For at least a decade K-12 educators have recognized that schools must change in order to prepare our students for the challenges of a rapidly changing world. The word “innovation” has become a catch-all for those changes. Unfortunately, for many schools, innovation remains a phrase or vague commitment, and substantive change that builds value for the school in a time of expanding choice and dynamic markets remains elusive.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
"Excellence" is a goal to which many, if not all, day schools subscribe. This issue provides perspectives on this elusive term, offering diverse notions of what day school excellence means and looks like, and suggesting pathways and structures for schools to achieve excellence. Each school must define what excellence means for its community and how excellence relates to the other values in the school's mission.
Click here to download the PDF and printer friendly version of this issue of HaYidion
Excellent schools are high on inquiry, exhibiting the same curiosity that they try to inculcate in their students. Unfortunately, many schools lack a culture of inquiry and fail to see the value of regularly surveying members of their school community. In part, this failure may be attributed to a misunderstanding of what such research is and what it can accomplish for the school.
The Argument for School Research
The most watched TED Talk ever, with over 32,000,000 views, is Sir Ken Robinson’s “How Schools Kill Creativity.” Robinson demonstrates how schools often stifle people’s natural inclinations to be creative and focus on traditionally academic learning. He argues that traditional schooling’s hierarchy has math/science at the top, humanities on the level below, the arts underneath the humanities, with music and art at the top of the arts ladder, and dance and drama under them. Sir Ken asks, “Why?
Cultivating excellence in the next generation of Jewish leaders can be compared to the work of a casting director in Hollywood. Through the course of her day the casting director sees countless talented actors many of whom, given the right break, could emerge as stars. But the job of the casting director is not to find the next star but to place the actor in the right situation that will create the perfect ensemble for a hit movie.
“We Strive for Excellence.” This wonderful motto would seem to inspire teachers, students and families to do their utmost, try their best, and aim for superlative performance. Clearly, there is much to be gained by creating a motivational tone in our schools, and setting high standards. Are there, also, however, some critical components of education we stand to lose? Before we adopt this seemingly motivating paradigm, perhaps we should explore the beliefs behind it.
Jewish day schools have a reputation for academic excellence. They attract top teachers who enjoy working in an environment where all students come from homes that value books and academics. Class size is generally small, and teachers can provide students with the type of close personal attention that addresses students’ individual learning needs. As a result, the typical Jewish day high school has earned an admirable track record for university acceptances.
I clearly recall one day, in elementary school, when the rabbi came to our classroom and announced that the average class grade on a recently taken standardized test was better this year than it had been the year before. That was the way teachers and students were measured: as a whole, how did a class perform? The educational system focused on aggregate; if more students performed better, the average would be higher.
What does it mean for a school to be “excellent”? In order to tackle this sweeping question, we break down the idea of excellence into five key components that have their origins in Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao’s book, Scaling Up Excellence. We came across their work in preparation for a 16-hour flight to Israel, in search of reading material both practical and stimulating. As we delved into the book, we realized it could serve as a roadmap, allowing us to chart the next steps in creating an excellent educational institution.
Gidi Grinstein is the author of Flexigidity and founder of the Reut Institute, “an innovative policy and strategy group designed to identify the gaps in current policy and strategy in Israel and the Jewish world, and work to build and implement new visions.” This interview is published in partnership with the Jewish Book Council.
Our schools often use the word “excellence” to describe our goals in teaching and learning, but what exactly does excellence in teaching look like, and how do schools foster an environment where excellence in teaching is celebrated and acknowledged?
Nearly two years ago, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy (HBHA) took the opportunity to embark upon a strategic plan to ensure the school remains financially prudent. After extensive research, the HBHA Strategic Planning Committee developed a plan that takes a deep look into many areas of the school, including academic excellence.
Four years ago our school began a journey toward a learning environment focused on project- and inquiry-based learning, values-based learning, and differentiated instruction across all subjects. This huge shift in pedagogy was embraced by our community, and a capital campaign was launched to redesign existing spaces. Our small school has now been transformed into a hub for our progressive and highly technology-based academic program.
The kindergarten students enter the classroom and prepare for the morning. One student is accidently bumped by several of the students as they hang up coats and put away lunches. Shira (not her real name) begins to cry, and her body is shaking. She is about to have a “meltdown.” Shira is escorted into the Shalom Room, a sensory room, and is guided through the “hug machine,” a deep pressure device designed by Temple Grandin, to help individuals calm themselves when feeling overwhelmed.
It’s 7:59 am. A familiar template appears on SmartTV screens in every classroom in the school. Parents gather in the library to watch, an impromptu ritual before they leave for the office or the gym. A recognizable song, a cha-cha-cha-type melody with the words “boker tov,” repeats itself over and over again. WJAO, the television news broadcast of the Jewish Academy of Orlando, is about to go on the air.
It’s 8:00 am. “One, two, three…you’re on the air!”
The Herzliah Student Leadership Israel Advocacy Program is designed to give students an in-depth understanding of Israel, her strengths, her role in innovation and technology and her place in the global community. Our goal is to empower and inspire our students to become engaged in the process of advocacy through information and education.
Presently offered to our Secondary V students, the program will be expanding to include Secondary III and Secondary IV. This will enable us to offer a broader program and devote more time to strengthening our students’ skills.
- ‹ previous
- 2 of 2