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Educational Innovation

Change and Transition are Not the Same Thing In Educational Innovation

Change and Transition are Not the Same Thing In Educational Innovation

When an organization is facing a big change - the arrival of a new leader, a shift in strategy, rapid growth (or decline) - one often hears the well-worn reminder that “change is not an event, it is a process.”  Well-intended advice, perhaps, but not helpful.  It is not helpful because when change is at hand, hard work is needed, not sage advice.  It is not helpful because with all new pressures, we have to focus on the work, not words.

And it is not helpful, most precisely, because it is not true. 

Rays of Light: 8 Principles Characterizing Stronger Day Schools

Rays of Light: 8 Principles Characterizing Stronger Day Schools

The darkness of our times feels particularly difficult for me.  Gratefully, Hanukkah this year reminded me that even one small light can brighten a relatively big space and more significantly, one small light (the shamash) can extend its power.  

In an era when there is much justified conversation about the fragility of day schools, it is easy to succumb to the dark conversations about our future.  I, however, prefer to see the rays of light, the schools whose trailblazing initiatives illuminate the larger field and serve as models from which we can learn.  In my visits to these schools and conversations with their professional and lay leaders, eight principles emerge that characterize stronger schools, often defying demographic odds:  

Three Common Factors Fueling Schools’ Resistance to Change

Three Common Factors Fueling Schools’ Resistance to Change

Heraclitus, a 5th Century BCE Greek philosopher has been quoted as saying, “The only constant is change.” Conversely, an early 20th Century executive at 20th Century Fox averred that “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Even in modern times the CEO of Microsoft expressed disbelief in the constant nature of change. He once remarked, “There’s no chance that (Apple’s) iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

I think we can all agree that nothing stays the same. Given that, the inevitability of change should apply to educational principles, as well. Why, then, are some Jewish Day Schools so resistant to incorporating change into their approaches to curriculum, pedagogy, and human development (especially social-emotional learning)?

Driving Innovation in Jewish Education: Believe in Your Turning Radius

Driving Innovation in Jewish Education: Believe in Your Turning Radius

An 18-wheeler makes a U-turn on Flatbush Avenue. That’s not a setup to a joke; I watched it with my own two eyes. Based on what you might know about big trucks and Brooklyn, you may realize that this seems like an insurmountable task and incredibly daring. Clearly, this turn was necessary for the driver’s destination. Why else would someone attempt this? Ultimately, even with hundreds of honking cars and onlookers, the driver successfully rerouted the truck -- with a carefully managed maneuver that didn’t even need a do-over. The driver knew what he needed to do to be successful; clearly he received ample training and had great experience on the road.  

How fitting to watch such a memorable turn in direction happen when I was traveling to visit a number of excellent, student-centered schools, who are rerouting the field of Jewish day school education.

Measured, Not Mindless Innovation

Measured, Not Mindless Innovation

There is a frenetic pace that has taken over Jewish education, and education in general. Maybe this is a result of the flood of offerings on social media promoting how to be a #betterschool or the latest technology you must have to be #cuttingedge. Perhaps it comes from a feeling that in order to retain and attract students schools can’t stop moving, training, improving, innovating. This is overwhelming educators and is having a ripple effect into all aspects of Jewish Day Schools. We are losing talented teachers and school leaders who want to keep up, but the speed at which things move may be too fast for even the most dedicated educators.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that training or improving or innovating are bad. In fact, they are a must if we want our children to excel and be engaged citizens who see the world through a Jewish lens. Our students need exposure to a variety of disciplines and skills, and they need to master them. However, what I have felt, seen and heard is a growing grumbling from teachers and leaders alike who are grabbing at the next best thing that is just out of reach. Whether it’s a 3-D printer, a new STEM lab, the latest coding software, SEL curriculum, personalized learning – schools can’t stop figuring out what they are missing. But, perhaps, they are missing the point of day school education in the first place.

It's All About Trust: 6 Tips for Boosting Buy-In with Change Initiatives

It's All About Trust: 6 Tips for Boosting Buy-In with Change Initiatives

The trust-fall — it’s the quintessential team-building go-to game. I love feeling exhilarated and terrified all at once! The key to its success is obvious; you must trust that people will actually deliver on their promise to catch you. It’s not enough just to hear, “We’ve got your back; we won’t let you fall.” Action transforms a promise into proven trustworthiness.

Trust in school leadership is important to productivity, innovation, loyalty, positive morale, and more. There is no shortage of research and opinion pieces citing the ways leaders can earn trust. Clarity, consistency, contribution, compassion, and other traits that don’t begin with a C are essential for building leadership trust.

A slightly interesting twist in the trust game surfaces in a recent article about trust in leadership in the Harvard Business Review by Holly Henderson Brower, et al. “Trust begets trust,” the article’s authors noted. To build trust FROM others, leaders need to show trust IN others.

