Category Archives: Leadership

Articulating a School’s Core Beliefs

Core Beliefs WordleAs a Head of School, it is my job to find the words. It is my job to remind everyone what should already be evident and to teach it to those first encountering us. I have other significant roles; this one, though, is one I cherish. I cherish the chance to articulate the school’s values because Albert Einstein Academy is not just school; it is an investment. As a school, we are being asked to articulate our core beliefs as part of our re-accreditation process. Our core beliefs encompass much more, though, than our school; our core beliefs establish what we do for the community. Core beliefs are more than mission; they pave the way to mission fulfillment.

We have a stated mission to set our sights in a particular direction; it is like our Torah. To know how we achieve our mission and why we choose certain paths, we need a “Mishnah,” of core beliefs. Below, please find a draft of AEA’s Core Beliefs. This draft reflects feedback from the faculty, staff, and the board of directors. It is still a draft. I welcome your feedback, too, positive or negative, grammatical or philosophical.

The list incorporates many Jewish ideas and teachings. Each belief has a consequence for what we do. Taken together, the list also demonstrates how AEA goes beyond a K-5 schooling.

We are what we believe, particularly when belief is put into action. Our statement of core beliefs indicates the value-proposition we are making. Our community and our world benefit from students who see value in themselves and others, who seek to understand the world and its differences, who take responsibility with love and without fear, and who bring honor and dignity to what they do. AEA is an incubator for a vibrant, meaningful future for our students, our community, and the world. As an institution, AEA is an investment in that future, may we merit it soon.aea new admission logo


Our Core Beliefs

 Albert Einstein said, “I never teach my pupils, I only provide conditions in which they can learn.” We draw on the following core beliefs to provide these conditions at AEA:

בצלם א-להים ברא אותם

(b’tzelem e-lohim bara otam: In God’s image, God created them.)

We believe that each person, having been created in God’s image, has divine value. As such, we educate the whole student, using multiple modalities and differentiating instruction for each according to his/her way.

 ראשית חכמה יראת ה׳

(raysheet chokhmah yirat haShem: The beginning of wisdom is awe of God.)

We believe that curiosity manifested in asking questions is the path to wisdom. As such, we encourage our students to see the world with awe and wonder, to be inquisitive, and to think critically.

 אלו ואלו דברים א-להים חיים

(elu v’elu d’varim e-lohim chayim: These and those are the words of the living God.)

We believe that “these and those,” as sides of a debate, represent equally meaningful manifestations of one living world. As such, our pluralism respects different commitments that reach for one truth, and our academic curriculum is integrated across subjects to reflect that oneness.

 ערבות הדדית

(arvut hadadit: mutual responsibility)

We believe that we are each responsible for the other. As such, we teach personal and communal responsibility. We regularly explore social justice and freedom as part of responsibility to the wider community.

 אהבת ישראל

(ahavat yisrael: love of Israel)

We believe that love of the Jewish tradition drives our efforts. As such, we live Jewish values and practices daily. We teach Hebrew as the language of the Jewish people. We actively forge a positive relationship to Torah and the State of Israel.

 כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד,והעיקר לא לפחד כלל

(kol ha’olam kooloh gesher tzar me’ohd, v’ha’eeqar lo lefahched klal: All the world is a narrow bridge and what is essential is not to be afraid at all.)

We believe that living and learning are a lifelong journey. As such, we teach that it is essential to try new things and encourage experimentation. We teach that mistakes are opportunities for learning; failing forward builds confidence and deepens knowledge.

 הדר כבוד הודך

(hadar kavod hohdekha: the honorable dignity of Your glory)

We believe our purpose is sacred. As such, we conduct ourselves with honor and dignity by cultivating good character and by striving for excellence. We take and teach personal ownership for our self-presentation, for our learning, for our school, for our community, and for the future.

 

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Filed under Chailites, Education, Jewish Community, Jewish Wisdom, Leadership

Learning from the Tech Journey

Flickr_-_Nicholas_T_-_Open_RoadHave you ever just gone for a drive with no specific destination in mind? Have you ever wandered around a mall or a small town just to see what’s there? Or, have you ever been traveling to some place and been sidetracked?

Most of our lives are directed to a destination–work, school, home, a vacation spot, the store, etc.. When the distance is short or routine, we take our arrival for granted. When we wander, though, the journey changes our arrival and it changes us.

PrintThis Sunday is the Global Day of Jewish Learning. Elementary schools are encouraged to learn about Abraham (known as Abram in the material) and his journey from his homeland to a land that God would show him. Rashi, the great French medieval commentator, notes about Genesis 12:2 that “God did not reveal to him (Abraham) the land immediately in order to make it dear in his (Abraham’s) eyes.” That is a lesson in itself, arriving at a previously undisclosed location can make that arrival more sweet.

