HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
I am head of a small (150 students) K-8 school. The administrative team consists of a Judaic studies director, a business manager and me. Budgetary constraints prevent us from hiring additional administrative staff. The board of directors wants to see continued growth of the school, not only in enrollment, but in curricular and programmatic offerings, use of technology and professional development of staff. While I agree with these goals and know I can achieve much in any one of these areas, the expectation that I will accomplish much in all areas at once, with no additional professional support, is unrealistic.
How do I 1) convince my board to modify their expectations, and 2) motivate my teaching staff to take on additional non-teaching assignments at no extra pay to help in some of these areas?
While it is probably little comfort to you, the situation you describe is not at all uncommon. Heads are often caught between the time-consuming demands of the day-to-day operation of the school, the small and large crises that inevitably emerge, and the desire to think strategically, formulate a vision and implement exciting changes. So what to do?
First, you must listen carefully to the expectations of your board. Hear them out; ask clarifying questions; share your vision on each issue. Do NOT be the naysayer, the one who consistently says it won’t work or I cannot do it or I have no time. Say yes—and then add the conditions that must be met first (e.g., before we train the teachers in the use of SMARTboards we must have a plan of when we will purchase them, how we will pay for them, where they will be placed, and what our educational objectives are for their use). Or, say yes, and then add a timeline, determining the order in which you may be able to address issues or changes, emphasizing a multiyear plan. The message to the board (and to yourself!) is that growth plans must be carried out over several years (usually 3 to 5). Once you agree on goals, your work with the board is to prioritize them, sending the message that all cannot be done at one time.
Second, look outside the school for help. Check what resources are available to you from the local public school board, from the local university, from organizations dedicated to the promotion of specific subject areas and skills. Network with other Jewish day school leaders who may be willing to share some of what they have achieved with you. There are numerous foundations that may be willing to fund specific projects, and local businesses may agree to support your work.
Third, build a team of colleagues and share the work. Many teachers and support staff are pleased to give their time and energy to a project in which they believe and where they feel their input is valued and included. Share your vision with the staff; elicit their feedback; include them from the start in any new initiatives so that they feel that buy-in that is so crucial to garnering help and support. The important thing is to be able to delegate responsibilities to those willing to take them on (and able to perform them, of course). Your challenge is to allow them to carry out their tasks their way, not necessarily yours, as long as the clearly set goals are met and budgets are respected. Of course you must monitor their progress and know what they are planning; make sure they are on track and be available to answer questions, but do not micromanage them! And while you may not be able to pay them for the extra time and effort, you certainly can and should reward them with recognition, perhaps a decrease in duties, an extra personal day… There are many ways to acknowledge teachers that do not carry a large price tag.
Leading a Jewish day school is a complex task, and the demands on your time and energy are vast. Rather than focusing on the resources that you do not have, look at what you do have, empower those around you to help, prioritize, set realistic goals—and appreciate the growth that emerges.
Cooki Levy is the director of RAVSAK’s Head of School Professional Excellence Project. Previously, she served as the longtime head of the Akiva School in Westmount, Quebec. Dear Cooki accepts questions from all school stakeholders. To submit a question, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Dear Cooki” in the subject line.
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