OP-ED: Of Grades and Judaics – Responding to the Call to “Pursue Distinction”

OP-ED: Of Grades and Judaics – Responding to the Call to “Pursue Distinction”

In "Of Grades and Judaics - Responding to the Call to 'Pursue Distinction,'" featured in EJewishPhilanthropy, Rabbi Feld ups the ante on a conversation that is no longer the elephant in the classroom...

Read his case for why traditional grading in Judaics is counter to our timeless system of Torah education and his observations gleaned from JEIC's work to help schools and teachers produce Judaics classes without grades.

“All Things Considered”: Top 10 Steps to School Change

“All Things Considered”: Top 10 Steps to School Change

After a long, and at times, arduous three-year process, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County became an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School for the Middle Years Programme. As the first Jewish day school in this Metropolitan area to become an IB school, we join a short list of three Jewish schools in North America to have achieved this prestigious accreditation (with the others in Toronto, Mexico City, and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida) and six secular schools in New Jersey. Our Schechter school now ranks among 1,500 IB Middle Years Programme schools around the world.   What's more, we are proud to lay claim as the first Jewish day school to tailor this gold-standard educational framework to our Judaic studies curriculum. This means we are creating a uniquely Jewish experience for our students to connect their Jewish learning to the world around them and to turn their learning into action. We chose the IB because it offers a powerful lens through which we can better integrate and teach general studies and Jewish text, traditions and Hebrew language. The journey has been demanding and has called for the support of our teachers, students, parents, and board; it has paid off.

We have achieved the first big milestone in this process of school change; however, we recognize we are still at the beginning of a journey. Our success will depend on our continued commitment to full implementation of all aspects of this program. We have documented a few key lessons we have learned along the way that we believe would help any school embark on a similar school-change initiative.

Social Geography’s Impact on the Jewish Day School Ecosystem

Social Geography’s Impact on the Jewish Day School Ecosystem

Unless you spend time in the same place as others, it can be challenging to create meaningful connections with them. Proximity matters in relationship building. When a school segments subsets of its population in areas of the building that are distant from peers, the students may not have the opportunities needed to develop strong friendships and grow from beneficial interactions with one another.

The same is true for stakeholders in the Jewish day school ecosystem.

A Charge to IR18 Attendees to Strive for Distinction Using Courage

A Charge to IR18 Attendees to Strive for Distinction Using Courage

As we merited to make the journey, yet another year, from slavery to freedom, from the constraints of Egypt to the open desert, it is incumbent upon us to find the relevance of Passover in our lives.

There is a remarkable piece in Gd’s method of preparing the Jews to leave Egypt. Gd commands every Jewish household to take a lamb into the home for a few days, then slaughter it and mark the doorpost of the house with its blood. Imagine being in that place for a minute. Take a lamb, the very animal that is worshipped as a deity in the hostile society in which you live…care for it, then risk your life to kill it so that its blood will protect you from Gd’s final devastating blow. To take this action required such a deep trust in Gd, that most of the Jews didn’t do it. Most assimilated and were lost and only a minority followed Gd’s word and left Egypt.

This marking on the doorpost – it was the first mezuzah! Jewish Egyptians were challenged to distinguish their homes, not with a subtle mark, but with a bold, emphatic and risky statement. Gd clearly had an eternal message in this and it applies to us today.

As educators and investors in Jewish education, we are partners with the holiest institution since the beit hamigdash stood – that is the Jewish home. Many Jews, I would guess, the vast majority, have no idea that the holiest place is in fact, not the synagogue, but the home. Some even think, “I am a bad Jew because I don’t go to synagogue!” When in fact, every Jewish home has equal potential to instill the Jewish identity and values that sustain the Jewish people. The Jewish institutions that we devote ourselves to are extensions of the home. School is not a substitute for, but an essential limb of the home. When families choose to entrust their children’s education and direct their dollars to Jewish day schools, they expect an experience that, like their homes, is distinctly Jewish.  Distinction is in our DNA and has enabled our survival throughout the ages. Scattered to all four corners of the Earth, distinction is the unifier that has made survival possible. Gd said, “mark your houses” because the values that you hold inside, are the hallmark of the Jewish family that will distinguish you for all time. When Gd commanded us to make ourselves distinct, it was by the unit of the home, not the individual.

It’s not an “either-or” proposition: Student Choice in Text Study

It’s not an “either-or” proposition: Student Choice in Text Study

Giving students the right to make choices in their education is not a new idea. In fact, it is one of the foundational ideas of Maria Montessori’s and John Dewey’s systems of education. Over the years research has also confirmed (Goodwin, 2010) that giving students a greater role in directing their own education increases motivation and student learning outcomes.

While in secular education progressive educators have long been moving in the direction of increasing student choice, Jewish education has been slow to adapt.