From the CEO: Deepening Jewish Day School Leadership

In 1997, McKinsey & Co. published a groundbreaking study of corporations that led to the 2001 book The War for Talent. The book created a buzz (not without some controversy) and changed common parlance; whereas “talent” once described Olympic athletes or Hollywood actors, employees at all levels were now seen as valuable. Companies and organizations transformed their personnel or human resources departments to offices of “talent management.” As demographics changed and markets became increasingly competitive, companies elevated their commitment to attracting, developing and retaining professionals.

One of McKinsey & Co.’s insights about companies “winning” the war for talent related to what they called the “employee value proposition,” the ways companies rewarded employees not only through salary and benefits but also through a sense of passion for their work, opportunities to advance and being inspired by a sense of mission.

We talk a lot at Prizmah about the value proposition of Jewish day schools. Usually we are thinking about parents of potential students or donors we would like to solicit. We know there are people for whom we need to “make the case” for a Jewish day school education, even in communities where day school education is the norm. Yet we can also think in these terms about the professionals and lay leaders who devote careers and precious time to making our schools actually work. Working at a Jewish day school connects our “talent” to deeply held passions and provides what I would argue is an unrivaled link to the mission of building our Jewish future. This is a priceless asset.

As Prizmah’s strategic plan emerged, we knew that of the four areas of focus, it was critical that Deepening Talent come first. It all starts with people. Prizmah invests in leadership because great leaders create the conditions for educators to succeed.

I have had the pleasure to meet with many school leaders as we developed, and now begin implementing, our strategic plan. We have been listening to the needs of the field in order to ensure that our programs respond to these needs. In the area of talent, three needs stand out:

  • Supporting leaders at all stages of their leadership journey. Time and again, we have seen and heard evidence of how critical services like training, coaching and mentorship are, as well as ongoing peer-to-peer learning, through connections to colleagues in Jewish day schools everywhere. Our focus is on supporting heads of schools, training the next generation of leaders, and encouraging the many wonderful programs and entry points for those interested in careers in Jewish education. We work to leverage these platforms and help schools create the conditions where talent can thrive over time.
  • A clear sense of what makes for successful leadership in practice. We have studied the challenges in day school leadership to ensure we can best support leaders through a focus on “leadership capacities” (what leaders can do) and “dispositions” (who leaders are). We seek to nurture positive leadership-learning frameworks to enable day school leaders to develop their capacities. Moreover, at the heart of school success lies a strong partnership between the head of school and lay leaders, notably the board chair. Fostering that relationship is key.
  • Attracting talent to the field, and retaining great leaders. Schools of all sizes and in all types of Jewish communities report challenges in identifying, recruiting and retaining educators and administrators. We are building partnerships with many organizations working on talent pipelines throughout the day school world, and increasing access to professional development and support that enable leaders to survive and thrive in their critical roles.

Prizmah’s programs and services are designed with these needs in mind. Whether it is the curriculum of YOU Lead, our nine-month leadership development program for school professionals at all levels, dramatically increasing access to professional coaching, supporting board members to succeed in their roles through Board Self Assessment, coaching and training, or leadership search services, input from the field informs everything we do.

This issue of HaYidion reaches you around the time we celebrate Shavuot, what I consider our most “forward-thinking” holiday. On Shavuot we celebrate receiving the Torah and the first fruits of our harvest. Even as the school year draws to a close, we are looking ahead, revisiting our core values and storing the bounty that will provide for us in the months to come. The Torah tells us in Exodus 20:15 that “all the people saw the thunder and lightning, the blast of the shofar, "וכל העם ראים את הקלות ואת הלפידים ואת קול השפר." Looking ahead to the future, even creating a new future, starts with people—all the people—who are equipped to see all the wonders yet to come.

Paul Bernstein
Deepening Talent