HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Characteristics of the Ideal Barrack Graduate: A Work in Progress

by Steven M. Brown Issue: The Educated Jew
TOPICS : Students

This past summer I took an energizing seminar with Independent School Management (ISM) on the role of the head of school in fundraising. Among the many ideas I gleaned from that seminar was the notion that we needed to translate our lofty school mission into something much more tangible that could be shared with our community and held up as a model of what our school is trying to produce. This past fall and winter I took our faculty and staff through an exercise to create a vision of the ideal Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy graduate. I began the process by conferring with my Academic Advisory Council, made up of division directors, department chairs, and representatives of each faculty discipline. We discussed how this process might unfold to involve the entire faculty in a meaningful way.

We began by asking each department to develop its own list of characteristics of the ideal graduate both within its own discipline and in general. Each department then worked for many weeks to make lists of skills, attitudes, competencies, habits of mind, heart, and body that it felt ought to be the outcome of its particular discipline, while at the same time reflecting the school’s mission as a whole. These lists were then collated by administrators to reduce duplication and submitted to the faculty at an in-service day held in January. We grouped faculty members across disciplines and invited them to do the hard work of reducing these long inventories to lists of no more than a dozen characteristics of the ideal graduate. There was much passionate debate and excitement, and a remarkable amount of congruency across departments about both the skill areas and the general Jewish and human qualities that we wish to produce in our graduates.

Some samples of suggested specific outcomes included: a strong work ethic; positive self-esteem, independence in learning, and a passionate, lifelong love of learning; learning for learning’s sake; menschlichkeit: moral and ethical caring; participates effectively as a member of a team/group; effective and affective leadership skills; self-awareness and awareness of diversity; strives to understand the world around him or her and is respectful of divergent opinions and viewpoints; understands how the past has important impact on the present; values pluralism, tolerance and respect as an approach to living; values open-minded questioning and contemplation as a key to the process of learning; possesses an appreciation of the natural world and the concept of global interconnectedness; is unafraid of the endless possibilities of self-expression; ability to read liturgy as well as other textual items in Hebrew; appreciation of the power and beauty of mathematics and how it is applied to the world; critical reading skills; development of critical thinking within the framework of scientific methodology; the ability to solve problems by applying valid meta-cognitive practices (inquiry, discovery, evidence, collection and analysis) to test and evaluate hypotheses and propose theories; knowledge of Jewish philosophical texts; understands the geography of the TaNaKH and Siddur; able to function in Hebrew and appreciate Hebrew as a window into the Jewish people; appreciates the centrality of Israel as the historical and national homeland of the Jewish people; appreciates and understands how to read Shakespeare, poetry, plays, fiction, nonfiction; applies writing processes including proofreading and editing; ability to technically manipulate a wide variety of art materials both one and two dimensional; ability to research, evaluate and synthesize cultural and historical information to support artistic choices, etc.

The science department developed a visual model for us: in the center of a circle is “the ideal Barrack graduate.” That circle is surrounded by orbiting circles that included the following items: critical thinking and problem solving, writing skills, leadership, communication skills (oral, written, and technical); ethical decision-making; research skills; appreciation of the natural world; appreciation of the arts. This wonderful diagram gave us a vision of how we would finally orchestrate the final product in a rich, interactive way as we work through the final stages of this process. We will create a new area on our website which will use a graphic similar to the one just described and it will include the five areas which we have now collated as our central ideas of the ideal Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy graduate. Each one of these areas will be interactive and the viewer can click on them and see more detailed skill and conceptual outcomes by department or discipline.

At this writing, while we have not yet processed the final version with the faculty for its approval, our current iteration of the ideal Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy graduate is one who embodies:

Jewish identity:

  • Sees himself or herself as an active link between the Jewish communities of the past and the future, understanding the centrality of kehillah, Israel and the Hebrew language in the history and culture of the Jewish people.

Lifelong learning:

  • Approaches learning as an independent, curious and articulate thinker, with a strong work ethic, who values open-minded questioning, who respects differences and has the capacity and confidence for critical analysis and deep contemplation when learning and working in our ever-changing society.

Moral outlook:

  • Moves through one’s life as a mensch, guided by a firm moral compass and a sense of responsibility; embodies commitments to derekh eretz, tzedakah, hesed, Torah lishma, and tikkun olam.

Health and citizenship:

  • Participates in the community as a knowledgeable citizen anchored by a healthy mind, body and sense of self as well as an appreciation for diverse forms of religious and aesthetic expression.

Skills:

  • Has strong, practical skills in oral, written, visual and technological expression with the ability to discover, evaluate, and apply resources that will improve the community.

Leadership:

  • Demonstrates a willingness to assume a position of leadership or to work collaboratively to solve problems in creative ways.

These outcomes will guide us in the decisions we make as a school regarding curriculum, programs, co-curricular activities, faculty hires and institutional advancement in continuously improving ourselves as a 21st century learning environment. Good schools are never done becoming better, and excellent schools are never finished striving for higher levels of performance. The next step in this process will be to develop an inventory of characteristics of professional excellence in our school to evaluate and create learning environments in our classrooms and institution as a whole that lead students to the achievement of our desired outcomes. In this way we hope to concretize our mission statement and make it clear to students and families who are in the school and may come to the school in the future what we are trying to do. The current iteration of our mission statement which underwent review and was just approved by our Board of Directors is:

Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy is a pluralistic Jewish day school for students in grades six through twelve from a broad variety of backgrounds. The school integrates a comprehensive and rigorous college preparatory curriculum with the teaching of essential Jewish values and texts. Barrack graduates value diversity, celebrate the richness of Judaism’s language, culture, and history, and have a strong connection to Israel. Barrack prepares future leaders of the American, Jewish, and global communities who work for a better world through acts of justice and compassion.

Approved by Board of Directors, March 24, 2010 / 9 Nisan, 5770

We received permission to borrow some phrasing from RAVSAK’s new mission statement, as we thought it was highly appropriate. Perhaps, if other RAVSAK schools adopt a similar methodology of using key phrases from the association’s mission statement, we will unite our schools and allow families who move from community to community to understand that there is this powerful network of community Jewish day schools who share much in common. ♦

Rabbi Steven M. Brown EdD is in his second year as Head of School of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy ( formerly Akiba) in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Previously, he was Dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education and Director of the Melton Research Center for Jewish education at JTS. He can be reached at sbrown@jbha.org.

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The Educated Jew

The authors here are engaged in an argument leshem Shamayim, for the sake of Heaven, over the question of what should a Jewish day school produce. Some emphasize cultural knowledge: Hebrew fluency, tefillah mastery, literacy of core texts in the Jewish library. Others view middot as central: ethics, commitment, curiosity, caring; while yet others choose social action as the goal.

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