HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Evaluating the Delivery of Values in a Day School Setting
How to Measure A+ Human Being Education
As the newly renamed de Toledo (formerly New Community Jewish) High School embarked in 2014-15 on its bar/t mitzvah year, the Board of Directors inquired whether we are actualizing the hopes and dreams that our mission statement holds forth, and to what extent we know whether we are concretely attaining our school vision of cultivating the A+ human being. We were charged with the task of ascertaining how best to quantify our school culture and our added value as a Jewish community school, as well as to chart the future of both. This article will describe the process we undertook.
To begin, we reviewed our school’s mission.
The Mission of de Toledo High School is to raise up a new generation of Jewish leaders for whom Jewish values and tradition shape and guide their vision, and for whom knowledge creates possibilities for moral action, good character, and shalom.
In order to better reflect upon our culture and to assess our efforts in carrying out this broad mission, we divided the mission statement into three components:
1: Raise up a new generation of Jewish leaders
2: For whom Jewish values and tradition shape and guide their vision
3: For whom knowledge creates possibilities for moral action, good character and shalom
The entire de Toledo community agrees that this mission statement holds out a succinct, beautiful guiding vision which we all look to as a source of grounding for our professional work. Purposefully, it is not overly specific so that we all have the opportunity to actualize it in exciting, dynamic and creative ways. Nonetheless, it allows for multiple understandings, rendering it difficult to measure. As we understand it, each of these components raises opportunities for assessment.
The first component raises the question of what, precisely, is a Jewish leader, how do we know what the “new generation” will need to confront, and, therefore, how do we properly raise such a generation and know that we are doing it well. The second component raises different opportunities. What are the Jewish values that we want to inculcate in our students, and which Jewish traditions and from which Jewish communities and cultures is not obvious. Even if a consensus on these matters were achieved, we would still need to ask how do we actually “shape and guide” each student’s vision. The third component’s opportunities extend far beyond the confines of our school community, since our students will be sent into a larger, diverse, multi-ethnic, multicultural world that has multiple spiritual possibilities and expressions of faith. Therefore, this component calls for extended conversation regarding the kinds of knowledge our students will need in order to act morally, evince good character and to achieve inner and outer shalom.
This process of stripping a document into essential components so that we could see what challenges we might have in finding an appropriate assessment mechanism was duplicated by looking at our school’s essential values and Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (known as our ESLRs). So while the mission statement and our essential values offer a guiding vision to our community, they present numerous challenges when it comes to assessing to what degree we are effectuating that vision. This conundrum holds true for Jewish education generally—and, indeed, for all values-based institutions.
Eight Dimensions of Human Culture and Religion
Ninian Smart, a key figure in religious studies, proposed that religious cultures evince seven dimensions. He argues that one advantage of using his scheme allows us to avoid presenting a too narrow perspective of a religion (or culture). Using these dimensions thus gives a more balanced presentation of a religious culture. We chose Smart’s scheme to serve as a tool to help us do a cheshbon nefesh kehali, a communal self-reflection and assessment of our school culture. We adapted his proposal, rethinking and renaming some of the dimensions, and adding one more. The Eight Dimensions as we use them include:
- Doctrinal/Philosophical Dimension: the beliefs, doctrines, and tenets that our school culture promotes.
- Ethical/Legal Dimension: the ethical values of our school culture, and how our procedures and regulations try to inculcate the opportunity for all of us to live them out.
- Mythic/Narrative Dimension: the key (“sacred”) stories that inspire and motivate everyone in our school culture, and to which we hope everyone feels connected.
- Practical/Ritual Dimension: the practices, rituals, and customs of our school culture.
- Experiential/Emotional: the experiences we provide for the members of our school culture so that we can together share the full range of human emotions.
- Material/Symbolic Dimension: the artifacts and symbols of our school culture.
- Visionary/Idealistic Dimension: the goals, hopes, and dreams that our school holds out for our students.
- Social/Organizational/Institutional Dimension: all the organizational and institutional structures that help promote the social cohesiveness of our school community and which help us to live out our beliefs [#1 above] and our hopes and dreams [#7 above].
Just as Smart contended that to understand a religious culture in its totality one needs to separate its various components, we realized that we, too, need to separate our school culture into eight workable components. The division of our school culture into such components is, of course, impossible in real time; we did so solely for the purpose of assessment and reflection. After all, the mission statement suggests that the success of our school cannot be measured merely by assessing integration and synthesis of course content. To assess our students’ readiness to enter the world after school grounded in Jewish ethical values that would lead them to transform the world around them required us to think much more broadly. We felt that these Eight Dimensions could serve us as a good tool for clarifying the vision, values, goals and broad-based concepts that are central to the school culture, especially as we apply them to the mission statement.
The model of the Eight Dimensions has given us valuable tools: it allows reflection on the key questions we raised above concerning the mission statement; it creates a common language and understanding, and it affords the community precise evidence to see exactly where we are in terms of actualizing the mission.