As Albert Einstein Academy (AEA) journey’s into the future of education, I want to add another lesson from Abraham’s experience to our learning: Abraham’s journey brought many others along with him and with his wife Sarah because their values led the way. It is true that Abraham and Sarah answered God’s call to go forth to a place that God would show them. We also read that they took with them “the soul of those they made in Haran” (Gen. 12:5). It was in Haran that Abraham supposedly broke the idols in his father’s shop (the story is not actually in the Torah; it is midrash, or rabbinic myth). As he and Sarah established themselves and shared their values, others joined their cause.

aea new admission logoWe are on a journey based on values. At AEA, we value each individual as an image of God and a unique gift. We aim to foster inquisitive learners, critical thinkers, and dynamic leaders, which requires us to seek the educational development of students’ academic, emotional, and moral capacities. I am so grateful to our families for joining us on the journey because of our values.

Technology is just a tool to accomplish our goals. While new computers may seem like the destination, the real arrival place is success in life. We have opened doors to new possible ways of fulfilling our mission by incorporating technology into our teaching. More is to come. With new tools, we are already developing inquiry, critical thinking, and leadership skills through collaborative work, especially in Google Docs. With new tools (like Ariot CAL for Hebrew already in our school and Everyday Math 4, hopefully coming soon), we can work on individualizing student gains in fun, engaging ways that will give us specific data by which to measure progress. The tools are not the goal; they help us achieve our goals.

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via edutechdebate.org

 

As our technology journey advances, we may not know the end point (especially since technology changes so much). We do know why we are using this path. We do know that our students need to understand how to make the journey work for them (that’s why we also teach coding). Most of all, we know that for our current families and for anyone else to join us on the journey, the real destination is the fulfillment of our values. Thanks  again to those wandering with us.

 

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Would My Mother Be Proud?

via avichai.org

via avichai.org

I finally did it. I got into Harvard! Seriously. I have been selected to attend Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education Principals’ Center program “Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership” as part of a cohort of Jewish day school leaders who will have additional reflection and mentoring at Harvard with a year-long project afterward, fully-funded by the AVI CHAI Foundation. My mother would be so proud!

Or would she? Yes, it is true that my teen summers in the Boston area led to the purchase of some Harvard gear, and that I fancied I might go to Harvard for college. I remember my mother encouraging my enthusiasm and exhibiting a quiet patience. I think she knew that I did not yet know myself well enough to choose the right college campus for me. In the end, I went to Swarthmore College. My mother’s charge to me as I left for Swarthmore was to take four years to learn how to think.

via starlight-tower.com

via starlight-tower.com

Now, I think she would not be proud of me getting into Harvard. She might be happy for me, but she would also wonder what going there would do for my soul. The name Harvard and even the promise of great learning would provoke a stale, “good for you” or “how exciting.” To fire her up, I would need to give a deeper reason for the value of the program.

Thankfully, AVI CHAI is providing that deeper reason: I am going to Harvard “to enhance or advance the Judaic mission of” Albert Einstein Academy (AEA). The classes will give me tools for being a better principal; and the mentoring and reflection will push me to become a better person and thereby a better leader. I am going to Harvard not just to learn how to do but also to learn how to be. Of that, my mother would be proud.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. I miss my mother dearly. In her absence, I have come to appreciate how mothers (not exclusively, yet still significantly) are the grounding presence in children’s lives. Children learn from mothers that our origins, our history, our family, our roots, and our values are key to understanding who we are. We need this foundation and to recognize it.

One of the gifts of a Jewish day school education in the elementary years, like that of AEA, is precisely the time spent teaching those origins, history, family, roots, and values. A school is not a parent; it cannot be. A school can, however, teach more than tools; it can teach the soul paths towards flourishing. I am going to Harvard to advance that Judaic mission: teaching our students’ souls to develop journeys that lead their whole being to thrive.

I thank my mother for getting me on that path. I thank all mothers for giving their children the groundwork for purpose. I hope your children make you proud, and I hope that AEA will help them do it.

via contactnumbers.co.in

via contactnumbers.co.in

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Aligning Hearts

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I have read leadership and management literature for more than a decade.  Along the way, I have applied many of the lessons I learned from books, articles, seminars, mentors, coaches, and colleagues.  This past week was a defining moment for me as a leader.

