HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


From the CEO: Strengthening the Ecology of Day School Leadership

by Paul Bernstein Issue: Leadership Dispositions Prizmah
TOPICS : Leadership

This issue focuses on a topic of critical importance to the field: leadership—and how individual dispositions, strengths, preferences play such a determinative role in a leader’s ability to succeed.

In Lessons in Leadership, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks demonstrates how the Torah places education of our children at the center of the Jewish future. In Parshat Bo, as the Children of Israel are at the end of more than two centuries of exile, “Moses does not speak about today or tomorrow. He speaks about the distant future and the duty of parents to educate their children.” Rabbi Sacks anticipates the defining speech Moses might have given, about freedom—akin to the Gettysburg Address, or Nelson Mandela’s “long walk to freedom.” Instead, as we remind ourselves every Pesach when we read the Haggadah, Moses reinforces how the Jewish people must “explain to your child…” (Exodus 13:8). According to Rabbi Sacks, “What God taught Moses was that the real challenge does not lie in gaining freedom; it lies in sustaining it. … That can only be done through a sustained process of education.”

We believe that thriving day schools lie at the core of the long-term, vibrant Jewish future. Prizmah believes that driving towards a simple yet audacious goal lies at the heart of achieving that vision: Every school should have an excellent head of school, equipped to succeed.

The secret to a great education is the teacher with whom each student learns. Indeed, Rabbi Sacks argues that “the highest form of leadership is teaching.” Every teacher is a leader of the Jewish future, and every leader needs to take seriously their role as teacher, in order, using Simon Sinek’s model, to provide every member of our community with the “why.”

Much needs to be done to attract the best teachers and enable them to succeed. Great teachers thrive with and are drawn to top-quality school leaders. We see strengthening school leadership at the heart of that work, and where expanding Prizmah’s work on fostering effective leaders, leadership and conditions for success can be pivotal.

When we consider the “ecosystem” of day school leadership, we encounter a system (or lack thereof) where true success seems more like the luck of the draw than the result of coordinated efforts. The pipeline of aspiring school leaders is quite narrow, too many schools change heads too often, and the conditions are not right to enable heads of school and instructional leaders to succeed. Our vision is to change both perception and reality.

Conventional wisdom holds that we can “equip leaders to succeed” by teaching skills and strengthening individual capacities, their knowledge of areas of management—including finance, recruitment, board work, supervision, team building, etc.—they need in order to run a school. Influencing a leader’s disposition, on the other hand, shaping their individual style and preferences, is exceedingly difficult. That kind of thinking, however, is part of the pipeline problem in the first place. We need to see more potential in all future leaders, and we need to create environments that enable more leaders to blossom.

From my own experience as a board member at a Jewish day school in London, as the parent of two day school students here in the States, and in my role as CEO of Prizmah the past two years, I have seen promising examples of heads of school who know how to enlist the resources to help themselves and their amazing teams to be effective. Fortunately, in many leadership transitions, I have observed new heads of school identify right from the start what they will need. Even in the interview process, confident and self-reflective aspiring heads inquire how the board will provide the right supports. Whether in the form of coaching, empowerment to hire or create specific positions in order to fill gaps, resources for professional development and more, boards and search committees must be prepared to set up their leaders for success, to stack the deck in their favor.

We are proud of the impact of Prizmah programs and services that enable school leaders to succeed, through programs including the Head of School Excellence Program and YOU Lead, and services such as Board Fitness for lay leaders, leadership coaching, peer-to-peer networking and learning opportunities like those we find in these pages. For Prizmah, we seek to learn what more is possible and necessary to support school leaders and teachers, making sure that day schools have what they need to fulfill their potential.

As we explore in this issue of HaYidion, each of us can further develop our capacities and dispositions for leadership. Prizmah’s programs and services demonstrate our current capacities. Prizmah’s disposition, who we truly are, lies in our passion and commitment to the future of Jewish day schools of all kinds, a determination to learn, to adjust and grow what we do to better meet schools’ needs, and to drive forward in single-minded support of the people and the schools we exist to serve.

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Leadership Dispositions

Articles in this issue go beyond the skills and knowledge that a school leader requires, to explore the "dispositions," character traits, essential for this role. Half of the contributors currently occupy day school leadership roles; they reflect on the importance of a particular quality to their leadership style and experience. The other half are written by people engaged in training leaders, of Jewish education and beyond. Collectively, the pieces in the issue reflect part of the spectrum of personal qualities that inform the work of successful day school leadership.

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