In the Issue: Time

Time

.לכל זמן ועת לכל־חפץ תחת השמים

A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.

Kohelet 3:1

Magazines, like schools, undergo planning a year in advance. When we planned for this issue on the theme of Time, we naturally had no inclination that the world would be plunged in the middle of a pandemic at the time of publication. Perhaps we should have renamed the issue Timing, according to the old expression: Timing is everything. With no other issue has that been more true!

The idea for the issue was to look at ways that school stakeholders experiment to use their time more effectively or in service of particular goals. Time is considered one of the “commonplaces” of education, something so routine, so basic, that it is assumed to be as unchanging as the classroom walls and the sports field. There’s the daily schedule, with classes marked by bells, tefillah, lunch periods, PE, recess and afterschool; weekly schedules, with subjects arranged exactly so to ensure sufficient time for each; annual calendars, with Jewish holidays, shabbatonim, special days and weeks (color war, PD days). Then there are calendars for other departments: development, admissions, sports seasons, assemblies, theater and more. In schools, truly, to every thing there is a season, carefully mapped out well in advance.

And then COVID-19 burst into our lives, ripping up all of those calendars, throwing our best-laid plans out the window and challenging us to recreate them as best we can, in the eye of an ongoing storm.

In normal times, Jewish day schools reach for a longer arc of time. Teachers regard their students’ presence in the classroom as part of a life in which they are planting seeds for flourishing in all kinds of ways. Teachers also practice their educational arts by taking their places within millenia-long traditions of transmission. Math teachers can trace ideas to Pythagoras, Euclid and Newton; history teachers, to Thucydides and Josephus. Teachers of Jewish studies see themselves as links in a chain of tradition extending from Abraham and Sinai through rabbinic tradition to future shores far out of sight.

HaYidion issues aim to be mostly timeless, addressing matters of administration, governance and pedagogy that have long shelf lives. By the time we arrived at producing this issue, however, the long shelf life suddenly seemed irrelevant. From the start, the team at Prizmah took to working on COVID-19 matters with a vengeance, seeking to provide schools with the support they needed to adapt and thrive under vastly changed and exigent circumstances. Yet at the same time, the normal matters of school life do not go away; we continue to care about good teaching, effective leadership, board stewardship. Hence, this issue acknowledges our present situation but also looks to the past and future, returning us to the day-to-day business of Jewish schools that are at the heart of our work and passion.

Indeed, as will be evident to the reader, articles in this issue were written at different times in relation to the pandemic. Some written in advance we decided to leave as is, while for others it seemed obtuse not to at least add an acknowledgment that the advice given in the article is not currently applicable. A third group was written later although planned earlier; these authors were able to face the present more fully in their writing. As we are fond of saying, “The situation is fluid,” and that fluidity is represented in the different stances taken here.

The first section suggests how schools can adjust their calendars—in the office, the classroom, the boardroom—to achieve growth. Etsekson and Rivkin showcase ways that schools can raise more money in less time by replacing the gala. Kushnir describes her school’s comprehensive redesign of its schedule to match its values. Kohn argues for restoring play as the primary time-on-task of early childhood education. Bruder and Safran Novogroder emphasize the importance of devoting time to teacher development, while Barton presents a slew of programming ideas for engaging parents. Shifting to Jewish education, Sandel and Weiss offer ideas for exploring the Jewish calendar with STEAM, and Berkman reveals how his school reconceived of tefillah and class time to allow more opportunities for spiritual connection. The section concludes with reflections on concepts of time in Hebrew by Benstein.

Our school spread this issue exhibits a gallery of pictures, all taken a month or two before the quarantine, that feature extracurricular activities in our schools. In the second section of articles, authors consider ways that stakeholders “find” or “make” time for things they value. The first three articles explore issues of burnout, efficiency and balance: Segal on school heads, Berger on board members, and Zarge on teachers. The next article relates findings from a study performed by CASJE on the way that educational leaders use their time (Levites), followed by reflections offered by two leaders (Mishkin and Rabinowitz). Wiener describes the use of block time to free up schedules, enabling her school’s trademark project-based learning. Kugler presents strategies to help high school students with difficulty in executive functioning to succeed. Levisohn and Kelman round out the issue with a discussion of the (misplaced) role of Jewish identity as a goal of Jewish education, and the way that the notion of Jewish identity has evolved over the past century.

From the whole Prizmah team, we wish you and your entire community health and wellness, unity and mutual support. And we wish you much success in navigating these choppy waters with calm and camaraderie, keeping the ensigns of Jewish education waving brightly, until we are able to land again on familiar territory.

From the CEO: Standing Together While Apart

Time

Schools are virtual time machines, and Jewish day schools are a model possessing the most sophisticated settings. In one classroom we immerse our students in the past, train them in ancient languages like Aramaic, and introduce them to legal texts from the Roman period, while in the next one over, students are coding robots to solve 21st century problems. Jewish day school students, on a regular basis, visit each era of the past and find lessons, values and wisdom.

Even more than portals to the past, Jewish day schools are truly the key to a sustainable Jewish future. Our teachers are dedicated to delivering an educational experience that prepares children today for whatever tomorrow holds for them. Investors and board members support Jewish day schools to ensure the continuity of a vibrant Jewish life. Communities recognize that strong schools determine how well they will thrive as hubs of Jewish life for generations to come.

We are now living through a crisis that challenges us in the most profound ways. In the early months of COVID-19, Jewish day schools and yeshivas have demonstrated extraordinary leadership; throughout the transition; their students have continued to enjoy extraordinary learning adapted to their needs and the altered circumstances. Our schools transitioned almost overnight to dynamic, online teaching, then unceasingly worked to improve the quality of learning and provided intense, meaningful communal experiences for students, staff and families.

Jewish day schools continue to provide the best education they can, thanks to the quality, creativity and tenacity of leaders, faculty and all their professional and lay teams. They also profoundly value and leverage the kehillah (community) of their fellow schools. Every day at Prizmah we see schools sharing their learning, crowdsourcing ideas, and supporting each other, at a time they need it most.

Prizmah, the network connecting hundreds of diverse Jewish day schools and yeshivas, is doubling down on our commitment to serve schools and communities for a long and healthy future. As we live through, and, God willing, emerge from this crisis, we will shape Prizmah’s work, with our partners in schools, to empower the North American day school field.

Prizmah’s strategic focus areas equip us to support schools even in the face of crisis and drive the changes that will yield a successful future. We will continue to strengthen the Prizmah Network to support our community, to be ready for whatever the needs of students, staff and families in the months and years ahead. Truly, when we learn together, grow together and create together, schools thrive.

Deepening Talent: Equipping the lay leaders and professionals who steer Jewish day schools to adapt to the challenges ahead depends on continuing support and training, in programs such as YOU Lead, coaching, leadership search and other services. We create opportunities to address the key issues each of them face as a leader in his or her particular circumstance. Long-term success hinges on preparing the next generation of talent.

Catalyzing Resources: Boosting the financial vitality of schools is now even more crucial in an increasingly challenging economic environment. From work to access emergency funds, to innovative ways to maintain and enhance enrollment, and creative approaches to alternative tuition models and fundraising, Prizmah will work with schools and communities to protect and fortify our schools in the face of the immediate and longer term financial challenges.

Educational Innovation: If schools are virtual time machines, then educators are designers, mechanics, navigators, and tour guides. Their ability to adapt curriculum and pedagogy to changing circumstances and to create the rich, engaging learning environments is needed now, more than ever. Prizmah encourages schools to adapt models of educational innovation through customized professional development, learning labs, Reshet groups, and Prizmah collaboratives.

We know that investment in a Jewish day school education is among the most impactful choices a family and community can make. The return on that investment is profound, both in terms of the individuals whose lives are touched by day schools and the communities whose leadership is shaped by the products of day school education. This investment is critical for the long-term success of the Jewish world. As we look ahead toward a brighter future, Prizmah stands strongly with schools, positioning the field to propel their students forward, with vision and wisdom.

From the Board Chair: Hands on the Present, Eyes on the Future

Time

It is important that Prizmah practices what it preaches. We expend great effort in developing and supporting leaders, arguing that they must be capable of pivoting quickly in response to changing circumstances, while maintaining Jewish day schools as relevant, resilient and dynamic organizations. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown Jewish day schools at their best in this regard, providing education that is, for all its limitations, world leading, and nurturing a much-needed sense of community at a time of isolation.

Prizmah has jumped headlong into the COVID-19 era of education and school administration, vigorously supporting school leaders and teachers to ensure that schools can continue to thrive during this tumultuous period and beyond. We believe that the repercussions of the pandemic will be profound, pervasive and persistent. We also believe that the responses developed in the months and years ahead will introduce new opportunities for growth and innovation.

Since the very early days of quarantining and social distancing, Prizmah has been doing what it does best: activating its deep network to provide leadership, guidance, resources and support for day schools across North America.

• Our Reshet groups have seen unprecedented activity. The five leading groups posted 158 new topics, 150% higher than the monthly average before the crisis. The power of the network that Prizmah built has never been more clear.

• Through Passover, we hosted nine webinars for over 1,600 school leaders, development professionals, technology leaders, and recruitment directors to facilitate knowledge sharing that allowed our schools to lead the world in the transition to online learning.

• Our COVID-19 resources pages attracted 7,396 page views, allowing specialists to find critical information that supported individual schools, teachers, administrators and students through a previously unimagined shift in their experience of school and learning.

• We assessed the predicted impact of COVID-19 on the field, and are actively sharing that information with funders who are prepared to step up and help our schools and families. Simultaneously, we joined forces with other North American Jewish organizations to advocate for governmental resources, leveraging our collective power to ensure schools have the best possibility to overcome the economic hardships facing our communities.

Prizmah has been there to provide clarity and assurance during a time of doubt and uncertainty and is the leading source for information, guidance, and support for its day school leaders. We’ve connected day school leaders to each other to enable them to act and react effectively to a constantly evolving situation.

School leaders have been rightly focused on the challenges of maintaining connection and excellence in a distance-learning environment. However, as we continue to tackle the immediate challenge, we need to lift our eyes toward the horizon and plan for an altered future. Together with the dedicated, creative and thoughtful leaders of the field, we at Prizmah will develop and provide tools, strategies and leadership for the next chapter.

• We will help our schools provide an improved virtual learning experience for their students and families. Now that the immediate challenge of getting started online has been addressed, we are creating even more powerful learning opportunities by studying and sharing advances in distance learning, including discussions about asynchronous study, assessments and other critical tools. We are working with content providers and other partners to offer access to the very best resources.

• We will support our school leaders emotionally and physically as they navigate this multifaceted crisis. We are leveraging our network of leaders and are facilitating video meetings and webinars regularly to allow them to ask questions, share their successes and challenges, and learn from each other and the team at Prizmah. We are supporting these incredible professionals as so many of them are struggling with their own isolation, juggling their own families and professional obligations, and perhaps even dealing with illness or loss.

• We will address the needs of schools struggling financially because of the economic downturn. Schools are being challenged with increased scholarship needs, drops in enrollment, and declines in philanthropic contributions. Our early estimates indicate that revenues may be reduced by up to $230 million next year across North American day schools. We are actively supporting schools by helping them access governmental and philanthropic resources, and we are continuing to build solutions to help schools and communities through the current and upcoming financial troubles.

And we will not stop there. Today, Prizmah is providing the network, the strategy and the partnership to enable our schools to succeed. Tomorrow, Prizmah will continue to leverage those resources to identify and highlight the ways in which the field can move beyond the current crisis and emerge more focused and stronger than ever before. Prizmah’s board of directors, a remarkable group of leaders and passionate day school advocates, is hard at work modifying our operational plan in a manner that reflects and addresses the current reality, builds on our core competencies and maintains our focus on the areas in which we believe we can and must “move the needle” for the field. We will practice what we preach, by evolving to meet the needs of the field in new and creative ways.

I close by expressing great admiration for the efforts of the people who comprise the soul and the engine of our day schools: our educational leaders, teachers, administrators and staff members of all sorts. And I count among them the remarkable and dedicated staff members of Prizmah, who are literally working around the clock to be there for Jewish day schools, students and parents, today and tomorrow. Now more than ever, through our partnership, our collective efforts and wisdom will help us emerge from this crisis successfully.

The Advice Booth: Making Virtual Recruitment Real

Time

Dear Prizmah Coach,

How can I engage prospective applicants when I don't have the ability to meet them and their families in person or access the campus to give them a tour?

Sincerely,
A worried admission director

COVID-19 has turned our lives upside-down. As our daily routines came to a halt, we created new ones. We have had to figure out (some of us may be still trying to) how to juggle children at home and their new virtual learning schedules and/or taking care of loved ones at home, all while we try to work in the same (possibly small) space. We must get creative. We must be flexible. We must be patient.

As admissions professionals, such challenges are not unfamiliar. We have always needed to be creative in our efforts to reach students and families who we want to tour our school; we have to be flexible and drop everything to give a tour for a family who showed up on campus without a tour appointment because they are only in town for a few days and wanted to stop by (yes, it would have been nice if they called in advance, but they didn’t, so here we are). But above all, keeping patience front of mind with families and holding their hands as they navigate the admission process has a lasting impact on the families and their impressions of our school.

Stewarding and supporting families through this process is one of our most important jobs. And their experience with our school can often influence a family’s decision to apply and eventually enroll in our school. We know that a family will share their experience with our school with their friends and family—and they will share the good and the bad.

So how do we take the skills we have and our admission knowledge and pivot to a new virtual platform? There is a lot that we can do.

Virtual Tours

A virtual tour is your opportunity to give prospective students and their families a look inside your school. You can provide visuals of your learning spaces accompanied by a story and examples of what learning looks like in your school. If you have multiple divisions, consider doing a virtual tour for each division. It is important to showcase the uniqueness for each division and related stories and messages. Keep in mind that when you design a virtual tour, it will be as important as the tour you typically give in person.

Think carefully what and how you showcase your school. If you can access your school, take your phone (many phones have camera settings to do panorama images and/or video capability), or if you have a 360 camera and equipment, and record the tour on your camera or video equipment. There are dozens of resources online that can give you tips and tricks for doing it with little to no budget. Not comfortable on camera? Consider hiring a company to take the 360 pictures to make a virtual tour. (Check what is available in your area; many small businesses are still open despite COVID-19.) If you don’t have access to the school, take time to go though pictures you do have of your classes and activities, and build the tour with photos. With this approach, there are programs that you can find online that can help you build a video with photos, and adding your voice, or better yet, a student’s voice, can be great way to showcase your school.

Touch Points and Connections

Review your admission practices beginning with initial contact through enrollment that you typically deliver to a prospective student and their family during the year, and then do more. Get creative and thoughtful with your interactions. In this new reality, parents and students will naturally have more questions. Engage parents and students to help. They can be incredible ambassadors to help share their story and their unique experience with your school. Set up virtual coffee dates for them or virtual play dates for younger students. Connect parents and students to help them get a sense of the school and community.

Think about what would make them feel good or excited about your school. You have many stories (if not hundreds of stories) to tell. For example, share your school’s response to COVID-19 and how it pivoted to virtual learning, and share examples of your success and responses to setbacks. This can give families an idea of how your school responds to challenges and celebrates success. Consider collaborating with your development director to build a unified message about how your school made the transition. This alignment can be powerful to both admission and development work.

Customer Service and Patience

Providing customer service that inspires a parent to relate to friends or online is not only a compliment to you and your school, it is the best word-of-mouth marketing tool that a school could dream of. How can you go above and beyond for this potential customer? The key now, more than ever, is patience. During a typical admission season, the process can be stressful for parents and students; with the added stress of a global pandemic, we need to keep patience front and center. Showing parents your patience during this time is essential.

Think creatively of what families could use in this moment. Customer service should be proactive and consistent, and it is a great opportunity to illustrate for families what it means to be part of your community. Can you send them a Shabbat care package? Reach out and support a local kosher business and send challah and grape juice for Shabbat as a gift from your school. Is your school hosting any social online gatherings that would be appropriate to invite them to? Schoolwide Havdalah? Story time? Tot Shabbats? Book clubs for older students? Art or STEAM classes? As many parents are craving interactions for their children, you can become a resource for them. In turn, you are investing in a relationship, building connection with families and delivering exceptional customer service.

