HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Board: Building Relationships

by Ann Bennett Issue: Taking Measure

Fifteen years ago, Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone provided a portrait of the diminution of social, political and familial connectedness. Putnam methodically documented declining participation in and connection to our religious and civic institutions over the last several decades. The collapse of bowling leagues and other associations where relationships had been forged and nurtured had profound repercussions on our bottom line, our outreach and even our psyches. Putnam argued that ultimately we need to find ways to reconnect with one another. It’s hard to argue with that.
Social scientists have shown the damaging effects that social isolation has on people’s character. Large generational increases in self-esteem and even narcissism are clear, and each of us has likely felt this deleterious change in our everyday interactions. (Read Twenge and Campbell’s The Narcissism Epidemic: The Age of Entitlement, if you can get through it!). 
Author and New York Times columnist David Brooks explores some of these issues in his recently published The Road to Character. Brooks, who sent his children to Jewish day schools, says he wrote the book to save his soul. While he admits that he “gets paid to be a narcissistic blowhard,” he seems to want to be and be thought of differently. He may have done us a favor. He’s started a conversation. And that conversation seems very aligned with what we do.
The road to character is for every one of us who is trying to become a better version of ourselves. It is about shifting the cultural conversation to sharing stories of moral adventure and learning from each other’s examples. 
Because everyone’s road is going to be different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some steps together.
Check out his website: theroadtocharacter.com. It’s inspiring.
While certainly not monolithic in approach or philosophy, our schools must continually navigate the effects of community change and individual mindset while being nimble to address them. In addition to achieving academic excellence and financial sustainability, we have to aspirationally build communities that teach and deliver meaning.
We know that our schools are often sought out by families because they provide community, an oasis that offers an antidote to the crisis described in Putnam’s book. We also strive to have our curricula provide the moral framework to live a good life based on Jewish values. 
Internally, the RAVSAK board wrestles with these questions. Understanding the impact of trends on the big tent of community day schools is often part of our conversations. Our staff engages with school leaders daily on many issues, piecing together a bird’s eye view from reports on the ground. Hopefully, many of you in our network are also engaging with one another through our RAVSAK Reshets and at day school conferences.
Have we honed our message? Are we changing the conversation? 
The key to our success may very well be predicated on whether and how well we build school communities where relationships are formed and valued and meaning is accessed in a variety of ways. As we know, increasingly diverse families  seek meaning in a variety of ways. Our job is to talk about it. With a lot of people.
Consider building relationships by providing excellent family education; try speaking with those professionals who are doing outreach and engagement work and see if we can expand the JDS tent. Make sure we speak as comfortably and effectively to those who have never stepped foot in a Jewish day school as to those who always will.
Think about establishing an online storytelling space for your community like David Brooks has. We might be surprised and inspired by the stories and messages we hear.

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Taking Measure

Assessment is a critical function at all levels of day schools. From the classroom to the boardroom, the faculty to the head, every stakeholder and every aspect of school operations stand to benefit from evaluation. Nonetheless, thinking about assessment, and the vehicles for achieving it, are changing in many ways parallel to other aspects of school design. This issue offers reflections about assessment, various and novel ways of achieving it, and discussion of outcomes that can result from successful measurement.

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