problems in an internship should admit resolution through informal discussions and mediation without appearing as a source of concern in an evaluation.
If the behavior of a student displays patterns that are entirely unsuited to a member of the rabbinate, the mentor and JTS share a responsibility to consider whether a particular student should continue in The Rabbinical School. This is, clearly, an extreme possibility, and the expectation is that in all but the rarest of cases the process of review and evaluation of students by JTS will have removed unsuitable individuals at an earlier stage. It is possible that a particular student will have issues that do not emerge until he/she is exposed to the realities of rabbinic work under the experienced and regular supervision of a mentor.
The Resnick Internship is a required course of The Rabbinical School program, and the provisions of the Resnick Internship Field Placement Agreement are thus a part of the requirements for graduation. JTS will offer every support to the mentors to ensure that a structured and well-supervised program is undertaken by each student.
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An internship can be an exciting and stimulating endeavor for student, mentor, and the congregation or organization. It is always exciting to see someone learn and grow, and the energy and enthusiasm of students often generates a freshness in veterans. Well-trained students often become attentive mentors for other students, replenishing our rabbinate and rejuvenating our congregations and agencies.