It’s no secret that though our students are exposed to years of modern Hebrew instruction, many emerge with relatively little comprehension of oral or written Ivrit to show for it. Too many can neither understand nor join an impromptu Israeli conversation, much less read, comprehend or write basic Hebrew. Many are doubtful about their prospects for gaining proficiency and are reluctant to use their lagging language skills in an authentic context.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Jewish day schools are ecosystems that cultivate growth and vitality for all its stakeholders, from students to board members. In this issue, you will discover ways to recruit, preserve and deepen the talent in your school. Learn about the shifting paradigm of professional development, from individual study to a culture of collaborative exploration. Articles offer inspiration for schools throughout the field to support the abundant talent found in their midst.
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A seasoned educator once remarked to a newly minted teaching cohort to which I belonged: “Every night that you hit the pillow exhausted while involved in education, you know you have been living a meaningful life.” I have always found the statement to be perplexing. How can we know that we are living a meaningful life, that we are helping our students live up to their potential? Must one be “exhausted” to be living a life of meaning?
Those of us in school leadership roles know that the single greatest factor that contributes to excellent teaching and learning in the classroom is the quality of a school’s faculty. Education today requires teachers to deliver an innovative, student-centered curriculum that promotes curiosity, wonder and joy while meeting the needs of an ever-increasing range of diverse learners. We in the Jewish day school world devote a great deal of time, effort and financial resources to attract and hire outstanding teachers who will do all of that and more.
When we carve out time for professional learning, teachers are often most eager to get the chance just to talk together. Many participants in professional development retreats and conferences name conversation with colleagues as the most valuable part of their learning process. As one high school teacher in a fellowship program put it, she looked forward each month to the opportunity to be in discussion with her cohort, whether it was for getting their support, their praise or their guidance.
Talent is often thought of as innate, something you are born with. Either you have it or you don’t. We think “talent” and we think of Yo-Yo Ma, stunningly able to play his cello from an early age, or Serena Williams, her limbs uniquely built for tennis. We know that even innate talent needs training: We think of the talented and earnest young person, diligently practicing and training for long hours. But our vision of talent and the accolades go to solitary performers, whose solo performances take our breath away.
There are two basic methods of educational research. Quantitative methods analyze large numbers of students to study causes and effects. What teacher practices, for example, improve student outcomes? Researchers plan interventions, create control and experimental groups, and compare the results.
The word “talent” derived from a Greek term meaning balance or weight, and in Latin a talent came to mean a significant weight—some 60 to 80 pounds—of silver. Only in the Middle Ages did the current meaning of innate ability become standard. Talent is like an amount of money received at birth, the idea being that different people are endowed with different talents, and different amounts of talent. The word suggests that talent is an inheritance for its possessor to use.
In 1997, McKinsey & Co. published a groundbreaking study of corporations that led to the 2001 book The War for Talent. The book created a buzz (not without some controversy) and changed common parlance; whereas “talent” once described Olympic athletes or Hollywood actors, employees at all levels were now seen as valuable.
Let all those who occupy themselves with the business of the community do so only for the sake of heaven, for the merit of their ancestors will sustain them and their devotion, too, will endure forever. Pirkei Avot 2:2
I have a teacher I’m concerned about for next year. I believe he’s capable of being a good teacher, but if he doesn’t improve soon, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep him another year. He wants to do well, but sometimes he can’t even see the problems in his classroom. It’s so hard to find good teachers, and lots of turnover is both expensive and bad for morale. At the same time, parents are starting to complain and other teachers are taking notice. What can I do to set this teacher up for success next year without compromising the quality of student learning?
At the Prizmah conference in Atlanta, I was reminded of the midrash from Bereshit Rabbah 7:3 that praises God as an excellent interior decorator. According to the midrash, when a human king builds a palace, the king puts inhabitants into the upper and lower floors. God, however, was brilliant enough to use the space between the floors. The Prizmah conference was revolutionary in its design.
“Integrity is knowing what we’re up to in the world and being in complete devotion to it. This purpose can change and often does. It doesn’t have to be something great or grandiose, but it must be clear and compelling to leaders—clear enough for them to know at any moment whether they are on purpose and compelling enough that they passionately align their energy to fulfill it.”
Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership
The etymology of the word intern stems from the Italian word internus meaning within, or inward, and the French word interne meaning assistant doctor, over time diffusing into other professions and taking on the meaning of any professional acquiring practical experience. Being an intern comes with the connotation of being a beginner, a trainee. However, the Hebrew word for intern, îÏúÙîÌçËä, comes from the root î.ç.ä, meaning one who is already on his or her way to becoming an expert. The Hebrew emphasizes the end goal of expertise.
In March 2019, Prizmah launched an online Knowledge Center to serve as an asset to the field of Jewish day schools, with curated resources aimed at Jewish day school professional leaders and lay leaders. It contains videos, templates, samples, articles, reports and research that have particular relevance to Jewish day schools. The Knowledge Center is constantly growing based on the needs of the field, with newly created and curated articles, templates and research uploaded regularly.
The World to Come
By Dara Horn
The story pulls you in: a stolen Chagall painting, a budding romance, artists who struggle, siblings who hope for one another, jealousy, deception, love, sacrifice and more. The language is evocative and rich, and for a Tanakh nerd like me it was a delight to pick up biblical and midrashic allusions in a casual turn of phrase or description.
At the end of a recent board retreat, a school vice president approached me with his frustrations. A CEO in his professional life, he felt like he understood exactly what work the board needed to do and was aggravated at the disconnect between this vision and what was actually happening. The new resources and tools that he learned at the retreat helped him articulate what should happen next, yet he was stymied by how to navigate the board dynamics to bring it about. How could he hold his peers accountable? How could he have difficult conversations with fellow volunteers?
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