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Gavi Elkind Headshot

Gavi is Prizmah's Director of Leadership Development 

Ilisa is Prizmah's Senior Vice President of Engagement

YOU Lead at 10 Years: Shaping a Field of Adaptive and Empowered Leaders

Ten years ago, Yeshiva University School Partnership launched YU Lead, a leadership development program for Jewish day school educational leaders. The program was a response to two connected needs that the YUSP experienced in the field: the necessity for school leaders to demonstrate adaptive leadership skills to meet the ever-changing needs of 21st century Orthodox day schools, and the absence of formal pathways to leadership for emerging and existing leaders. YU Lead aimed to increase the capacity of leaders to successfully lead in Jewish day schools, strengthen the pipeline and retention of qualified leaders, and build connections among professionals in the field. The program was designed to inspire a transformation in the professional path to Jewish educational leadership, from incidental and haphazard to deliberate and meaningful. 

YU Lead launched in 2012 as the first educational leadership program of its kind in the field. With the input of day school leaders, program leadership incorporated best practices of learning and teaching into the pedagogy, structure and curriculum. The first cohort learned through online asynchronous and synchronous classes, alongside in-person experiences. In order to meet the needs of leaders at different career stages, participants were divided into cohorts with professionals who shared similar positions. The nine-month curriculum comprised a survey course of leadership in day schools, and thought leaders from the field taught units on topics ranging from time management to hiring to Israel advocacy. The program offered participants professional networking opportunities, relevant learning experiences and valuable leadership training.

From YU Lead to YOU Lead

Thanks to the vision and wisdom of its founders, the program today shares much in common with the first iteration of YU Lead, and it continues to evolve and thrive. When Prizmah formed in 2016, the program transitioned from YU Lead to YOU Lead. While the structure of the program has remained largely the same, key elements - particularly in the areas of curriculum, cohort and coaching - have shifted in alignment both with the needs of Jewish day schools, and with research in the broader leadership field. As YOU Lead develops, a commitment to reflective practice on the part of the participants and program administrators remains at its core. This dedication to constant reflection and adaptive practice amid complexity contributes to the continued success of the program in supporting the professional growth of flexible, ethical and resilient Jewish day school leaders.

Curriculum 

In the last decade, the curriculum of YOU Lead has shifted in order to prepare participants for the immense and varied challenges of educational leadership. The Learning Leadership Landscape Study, which Rosov Consulting completed in 2017 on behalf of Prizmah with the support of The AVI CHAI Foundation, revealed compelling data about day school leadership development. The study found that capacities - what leaders can do - are important, but insufficient for exceptional communal leadership, while dispositions - how a leader approaches the world - are essential. The study outlined four leadership dispositions - intellectual, emotional, ethical and practical - and asserted that leadership development programs can support participants in cultivating these dispositions through explicit commitments. This research inspired adjustments to the YOU Lead curriculum and content. The program refined its goals by committing to helping aspiring and existing leaders develop the necessary capacities and dispositions for Jewish day school leadership. The curriculum shifted away from a survey course towards a more focused and explicit approach to nurturing leadership dispositions, through modules such as Adaptive Leadership, Giving Effective Feedback, and Difficult Conversations.

YOU Lead alumnus Jason David reflected on the curriculum:

“YOU Lead helps participants learn how to lead effectively and develop practical and relevant leadership skills. The program is driven by thoughtful experiences and reflective practices. I have learned many strategies, best practices and skills. Even more so, I have learned a lot about myself and how I can become a better leader in my field.”

As David suggests, the curriculum supports participants in building relevant knowledge that will expand their skill set and deepen their understanding of key dispositions required for leadership in complex school environments.

Cohort

In addition to the curriculum, the cohort experience plays a critical role in nurturing participants’ growth as resilient educational leaders. The original cohort model of the program has endured, and YOU Lead now offers three cohorts for participants: one for teacher leaders, for mid-level managers, and for senior administrators. Each cohort is paired with two mentors who build a tight-knit community among their groups by convening monthly dilemmas of practice conversations.

Dita Cooper, YOU Lead alumna, reflected on her cohort experience:

“The conversations that I had with my incredible cohort members impacted my decisions as an educational leader and my vision for the future of Jewish day schools.”

The cohort experience provides participants with a structured environment to practice important dispositions such as empathy and self-awareness, process how the dispositions manifest in actual leadership dilemmas and discuss complex challenges in real-time with trusted colleagues.

Coaching

The program’s evolving approach to coaching reflects its commitment to supporting the development of reflective, adaptive and engaged Jewish day school leaders. As the program evolved, it recognized the importance of providing participants with individualized coaching with experts in the field. 
Coaching continues to be a critical and distinguishing feature of the YOU Lead experience. Through bimonthly sessions, participants cultivate reflection and self-awareness and take ownership of their growth.

YOU Lead alumnus David Fain was deeply impacted by his coaching experience in the program:

“A leader needs a coach, someone to support the leader’s growth and to be a sounding board for all issues and topics. A good coach makes all the difference in not only processing specific situations but enabling the leader to really lead. Leadership at its core is about the identity and growth of the leader, and a good coach provides the support and feedback to allow a leader to handle the challenges of leadership and constantly be working on him - or herself.”

Through Covid and Beyond

The pandemic underscored the dire need for flexible and reflective Jewish day school leaders. When in-person gatherings were eliminated in 2020, the YOU Lead team considered halting the program for a year. Instead, believing in the program’s critical importance for individuals and the field, they pivoted to a fully virtual model and focused on helping educational leaders develop the dispositions required to face the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. 
The program recruited a full cohort and provided invaluable support and guidance to the group of leaders throughout an immensely challenging year.
The impact of YOU Lead on the Jewish day school field thus far has been profound, and the program is poised to continue its tremendous contributions in the next decade. Since 2012, more than 200 leaders have participated in the program. Over 95% of alumni have remained in the field, and more than 60 YOU Lead alumni have taken on an advanced professional role since participating in the program. Nearly 40% of women who are heads of Orthodox day schools are YOU Lead alumnae. 
In the 2022-2023 school year, program administrators will continue investing in alumni engagement and programming. In addition, Prizmah plans for a return to in-person gatherings for the YOU Lead cohort and a celebration of YOU Leaders past and present at the January 2023 Prizmah Conference in Denver.


Do you know an inspiring educational leader in the field? YOU Lead is now accepting nominations for the 2022-2023 cohort. We look forward to recruiting a full cohort of exceptional day school leaders.