Website

Now that people are spending more time online, this is a great time to work on your school’s website. Investing time and thought and money in your website is an investment in your school that can impact the short term and the long term. You want to use this time to thoughtfully plan and get your school prepared when schools are open again.

There are many instruments that can evaluate your site, such as website.grader.com. They give you an overall rating and break down your site’s performance, mobile interface, SEO, security, and more. Additionally, enlist select parent ambassadors to look at other schools’ websites and identify features and functionality. Give them a list of key things to look for, rate and report back to you.

Work with your school marketing person, or if that’s you, you can meet directly with your head of school to determine how you can make changes to your site. You may have to do the work in stages, depending on limitations of time or money. Identify some quick fixes and those that take more time and planning. This is a great time to review your web analytics, looking at traffic on admission pages, time spent on pages and click-throughs, and compare them to previous months and years. Use these data points coupled with your web research to inform any changes to your site.

As we adjust to this new normal (for the time being), we are given a rare opportunity to reexamine our admission processes, think through how we can improve our practice and opportunities for connection to prospective families, and showcase our schools’ flexibility and adaptability. I would encourage you to use this time to lean into Prizmah’s network of admission professionals to share practices and ideas. My hope is that we will emerge stronger as a Jewish community united in our work to increase enrollment in our day schools.

Do you have questions about enrollment management and admission practices? Contact me at amya@prizmah.org.

Commentary: Leading Like Firefighters

Time

Consider this parallel to our own work: firefighters figured out that it's far better—for everyone, not just themselves—to prevent fires, rather than wait until they break out. And countless lives have been saved as a result.

To accomplish this feat, firefighters had to set aside any fear that they’d be seen as lazy or self-interested by promoting prevention. They had to set aside any pretensions of heroic martyrdom.

In effect, they had to become professionals, demand professional respect, and advocate for policies that would achieve the best possible results.

In every major city today, fire departments are highly professionalized. Firefighters spend most of their time on proactive work, like visiting schools and supervising fire drills, or inspecting sprinkler and alarm systems to ensure that they work.

Does every firefighter get to look like a Hollywood hero, carrying limp-bodied victims to safety, and bringing them back with CPR?

No. That hardly ever happens—and that's a good thing.

“How Instructional Leaders Can Create Healthy Work-Life Boundaries,”

Justin Baeder

 

Rabbi Benjy Owens

Head of School, Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South, Memphis

I am writing these words in a time in which humanity is confronted by a coronavirus pandemic and in a place that has not (yet) been significantly impacted by the virus. Globally, many are sick and some have died. More are in quarantine. Classes in many schools are suspended. Gatherings, large and small, are being curtailed and in some cases canceled. People are scared.

My time is occupied with COVID-19. I think about personal risk and risks to my family, but these concerns generally remain at the periphery of my attention. I am consumed by other questions: How can we best reassure parents and children during this time of heightened worry? What preventative measures should we implement? Whose guidance should we follow when everyone has something to say? How can we advance student learning when school is closed?

Time, like all created resources, is finite. Time is my tool only while I am alive. Like these firefighters, I am challenged by this threat to life and limb, in a time before the danger has arrived, to best mitigate the risks to the members of my community and to the institution that is in my charge. I am challenged to maximize time by effectively using time.

Allison Oakes

Head of School, Hillel Academy, Tampa

Perhaps it is the day after report cards or progress reports, or maybe it is the day after a child was disciplined, or maybe it is the day after the bus was a half hour late, or maybe it was the day after a parent discovered by reading the online gradebook that their child missed five homework assignments and failed a test. Who are we kidding? It isn’t the day after! The deluge of emails, texts and phone calls begin immediately to the teacher, the principals, the head of school and sometimes even members of the board. This tsuris could have been avoided with a proactive, warm, supportive and solution-oriented communication philosophy.

Our communication philosophy ensures that parents and educators work in partnership, a hallmark of our school program. When implemented as designed, the benefit is for the student mostly because emotion is tempered. Parents and educators can work together to help a child develop into the best version of him- or herself. Additionally, when parents and educators are working in concert, the school climate is one of positivity and not tension.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kobrin

Head of School, North Shore Hebrew Academy, Great Neck, New York

The movie versions of teachers are just as inaccurate as those of firefighters: Mr. Holland’s Opus or Lean on Me are as unreal as Backdraft. Our professional lives are not usually overtly dramatic. No film shows the mundanity of a teacher preparing a class or grading papers (unless such scenes are played for laughs). Indeed, many of our moments of connection with students take place in the least dramatic moments: a whispered conversation in the hall between classes, or in a comment we write in the margin of a paper that the student remembers for years to come.

But like the firefighter, practically all that educators seek to do is proactive: We are preparing people—not kids, but people—for life, and life is unpredictable. The very concept of a Torah she-be’al peh, an Oral Law, a set of principles to interpret the written law, is by definition proactive: We reinterpret ancient texts and apply them to modern situations. The flexibility built into the system teaches our students that what is old can be new again. This is proactivity.

On My Nightstand: Brief Review of Books that Prizmah Staff Are Reading

Time

The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility

By Elliott Rabin

There are moments when we hope for and seek heroes, when we cry out for a mythic persona to stand in stark contrast to the tempest in which we find ourselves. Those heroes are found only in legends. If there is one clear message of the coronavirus pandemic, it is that the heroes of today achieve their nobility by demonstrating a responsibility for and acting on behalf of society. Identified as essential workers, they are our health care professionals, grocery and pharmacy employees, truck drivers and delivery men and women. Their essential nature is defined by the roles they play and their humanity. We have no need for mythology and folklore; our heroes are ordinary people serving the collective in an extraordinary way.

This is the message for our time, and it rings true with the lessons of our HaYidion editor, colleague, and friend, Elliott Rabin, in his new book, The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility. Through a deep exploration that weaves together literary and Biblical analysis with a historical sampling of archetypal heroes, Elliott surfaces the unique nature of the Biblical hero. Unlike heroes of legend and lore, the Biblical hero is human and fallible, working for the good of all, and struggles with the same moral and ethical issues we do. It is that similarity to our station in life that makes them models for the Bible, and how our heroes of today illuminate our world like candles in a dark room.

Marc Wolf

 

Gateway to the Moon

By Mary Morris

Entrada de la Luna is a small town near the canyons of northern New Mexico. Teenager Miguel Torres, an amateur astronomer, takes a job providing childcare to Rachel Rothstein’s two sons after school. He notices the similarities between her Jewish traditions and those of the Christian families of Entrada.

Chapters set in 1992 are interwoven with historical chapters going back five centuries to the Inquisition in Spain. Jewish Luis de Torres had converted to Christianity to save his life, but the Inquisition is now rounding up the Conversos (also known as Marranos or Anusim). Fluent in many languages, Luis takes a job as an interpreter on one of Christopher Columbus’ ships.

The book later follows members of the family to Lisbon and Mexico, where they are also persecuted. Taking few belongings, these immigrants are on the move in the New World, hiding their Jewish heritage and looking for a place where they will be safe. After five centuries, the only remnants of their prior life are in the Hebrew inscriptions etched on the tombstones in the Old Cemetery of Entrada. The dark cemetery is Miguel’s favorite location to view the stars through his telescope. Miguel is also on a journey as he reaches back to understand his past and stretches to the stars where his future lies.

This interesting story is not an easy read: the horrors of the Inquisition, tales of Columbus’ treatment of his crew. But learning about the crypto Jews of New Mexico was new and fascinating. The book would be a great addition to a high school discussion group or book club.

Helen London

 

Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love

By Jonathan Van Ness

Jonathan Van Ness seems like a perfect mix of happy, life-loving, you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to positivity. As a member of the Fab Five on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye, Van Ness and the other stars of the show exude pure joy, self-love and acceptance, and share that with their subject in each episode. It’s transformative and inspirational, and I cry at some point before the show ends—every time.

Last fall, Van Ness published this memoir, in which he pulls back the curtain and reveals the pain and struggles he’s endured over the years. He writes openly and honestly about addiction, the death of loved ones and a positive HIV diagnosis. What lingered with me as a reader (he also narrated the audiobook) is his ability to look back on pain and trauma of the past and create something beautiful from those experiences. His story is raw and real. There are pieces of his struggle that everyone can relate to and definitely parts of his triumph that will inspire you.

The dedication in his book says it all: “Imperfection is beautiful. To anyone who has ever felt broken beyond repair, this is for you. If you’ve ever been excluded or told you were not enough, know that you are enough, and beautifully complete.”

Traci Stratford

 

Teaching with Your Mouth Shut

By Donald L. Finkel

This book elaborated on how to implement the strategy of “teaching with your mouth shut” in the classroom. The ideas of “teaching with your mouth shut” are basically ways to teach without telling. The author believes that telling and straight lecturing to students about fact-based information does not challenge students to learn and think for themselves. The methods of teaching described in the book focus on making learners process, question and draw conclusions from the information they are learning. Engaging students and trusting them to dig out knowledge and have open discussions will make their learning experience much more effective.

Anyone who is interested in learning about alternative teaching methods and improving education should read this book. Like any book on educational methods, the methods Finkel described won’t work for every teaching situation, but I believe that everyone can take something of value away from it. I would suggest this book to educators and anyone interested in improving education.

Oldine Saint-Hilaire

Getting Rid of the Grand Gala: Lessons for the Field

Time

Over the past week in Seattle, fundraising galas, dinners and luncheons have been cancelled at a dizzying rate due to the state mandate against gathering in large groups in the hope of curtailing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Purim services were held online or outdoors, Shabbat kiddushim were canceled, congregants were told to practice “social distancing.” Schools prepared for distance learning. All this came about while we were contemplating two of our local Jewish schools’ efforts to eliminate their fundraising galas. While only time will tell how the current health crisis will impact our Jewish schools, for now we know that most, if not all, of the organizations in Seattle have had to cancel their major upcoming fundraisers.

From December through May during normal times, Seattle day schools compete for attention, tzedakah dollars and volunteer hours with dinners, galas and casino nights. In Seattle, we have more Jewish day schools per capita than in most cities. Our schools have to get creative to raise funds where the pie is sliced thinner and thinner.

Torah Day School, an Orthodox school with an enrollment of 75 students in K-8, decided to venture into unknown fundraising waters this past December. Like most schools, they used to hold a fundraising gala in a hotel or event space for over 200 people. Depending on the year, they would collect tribute ads, hold raffles, auctions or a “raise the paddle” during the dinner by asking attendees to raise their bid cards with a pledge.

On average, they raised $220,000. Though they felt their efforts were successful, the toll on the professional staff and lay leadership was immense. The head of school, Rabbi Yona Margolese, recognized that the value of the gala extended beyond fundraising to include community building and showcasing the school. Yet the amount of effort to put on a gala often came at the expense of maximizing the time needed to run the school. Torah Day School doesn’t have a development director. The fundraising efforts are coordinated solely by Margolese, his board members, administrative team and volunteers.

This year, Torah Day School decided to eliminate the dinner and create a 24-hour campaign with the theme of a “Dinnerless Dinner.” They “served” a multi-course virtual dinner from the command center at the school. Slides and student videos were sent out for each “course” as volunteers called and emailed past donors and their personal contacts. Together they worked to generate excitement by announcing each gift out loud and creating a vibe of “energy and pressure.”

Although the actual fundraising happened over a 24-hour period, the planning and setup took place over several months. Margolese said that this was essential to ensure that during the 24-hour period, everyone, from the administrators, board members, volunteers, faculty, staff and students, knew their important role. The final push included a “dessert,” when they continued fundraising after meeting their goal. With the help of pre-solicited 3:1 matching gifts from some of their closest and generous supporters, the event raised a total of $369,000. An added bonus was the fact that the excitement and buzz generated by this virtual campaign extended far beyond the local donor base and brought new donors and friends into the Torah Day School fold.

In order to ensure that the community-gathering element of the gala wasn’t lost entirely with the Dinnerless Dinner, Torah Day School hosted a Student Spotlight Open House for the whole community on campus two weeks prior to the fundraiser. The event involved all of the students and teachers and was an opportunity for members of the community to walk through the school with student guides to highlight learning. As the open house was right before Chanukah, Torah Day School cleverly employed the theme “spotlight” to illuminate student activities and learning.

Two years before the Torah Day School’s Dinnerless Dinner, Northwest Yeshiva High School (NYHS), the Pacific Northwest’s accredited, co-ed Modern Orthodox high school, gave up their gala as well. Jason Feld, the newly hired head of school, used the opportunity to examine Northwest Yeshiva High School’s fundraising model.

NYHS is a small high school with 45 students in grades 9-12. Like all Seattle day schools, it has experienced enrollment decline since the early 2000s. After assessing their fundraising capabilities with then-director of institutional advancement, Melissa Rivkin, they agreed that a gala was not an efficient use of their limited resources. Typically, the gala raised over $200,000 between ad journal entries and a raise the paddle. It drew some 300 attendees. Upon analysis, it was shown that only 100 attendees actually contributed tzedakah to the school. Over the years, attendees would also complain about the high ticket price, which averaged around $135 per person, none tax-deductible.

Could there be a better way? If the goal was to raise money and friends, could they do it better?

In a bold, first year move, Feld gave up the gala and replaced it with several “friendraising” dinners that did not include a major fundraising component, and a focused Major Donor Leadership Dinner with a significantly higher ticket price that was largely tax-deductible. They planned for 80-90 guests rather than the 300 of a typical gala.

In its inaugural year, the Leadership Dinner committee grappled with the issues of school culture, change management and community customs. There were community members who expressed their displeasure at being priced out. Committed to the new model, the staff, board and volunteers acknowledged to anyone who expressed their displeasure that they understood that change was difficult and encouraged them to attend other school community events, including an all-school Shabbat dinner, a Shabbaton and visiting scholar dinners with very low ticket prices. These “friendraising” events enabled the school to reach a broad audience.

They hoped to raise $200,000 that night in the paddle raise. A longtime supporter and lead donor pledged $50,000 and another $50,000 in matching funds as well as giving an impassioned plea to the 95 attendees. Thanks to the lead donor, NYHS raised over $400,000, more than double any previous gala record. That fundraising success confirmed their instinct that there was a better and leaner way to raise the needed funds for Jewish education. Last year was the second year of the NYHS Leadership Dinner, and they again exceeded their fundraising goal.

Hosting a kosher dinner in Seattle for hundreds of people is a very expensive proposition, running upwards of $50,000. This figure does not include the cost of school staff, who spend all of their time working on the gala. Both Torah Day School and Northwest Yeshiva High School saved a minimum of $50,000 each by eliminating or reducing their events.

Northwest Yeshiva High School had a motto, “All gala, all the time.” From November to March, they would be consumed with the details of putting on a gala. It was liberating to faculty, staff and volunteers alike to be able to focus more on daily cultivation of relationships with their constituents as opposed to a one-time blow-out event. While there are elements of the gala that are missed, the new model enables Feld to incorporate the student experience at NYHS into the Leadership Dinner in an impactful and authentic way. “At the gala, students used to sell raffle tickets or act as runners for the auction items,” Feld says. “At the Leadership Dinner, students sit with our donors to learn and engage in small groups and demonstrate what we do on a daily basis. They have a vital role at our Leadership Dinner. It is all for them after all.”

When asked if either school will ever go back to a gala model, their responses differed. Margolese said it is possible that Torah Day School will go back to a traditional gala or some other form of dinner. He noted that “no one should underestimate the level of creativity and buzz needed to do a virtual event well,” and that the dinnerless model could get old quickly for their donors, especially as more organizations implement similar online events. In Seattle, where there are no kosher meat restaurants, galas enable donors to enjoy an evening out with an opportunity to socialize over cocktails and a delicious kosher meat dinner. He also believes that without honorees, the school misses a chance to formally recognize community members who give above and beyond to the school.

Feld remarked that it is unlikely NYHS will go back to a gala in the foreseeable future. They are always looking for ways to change up the experience of the Leadership Dinner and to provide opportunities for their constituents to “know us, love us and support NYHS.” Each year, they have hosted the dinner at a different and fun location, including a co-working space and a boat house. This year, if the COVID-19 concerns do not force cancelation of the event, it will take place on a boat. More importantly, they now have more time to focus on getting friends into the school on a daily and weekly basis.

