Building Talent from Within

What if our day schools were known for being incubators of talent? What might be possible if we carve out time and resources to ensure our schools are growing leaders from within in an intentional way? These are some of the questions Jewish day schools and yeshivas across the country are asking themselves as they look inward to solve a meaningful challenge in our field—the talent pipeline. How do we ensure we have developed the capacity of leaders within our schools and equipped them for success in their current roles and deepen their talent for their future contributions? 

In this week’s blog, we zoom in on four schools to take a deep dive into understanding how they are working to cultivate a culture of growth and develop internal talent: de Toledo High School, Jewish Education Center, Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School, and Pressman Academy.

One school asked themselves, what if instead of turning to outside experts to lead our professional development days within our schools, we turn to the talent within and identify ways in which our own staff can lead professional development and learn from one another. Dr. Erica Rothblum, Head of School at Pressman Academy, reflected: In an effort to give master teachers more leadership opportunities while staying in the classroom, we created Pressman Academies, which offer differentiated professional development for our faculty. Every semester we offer 4-6 different PD Academies, each crafted and taught by an expert teacher. Teachers opt into the session they want/need, which gives classroom teachers the opportunity for a more meaningful and strategic professional development experience. And, the sessions are run by master teachers, which gives leadership development opportunities to those staff members. Sessions offered this year have included "Classroom Structures, Routines & Expectations" taught by a fifth grade teacher, "Nonviolent Communication" taught by our middle school counselor and "Technology in the Classroom" taught by first grade teachers.

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At de Toledo High School, Head of School Mark Shpall walks the walk of living his school’s values. He shares: One of the defining features of de Toledo High School is our dedication to the culture that learning is a life-long enterprise. Just as our teachers and faculty model this for our students, we encourage faculty to lead by example with their peers. Therefore, whenever there is a leadership or pioneering opportunity, we encourage our faculty to apply and interview for the position before opening it up to outside candidates. Just as we know the quality of mentorship they have received, the faculty also gains confidence knowing that we trust and look towards them to grow our programs and continue living the values that define us.

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Milton Gottesman Day School of the Nation's Capital has embedded learning and growth into the way they learn and lead at their school. Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School models inspired leadership and intentional leadership development wherein students and faculty pursue opportunities for growth and excellence. Head of School Naomi Reem shared, We recognize the value of cultivating leaders internally and actively invest in the professional growth of teachers, instructional leaders, division directors, and the school’s leadership team. 

Professional development is achieved through internal and external training, partnerships within the Jewish community and in the educational sphere, support for advanced education, mentorship, team-based curricular development and programming, book clubs, and authentic opportunities for teachers to shape and develop our academic program. In practice, we see that good development is both self-directed and collaborative − because you need champions who will be responsible for shepherding initiatives and getting work done, and you need leaders who will train and collaborate with other faculty members on implementing these new initiatives. 

Milton has been able to thrive academically, in part, because we benefit from our team-based approach to leadership, and the infusion of ideas by team members at every level who bring forward best practices in the field and engaging new endeavors. The results are increased staff engagement, workforce stability, and teachers who serve as models of lifelong learning, plus innovation, energy, and refinements to the academic program. We are inspired every day by our talented, dedicated faculty and see the ways that professional growth, creativity, support, and joy interplay with passion, ideation, and leadership. Beyond the productive effects on our school, we believe that investing in our employees’ happiness and growth is helping create agents of change in Jewish education and future stewards of innovation in the field. 

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Rabbi Uzi Beer, Principal of the JEC Lower and Middle School, keeps inspiring leadership at the core of the Jewish Educational Center experience. While reflecting on how he achieves this, he reflected: Both for students and faculty, we strive to challenge, empower and inspire growth on many levels. It is through this environment that encourages dreaming and vulnerability and provides mentorship, goal setting, and real opportunities that we pride ourselves that many members of our leadership team have been promoted from within.

We look in every position and every department for growth opportunities. It is through constant investment in our team and potential leaders through programs offered by Federation of GMW, YouLead, Prizmah and JNTP among many others. It is through cultivating from within that we develop and foster a team that is more inherently dedicated to our school’s mission. We like to think of ourselves as a “teaching hospital” where every interaction is a learning experience and a teachable moment. In thinking about how to make a school great, Todd Whitacker states, it is through hiring great teachers or making your teachers great. We strive for both.

If you would like to learn more about ways to support staff learning from and with one another and to consider other methodologies you may use to leverage the expertise within your own school check out this article. We would love to learn about the ways in which your school is working to cultivate and deepen internal talent. Share your stories in our Reshet or reach out to us here.