I am the new Head of School of Albert Einstein Academy Jewish Day School (AEA) in Wilmington, DE.  While I started the job many weeks ago, last week included our first meeting of the Board of Trustees and the crucial teacher in-service days meant to launch the school year.  By focusing on aligning hearts, I believe my leadership made a positive impact.

How did I do it in a way consistent with my roles as rabbi and educator?  I reminded each group of the wisdom of chazal (the ancient Sages of blessed memory).  The ancient wisdom I shared served as a frame for the issues of the day.

In my many years working in Jewish organizational life, I have sat in board meetings.  Some meetings are run better than others; some boards are better than others.  Without question, this past week’s meeting was the best I have seen.  The president ably oriented the board members to their responsibilities, with a matching charge from a rabbinic representative; and the board members introduced themselves with a spirit of investment in the past, present, and future of the school.  In the middle of all that, I gave a report in which I sought to indicate the many issues I faced and am facing as Head of School, issues I see as challenges, not problems.  In the spirit of the Sage Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, whose beard turned white when he was appointed patriarch of the rabbinical academy at a young age, I taught that facing challenges can be about flourishing, not just fixing.  Through choice words and tone, I aligned the board’s future responsibility with my own professionalism and their warm feelings of connection with my own openness.

via todaysengineer.org

via todaysengineer.org

Why am I focusing on alignment?  Because it works.  I saw it in action the day after that meeting when the faculty was hard at work.  Alignment is enabling.  Whether through the guidance of vision, through the trust of deep relationships, or the charge to follow one’s passions, being able to align oneself with an institution and/or its leaders enables one to act with purpose.  As Thomas J. Sergiovanni writes in Strengthening the Heartbeat: Leading and Learning Together in Schools, “The key to making things better is to enable teachers–to give them the discretion, the support, the preparation, and the guidance necessary to get the job done” (page 9).  By aligning hearts, we not only enable teachers (and other stakeholders) “to get the job done,” we enable them to reach new heights.

The key experiences of our first faculty in-service day were designed to develop ownership of our mission and to pass that sense of ownership on to our students.  [I thank my dean in the RAVSAK Head of School Professional Excellence Program, Dr. Elliot Spiegel, for his suggestion to speak with Dr. Renee Holtz (an alumna of AEA and now a key administrator at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester) about ways to look at our mission.  I also owe tremendous thanks to the faculty for engaging seriously with the material that day.]  What did we do?  We walked around the room where key words or ideas from our philosophy statement were written on easel paper.  Each of us had to write three ways to measure whether we do what we say we do.  From those benchmarks, we turned back to the Babylonian Talmud to see how important it is to live by one’s philosophy.  The following passage is from Tractate Avodah Zarah 19a:

אמר רבא: לעולם ילמוד אדם תורה במקום שלבו חפץ, שנאמר: כי אם בתורת ה’ חפצו. ואמר רבא: בתחילה נקראת על שמו של הקב”ה ולבסוף נקראת על שמו, שנאמר: בתורת ה’ חפצו ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה 

Raba said: “A person should always learn Instruction (Torah) from the part that his heart desires, as it is said, ‘but in the Instruction (Torah) of YHWH is his delight‘ (Psalm 1:2). Raba also said: “At the start [of the verse] it [the Instruction (Torah)] is read assigned to the Holy One Blessed be God and at the end [of the verse] it is read assigned to the person, as it is said, ‘in the Instruction (Torah) of YHWH is his delight and in the Instruction (Torah) of his [own] he should meditate day and night’ (Psalm 1:2).” 

The discussion we had surrounded this reading by Raba of Psalm 1:2 hammered home the point that we all learn best and work best when we are doing something we love.  Likewise, as the Talmud goes on to explain, sometimes we need to introduce material for it to become loved.  Either way, the more we encourage our students find their passions, to discover new ones, and to pursue them, the more we further our students education as a whole.  It is never about one piece of information; it is always about learning to learn.  We flourish as learners when we align our hearts with our responsibilities.  A few hours later, some teacher assignments in the school were reshuffled based emphatically on teachers’ passions.  I believe we enabled teachers to flourish in ways that will allow our students to flourish.  All by aligning hearts.

via 21centuryrelationships.blogspot.com/

via 21centuryrelationships.blogspot.com/

Many of the techniques I used over the past week are part of my training in leadership.  The strongest impact, though, came from learning with others, alongside others.  I intended to model being a learner.  In doing so, I found my heart’s desire.  This blog post is meant to keep in front of me that vision of aligning hearts, a vision of living education.

What vision aligns your learning or teaching with your heart, your passion?

As we start a new year, what will keep your heart aligned with your work?

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