There is no doubt that coronavirus fears, regulations and economic uncertainty will shake up our fundraising models for the short term. The question that remains is whether those effects will last past this current year. Feld thinks they can and that “virtual learning and fundraising can make us more innovative. Now that we are untethered from the physical constraints of bell-to-bell learning, it is empowering to our faculty to think about innovative ways we can bring our supporters, community, friends and partners into what we do.”

We hope that we all weather this storm and that Jewish schools nationwide will have the freedom to try new models of engaging donors, with the aim of better supporting and sustaining our schools and enhancing the Jewish future.

School Schedules that Reflect Values and Priorities

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“You gotta make it a priority to make your priorities a priority,” author and international speaker Richie Norton noted. It’s easy for school to become bogged down with relentless to-do lists, fires that need to be put out and many constituency groups.

A school’s schedule should reflect its values, priorities and beliefs about teaching and what is best for student learning and the development of a whole child. Courage and boldness are needed to align a school schedule from a place of priorities. Some priorities never make it to the top of the list, often because the school schedule doesn’t align with new goals. A school’s schedule should reflect its values, priorities and beliefs about teaching and what is best for student learning and the development of a whole child.

In my first years as a school leader, we did not achieve certain goals because we felt “trapped” in the schedule as it existed. Teachers did not have adequate time for collaborative planning, opportunities for flexible grouping were minimal, there was inadequate time for physical activity for students, and time for social-emotional learning was often lost. We reached a point several years ago when we were ready to examine our schedule boldly to determine how we could achieve some of these priorities. In the end, we “blew up” our entire schedule to ensure that our values and beliefs were the basis for our schedule—the backbone of the school experience. After several years of implementation, we recently reexamined our schedules again and improved them further.

The following steps of our process can benefit any school’s leadership team as they embark on the daring task of reimagining the school schedule to better meet the needs of the whole child.

Identifying priorities

Once we decided to review our schedules, we engaged our faculty in a collaborative exercise. Through guided activities, individual teachers ranked their personal priorities and then worked with other teachers to create consensus. This was a rigorous and time-consuming process and well worth every minute. Teachers listened to different perspectives and determined compromises they were willing to make. Of course, school leadership was at the table working with faculty on establishing top priorities.

It became abundantly clear that there is no such thing as a perfect schedule. At the same time, we were able to identify our top priorities that served as the foundation for our new approach to creating schedules.

Willingness to make bold changes

Revamping our school schedule required the courage to create a very different structure to meet our priorities and values. We were strategic in how to bring stakeholders on board and clear about the decision-making process. We designated adequate time for all of the steps outlined below, resulting in successful changes for students, teachers and the school.

Scheduling based on priorities

This stage required time-intensive research and planning. Once we identified priorities, we reviewed various scheduling models from experts in the field and other schools. We created a proposed model and mocked up schedules to ensure that the desired schedule actually worked. This was a critically important step, as the idea for a schedule does not always translate into reality. The team went through several iterations of the schedule model before we landed with one that logistically worked and met our priorities.

Allowing time for this generative process was essential. Teacher input and feedback were solicited throughout the process. It was critically important to identify individual and small groups of teachers who needed direct communication about the changes before we rolled them out to the entire faculty.

Training teachers

Scheduling changes required instructional adjustments as well. In addition to being purposeful in planning for these changes, it was critical to prepare our teachers for some of the significant schedule changes and implications for their instructional decisions. This preparation time varied, from time for teachers to coordinate with each other to formal professional development.

Change in schools can be difficult. This process brought significant changes, and supporting teachers was critically important.

Evaluating and adjusting

The robust process articulated above resulted in schedule changes that had a positive impact on student learning and experience. At the same time, it was impossible to anticipate the full impact of a structural change, and it was vital for us to measure success. We recently reassessed our scheduling model and identified ways the schedule was working toward our values and priorities, and ways we needed to adjust again. We surveyed faculty members, processed options with groups of teacher leaders and worked as a leadership team to create an updated model. While we are pleased with the current results, we will embark on another evaluation in a couple of years to ensure our priorities and values are still being met, and assess what changes we may need to make.

What follows are descriptions of four of our key values and priorities related to meeting the needs of the whole child, along with the rationale behind each priority, what it looks like in the schedule, staffing changes that were required, teacher training needs, benefits and challenges.

DESIGNATED TIME FOR SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING (SEL)

Our experience showed, and research supports, that explicit SEL instruction can promote academic, social and emotional benefits for students. According to a meta-analysis, students receiving quality SEL instruction demonstrated better academic performance, improved attitudes and behaviors, promoted better classroom behavior and reduced emotional distress.

Every student, kindergarten through eighth grade, now begins the day with 17 minutes of “kehillah” (community). This time creates a safe landing space for each student. Teachers facilitate morning meetings and engage students in meaningful SEL. Our teachers use, and were trained in, several programs: Second Step, Responsive Classroom and Calm Classroom. Students experience variety throughout the week, including mindfulness, team building, direct SEL instruction and opportunities for strengthening relationships among students and between students and teachers.

Teacher leaders create kehillah plans for the week that incorporate elements of these different programs, along with Jewish values woven into the fabric of the lessons. We have strong teacher leaders in these roles, and the model would not be successful without their advance preparation. Most importantly, teachers integrate this learning throughout the day in the context of their classroom experiences.

MEETING THE NEEDS OF DIVERSE LEARNERS

Meeting all students where they are is a commitment that requires that we reconfigure our old systems, practices and paradigms... The commitment to meet all students where they are is a moral one; we must do this because we now know from decades of cross-disciplinary research that it is the only effective way to optimize learning and growth for all children. Rudenstine, Schaef, Bacallao, and Hakani, “Meeting Students Where They Are”

A key aspect of creating new systems is providing for flexible grouping based on student needs that enables timely differentiated support and equitable outcomes. Our restructured schedules allow math and Hebrew (and reading for K-4) to happen at the same time across a grade level. This “master schedule” ensures that students from any class who require intervention or enrichment are able to be grouped together and to receive direct instruction based on their readiness levels.

This structural change required shifting our teaching assignments in several ways. In the lower grades, cross-grade levels became teams in a more robust way. As an example, first grade general studies teachers became available during second grade math and reading, and vice versa. This provided the opportunity to have more teachers available during these key instructional times to provide differentiated instruction. In addition, our math and Hebrew teams in the upper grades transitioned to each teaching fifth through eighth grades, enabling an entire grade to have the content at the same time.

Several areas of training were required for these structural changes. Lower grade general studies teachers needed to learn new curricular programs, as well as how to co-teach and collaborate in new ways. Upper grade math and Hebrew teachers were placed in new grade levels and needed to learn new curricular programs as well. These teachers also needed to adjust to new age ranges and teaching across four grades.

The benefits of this model are clear. Students in the lower grades are receiving more small-group direct instruction at their specific levels than we were able to provide before. The teaching structure allows us to use multiple curricular programs based on student needs. In fifth through eighth grades, the changes allowed for movement between groups and ensured that placement in these subject areas did not dictate placement in other classes.

MORE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY FOR STUDENTS

Physical activity promotes improvements in executive functioning and controlling emotions. Physical activity also improves other components of cognition, including memory, processing speed, attention and academic performance. In addition, regular physical activity reduces symptoms of anxiety.

In our current schedule, all K-8 students have 25 minutes of PE four days a week, in addition to our traditional 30 minutes of recess daily. The entire grade has PE at the same time in our double gym. Both PE teachers are available and teaching at the same time. Teachers organize lessons in a way that maximizes the space as well as the time spent in physical activity. They collaborated to create a different model for classes to accommodate the number of students in the gym at a time and explored different models of co-teaching until they found the right fit for student needs and their partnership.

In addition to experiencing the benefits noted above, four days of PE provides continuity. Routines are smooth, as students come in ready to participate. This model allows for numerous different groupings, and students have the opportunity to be on teams/groups with friends and peers they may not see at any other time of day. In addition, the students’ measurable aerobic capacity increased due to extra minutes per week of daily exercise.

INCREASE INSTRUCTIONAL TIME AND REDUCE TRANSITIONS

Educators understand the power of each minute of a class period. It requires time to settle students, provide direct instruction, facilitate independent or group learning and provide adequate closure. Our prior schedule had 11 periods of 38 minutes each. In our transition to a schedule with 7 periods of 57 minutes each, we saved close to an hour of transition time a week.

Teacher training was a key element, as our faculty had grown used to teaching within a 38-minute block. Assessing how to make instructional changes and how to provide necessary breaks for students in longer working periods was critical. In addition, the transition of schedules required some altering of minutes devoted to different content areas, as it was not a “clean” conversion for all subjects. This required discussion among the leadership team about priorities, and helping teachers adjust as some subjects gained minutes per week while others lost minutes.

The process and examples outlined above can help frame the revamping of schedules in any school. A valuable starting point with faculty could be to examine current schedules and see what values and priorities can be identified. This can serve as a launching pad for exploration of what additional or different values and priorities you would like your schedules to demonstrate.

What If? Teaching Young Children Skills for Their Whole Lives

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When we plant a tree, we don’t expect to wake up the next morning, or even the next week, month or year, and see a strong trunk, with high branches, beautiful leaves and delicious fruit. When we plant a tree, we are counting on time and optimal conditions to grow and nurture it, so that it can bear fruit for generations to come. We just need to be patient.

So too with our youngest learners. Teachers often refer to the teaching time they have in the classroom as time to prepare the children in their care for the following grade. They see time in terms of periods, classes, semesters and school years. As an early childhood educator, I’d like to propose an alternative. The teaching that we do is not preparing the children for the following grade, but rather for a promising and fulfilling educational future. If we are able to step back and take a broader view, we can change the way we think about education and become passionate, master educators who are setting up our youngest learners, not for tomorrow, but for life.

The most essential principle in early childhood education is a full and deep understanding of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), DAP is a framework designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development. To make decisions that reflect best practices, educators take into consideration what they know about child development and learning, each child as an individual, and each child’s social and cultural context.

The knowledge of these three components are critical when planning not only curriculum for young children, but for creating an optimal environment in which effective learning can take place. If we don’t understand child development and what typical children should be expected to do at each age, and we don’t take the time to really get to know our students as individuals, including where they come from culturally, we cannot expect to plan appropriately for them. The knowledge and application of DAP by our teachers is essential to the success of our children. By contrast, requiring pre-schoolers to sit behind desks and complete rote workbooks and worksheets shows a complete lack of understanding or application of DAP.

Why is it then that skilled and trained educators succumb to external pressure to push skills down earlier and earlier, expecting children to master concepts that they are not yet developmentally ready to learn? What if every educator remembered their training and put the children first and gave them the time they needed to grow and mature in developmentally appropriate ways? What if the disregard for DAP is related to the unprecedented rise in mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and even suicide among young people?

Children are being diagnosed, or misdiagnosed, with ADHD, behavior issues and learning disabilities at an alarming rate and at earlier ages. What if we remembered that children are just that, children? What if we could solve some of these frightening mental health trends by giving our youngest learners the gift of time and letting preschoolers and kindergartners do what they are supposed to do and learn how they learn best—through play and meaningful, hands-on experiences, not through workbooks, worksheets and inappropriate expectations?

It is a dream of mine to spend less time speaking with parents about teaching reading and writing, memorizing facts and figures, and making sure that children are “prepared” for first grade. I wish I could hear fewer parents asking when their children are going to read and more parents asking how their early childhood experience is going to lay the foundation for their success in school, their social and emotional well-being, and their mastery of the skills needed to become a future leader of our world.

Parents should be asking if their child shared, compromised, solved a problem, brainstormed, collaborated, created, experimented, investigated, designed, built, communicated, wondered, questioned, explored, sang, danced, imagined, dreamed, not if they memorized. So many essential skills and brain connections are made through meaningful interactions with a purposeful, intentional, child-centered environment filled with rich opportunities to be exposed to a myriad of multisensory experiences. The early childhood years are exactly the time when the young brain is ready to absorb everything it needs for a bright, promising and joyful tomorrow—but only if it is done right.

What if we were truly in the “business” of education for the long-term outcome, not to see the product of our hard work here and now, but actually investing in the future of our youngest learners? What if lighting that spark in each child to pursue his or her passions, to explore, to create, to question, to think, to make connections, wasn’t for now, but was for 20-plus years from now? What if the seeds that we are planting today in creating self-confident, enthusiastic learners could be actually quantified in high school, college and beyond?

Let’s stop with the preschool assessments and the pressure to meet academic goals earlier. Rather, let’s create an optimum environment in which our children can learn, grow and thrive. Let’s not prepare our children for the following grade and pass them along to the next teacher. Let’s change the paradigm of education to create classrooms and schools that capitalize on the time that they have to optimize our learning environments and truly lay the foundation for lifelong, successful lovers of learning.

Let’s teach our children to question anything and everything, to make connections, to experiment, to always see the hand of Hashem, to love Torah, to always show gratitude, to love themselves and to love school. Let’s build their self-confidence, their self-esteem, their self-image and their self-awareness. Let’s nourish their minds, bodies and souls. Let’s nurture our children’s sense of wonder and excitement. The early childhood years are truly a magical time. Let’s start at the very beginning, and let’s do this right.

Every child will learn to read and write. They’ll be able to do that and much, much more. They may even have the confidence and the skills to change the world.

After all, all they ever really needed to know, they learned in kindergarten.

Time Out Puts Learning In

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Given the amount of student learning that must happen during a school year, you might think that every minute of a teacher’s time is best spent tending to the immediate needs of students and that every minute of an administrator’s time is best spent tending to the immediate needs of teachers, parents, students and boards.

In a crisis time such as this, this is certainly the case. Under normal school circumstances, however, not so. Our experience at Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP), supporting new teachers and early-career administrators in over 170 Jewish day schools across North America, has found that both teacher and administrator time away from immediate, daily demands to focus on teacher growth yields long-lasting and far-reaching results for teachers, students and schools as a whole. Such results include reduced burnout, increased teacher retention, fostering of creativity and collaboration, heightened sense of professionalism, improved quality of education, improved student learning, and consistency across grades and curriculum. Based on both quantitative research and anecdotal observations, there is clear evidence that time dedicated to professional learning and growth is time well spent strengthening schools.

Defining Teacher Professional Learning

Many types of professional learning support the growth of teachers: structured professional development workshops, where experts (internal or external) teach staff about the latest research in education or how to use a specific technique or ed tech, followed by implementation coaching; formal peer mentoring; instructional coaching; and classroom observations and feedback. Staff and departmental meetings can be used for professional learning and growth. For example, at SAR High School in New York City, each year a different topic, such as assessment or student workload and stress, is chosen, and learning around that topic is incorporated into all meetings. At Schechter Manhattan, weekly all-faculty, afterschool meetings are designed for teachers to pursue inquiry and growth related to schoolwide educational priorities. Teachers choose to participate with a cohort of peers in one of three professional development areas; each group sets goals and an agenda for itself and meets throughout the year.

One of the most impactful, ongoing sources of teacher growth is feedback from administrators following classroom observations. Consistent formative feedback communicates administrators’ belief that teachers want to grow, that an administrator supports that growth and wants teachers to succeed, and that it is a fundamental value of the school that professionals continue to grow throughout their careers. Feedback based on data collected during classroom observations helps teachers “see” their teaching from an objective, evidence-based perspective.

Quantitative Evidence of Impact

Major research on the impact of teacher professional learning on students, teachers and schools comes from the public school realm; as far as we know, no large-scale formal studies have been conducted across Jewish day schools. We believe that the public school research findings are relevant and applicable to the Jewish day school world.

One of the seminal studies on the positive impact of professional development was conducted by the US Department of Education (Reviewing the Evidence on How Teacher Professional Development Affects Student Achievement, 2007). This report reviewed nine studies on the topic and found that teachers who received quality professional development of at least 49 hours per year (approx 1.3 hrs / week) positively impacted student achievement by 21 percentile points. Interestingly, this report also found that a small amount of professional development (5-14 hours total) showed no statistically significant effects on student achievement.