The social, organizational, and institutional dimension, for example, helps us address the first challenge we raised about our mission statement: What, precisely, is a Jewish leader? Our students have established over 20 different student clubs with a vision of their own and a will to pursue actions (such as fundraise, do volunteer management, and oversee the planning through execution of schoolwide presentations) that make a difference on our campus and beyond. Tenth and eleventh grade students who are members of our T’fillah Kehillah Institute design, coordinate and execute experiential and spiritual tefillot for the student body and the larger community. Other students belong to our cohort of student ambassadors, and together with our school staff help facilitate admission and advancement programs.
The experiential and emotional dimension may help us to address the second challenge we raised about our mission statement: How do we actually “shape and guide” each student’s vision? Our Jewish Life programs create an environment in which students experience firsthand their obligation to participate in and strengthen all aspects of community life. A testament to such communal environment is our annual four day all-school shabbaton, which is held 30 miles away at a beautiful camp retreat center. The all-school retreat allows very different kinds of interactions among our students, our office staff, and our faculty and their families. Shaping and guiding our students’ vision in search of the deeper meaning in life happens through personal relationships both in the classroom and beyond.
The practical and ritual dimension may help us to address the third question we raised about our mission statement: What are the kinds of knowledge our students will need in order to act morally, evince good character and to achieve inner and outer shalom? One type of such knowledge our students acquire is through the engagement in acts of tikkun olam as part our social service program. Another example of a ritual that promotes this aspect of the mission statement is the Drishat Shalom project. Each of our students is given the opportunity to reflect on their four-year journey as they learn and search for a deeper meaning of a specific biblical text chosen especially for them. Throughout the four years, our students explore their personal connection to their text and as seniors they get to share with the community a special message that celebrates their sense of hope, joy and passion for life based on what they identify as truly important.
To use this tool effectively, we had, however, not only to teach the Eight Dimensions schema and find a way to use it for assessment, we also had to ensure that the entire faculty understood the mission statement in its various components in a similar way. We now will clarify the process we took as a school as we introduced and used the Eight Dimensions measurement.
Experience, Response and Results
Smart’s scheme and its applicability to our school culture was introduced to the faculty for the first time in May 2014. Over the summer recess, the faculty (including non-teaching faculty) read an excerpt from Dr. Smart’s work and used the model to analyze and assess a unit they teach, an activity they help facilitate or a function they regularly engage in as part of their job or profile at the school.
Thanks to this preparation, we were able to start our faculty orientation, prior to the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, with a professional development program over two days using the Eight Dimensions tool. The first day was dedicated to the introduction of the schema through a presentation of each dimension accompanied by concrete examples. On the second day, the faculty broke into small workshop groups, both within each department and in mixed groups. Each group used the model to discuss the school’s mission statement, the challenges it raises and the evidence of fulfillment in our work. The departmental groups gained the realization that they consistently gravitated toward focus on some dimensions at the expense of others that may be worth attention. The mixed faculty groups demonstrated a holistic representation of the actualized mission statement through the entire range of student experience, and enabled the realization of how each faculty member and their department made (or could make) their contribution.
This process generated a conversation not only about school success and alignment, but also about some discrepancies between school culture and school policy. As a result, the faculty themselves identified the need to assess and evaluate to what extent our curriculum, pedagogy and culture align with our mission, vision and goals. At this point, a wheel template of the Eight Dimensions measurement was introduced and used in both department level and as part of a faculty meeting. Each department came up with examples of departmental success—a program, a curricular unit, a ritual, or any other aspect they felt was done successfully—and used the template to identify which dimensions and mission statement components (and expected schoolwide learning results) are being actualized. The faculty was encouraged to continue to use the measurements when designing their lessons, creating programs and collaborating with each other.
The use of the Eight Dimensions as a tool for communal reflection and assessment led to results at all levels and scales. Teachers could now assess their own teaching in a more holistic way. Departments could review their curricula from a broader, more mission-driven perspective, and we gained perspective on our campus culture as a whole to ensure that we are aiming for the broad-based growth of our students, most especially in the area of values acquisition.
Hope for the future
This process of qualitative reflection and evaluation has given all our stakeholders a common language to discuss our campus culture and shared vision. More importantly, each of us better understands how deeply our mission statement, learning outcomes and the holistic approach towards education are interconnected. The deepened awareness enables each educator not only to self-assess, but also to design curricula and programming, both inside and outside of the classroom, which aligns with our shared vision. On a global level, this process led to a reconsideration and change of our graduation requirements so that the values and mission of our school can be better realized. Further work could be done surveying our alumni to ascertain to what degree the mission statement is actualized in their work and lives. However, our attempt to set up a practical internal system of reflection and evaluation of our mission has resulted in the recognition of the evaluation process as a core value of our community.
Practical exercise for the reader
Did you find our methodology valuable? If so, we encourage you to use the wheel below by placing your school’s mission, value or a curricular component at the center and complete it with the help of provided questions. Next, we suggest discussing and analyzing the assessment tool with a colleague. Good luck!
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