Where Does the Time Go for Jewish Day School Leaders?
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.
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.
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.