More recently, an article in the Journal of Professional Capital and Community reviewed 30 studies on the relationship between years of teaching experience and teachers’ impact on student learning (Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of U.S. Research, October 21, 2019). The findings suggest that “investments in building an experienced, highly-collaborative teacher workforce focused on continual learning are most likely to result in greater student learning, while, at the same time, reducing teacher attrition.”

This past fall, New Teacher Center (NTC), JNTP’s parent organization, released a study (Counting the Cost: A Commitment to Educational Equity that Yields Results, October 2019) on the return on investment of spending resources on NTC’s intensive new teacher mentoring program. Findings include:

Increased student learning: Students in grades 4-8 who had NTC-supported teachers showed up to five months of additional learning in math and English than those who did not have NTC-supported teachers.

Increased teacher retention: Teacher retention was 11 percentage points higher in the group supported by NTC than those in a control group (78% vs. 67%).

Districts cost savings: NTC’s professional learning program for new teachers yielded a 22% financial return to a district because of increased teacher retention. Based on a five-year investment, this is equivalent to a district saving nearly $1M.

These research findings point to a clear learning, as well as financial, return on investment in teacher professional development.

On a smaller scale, JNTP’s own yearly participant survey results similarly point to significant improvements in classroom teaching and student learning. JNTP’s latest data show that 98% of participating new teachers believe having a JNTP mentor improves their teaching practice; 100% of administrators and 98% of new teachers report that a new teacher’s work with their JNTP mentor improves student learning.

Anecdotal Evidence of Impact

In working with many schools that provide significant opportunities for professional learning and growth to their staff, we have observed the following positive results.

Professional development allows adults to model valuable habits for their students.

When the adults in a school building are obviously engaged in their own learning, and especially collaborative learning, those behaviors and values trickle down to students. The modeling of lifelong learning and collaboration is a valuable contributor to student success, both while they are in school and in years following.

Administrators who regularly visit classrooms provide leadership and are better informed.

There are numerous benefits when administrators make the time to regularly visit classrooms and provide feedback to teachers. Certainly, observation and direct feedback helps improve teachers’ classroom practice; additionally, they provide an opportunity for administrators to reinforce school values and educational priorities. Being in classrooms regularly yields data that can help inform what type of professional development the staff needs and can help an administrator identify potential staffing problems as well as gaps that need to be filled. Knowledge gained from data collected during observations can also be very useful in conversations with parents about their children. And classroom observation provides opportunities for administrators to spend more time on leadership activities such as aligning people and curriculum across classrooms, motivating and inspiring, which is what leads to dramatic and useful change in a school.

Classroom visits don’t need to be time-intensive. In JNTP’s Administrator Support Program, early-career administrators learn the skill of frequent, unannounced “quick visits.” Administrators can build into their schedules consistent 10-minute classroom visits to ensure ongoing observation and feedback of their staff. One school implemented this method, tasking each administrator to visit six classrooms every week. The result has been a marked increase in communication between teachers and administrators.

Schools are seen as desirable places of employment.

When schools support teachers and provide opportunities for growth, word gets out. The best educators want to work at such a school. One school reports a rise in the caliber of teachers applying for jobs there because it has become known as a school that supports teachers. When schools are experienced as supportive working environments, teachers join and want to stay.

School culture is improved.

Ongoing teacher learning opportunities positively impact school culture. When a school becomes a place where new ideas are elicited and value is placed on reflection and formative assessment (as opposed to only evaluation), the school culture shifts toward creative thinking and collaboration, which in turn breeds communication, relationships and trust throughout the school community. As one administrator recently told us, being part of a collaborative culture means teachers don’t feel isolated. In addition, when teachers are asked to lead professional development meetings or provide peer observation and feedback, there are opportunities for the administration to acknowledge success, convey deserved status and increase morale. A school culture that embodies the qualities of ongoing growth and collaboration becomes an exciting place for teaching and learning.

So, How Can Schools Make Time?

It’s clear from research and anecdotal evidence that investing precious time in teacher professional learning and growth can elevate teaching, learning and school culture. But, practically, how can schools make the time in their schedules and in their budgets?

Make it a value and set expectations.

It all starts with school values. If professional growth is a value, then resource allocation should reflect that. Finding time in the schedule and money in the budget needs to be a priority, whether it’s for intensive mentoring, consistent observations and feedback, in-service workshops, staff meetings or any other type of professional learning.

Once time is allocated, administrators must share the expectation for professional learning with their staff. A shared calendar for meetings, training days, observation and feedback, mentoring and all other learning opportunities helps everyone be on the same page. It’s also important to have a conversation about expectations around professional growth with new hires as part of their interview and onboarding process. Scheck Hillel Community School in Miami, for example, makes it clear that attendance at weekly afterschool professional development meetings is mandatory as part of a full-time contract. The schedule of learning for those meetings is built in advance during the summer.

Think creatively.

Thinking out-of-the-box can elicit many creative ideas for finding time for professional learning and growth. For example: Make use of national holidays like Veterans Day or Election Day for full-day learning. Offer free babysitting for staff’s younger children run by older students (they can use chesed hours or be paid minimally), like they do at Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland. Serve dinner once a month (or, save money and have teachers bring their own dinner) and have a full-staff meeting with a focus on professional learning. Choose five times a year when students are let out early for teacher professional development. Have teachers use one planning period every other week to observe another teacher’s classroom.

At one school, teachers participate in instructional rounds, where they visit classrooms of colleagues in an organized and coordinated effort to better understand teaching and learning. This is made possible by the fact that every class has two teachers; when one teacher leaves on rounds, the other one leads instruction.

Distribute leadership in order to find time.

Just as administrators look for sources of money for their financial budget, they need to look for sources of time for their time budget. Administrators can consider who on their staff can take over particular time-intensive tasks—for example, running professional development or planning and leading staff meetings. Administrators can empower their department chairs, grade leaders or curriculum coordinators to observe classrooms and collect data in their place. Besides freeing up some of the administrator’s time in order to support their teachers’ professional growth, distributing leadership provides fantastic opportunities to tap veteran teachers to take on informal or non-administrative leadership roles. This has the added benefit of boosting morale and providing necessary stimulation to keep the best teachers engaged and committed.

Hire full-time teachers. A number of schools have made the conscious decision to hire teachers on a full-time basis in order to build in time for regular professional development. When schools hire only part-time teachers, those teachers often run out as soon as their teaching ends. Even if they want to grow professionally, many part-time teachers aren’t given the time to devote to professional growth.

Teachers’ professional growth needs to be a top priority. Research and experience show that when teachers participate in ongoing, regular, meaningful professional learning and development, teaching is more effective, students learn better, working conditions improve, teacher retention is higher, school culture becomes one of reflection, collaboration and creativity, and administrators have data to make important decisions.

Of course, what ultimately allows schools to make time for teachers’ professional growth is financial resources. Administrators and lay leaders must make a strong case to their boards and other stakeholders that financial investment in a school’s professional development budget will have direct, valuable and enduring impact.

Nothing within a school has more impact upon students in terms of skills development, self-confidence, or classroom behavior than the personal and professional growth of their teachers. When teachers individually and collectively examine, question, reflect on their ideals, and develop new practices that lead toward those ideals, the school and its inhabitants are alive. When teachers stop growing, so do their students. (Roland Barth, Run School Run)

Prioritizing Parent Engagement

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The most accurate predictor of long-term student achievement is not socioeconomic status, innate ability or even attendance at a prestigious school. The best predictor of student success is the extent to which parents are engaged in encouraging their child’s learning and the extent to which they involve themselves in their child’s education.

A parent’s investment of time and energy in their child’s educational upbringing is both a precious gift and a scarce commodity. Parents want to be involved in their child’s education, but many parents (working parents in particular) find it challenging to find the time to attend school functions, volunteer at school or remain involved in school life on an ongoing basis. As Jewish day school leaders who seek to educate the “whole child,” it is incumbent upon us to focus our attention on parent education and parent engagement as crucial components of our schools’ missions. Part of educating the whole child means communicating with and enlisting the help of our students’ parents—their very first teachers. We know that when schools partner with parents to create community, cohesion and opportunities for learning and growth, students thrive.

During this particular time of uncertainty, connection and parent engagement are more important than ever. We will need to think even more creatively about the ways in which we meet our families’ needs. When thinking about and planning parent engagement opportunities, there are several critical questions that school leaders must first ask themselves:

What is the objective, purpose and meaningful takeaway of the engagement opportunity? Is it for the purposes of community building, parent education, increased communication, volunteering, academic involvement or something else?

What are some events or gatherings that already exist at your school that can be enhanced by inviting parents to attend? Can these be offered virtually? Perhaps parents are not currently invited to Kabbalat Shabbat or morning tefillah, but if they were, they would have a chance to meaningfully participate in their child’s daily routine.

Does the time of day that an event is offered allow many parents to attend, participate or view it? Can the event or learning session be offered more than once at a different time of day, on a different day of the week, or recorded for later digital viewing?

Here are some ideas to help with parent engagement efforts.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

• Create Family Fun Nights (organized by the Parent Association as an off campus event).

• Invite parents to attend Kabbalat Shabbat, Torah service, tefillah or morning school-wide assemblies, or classroom morning meetings.

• Set up a coffee bar or another location on campus for parents to gather and shmooze with one another before or after carpool.

• Create parent-only morning meetings—by grade level or division, and led by the school counselor or division head—so parents can get to know each other on a deeper level.

• Host an event such as a Pancake Breakfast, Muffins with Moms and Special Friends, or Donuts with Dads and Special Friends, where parents gather with their children and other parents over a meal first thing in the morning.

• Partner with your local synagogue and host grade level family Shabbat dinners or Havdalah services.

PARENT EDUCATION

• Host Parent Coffees, a platform for discussing grade-level specific topics, social-emotional topics, academic content areas, developmentally appropriate practices and more.

• Invite guest lecturers and educational speakers.

• Create workshops to assist parents with middle school, high school or college admission processes.

COMMUNICATION

• Publish an annual calendar with important dates listed far in advance so parents can plan to attend.

• Post daily happenings across campus on various social media channels so parents can be aware of the goings on (and have talking points to use with their children), even if they can’t be physically present on campus.

VOLUNTEERING

• Invite parents to serve as chaperones or drivers on field trips.

• Create a Helping Hands program, in which teachers request ongoing parent assistance with anything from cutting and gluing a special project to shopping for a special cooking activity or serving as a guest reader in class.

• Have the head of school invite a parent to serve on a committee or task force to develop parent leadership.

• Invite parents to assist with teacher appreciation events.

• Ask parents to participate in and help set up schoolwide celebrations of Jewish or secular holidays; some preparation can be done during the day in-person or at night in advance of the event.

ACADEMIC INVOLVEMENT

• Call home to report positive interactions with peers, classroom teachers or other faculty members.

• Develop explicit and articulated goals for each child that are then monitored at home and at school via a behavior chart or Google doc, in order to stress the home-school partnership.

• Prioritize parent-teacher conferences.

• Send timely, informative and meaningful progress reports/report cards.

If Not Now, When: Connecting Jewish Concepts of Time to STEAM

Time

Educational systems operate on a timed schedule, and curriculum, especially at Jewish schools, is often a reflection of the holidays and events of the season. While the themes of the calendar year provide easy content and predictable timing for Jewish studies curricula, there can be equal advantages to leveraging the calendar for the development of curricula in other domains—in particular, STEAM. We have found that some subjects are best broached organically within the timing of the curriculum rather than close to the holiday itself, allowing for rich scientific learning that can be used later on during a Jewish celebration.

Experimenting with straw-filled and straw-less bricks at Passover, or coming up with innovative approaches to hanukkiyot or dreidels are obvious holiday-related STEAM opportunities. Jewish concepts of time can also encourage connections to STEAM-related explorations. Here are a few of the ways that we apply STEAM to themes of Jewish time.

Understanding the Jewish Calendar as a Topic in the Study of Space

Mishenichnas Adar, marbim besimchah. When Adar begins, joy increases. Ta’anit 29

In third grade, as students study space they learn about the rotation of planets and celestial bodies. As part of this unit of study, they are given a journal in which to track their observations of the waxing and waning of the moon, the basis of the Jewish calendar. By tracking the dates between Tu Bishvat and Purim, students get an important understanding of the lunar cycle as it relates to Jewish holidays. Being able to identify the first of Adar by tracking the moon creates an opportunity for understanding how in ancient times holidays were able to be celebrated at the same time in different locations.

Studying Arvit as an Opportunity to Study Circuitry

Golel or mipnei choshekh, ve-choshekh mipnei or. Rolling light from darkness and darkness from light. Arvit Service

In fourth grade, students study the Arvit service as well as the ceremony of Kiddush Levanah, the Sanctification of the Moon. As students dig deeper into the prayer Ma’ariv Aravim, they focus on the imagery of darkness and light, and the definition of day and night in a Jewish context. In this process they revisit and build upon their third-grade encounters with the sun and the moon.

They are given the opportunity to experiment with becoming yotzrei or, creators of energy in the form of light through the study of circuitry. As the students build electrical circuits, they are able to design lunar decorations that illuminate the space outdoors where they participate in Kiddush Levanah. Spiraling curriculum to explore new aspects of previously learned material, connecting those concepts both to different aspects of time (i.e., day and night), and introducing concepts of engineering to these lessons all reinforce and build new associations and relevance to Jewish concepts of time.

Counting the Omer with STEAM

And you shall count for yourselves—from the day after the holiday, from the day on which the waved Omer offering is brought, seven complete weeks. Until (but not including) the day after the seventh week, you shall count (until) the fiftieth day, and you shall bring a new meal offering to Hashem. Vayikra 25:15-16

The tradition of counting the Omer is often taught close to Passover, so that when the students are celebrating the second night of the holiday, they can begin to fulfill the mitzvah of sefirat HaOmer. This theme of measurement of time provides the perfect opportunity to combine math and Jewish studies, since the mitzvah clearly states the counting, the weeks, the multiplication of the weeks and days.

The Omer can also be used as an opportunity to explore science. In fifth grade, when students learn about meteorology, one of the hardest concepts to visualize is that gases have density. An even harder concept is that each gas has a different density. The atmosphere has five layers, meaning there are five different densities that can “pile up” one on top of the other.

Since it is hard to imagine the concept of gases “piling up,” this year we used liquids as a more concrete means to visualize the concept. The fifth graders were challenged with creating solutions with sugar and water, five solutions with different amounts of sugar and hence different densities, adding food coloring to identify each solution. Using a dropper, they dripped the solutions into a clear straw, one solution at a time. Starting with the most dense, proceeding to the least, students observed how the solutions “pile up.”

Using these lessons on density, the students were given the challenge of creating an Omer counter. In the end, students decided to use seven acrylic transparent cylinders, marking each cylinder in seven equal parts. The students chose a category of materials (liquid, solids that are found in nature, seeds and others), then researched the density of a variety of items in their chosen category. When the Omer is counted in April-May, each cylinder is to be filled with different types of materials, some solid, some liquid, each chosen based on properties that had been learned in science class.

During the Omer, students pour into that week’s cylinder 1/7 of a material that stacks above the prior day’s material. Before pouring the material, students need to calculate the volume of each material needed, using skills that they have learned in their math class, and consider the properties of that material. For example, higher density liquids need to be on the bottom. However, in the case of seeds, students found that placing sesame seeds above avocado pits result in the seeds trickling through the gaps between the pits, so that the lower density seeds need to be placed at the bottom. Over the course of the 49 days, a display showcases the various densities and other properties of the materials, while illustrating the counting of each day of the Omer.

Given that shortly after Purim with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic our school transitioned to a virtual classroom platform, the final aspects of the Omer counter is being created by students at home, with each student responsible creating a tube to serve as a seven-day counter. As the Omer is counted daily across the school, different clusters of seven students will be assigned to share their combined efforts with different classrooms throughout the school each day.

A Flexible Calendar

Ve-im lo achshav, eimatai? And if not now, when? Avot 1:14

While it is important to have an overall concept of the educational path for the year, it is also important to understand class culture and individual student needs and interests as they evolve throughout the year. By taking concepts that were of interest to the students and finding ways to show their relevance throughout the year, learning becomes more meaningful, accessible and timeless.

