What are the necessary or desirable dispositions or capacities for leaders of Jewish day schools? The list is long. A common refrain, heard particularly when a school is launching a search for a new leader, is that the head of a Jewish day school needs to be “God on a good day.” Or maybe even more than that. Whereas the Jewish tradition teaches that God is eternal and unchanging, day school leaders are often expected to be agents of positive change in their institutions.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Articles in this issue go beyond the skills and knowledge that a school leader requires, to explore the "dispositions," character traits, essential for this role. Half of the contributors currently occupy day school leadership roles; they reflect on the importance of a particular quality to their leadership style and experience. The other half are written by people engaged in training leaders, of Jewish education and beyond. Collectively, the pieces in the issue reflect part of the spectrum of personal qualities that inform the work of successful day school leadership.
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I never thought I had what it took to become a head of school. I had assumed sternness, self-assurance and detachment were requisite qualities, none of which I possessed. Then I read Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence, where I learned that the most effective leaders have different qualities: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. Suddenly, what I had viewed as a liability was now considered an asset. Empathy, much to my delight, was not a weakness, but a strength.
What if the reason Moses could not lead the people into the Land of Israel was because he lacked the range necessary to lead them? Faced with the stress of the children of Israel’s water crisis and the uncertainty of its resolution, Moses resorted to his usual pattern. This paragon of Jewish leadership hit the rock rather than addressing it. Moses had become predictable.
For years, Albert Einstein’s saying “Imagination is more important than knowledge” adorned my office wall. It acted as a reminder that creativity in the classroom is critical to success. I believe that knowledge is fundamental, but what you do with that knowledge is what truly matters. I also believe that being creative is what makes us uniquely human. As Rav Soloveitchik writes in Halachic Man, “If the Torah then chose to relate to man the tale of creation, we may clearly derive one law from this manner of procedure, that man is obligated to engage in creation.”
In a Phi Delta Kappan article called “Teacher Leader,” Roland Barth, founder of the Harvard Principals’ Center, tells of an encounter with a teacher in an innovative middle school. Barth had asked the teacher whether she had any leadership responsibilities. She replied, “I’m just a teacher. If you want to talk with the leader, he’s down the hall in the principal’s office.” Barth observes, “It is alarming that the individuals so central to the learning process so often see themselves as incidental to the enterprise we call school.”
Among the many lessons I learned over the years from a variety of business experiences and from my volunteer work, one stands out: it is always better to take a long-term strategic view, assessing our community’s capabilities and the capacity of our leaders to act, to articulate a “big vision” and stick to it.
This, then, is the leadership lesson of Moses: to know the limits of one’s abilities, to know the limits of one’s autonomy, and to know the limits of one’s authority.
Stephen Garfinkel, “The Man Moses, The Leader Moses”
This issue focuses on a topic of critical importance to the field: leadership—and how individual dispositions, strengths, preferences play such a determinative role in a leader’s ability to succeed.
My wife and I are the proud parents of three sons. When it came time for our eldest to start school, we knew we wanted to send him to a Jewish day school. I had grown up in Montreal and had a very positive and formative experience at JPPS-Bialik. I wanted my children to have that same sense of community and strong Jewish identity. My wife and I have an interfaith marriage and are committed to raising our children as Jews. Thus, it was especially important for us that their school environment help us transmit Jewish culture and traditions to them.
I have been a classroom teacher for the past few years, and this year things are feeling stale. Even though I update the curriculum every year, I feel like I am stuck in a rut. What can I do to mix things up? How can I continue my education and learn new techniques or methods of teaching while balancing everything else?
Mobilizing an organization to adapt its behaviors in order to thrive in new business environments is critical. ... Adaptive change is distressing for the people going through it. They need to take on new roles, new relationships, new values, new behaviors, and new approaches to work. ... Rather than fulfilling the expectation that they will provide answers, leaders have to ask tough questions. Rather than protecting people from outside threats, leaders should allow them to feel the pinch of reality in order to stimulate them to adapt.
Is passion for your school and an unwavering commitment to Jewish education enough to build one’s admissions pipeline? As we all know, these are necessary but not sufficient. An admissions office must be methodical, proactive and creative in its approach to recruitment, enrollment and retention. Luckily, for the admissions team at Vancouver Talmud Torah (VTT), the experts at Prizmah’s Atidenu program provided the guidance, wisdom and experience required to build a robust admissions strategy to serve our school in the years to come.
QUESTION: What are the conditions for a healthy and thriving head of school – board president partnership?
Lisa Jerles, Board Chair, Gordon School, Miami
Reshet Innovation is unique among the Reshets in that it is not based on a particular job or lay leadership role nor on membership in a Prizmah program. Any Jewish day school educator interested in innovating his or her school or classroom might find there a connection among like-minded educators. Innovation is a broad notion, open to many possible interpretations and paths; the Reshet is a place to discuss anything that falls under the vast umbrella of innovative practices or ideas.
The Seventh Most Important Thing
by Shelley Pearsall
It was a bitterly cold day when Arthur T. Owens grabbed a brick and hurled it at the trash picker. Arthur had his reasons, and the brick hit the Junk Man in the arm, not the head. But none of that matters to the judge…
In Search of a Compass
What distinguishes the most effective heads of day schools? How is it that at a moment when about half of Jewish day school heads and principals stay in position for three years or less, some individuals do so well that their schools don’t want to see them leave after 10 years or more? What do we know about these people? How much is their success about who they are? How much is it about what they know how to do?
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