In the instance of the Omer counter, we noticed student fascination with notions of density and buoyancy, and student interest in projects involving those concepts. Looking for an opportunity to create further relevance to this topic, we decided to give the Omer challenge immediately—in February, and not wait another two months for the calendar to invite the challenge.

Often teachers find themselves lacking in time. For example, how does one find enough time to do justice to the teaching of Sukkot when the holiday begins only five days after Yom Kippur (two of which are often a weekend)? Similarly, the Omer is often shortchanged due to the calendar restrictions of Passover break.

With this in mind, in mid-February the STEAM educator conducted a hevruta learning session on texts related to the Omer, challenging students to connect their learning of the Omer to their STEAM lessons. While the timing may not have aligned with the preparations for Purim that were happening throughout the rest of the school, the depth of the connections that were made by the students will have a greater impact, both in terms of the context within STEAM learning and the flexibility of time to learn deeper without the limitations of the calendar. The Omer counter was created in advance to be used to count the Omer at the actual time, extending the lessons of density beyond its slot within the scope and sequence of instruction.

By allowing ourselves to connect topics of instruction at times that are relevant to the learning rather than according to calendar sequence, we can further solidify our students’ ability to make connections between STEAM and religious life, and deepen the relevance and engagement of learning.

Creating Times for Spiritual Connection

Time

The Sfat Emet has a beautiful teaching, in which he compares Shabbat to Noah’s Ark. While during the week we are preoccupied with worldly business, on Shabbat we can find the space to let go of this worldly business, and can take shelter in God’s sukkat shalom (shelter of peace), just as Noah took shelter in the ark. And within Shabbat’s shelter, we can connect to the root of our vitality and “receive new vital force from the Source of life.” (Noach [1872], Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan)

The Sfat Emet’s teaching might be read as positing a number of qualities that characterize Shabbat or sacred time more broadly: a sense of “space” (or perhaps spaciousness) that grants perspective on everyday concerns; a sense of being sheltered, safe and peaceful; a connection to God, or perhaps more broadly, a spiritual connection; an experience of revitalization or renewal.

As I studied this text with Rabbi Sam Feinsmith from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (himself a former day school teacher), he encouraged me to extend the Sfat Emet’s understanding of Shabbat beyond the parameters of Shabbat itself, and to imagine the possibility of creating mini-Shabbatot—mini arks-in-time—for our students. With more and more young people struggling with anxiety and depression, and with a growing body of research demonstrating the importance of spirituality for mental health (see Lisa Miller’s The Spiritual Child), students need these mini-arks-in-time more than ever. It is incumbent on us as Jewish professionals to tend to the spiritual lives of our students, to carve out pockets of sacred time for them, and to take a clear-eyed look at the modalities that our students experience as sacred and that facilitate their spiritual growth.

Zman Kodesh

At Gann Academy we strive, however imperfectly, to infuse the school experience with these mini-Shabbatot—that tend to the students’ souls, offering them the gifts of perspective, calm, connection and renewal. We prioritize the cultivation of this kind of felt experience over required liturgical prayer and engagement with the siddur. During our Zman Kodesh/Sacred Time program (which was once called “Tefillah”), Monday and Thursday mornings for 45 minutes before classes, we see the students’ experience of time as spiritual, reflective and rejuvenating as primary, and the structure of tefillah as secondary—as one means among many to create this kind of experience.

This choice ultimately derived from the observation that, for many high school students, liturgical tefillah, even expertly run, vibrant, meaning-infused, is just not the most effective way to facilitate experiences of spiritual connection. Years of observation, conversations with students and student surveys indicate that, if meaningful, spiritually impactful experiences of sacred time are our true goal, offering other modalities alongside tefillah is our best path forward.

For some students, of course, liturgical tefillah does facilitate that kind of experience, and our Zman Kodesh options include mechitzah, traditional-egalitarian and partnership minyans, along with monthly Reform Shirah services. And since tefillah and the siddur are undoubtedly central pillars of Jewish tradition, we have introduced units on tefillah in our Jewish studies curriculum. Students engage with the siddur on a deep level in the classroom.

The act of prayer itself, however, is such a delicate, intimate, personal act. Imposing prayer on high school students who don’t wish to pray seems to me to risk doing spiritual damage rather than cultivating spiritual growth, turning what should be sacred time into something quite different. No students at Gann are required to participate in a liturgical minyan.

Thus, our Zman Kodesh mission statement reads as follows: We aspire to create experiences that feel kadosh (special, sacred, distinct from the academic day), that facilitate students’ growth in spirituality, wisdom, and character, and that use Jewish practices and wisdom (among other tools) as means to this growth.

Having a clear mission statement has been an important element in the success of our Zman Kodesh program. When the Zman Kodesh team meets periodically to share successes and challenges, we always take time to reconnect to our mission, and to share moments when we have facilitated experiences that feel kadosh, or observed students growing spiritually or ethically. I also developed a set of guiding principles for our Zman Kodesh facilitators, many of which are also characteristic of quality traditional davening experiences:

Hitlamdut/Reflection: looking inward; Kehilah Kedoshah/Sacred Community: treating one another with respect and kindness, cultivating vulnerability and honest sharing; Hineni/Presence: full engagement of heart; mindfulness; Chochmah/Engagement with Wisdom from within Jewish tradition and sometimes, outside it; Tirgul Ruchani/Spiritual Discipline: engagement with Jewish spiritual/mindfulness practices; and Seder/Order: providing the comfort of a familiar order.

These guiding principles play out differently in different Zman Kodesh groups, and students are free to choose the groups that resonate most deeply with them. In our Outdoor Minyan, for example, students engage in Jewishly framed experiences of the natural world in the woods adjacent to our school. In our Creativity Minyan, students learn Hebrew calligraphy (a profoundly meditative practice) and create beautifully illuminated calligraphed images of middot that they value, such as chesed or anavah. In our men’s and women’s Zman Kodesh groups (called “Zman Brodesh” and “Women’s Minyan,” respectively), students make themselves vulnerable, sharing their struggles and challenges, and reflecting on gender roles and stereotypes.

This wide range of “ways in” to an experience of sacred time has given students new opportunities for spiritual connection. A ninth grader in the Creativity Minyan recently shared an experience that she found particularly spiritual:

A couple of days ago we went outside during Zman Kodesh, and we got to collect parts of nature for Tu BiShvat, and I thought that was really cool—we got to feel connected to nature. Even though it was kind of cold outside, it was nice to feel the air, and utilize part of nature to make art—that was pretty spiritual for me.

For many students, the sense of kehillah kedoshah, sacred community, that our Zman Kodesh facilitators intentionally cultivate, is the most powerful aspect of the experience. A tenth grader in women’s minyan reflected:

We talk about different things that people are struggling with, and it feels really far away at first, then all of a sudden we’re all kind of venting, kind of having an intense conversation, like it’s not just for the sake of venting… We’re all helping each other about things we’re all going through.

Modalities for Connection

The modalities that we use have been incubated in particular Zman Kodesh groups, refined over the years and shared during periodic team check-ins. Probably our most effective modality, used by nearly all non-liturgical Zman Kodesh facilitators, might be called “Jewishly framed circle sharing.” Students sit in a circle and the facilitator offers the group an open-ended, heart-centered question, often (but not always) based on a short Jewish text, such as a blessing from the siddur or a verse from the weekly parsha. Students then each take a turn responding to the question with stories from their lives, often opening themselves up with appropriate vulnerability in the process. For example, the facilitator might read the Avot blessing from the Amidah and say something like, “This blessing reminds us of the importance of remembering and acknowledging our ancestors—where we come from. Let’s take some time to acknowledge the gifts we’ve received our grandparents, great-grandparents, or more distant ancestors you may know of. What is a story about or quality of someone from an older generation in your family that is inspiring for you in your life?” The heartfelt stories that often pour out in response to this prompt are amazing to hear.

Another common modality in Zman Kodesh groups is “hakarat hatov sharing,” in which students share aspects of their lives for which they are grateful. And most Zman Kodesh facilitators also begin their sessions with a few minutes of quiet breathing meditation. Through a partnership with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, several of our Zman Kodesh facilitators have been trained in Jewish meditation practices, and we are planning to expand the training in the year ahead.

Of course, the choice to privilege the students’ felt experience of these arks-in-time over traditional liturgical structure has real costs. Students who never opt to participate in a liturgical minyan miss out on the kind of tefillah literacy-through-exposure from which many of us have benefited. They may miss out on the opportunity to connect to tefillah and the siddur in ways that they might not have expected. They may receive the message that Jewish prayer and the siddur are not important elements of Jewish tradition. Additionally, leading non-liturgical groups requires a specialized skill set, incorporating Jewish content knowledge, experiential education expertise and group-facilitation skills. Despite our best efforts to hire and train for these skills, some groups are not as successful as others.

And traditional minyanim remain challenging. Some of the students who opt for liturgical minyanim do so not because they find these minyanim meaningful, but because they are a place where they may be able to sit in the back and be passive rather than engaging with our guiding principle of “hineni.” Some of our traditional minyanim are still works in progress.

I believe, however, that the benefits of our approach far outweigh the costs. Most students emerge from four years of Zman Kodesh feeling that is was a meaningful, sometimes sacred experience of Jewish community. Not having been forced to pray, they are less likely to feel resentful of traditional prayer spaces and are often more open to participating in such spaces in the future. As one senior said:

It shows you a different side of Judaism that I don’t think you would see if you only had one option. It gives you a different lens to look at Judaism through…and I think that it definitely makes me more eager to go and explore what those different Jewish options are out there.

An eleventh grader in the Creativity Minyan said:

I feel like it is a different way, but a strong way for me to connect to Judaism based on these art projects, even though it’s not very common, but we really have a strong connection. Definitely that path that I’m on now makes me more likely to pursue Jewish community in the future… In the Zman Kodeshes I’ve been in here, I really feel connected, and it makes me want to continue.

Zman Kodesh Throughout the Day

And we are now introducing many of the practices and modalities incubated in Zman Kodesh into other parts of the school day, offering our students more frequent arks-in-time to help them find a sense of shelter and rejuvenation in the midst of their hectic days. Teachers will sometimes begin classes with short, Jewishly framed meditations. Every third week, Jewish studies classes will hold a Soul Friday class, in which desks are pushed to the side and students engage in Jewishly framed circle sharing, connecting their learning to their emotional and spiritual lives. Our student Mussar groups often begin with a hakarat hatov practice, as students share good points from their week with a partner.

I know that our particular approach to Zman Kodesh is not the path for every school, and that various denominational, halakhic and hashkafic commitments limit the range of possibility for many schools. Whatever your particular commitments may be, I urge you to tend to the souls of your students with a full heart and open eyes. Notice (and ask) what truly makes time feel sacred to them and find ways to give them the mini-Shabbats, the sheltering, life-giving arks-in-time that they need to thrive.

Z’man Ivri: Jewish Time, Jewish Tongue

Time

Language is history, and it is worldview. It is the connection to the present moment, even as it is a view to the future that is not yet come. Language is memory [zikaron] and becoming [hithavut]. S. Yizhar, One Hundred Years of Spoken Hebrew

Being Jewish is tied to a yearly cycle rich in celebrations and commemorations that translate collective memory, spiritual values and identity into actual days of the year. “The catechism of the Jews is their calendar,” wrote Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. It’s not only Shabbat that is a “cathedral in time,” to use Heschel’s felicitous phrase, but the entire Jewish year that is an intricate structure for the engaged Jew to inhabit or a detailed path to follow.

Key Hebrew roots and words shed light on our connection to time and how it impacts our lived Jewish experience.

Top of the Morning

When do you start your day? Not, when do you get up, but when do you believe the day begins? Dawn is a logical choice, but technically the Western day starts in the middle of the night—at midnight. Jews, though, count the day from the evening before. Our date changes at sunset. With each of the six days of Creation, “[First] there was evening, [then] there was morning.”

Genesis relates the drama of the world coming into being through distinctions: between light and darkness, sky and earth, water and land. “Distinction” is in the roots of the words: בּוֹקֶר boker (morning), whose root means “distinguish, split, differentiate,” and עֶרֶב erev (evening), from a root meaning “mix, blur distinctions.” Right after shalom, most Hebrew students learn boker tov, “good morning.” In Israel, a common response to boker tov is boker or—“a morning of light.” Morning is when we see things distinctly; with erev, “evening,” those distinctions blur.

Though we create light and darkness at the flip of a switch, for most of history the rising and setting of the sun were momentous occasions, which are encoded in the very names of the directions. East is מִזְרָח mizrach, from the root ז-ר-ח (z-r-ch), “shine”; the direction the sun shines from or rises. West is מַעֲרָב ma’arav, from ע-ר-ב ([ayin]-r-b), the same root as erev, “evening.” (The name of the Arabic region known as the Maghreb is a cognate.) Changing one vowel, we get מַעֲרִיב ma’ariv, the evening prayer service. Secular Israelis know this as the broadsheet Ma’ariv, originally an evening newspaper, when there used to be such things.

The dusky transition hour is bein ha‘rbayim, “between the two evenings,” the same as English “twilight,” literally “two lights.” The name Europe may derive, through Greek, from this root, with “p” replacing “v,” via the god of darkness, Erebus, associated with Europe through the sun setting in the west, like “the Occident” (from the Latin, occidens, “sunset” or “west”), versus “the Orient,” in the east, the place of the rising sun.

The Circle and the Journey

After the daily days, let’s look at the holi-days: chagim. What exactly is a chag? And how is it related to our experience of time? Like light in physics, both a particle and a wave, Jewish time is both a circle and an arrow, both cyclical and linear. The root of the word chag encodes this deep truth through its connection to circles and lines.

חַג chag is from the root ח-ג-ג (ch-g-g), which gives us לַחְגוֹג lachgog, “to celebrate,” חֲגִיגָה chagigah, “a celebration,” and חֲגִיגִי chagigi, “festive.” These words are both secular and religious: You can lachgog a birthday or a holy day, and anything from a nice shirt or fancy meal to a solemn ceremony can be chagigi.

ח-ג-ג connects to two other roots. One is ח-ו-ג (ch-v-g), whose core meaning is “circle” or “round.” חוּג chug means both circumference and area of a circle, such as Chug Hagedi, the Tropic of Capricorn, a big circular line around the globe. But chag is apparently also related to a more linear word, the Arabic haj (the ג gimmel is soft). A haj is a pilgrimage, which for Muslims is always to Mecca. It’s no accident that Hechag, “the” Festival, Sukkot, is one of our three pilgrimage festivals, originally to Jerusalem. A pilgrimage is “linear,” a straight line to a destination.

So a chag is a chug, a circle, and also a haj, a journey.

The word evokes images both of sitting, eating and dancing in circles, whether around a fire or the table, and of “going up on foot”—the literal translation of aliyah laregel, “pilgrimage.” Whether you celebrate in the chug hamishpachti, “the family circle,” or on some journey, inner or outer, sacred or secular, may it be a joyous one!

Excerpt from Hebrew Roots, Jewish Routes: A Tribal Language in a Global World by Jeremy Benstein.

TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS FOR FRAZZLED DAY SCHOOL HEADS

Time

In all my years of work in Jewish education, the one thing I never heard anyone complain about is having too much time. Education is a field deeply enmeshed in time. We study in semesters, prepare for class periods and schedule countless meetings. But even as time defines the framework of our professional lives, every administrator I know struggles with finding enough of it to accomplish everything we need to do.

The demands on our time are tremendous. We speak with parents, teachers and students. We deal with discipline, maintain classroom standards, review curricula. We put out the inevitable fires that arise, respond to countless emails and do it all while leading our schools not just through the daily grind, but hopefully toward a wiser and more perfect future. And that’s before trying to find time for our families and ourselves. I know I am not the only school administrator who has subsisted on coffee until after school hours, not having even a moment to sit and eat a small meal.

If it’s any comfort, the scramble for time seems to be a widespread problem in the field of education and far beyond. “You basically just always feel like you’re doing a horrible job at everything,” a parent told The New York Times for their piece on professional burnout a few years ago. “You’re not spending as much time with your baby as you want, you’re not doing the job you want to be doing at work, you’re not seeing your friends hardly ever.”

While it’s nice to know that those of us in education are not suffering alone, I think it’s time that we challenged the necessity of suffering at all. We need to stop viewing the impossible calculus of time management as an ordinary side effect of modern work. Extreme stress, lack of wellness and disproportionate work-life balance are real and corrosive problems that don’t just affect us, but the entire enterprise of Jewish education.

One statistic highlights how pervasive premature career exhaustion can be. The average tenure of a head of school working in Jewish education is just three and a half years—not even long enough to guide one high school class from orientation to graduation. The position is extremely demanding. Heads of school are expected to be responsive to parents, students, teachers, administrators, the school board and the community 24 hours a day, six days a week. (Thank God for Shabbos!) The idea of work-life balance is mostly theoretical; heads of school are connected, always, to their work.

This kind of rapid burnout threatens administrators across the span of Jewish education. Not only is it toxic to those in the system now, but it makes recruiting and sustaining the next generation of Jewish educators profoundly difficult. Many young adults have grown up watching the impact of this demanding life on their own parents and families; is it any wonder they are choosing other career paths for themselves?

The system demands a change. But it’s vital that any solution be real, practical and implementable. Lip service and good intentions alone will still leave you working 60 to 70 hours a week—and at the end of all of those hours, still lacking the concrete accomplishments that are so critical to moving your school forward. Following are two conceptual recommendations that may prove of value.

Concept 1: Intentionality

The busier we are, the easier it is to go through our days without intentionality. We tend to do most things without strategic thought; we arrange our calendars, structure our offices, schedule meetings and deal with calls and email as the need arises. But the more these daily chores are thought out and connected with our priorities, the more effective we will be. There are a few key ways to implement intentionality in our busy lives.

Prioritization

The key to prioritization is less about determining what is most important to you, and more about making sure that you select goals that are practical and measurable. We need to be aware of what accomplishing these goals will actually entail and create effective strategies to meet them. For example, wanting to spend more time observing teachers is a worthy goal, but before committing to it, it’s critical to come up with practical strategies for making the time and accomplishing this goal.

Time blocking

Once we have our priorities broken down into their practical component parts, it’s time to take that information and turn them into time slots. Put these slots into your calendar, and make sure that you not only devote the necessary time to your goals, but that you do so on a regular schedule. This ritualization is a significant factor in reducing stress and the daily upheaval of our demanding careers. The more you calendar, the more manageable and predictable your daily schedule becomes.

Don’t just focus on the workday; calendar the time it takes to shower, a few minutes of exercise (including the drive back and forth to the gym), dinner with your family. Get a real sense of how much of your time is devoted to which parts of your personal and professional life, and use that information to plan ahead. Review your calendar at the end of each day, so that you can continue to progress in your goals. If something didn’t get done today, make sure to calendar it for tomorrow. Last-minute surprises are inevitable in our field, and the process of reflection and planning ahead will help you remain both flexible and effective.

The payoff matrix

Another important concept of intentionality is payoff. Effective time management involves understanding how our efforts contribute to our goals and to the goals of our organizations. No matter how practical and well-planned our goals are, ineffective methods are often inevitable as our ideas and values transition to the real world. It’s important to take an opportunity to better understand the demands of the goal and approach it in the most effective way. Taking time to reflect on which ideas get “great bang for our buck” and doing more of those is valuable, but just as important is figuring out which ideas require a ton of our time and yield limited results.

Manage up

Finally, involving your supervisor in evaluation of your tasks can be an important piece of the intentionality puzzle. Have a conversation about what you’re doing, and evaluate together whether you are making the best use of your time. Establishing clarity on the effectiveness of your work relieves stress and also allows for tasks to be added or left behind in a judgment-free manner. Of course, be respectful of your supervisor’s time. Prepare for a management meeting carefully, and be specific with the questions and issues you address.

Concept 2: Delegating

Delegating is simultaneously one of the simplest and most challenging solutions for managing our time as educators. We all know that we are not superhuman and can’t personally see to every single demand of our jobs, yet it seems like 95% of Jewish professionals avoid delegating at all costs. There are a few reasons for this and solutions for each cause.

We feel guilty asking others to do “our work” for us

This is a major mental obstacle that I don’t mean to minimize. It’s hard, especially for responsible, career-minded professionals, to shift tasks from our plate to those who support us. How can we get past this mental block? While everyone will have a different strategy, I find it most useful to remember the top-line realities of my career. I am paid to do a specific and important job, not to take care of every small task under my purview. If I choose not to delegate those tasks, I will inevitably underperform in critical areas and fail to provide my employer the services that the organization needs to function.

Keep this in mind, too, when delegating for purposes of family time. Effective leaders don’t delegate to “get out of” their responsibilities but rather to perform those responsibilities as well as they can. Your time with your family, be it a long vacation or a coffee with your spouse, is an equal responsibility to your career, and it is entirely valid to delegate appropriately so that you can be present for the most important people in your life.

We want tasks completed to our absolute personal satisfaction

Again, this is a legitimate issue. “If you want something done right, do it yourself” is a pervasive mentality in professional environments. But this isn’t just personally unhelpful, it undermines the mentorship process that allows Jewish education to thrive. So how can we talk ourselves out of this mindset?

First, be honest. If the people working under me can’t handle my delegated tasks to my satisfaction, I have to ask: Have I appropriately trained my support staff? Have I made my expectations and needs clear? Have I given them time to grow into these roles and made productive critiques? It can be hard to accept, but very often, disappointing efforts by staff are a result of the boss’s failure to properly train and communicate. If you find yourself frequently hesitant to delegate, first make sure that you are doing your part as a leader to empower your staff to perform to your satisfaction.

Second, remind yourself why you need to delegate. My accounting professor used to say, “Pay me now or pay me later.” In other words, the price for perfection will be exacted somewhere. Yes, sometimes you might have to redo tasks, or learn to accept a less-than-perfect outcome. Yes, it takes time to train people effectively. But being willing to “pay” in these forms ultimately adds our most valuable commodity—time—to your account and allows you to become more effective at the items that are your priority.

Though each of us has a standard of perfection, we will not reach it if we alone do everything. Delegating allows more to get done, and to get done better, without exhaustion or burnout.

We do not work in an environment that allows delegation

This can be a real problem, especially in the staffing-conscious world of Jewish education. I absolutely understand that many people don’t have an assistant, or people who work for them, and thus don’t feel they can delegate tasks in the same way as other administrators.

What I suggest in this case is active cooperation. Sometimes the most important thing we can do when we need help is simply to ask for it. Find colleagues who are good at the things that take you extra time, and offer to help them in the areas they aren’t as skilled. You will often be amazed at how your colleagues will rise to the occasion to provide needed help. If you are sure to reciprocate in turn when the need arises, you can contribute to a workplace culture of cooperation, one of the best ways that any organization, regardless of resources, can allow its employees to perform in a healthy way.

Keep in mind parents as a delegation resource as well. In my experience, parent bodies are often more diversely skilled than even the best-curated school staff, they love being involved in the daily work of keeping schools running, and they want to help—so let them. Do keep in mind that managing parents can be trickier than standard employees, and a rogue parent helper is often counterproductive. But as long as you are clear in expressing your needs and expectations, parent helpers can be an invaluable asset to productivity that benefits everyone.

Actual outsourcing is also an option. I’ve used services like www.odesk.com and found them very useful, especially for specific, limited tasks beyond my skill set. There is a dollar cost to this, of course, but often the price-benefit ratio is worth it.

Rule #1 of delegating is be very clear about what you want accomplished, when you want it done and what you need to be satisfied with the final product. Then step back with the understanding that it may not be perfect but it will be acceptable. Being unable to do this means you will try to do everything yourself and will be forever overwhelmed.

If you supervise people, do not tolerate employees who do not deliver on their promises. It is not worth your time; I typically fire those people.

Remember that delegating has benefits beyond your own accomplishments. Delegating allows the next group of leaders to grow into their responsibilities. It is about building the health and capacity of your organization. And delegating provides an important lesson for parents and students, showing that you are dedicated to empowering others to grow, even if that means tolerating a few bumps along the road.

There are many other solutions for time management that are helpful in solving issues in modern Jewish education. But more important than any specific technique is this message: The holy work of Jewish education is phenomenally challenging, demanding and intense. All of us who labor in this field have chosen to shoulder this challenge—and to embrace it as the uniquely fulfilling, world-changing work it is. But we should not shrug away or accept burnout and overwork as inevitable side effects of this career. They are signs that our system is not working optimally. If we aren’t able to create equilibrium for ourselves, our assistants and our schools, this entire precious project faces real danger.

Jewish education is about taking care of others, and we cannot take care of others without caring for ourselves. Implementing time management techniques can be a part of the care that allows our field to flourish far into the future.

Prioritizing Time on the Board

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Think about your past year of service as a board member. Is there a special project, a task or a goal related to your service that you wish you had achieved but did not? For example, did you hope to update the board handbook or do some legwork for the launch of a capital campaign in 2021?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you are not alone. A Gallup Organization survey of 2.5 million Americans found that 80% of respondents felt that they don’t have time to do all that they want to do each day. Thus, it would not be surprising to learn that you, like many board members, feel like you don’t have enough time to accomplish all your board objectives. In other words, you might feel “time poor,” which can take a toll on both your physical and mental well-being. Therefore, it is important to be able to shift from a feeling of being time poor to a sense of time affluence.

As a board member, your service to the community is a responsibility that you have often nobly taken on, in addition to a myriad of other familial and professional obligations. It is often hard to find the time to do everything you want to do. Since time is a finite resource, it is important to prioritize your work in the most efficient way and to schedule work to maximize productivity. Even more important than efficiency and productivity is effectiveness. As such, it is imperative that you use your limited time focused on the “right” work, and in particular as a board member to spend time on the work that will bring the most benefit to the organization, both short-term and long-term.

Deep Work vs. Shallow Work

What is the right work for a board member to do? As a board member, you should examine how you are spending your time on board-related activities both inside and outside of the boardroom. Specifically, are you doing deep (as opposed to shallow) work? Deep work, defined by Cal Newport as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit,” includes tasks that require strategic thinking, innovation and visioning. As a board member, an example of deep work might be generative conversations related to the school’s five-year strategic plan or an intensive review of financial statements. In contrast, shallow work is work that is not cognitively demanding, rote in nature and might be done in a state of distraction. For example, daily operational issues might be considered shallow work.

Board members must create conditions to engage in deep, meaningful strategic work, and there are many things that can get in the way, such as distractions, from email or notifications from apps. One of the biggest distractions that can get in the way of deep work is the fallacy of multitasking. As the Latin writer Publilius Syrus said, “To do two things at once is to do neither.” In fact, when you think you are multitasking, you are in fact “switch-tasking,” and every time you switch tasks you lose time reorienting to the new task you are doing. Therefore, instead of multitasking, it is recommended that you think about how you can schedule sustained, concentrated time, without distraction, during board meetings as well as outside of board meetings so you can intentionally focus on deep work.

In addition, it is recommended that agendas be crafted deliberately for board meetings to focus on “big decisions” that require deep thinking (e.g., strategic decisions related to curriculum or hiring) early in the meeting. Often, critical decisions are put at the end of the meeting agenda, but by then people suffer from “decision fatigue,” exhausted from the decisions that they have already made. Decision fatigue often leads boards to either not make any decision, to default to the decision that maintains the status quo, or to make hastier or riskier decisions.

Activity Audit

To be able to focus on deep work, an activity audit can be helpful to determine how you are spending you time. The Eisenhower Matrix is a useful tool to assess how time is being spent. The matrix examines tasks along two dimensions: urgency and importance. These two dimensions result in four quadrants. (See illustration, below.) Often too much time is spent on the urgent and unimportant, box #3, and not enough time is spent on the not urgent but important, box #2. Unfortunately, if adequate time is not spent on the not urgent yet important, critical board work and initiatives (especially related to the long-term needs of the organization) might be neglected.

An added word of caution: As mentioned previously, board members are often quite busy with a multitude of responsibilities inside and outside of the boardroom. As a result, they are even more prone to tunneling, behavior that leads to a hyperfocus on the most immediate (urgent) tasks (box #1). But these are often not the most important, strategic tasks. The key to successfully utilizing this tool is to properly parse the “urgent” from the “important” and to understand how you are choosing to use your time.

When to do Deep Work

Outside of the boardroom, managing work to complete it at an “optimal time” is important and can lead to higher productivity, better outcomes and greater satisfaction for board m embers. Optimal times to complete certain types of work are based on people’s chronotype, their propensity to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period based on underlying circadian rhythms. People who are considered larks have their peak performance in the early morning and therefore should make critical decisions, perform deep work and complete analytical tasks in the morning. Insight tasks requiring creativity and innovative ideas are best performed by larks in the late afternoon or early evening. In contrast, it is recommended that night owls complete insight tasks in the morning, and make critical decisions, perform deep work and complete analytical tasks in the late afternoon or early evening. Third birds fall between larks and night owls. Therefore, for them tasks that require deeper thinking should be done in the early to midmorning, and insight tasks should be performed in the late afternoon or early evening.

A tool to help you determine your chronotype is the Automated Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (Auto-MEQ). Alternatively, you can determine your chronotype by thinking about your preferred behavior on a “free day” when you don’t need to go to sleep or wake up at a specific time:

1. What time would you choose to go to sleep?

2. What times would you choose to wake up?

3. What is the middle of those two times?

Your answer to question three is your midpoint of sleep. If your midpoint is between 12:01am and 3:59am you are a lark, if your midpoint is between 4am and 6:29am you are a third bird, and if your midpoint is between 6:30am and noon you are a night owl. For example, if you would choose to go to bed at 3 am and wake up at 10 am the midpoint would be 6:30am and you are a night owl. (See illustration, below.)

Final Thoughts

As a final tip, don’t forget to build breaks into your work time, both inside and outside of board meetings. Since time is scarce, people sometimes mistakenly fail to take the time for restorative breaks that are critical for cultivating resilience and enhancing creativity. Restorative breaks might include a short walk (outside is a bonus) or mindfulness practices. Even when there is not time for a prolonged break (10-15 minutes), a microbreak to get a drink of water or sketch or write in a journal can be very helpful. One microbreak process that is simple to remember is a 20-20-20 micro-break. Every 20 minutes you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Examining how you are spending your time as a board member would be beneficial to ensure that you are focused on doing deep work and completing strategic work. To make the greatest impact, it is a worthwhile investment for you to assess their use of time. As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

Preventing Teacher Burnout: Use Your Time Where it Really Matters

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Burnout is the result of too many demands, too few resources and not enough time to recover. When you consider this definition, it’s easy to see why teachers are at high risk for burnout.

At the heart of being a teacher is giving. Teachers understand they are in a profession where they can always be doing more, and so they try. In the process, they often give their time to everyone except themselves. In my time as both a Jewish day school parent and administrator, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing teachers give selflessly of themselves: providing extra time to a student outside of class hours or mentoring a new teacher during a lunch break, giving up their personal time to speak with a stressed parent or developing an especially creative lesson plan.

These same teachers also navigate busy personal lives. They need to support family and friends, run errands after school and attend to routine household responsibilities that require phone calls during the very hours they are teaching. (Just try reaching the plumber or the bank during the six minutes you have available during the school day.)

When feeling overextended, teachers tend to attribute their exhaustion to poor time management. This often results in one of two scenarios: telling yourself, “I will work harder and faster”; or downloading the latest time management app. The problem with both of these responses is the assumption that the issue will be solved by operating at a superhuman and unsustainable pace, a pace that unquestionably puts teachers on a highway to burnout.

What follows may not be what you expect: time management strategies that focus on best practices for writing “to do” lists, timeboxing your calendar and powering through your obligations with the use of new apps and planners that optimize your efficiency. Instead, counterintuitive time management advice has the most significant impact on preventing burnout. If teachers are going to thrive long term, they don’t need to work faster. Rather, they should recognize when to slow down and pay attention to the fact that sometimes the best investment of their time is in themselves.

The irony is that teachers are already very familiar with how they should use their time to protect their wellbeing and prevent burnout. It’s the same advice they consistently provide to their students.

Make time for sleep

It seems illogical to go to bed early when looking at a stack of papers to be graded or a long to-do list, but sleep is exactly what you need in these situations. Countless studies demonstrate that not only is sleep necessary for physical wellbeing, it is also critical for cognitive health.

When we are well rested, we are sharper, more productive and creative, better able to understand and integrate complex information, and equipped to respond thoughtfully to unexpected stressors. A Deloitte Insights article, “You Snooze, You Win,” notes, “Sleep may, in fact, be the ultimate performance enhancer.” A well-rested body and brain are better prepared to problem-solve and navigate the complex demands of one’s personal and professional life.

It can be challenging to change late-night habits, but it’s possible with small steps. Begin by setting an alarm one-hour before you want to be in bed. This is a cue to log off electronics, stop checking email, wrap up work and begin more relaxing activities. While pre-bedtime routines will be different for everyone, the principle is the same: These should be activities that allow a person to wind down and shift gears. If it’s difficult to change gears, it can be helpful to make a “to do” list for the following day, to serve as both a signal that the day is over and help assure that “nothing will be forgotten.”

Make time to move around and exercise

For the same reasons that recess and team sports are good for kids, exercise is good for adults. Although “adult recess” isn’t built into most schedules, it’s critical to make time for exercise because finding extra time is highly unlikely. Teachers often justify skipping exercise by telling themselves that their time is better spent on their students. However, it’s essential to remember that prioritizing your health and well-being is precisely what allows you to continually support your students.

Exercise has been shown to reduce the body’s stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, and to increase the production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that elevate mood. The physical activity and boost of endorphins help reduce our physical reactivity to stress—in the classroom, the faculty meeting or when running into an unreasonable parent in the grocery store. It’s important to choose a schedule and activity that fits the rhythm of a teaching schedule and develop creative ways to make exercise part of the schedule, such as three 10-minute walks a day, walking meetings with colleagues; hand weights to use during TV commercial breaks or a 15-minute yoga video. Starting this habit is the hard part, but take small steps and build from there. Without question, you will begin to experience the benefits to your physical and cognitive health.

Ensure you are spending the right amount of energy on the right things

It’s easy to fall into the trap of devoting excessive time and energy to every task on your list. This will unquestionably result in less time for other priorities, resentment when your extra efforts aren’t noticed and exhaustion—all contributors to burnout.

Instead, each time you begin a task, ask yourself: What kind of effort does this task need? 50%? 80%? 110%? This question immediately helps you determine the amount of time and energy required to successfully accomplish the task. Some activities, such as preparing for parent-teacher conferences, require 100% of your effort. Others, like writing a weekly internal update for your department, might only need 70% of your effort. If you have difficulty determining the amount of effort required, ask yourself if you are holding yourself to standards that you would never expect from someone else; if you don’t have those expectations of others, then they are probably unreasonable for you as well. The key is remembering that if you attempt to give everything 100%, activities that truly need all of your energy and focus will be compromised.

One of the biggest hurdles for teachers is the guilt felt when taking time to rest and recharge. Even as it feels like unproductive time, however, in practice, it’s actually the most productive thing one can do. Making time to focus proactively on one’s well-being and thoughtfully examining if energy is being spent on the right activities are critical to burnout prevention. Teachers will always generously share their time with others, but if we want to ensure that they have the energy to educate our children for the long term, we have to encourage them to be equally generous with time for themselves.

Where Does the Time Go for Jewish Day School Leaders?

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Researchers who study school leadership use time-use research to understand in what ways school leaders spend their time and the degree to which their time continues to be administration-bound, unpredictable, reactive and fragmented. This literature in general education research makes clear that how school leaders spend their time matters, in terms of school culture and climate, teacher effectiveness, and student achievement.

A new research brief from the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) examined data on how “second-in-command” leaders in Jewish day schools said they spent their time. An analysis of responses from these school leaders (who often hold the title of division head or principal, as opposed to head of school) revealed two main leadership typologies in Jewish day schools:

1. Organizational leaders, who spend more time on administrative tasks

2. Instructional leaders, who spend more time observing teachers, providing and planning professional development, and meeting with parents

Overall, the study found that in Jewish day schools the people who occupy these “second-in-command” positions report devoting between a third and a half of their time to administrative tasks, such as enrollment management, facility issues or budgeting. This is very different from the profile of how second-in-command leaders in general education settings report spending their time. In these other settings (both public and other private schools), “second-in-command” school leaders usually report intensive time spent in interaction with individual teachers (as instructional leaders) and with individual students (as guides, counselors and disciplinarians). In contrast, in Jewish day schools the research team found that people in this role were more likely to function as “managers” rather than as “leaders.”

These findings raise important questions for school leaders, including:

• What goals do they have for how spend their time?

• Do they believe that the way they are required to spend their time enables them to fulfill their role effectively?

CASJE hopes this study provides division heads and principals in Jewish day schools with useful language and concepts to reflect upon the kind of leadership they’re exercising, and if the ways they spend their time are weighted toward one style of leadership over another.

You can read more about this finding, and others related to how leaders in Jewish day schools spend their time, in the full research brief, “How Second-in-Command Leaders in Jewish Day Schools Spend Their Time and Why it Matters,” which will be available on CASJE’s website later this spring. This brief will be the first in a series from CASJE that reports on the day-to-day experiences of Jewish day school leaders, teachers and students with implications for practice, policy and purpose.

 

Prioritizing Relationships

Suzanne Mishkin, Director of Sager School, Sager Solomon Schechter Day School, Northbrook, Illinois

When I became an administrator six years ago, people would ask me how it was different from being a teacher. One of the biggest differences is how I spend my time. As a teacher, my day was set, I taught six periods, had two preps, one lunch, and I lived my life in 42 minute increments. As an administrator, every day is different, and I never know when an unexpected incident is about to occur that has me saying, “There goes my day.”

A big part of my job is balancing priorities. There are meetings with various stakeholder groups, actionable items after meetings, schedules to create and manage, emails to craft, respond to and be aware of, classrooms to visit, walking the building and connecting with faculty, researching best practice, connecting with other educators, working on the budget and other managerial tasks, and of course, the crises that pop up that cause me to drop everything else.

Most times, I try to prioritize being an instructional leader who values relationships. A good day almost always includes visiting classrooms. I love spending time in the classroom, speaking to students and seeing teachers in action. We recently just completed a cycle of Instructional Rounds with our entire faculty participating. I prioritized being present in as many of those observations as possible. I am lucky enough to have an assistant who collaborates with me on organizing and managing my calendar. Having someone who controls my schedule removes much of the pressure of coordinating people and meetings, freeing up more of my time for additional opportunities and meaningful work.

Today, administrators at Jewish day schools everywhere are expected to be everything to everyone, but, much as we’d like, we simply cannot do it all. I’ve come to learn how difficult it can be to say “no” when all we want is to say “yes.” Time is one of the few irreplaceable commodities. I try to be authentic with who I am and with my time, and also with myself.

 

Syncopated Rhythms

Tamar Rabinowitz, Dean of Jewish Studies and Hebrew, Jewish Community High School of the Bay, San Francisco

In my school, department heads get a single course release. This means that a large portion of my time is spent in the classroom, preparing materials and assessing students. As an instructional leader, my time is best spent observing teachers, creating a collaborative environment where teachers feel free to observe others, learn from each other and look at student work together while making sure that our work is aligned with the vision of our department and school.

Ideally, I observe teachers on a weekly basis, usually using the model of 10-minute pop-ins unless a formal observation has been planned. I meet with new and novice teachers bimonthly and veteran teachers two or three times a year. I support teachers to articulate their goals and meet with them twice a year to reflect on those goals and how they align with student reflections. The goals of all my conversations is to have teachers think about their teaching practice and support their teaching. Additionally, I organize department meetings to be an opportunity to learn together, this year around grading equity.

Schools, however, have their own rhythms that impact the allocation of time. From January to May, for example, my time is consumed with issues around hiring, course eligibility and placements for current and incoming students. Interviews with candidates, conversations with current and incoming parents, and meetings with teachers and advisors around students need to happen. As a result, I do find myself “captive to my environment” and need to focus my energies on these areas, which often undermines my ability to empower and support teachers. At the same time, the work I do during this time does impact the work we do as a department. I find that the most consistent area of my time is teaching, and the other pieces are subject to the needs of the school.

Resetting the Clock

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I write this article about time as we are all on coronavirus lockdown, when time has come to be something weird and strange. Jokes abound about canceling the days of the week, since it’s starting to feel as if each week is one long day.

But this time spent apart from normal time allows us to think about the concept of school time in new ways, something educators have actually been doing even before we suddenly had to rejigger entire school schedules and come up on the fly with ways to learn online. At our project-based learning school, The Idea School, we’ve attempted to reconfigure school time, based on research into adolescent needs and student learning outcomes, in order to improve students’ ability to be present, focus and learn subjects with greater depth.

Here are some insights we’ve gleaned from educators who’ve been having these discussions for, well, a long time.

School Day Start Times

The neuroscience research on the efficacy of later start times for middle and high school students is well-documented. One 2016-17 study conducted by University of Washington researchers on sophomores in the Seattle school district found that when its secondary schools switched their start time from 7:50 to 8:45 am, student performance improved in many areas. First, students benefited physically, getting one hour more of sleep that they needed and bringing them closer to achieving the approximate nine hours recommended for teenagers. Student sleep patterns were also less disrupted, so the teens needed to play less catch up on the weekends. The study also found that students were less tired during class. They had fewer tardy arrivals and absences and academic performance improved.

Our school used current research around school start times when it chose to open at 8:30 am. Our local school district also considered a later school start time. Reporter Deena Yellin covered the debate:

Experts say, with the onset of puberty, teenagers experience a change in the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, which helps regulate the body’s day-night rhythms. During adolescence, it is secreted later in the day and ramps up at night, which means teenagers don’t become drowsy until 11 pm. And because of that cycle, moving bedtime earlier doesn’t help either, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Yellin quoted Dr. Sigrid Veasey, a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who added that inadequate sleep in teenagers can lead to depression and other issues and who supported the idea that increased sleep means improved academic performance for teens.

Daily Schedule

In Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids, authors Denise Pope, Maureen Brown, and Sarah Miles suggest a total rethinking of the structure of the school day. Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, focuses on academic stress and its effects on student mental health and wellbeing. She founded Challenge Success to address how the current school schedule and workload is damaging to students, and through her organization, she works with schools—many of them private, elite ones throughout the United States—to change the way they think about learning.

Kindred spirits—we’re not only both progressive educators agitating for school reform, we’re also Jewish women from the San Fernando Valley—Pope and I have had a number of conversations about the state of education in America today. One of the first things she does when she sits down with a school to make changes is discuss the daily schedule with the principal/administration.

School leaders in middle and high schools: Take a moment to bring up a student’s schedule on your computer. How many periods are in a school day? How many times does a student have to switch codes—move from one language to another? And I don’t just mean a native language to a foreign one, be it Biblical Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, Talmudic Hebrew, modern Hebrew, Spanish, French, Arabic or Chinese. How many times is a student moving from the language of science to the language of math, history, English, engineering and more?

A recent trend among educators has been to follow a student schedule through a day of school, in order to truly imagine what a student experiences in the classroom. One educator I spoke with who did this shared that she burst into tears at the end of the day. She acknowledged that some of that was because she had no peers; she had gone through the day essentially by herself and had felt extremely lonely and isolated. But she also conceded that the day had been long and draining. She could imagine that the only thing making it palatable for teens was their social interaction.

Pope advocates for implementing block scheduling. In a block schedule, classes meet fewer times a week but for longer periods. This means, of course, that teachers cannot teach only frontally. Students cannot hear a lecture for 60 to 90 minutes, so this type of scheduling also ensures that teachers create interactive, hands-on lessons. In addition, as project-based learning guru Ron Berger points out, block scheduling allows for deeper learning. Not only does a packed schedule create student exhaustion, but it also prevents students from getting deep into learning. In a 40-minute period, the first five minutes of which are often spent having students enter the room and get settled, there’s only 35 minutes to engage with course material.

In a longer period, anywhere from 50 to 90 minutes, students have time to settle into learning and grapple with its complexity. They have time to understand the language, both literal and figurative, of the discipline they’re studying, and they also have the time to create products of learning out of their studies. When I was in schools with 40-minute periods, creating videos, for example, with students was impossible. No sooner had they taken out the equipment and set it up than it was practically time for them to finish. By contrast, at The Idea School where courses are in blocks of anywhere from 50 to 120 minutes and students are also given time to work on projects, they can get deep into their learning and have time to create products from it. There’s a natural and organic process to the learning.

Of course, it’s not perfect. Sometimes the students complain that the classes are too long and they feel exhausted by that, too. These complaints challenge us in the school to make sure the students aren’t engaged in the same type of activities all day long, that they experience different modalities of learning throughout the day. In sum, changing a school schedule by implementing block scheduling opens up a wider discussion about what the entire school day looks like, what constitutes real and deeper learning, and what kind of learning experiences students are engaged in during each class. These are welcome and important discussions.

Time Management

Changing a school schedule also sparks discussion about another important topic related to time and that’s how to manage it. At The Idea School, this is an almost-daily discussion among staff and students, and that’s because when students, particularly ones who come from traditional settings, have more time on their hands and more freedom with which to play with it, the first thing they often do is waste it. That may not be a bad thing; for students whose lives are overprogrammed, “free” time is a gift, an opportunity to “chill” and just be.

Though I’m passionate about project-based learning, my deeper concern is about the increase in teen anxiety, depression and other issues that I’ve witnessed over the past decade, and one way we can address the problems our students are having is by giving them time not only to manage their mental health issues, but to create good self-care habits that prevent them from happening or becoming too unmanageable in the first place.

But that doesn’t mean that when we give students more time, in the classroom or outside of it, that they’ll manage it well. In fact, they often don’t, and that’s because time management isn’t a skill we teach in school, often or at all. But we should. If we’re serious about making changes to our school schedules, then we need to give students the tools they need to succeed with these changes.

We use advisory sessions, our learning specialist and our faculty to find time management strategies that will work for each student. However, we know that not every student starts at the same place when it comes to time management, nor might they embrace the strategies we offer at the same rate. Some students aren’t even aware of how large an issue the habit is for them.

One way we encourage reflection on student habits is through what we call a Presentation of Learning (POL) given at the end of each term. There, students not only review the content and skills they mastered over a trimester and share the artifacts of learning about which they’re most proud, they also assess areas where they’ve grown. They set goals for themselves each trimester and, before a panel of teachers and their parents, they review their progress toward meeting those goals.

It’s wonderful to see students take ownership not only of their own learning but of their time, to hear them explain how they became better at coming to class on time (there are no bells at our school); how they managed their work load more successfully; and how they became more efficient users of class and home time for their projects. POLs are also an important way for us as a faculty to push back on students when they haven’t met their goals and to help them set up structures that will help them better succeed in the future.

Today’s schools have inherited a school schedule that’s packed tight and that, in the last decade, we’ve only packed more tightly. And don’t get me wrong, we’ve packed it tightly with exciting and important opportunities for growth and advancement for our students: STEAM classes and clubs, arts programs, myriad electives and extracurricular activities that personalize learning for students and get them excited about it. At the same time, I fear we’re pushing our teens too hard, demanding more and more of them and giving them no respite.

We have to rethink how we’re using time, so we’re more strategic about it. We should continue to offer our students the rich learning and other experiences that help them thrive, but we also need to model for them healthy ways to use time, which is important for their growth.

After all, having time to sit and be still is important, too. Maybe that’s one of the silver linings that this current chaotic time is showing us.

Time Management as a Tool for Confronting Academic Pressure

Time

In today’s culture, students are feeling more and more pressure to perform than ever before. Competition is no longer an intrinsic motivator to be the best that you can be, but rather extrinsically to be better than everyone else. Thanks to the rise of technology and social media, peer pressure has skyrocketed. As a result, school guidance counselors are busier than ever. The tendency in many institutions and homes is to make every effort to remove the pressure. While too much pressure is obviously detrimental, it is imperative that we understand that pressure exists in the world and that by teaching time management and executive functioning skills, we can help our students learn to cope and manage the pressure in a healthy way.

Such skills are necessary at every age, but they are more important as students matriculate through school and enter into the real world. With hours of homework, afterschool activities and family responsibilities, the pressure leads to students pressing for extension passes, for later deadlines and to be excused from assignments. It is vital to speak with, not at, students about the variety of ways they can improve their skills.

Creating a Time Chart

To start, students can plot out the different categories of “work” they may have in and out of school. It is important to teach students to think about which things they enjoy and which things are a struggle in order to balance positive activities with those that are more difficult and which may foster avoidant behavior. Looking at due dates, point value of assignments and the level of difficulty are also relevant. Once they understand the deadlines and point values, they can then open up their planner (online or paper) and begin placing the assignments in the appropriate time frame.

Each person has his or her unique way of approaching tasks. Students should put due dates/dates of events/programs into their planner. They then must make sure to stay on track with tasks and manage their time as they feel comfortable. Some may choose to study for a test a week in advance, while others may opt for two or three days prior. Students need to be taught to think about their tendencies and to be honest with themselves about how much time they really need. They should then consider how they break down assignments in their planners. Some might benefit by chunking information while others need to color code by deadline and/or the level of difficulty the work entails for that individual.

Planning time for reviewing the rubric in conjunction with the completed assignment is another organizational tool that requires leaving time prior to work submission. Students should also be taught self-talk techniques, such as asking themselves, “Did I complete this assignment in order to be finished with the work, or did I complete this assignment by putting forth my best effort?” The independent value of putting your best work on paper is not always innate but can be taught through direct instruction and repetition.

After receiving the results of the test/project/assignment, students and teachers should meet again. Evaluation of a process often offers more than the process itself because it allows students to be reflective and think about which areas of the plan were effective and which parts should be changed for future assignments. In terms of balancing the work and stress levels, it is also imperative that students balance their work with time to breathe and engage in activities that allow them to release endorphins. Being positive and happy makes the management of work more bearable.

The Calendar’s Ebb and Flow

Most people, students included, are guilty of planning only for the short term. When a school speaks at the beginning of the year about the ebb and flow of the calendar, students can better plan for the more work-heavy times of the year. Discussing how the chaggim fall out at the beginning of the year helps students to know that if the holidays arrive early, their work cycle is going to be choppy. When they arrive later, students can know that they are going to delve more heavily into work early on but that a series of breaks will follow, helping them to stay motivated and on task during the beginning of the year. The same reminders should also be given around winter break and Pesach/spring break. Announcing a month before the holidays that the work is either going to be particularly heavy right before the break or right after the break helps them to set realistic expectations. It also allows them to see the lulls and to schedule in more of the enjoyable activities that keep them balanced.

Once Pesach looms, high school finals approach, which is another opportune time to teach about executive functioning skills and time management. With heightened stakes and high anxiety levels, students are more willing to listen to their teachers in an effort to raise or maintain their grades. Two months prior to finals, students should be alerted that finals discussions will be taking place. If the Jewish calendar allows for it, the most ideal time to talk as a class about finals prep is the week that students return from break. In cases when Pesach is late, it should be done the week before to ensure that students have enough time to study post-holiday.

Planning for Finals

The initial meeting should be as a group to discuss broad approaches and a general structure of planning, such as finding out which topics will be covered on the finals, the format, setting up meetings with teachers and organizing materials. There should also be a focus on study setting, diet and rest, and the balance of finals and non-finals related work. Once group discussions are complete, meeting with students one-on-one allows the teacher and student to create an individualized study plan for all finals, which helps to reduce anxiety in what could be a high-stress moment and allows students to feel confident and capable.

In creating this final exam plan, the first step is to help the student reflect on how they think. In most schools, finals in math, science, history and English are standard. When meeting with a student, first ask if they need to study a little bit of each subject each day, can only focus on one subject per day for a longer duration of time, or would rather work on two subjects per day, rotating every other day. Then discuss whether or not they want to study math and science together on one day, followed by English and history on another day. This split allows them to compartmentalize their studies into text-based and numbers-based classes. If this method does not present as a strong option, we also talk about studying for the easiest and hardest subjects on one day, followed by the two mid-level challenging classes on another day. Being mindful of how work is compartmentalized is only one piece of the puzzle. Once the student has established how many classes should be studied for on a given day and how to pair them, they can then decide which types of studying are going to be most beneficial.

Understanding what you have to do is a great first step in finals prep, but eventually, a blank calendar is set in front of the students, with the finals listed at the bottom and the opportunity to fill in each date with the option that works best for them. Once the calendar is filled out with a strong work/rest balance, the students can then begin to implement their calendar and their time management training begins. It is important to emphasize to students that this calendar is not set in stone, that other homework will come up and that other responsibilities may arise. By being both organized with a plan and able to be flexible, students tend to stick to the general outline with greater success.

Throughout this study process, build in frequent check-ins to remind students to exercise and socialize, and take the opportunity to give them praise for their diligence and implementing the plan. Share how this process provides a good guide not only for finals but for monthly planning in life. Understanding real-life applications for organization and time management, and a balance of work and mental health, provides students with a way to tackle the pressures of day-to-day life and find success inside and outside of the classroom. By providing tools to improve physical and mental health, and a hearty awareness of how to think about and apply a process tailored to his/her own needs, students will go out into the world capable of successfully managing their time and have a better chance of finding fulfillment in their work and home lives.

Jewish Identity: Goal or Mirage of Jewish Education?

Time

Based on the recent volume that they edited, Beyond Jewish Identity: Rethinking Concepts and Imagining Alternatives.

Remind people why Jewish identity became the mantra in 1990, and why Jewish day schools were seen as the solution.

JAL: There are different ways of telling this story, but for me, one really important insight comes from our colleague Jonathan Krasner, who documented how the conception of Jewish identity changed in the 1960s. In the older conception, folks were concerned about “healthy” Jewish identities. Having a healthy Jewish identity meant that you were (to use another psychological term) “well-adjusted.” If we think about the pre- and post-war eras in America in particular, it meant that you were able to navigate an environment that was not particularly comfortable for Jews, an environment in which the messages that you received about being a Jew were not positive ones.

Notice that that’s not how we tend to talk about Jewish identity. We don’t talk about “healthy” versus “unhealthy.” Instead, we tend to talk about “strong” versus “weak.” How come? Because a group of sociologists came along who were eager to understand how American Jews were changing as they grew more integrated into American culture. These sociologists developed measures for a variety of Jewish practices (lighting Shabbat candles, fasting on Yom Kippur). They aggregated these measures to create a numerical score of “how Jewish” a person is. Voila! Instead of talking about healthy-versus-unhealthy Jewish identity, now we started using the metaphor of more-versus-less. And of course Jewish education was understood as the key to more. That’s why we now talk about “strengthening Jewish identity” or “deepening Jewish identity.” Those are all more-versus-less concepts—but they’re really problematic. What could it possibly mean for someone to have more of an identity than someone else?

AYK: I agree, but there are at least two other dimensions to think about here. First, you have a broad expansion of attention to “identity” across a range of areas in American life, starting in the late 1960s. Erik Erikson, the rise of identity-based rights movements (feminism, GLBTQA rights, civil rights and so on), and a resurgence of interests in immigrant histories all fueled a surge in identity discourse. The Jewish education industry tried to catch the slipstream of this broad array of social, cultural and political movements. So the question of “identity” was not just a Jewish one; it was a broadly social one in the US.

The second dimension highlights the role of day schools more directly. Day schools—particularly non-Orthodox day schools—grew in number and variety beginning in the 1970s, and then benefited from a renewed burst of concern and funding in the 1990s. In the 1970s, day schools picked up on the language of the time, and that was the language of identity. By the 1990s, identity itself had ossified into an educational output: Jewish schools were supposed to produce people with Jewish identities. But how do schools teach that? Furthermore, if the output is an individual identity, what does that portend for more collectivist forms of Jewish life? What if we had a community of people with strong Jewish identities but no desire to do much of anything Jewish together? The emphasis on individual identity may not be a result but a cause of some of what worries people.

Why are people today fighting back against this mantra? Don’t the underlying demographic challenges remain? Another way of saying this: Isn’t there still some legitimacy to the “survivalist” mode of communal operation?

JAL: Yes, there are demographic challenges. But I think it’s helpful to notice that there’s a pretty fundamental question about whether the changes that we see happening all around us are inevitably negative, or whether they may be signs of renewal or positive transformation. Not every change is a change for the better, of course. But neither is every change a change for the worse.

However, to address your point directly, I am personally committed to advocating for and working towards the survival and even more the flourishing of the Jewish people. But “survivalism” suggests that the goal is … survival, period. And that feels rather empty. Survival for what? What is our role in the world? Who do we want to be?

AYK: I’m with Jon. Survival is fine, but… really? That can’t be what all of this effort is about.

As for why people are pushing back, I can’t speak for others, but for me, it is clear that Jewish identity as a precondition for or an element of Jewish communal life neglects the plain fact that Jewish communities in the 21st century include and even rely on lots of people who do not have and do not want Jewish identities. These include teachers, custodial staff, spouses, grandparents and friends. The plain reality of Jewish communities is that their survival is intimately connected to the role that all of their members play. To hang the survival of Jewish communities only on those who hold Jewish identities is to miss out on resources and relationships that are already contributing to those very communities.

Talk about the misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions behind the term.

AYK: Well, here’s a rather glaring one. We all know about the 2013 Pew Study, but here’s a data point that we probably haven’t thought about: 100% of respondents to the Pew Survey have a Jewish identity. Otherwise they wouldn’t be in the study. Having a Jewish identity qualifies one to be counted. Likewise, the vast majority of participants in Jewish educational programming have Jewish identities. Otherwise they wouldn’t be in the room to begin with. Identity must therefore be considered an educational input, not an output. Once we understand it as an input, any attempt to measure or assess or document “Jewish identity” is not really about assessing whether or not it is there, but its relative “strength,” which necessarily reproduces “good Jew” and “bad Jew” dichotomies. And those are not helpful.

JAL: Building on Ari’s point, let me take the opportunity to plug another chapter in the book, by Tali Zelkowicz, a scholar who was also, until recently, the head of a Jewish day school. She writes that “Jewish educators don’t make Jews.” What she’s saying is that Jewish educators (her data comes from her work in day schools) sometimes fall into the trap of imagining that their job is to take unformed generic human beings and turn them into Jews. But of course this is nonsense. The students come in as Jews, with particular self-understandings. The work of the educator is to contribute to those self-understandings, challenge them, provoke them, provide the experiences which will enable those self-understandings to develop and grow. But, as Ari says, identity is an input.

Specifically within an educational setting, what is harmful about setting “Jewish identity” as a goal?

AYK: The big issue, for me, is that I don’t know what the term means as an outcome. When I say to my students, “I want you to be a more efficient reader of scholarly texts,” I can envision a range of exercises to help them learn how to do that and a variety of ways to measure their ability to perform that skill. Or if I am interested in attitudinal changes (say, about climate change), I can create assessments to measure that change. But how does one measure identity in a non-hierarchical way? Or, how might one envision a non-hierarchical measurement of Jewish identity that can account for the variety of ways that American Jews engage with others in their community or invest in religion, culture or politics?

JAL: As I see it, perhaps the most harmful thing is that the meaningless term “strengthening Jewish identity” is a marker of a kind of instrumentalization of educational experiences. Why are we learning this thing (whatever it happens to be)? Because it will “strengthen our Jewish identities”? I think that’s a terrible answer. It’s a terrible answer not only because nobody really knows what they mean when they say that. It’s a terrible answer because it pulls us away from whatever it is that we’re actually engaged with—whether that’s Talmud, or Israeli dance (which is the example that I use in my chapter), or tikkun olam, or Jewish history and thought, or whatever.

The best education happens in a context in which the educator is both knowledgeable and passionate about a particular topic or area, and works really hard to get her students to share that passion. Nobody in the history of the world has ever been passionate about something as vacuous and meaningless as “strengthening Jewish identity.” That’s what I mean by “instrumentalization.” It turns something that ought to have its own value and integrity into a mere instrument for something else.

Anxiety over “Jewish identity” became one factor in the rise of Jewish day schools. In what other ways do you see this notion factoring in day schools—in mission, marketing, curriculum, etc.?

JAL: I do see Jewish day school folks talking about the role of the school in “strengthening Jewish identity.” I think that’s unfortunate. Their stakeholders ought to ask, “Wait, what do you mean by that?”

AYK: To Jon’s question, I would add, “What does it look like to teach for identity? What pedagogies work here? How might we measure our success or those of our students?”

JAL: Right. Which is a question that ought to concern prospective or current teachers, if they’re being hired to work in an institution that tells them to “strengthen Jewish identity.” They should rightfully be able to say, “Hold on, I know a lot about how to work on aspirational goals in mathematics or Talmud (or history or Hebrew language or drama), but what exactly are you asking me to do?”

Is there a positive role for “Jewish identity” to play in Jewish educational and communal discourse?

AYK: It depends. But before relying on the term, we first need to think critically about it and what it means in this context. Does it mean “Torah-true” Jews? People who light Shabbat candles? People who don’t marry people who are not Jewish? People who wear “chai” necklaces? I don’t mean to be obtuse, but I don’t know what it means, and if I don’t know what it means, I’m not sure how to use it.

JAL: Here’s a non-problematic way that people use the term: People talk about learning opportunities that shaped or changed the way that they thought about themselves. When they say that “This program or institution shaped my Jewish identity,” I think they’re saying that it had a deep effect on them, an effect that seemed to transcend the particular content that they learned.

If we were to probe that kind of usage, I think we might find some interesting things. For example, perhaps the program helped them to realize that they really want to make space for Jewish ritual in their lives (or that ritual doesn’t work for them). Perhaps it helped them to realize that the study of Jewish texts could be a joyful and illuminating experience that they want more of (or that they should get over their guilt at not being that kind of person, and instead could focus on other aspects of Judaism). Notice that, in these examples, Jewish identity really means something like “what kind of Jew I imagine myself to be,” and that that kind of subjective self-understanding is inherently pluralistic and non-monolithic.

What concepts are people using to replace “identity” as crucial markers of Jewish individual and communal vibrancy—especially in Jewish education?

JAL: I’m intrigued by the increasing use of the term “flourishing,” which has a long and distinguished philosophical pedigree. Some people may find it vague and hard to measure. Fair enough. But it signals that there are better and worse versions of individual Jewish lives and Jewish communities, and we want more of the former—and now let’s argue about what constitutes flourishing.

AYK: I’m not interested in synonyms. If we offer a synonym, it will just stand in for the same murky mess of prejudices that currently hide behind the language of “identity.” And that won’t do anyone any good.

Furthermore, “identity” was never a marker of “individual and community vibrancy.” To have a Jewish identity was not a prerequisite for vibrancy of any kind. If you’re interested in vibrancy, that’s great! Aim for that! And if that’s the case, schools should develop curricula, cultures, structures and so on that are likely to result in the kind of vibrancy that they think is most important or valuable. But vibrancy is not identity, and identity is not a marker of vibrancy. The Pew Report also told us that there are lots of people who have Jewish identities but who do not engage in what some might call “vibrant” Jewish lives, communal or otherwise.

What contributions do you see your volume making, or do you hope it will make, to the conversation about Jewish education?

AYK: I would like to dislodge identity discourse from the heart of Jewish education, because I think that the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century need better language and better practice, a deeper engagement with the variety of ways that people learn both in and outside of school, and a more sophisticated set of approaches to the complex question of how people learn to share in Jewish life. I hope that the book participates in a shift in how people think about Jewish education, its practices, aims, outcomes and intentions.

JAL: I would just add that I think that the book contains some really interesting and thought-provoking chapters that have the potential to push educators’ thinking—as Ari said, about practices and outcomes. We can think about it as a different kind of “visions” discourse. Unlike Visions of Jewish Education, the volume edited by Seymour Fox, Israel Scheffler and Danny Marom that came out in 2003, our book is not offering grand and comprehensive visions of the “educated Jew.” But like that earlier book, we hope that this book can help educators to engage critically with the big questions that should animate and guide all of our practice.