Inspired Educators Starts with Leadership

One of the most difficult aspects of teacher retention is understanding the relationships between individual teachers, the professional climate in which teachers find themselves and the larger school mission. They all play a delicate and balanced role in generating teacher work satisfaction and creating a climate where teachers want to stay long term not only in the school but in the profession as a whole. 

Long-term, sustained, positive teacher culture is critical for success. In his groundbreaking work Visible Learning, John Hattie identifies the single most impactful indicator for school success as “collective teacher efficacy,” the collective belief that a faculty can bring about positive student outcomes in learning. Schools that maintain long-term positive faculty culture, defined as a “we can” attitude, thrive and have much higher rates of retention than schools that do not.

So what are some of the critical factors that generate collective professional efficacy? One essential is a leader who will work tirelessly to create a culture where teachers are valued and can work together for the benefit of students.

The leader needs to do the hard work of sustaining a positive working culture, where talented teachers want to join the ranks of a school with a reputation for faculty empowerment and development. Heads of schools and principals who last five years or less do not stand a chance of building such a work environment. Determination, stamina and consistency of leadership go a long way to making schools great and generating vibrant teacher cultures. 

The Jewish School Leadership Enterprise is a new initiative seeking to recalibrate the Jewish community’s lens on who should lead our schools and why. From the perspective of boards to current school staff and educators to the wide expanse of professionals in the Jewish world, we hope to inspire passionate individuals wanting to make a meaningful impact on the next generation. 

The skills JSLE believes are critical for future leaders are much more complicated than just knowing the latest learning strategies or even knowing what great teaching looks like. Here, we provide a simple list of leadership skills, in order of importance, essential to building excellent teacher culture and ultimately making teaching in our schools an exciting career pathway.


Human Management and Engagement

Whether a candidate comes from within the profession or from without, can the candidate lead teams and get people pulling in the same direction? Are these leaders skilled at creating teacher networks in their schools? The hard work of being a classroom teacher can seem like a transposable skill set to adults, but that would be a red herring. 

Adults have different needs and learn differently than children. Headship should not be the first place a newly hired leader practices or demonstrates successful learning strategies for adults, which Malcolm Knowles refers to as andragogy. Have these individuals demonstrated the ability to rally a group of professionals, having them “raise their hands” together in order to act as an effective team? 


Effective Communication

How are communities of teachers expected to feel a sense of collective mission if that mission is either being articulated incoherently or is constantly changing in terms of how it is communicated? Having sat on several committees as both a day school parent and as a consultant assisting in a board search for a new head, it was a revelation to lay leaders when I suggested we get candidates to communicate both in written and oral form as part of the hiring process. 

The interview process with boards and current faculty is not good enough. Great leaders clearly communicate cause and effect to their staffs, expressing how a set of actions and behaviors can lead to fulfillment of a school’s mission.


Presence and Attentiveness

Sheryl Sandberg, ex-CEO of Facebook, states, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Do a head’s or principal’s words and deeds permeate into department and section meetings and teacher lounge conversations? Do teachers feel that they are heard when they speak with leadership? Does a leader know how to ask great questions, to listen, to be curious? Teachers want to work in schools and in a profession where they feel connected and an essential part of the decision-making process.



No head or principal actually runs a successful school alone. Successful schools are run by collections of extraordinary educators who feel empowered to be at their best every day and transform the lives of their students. Leaders need to demonstrate the ability to cultivate, generate and liberate leaders, turning them into change agents with real authority. 

Ninety percent of student time is spent with teachers. Great leaders serve to create systems that empower faculty ownership and responsibility of how schools are run and become extraordinary places.



As a head, can you be more than just a cheerleader, and can you acknowledge and help teachers see when they are doing terrific work? Do you bring that positivity every day into your leadership? 

“Catching teachers doing good,” individually and collectively, should be the mantra of every school leader. These leaders also teach the rest of the community to do the same. If we want people to see education and teaching as a worthy profession to enter, our heads need to regularly and authentically celebrate when people do worthy work.

A refocusing of our lens on what constitutes excellence in school leadership can do more than expand the pool of possible candidates for headships. Its permeating effects can also expand the pool of people who want to go into education in the first place. All of the above skills can be professionally developed, but so can a new leader’s understanding of what makes for a great curriculum, educational program or excellence in teaching. 

The reality is that the five skills and practices mentioned above need to be more highly prioritized as part of the leadership search process. There are now a number of examples of talented individuals who did not formally start their professional careers in education who have become highly successful leaders. They bring new energies and new lenses in problem solving in order to move our schools forward in positive ways. 

It behooves us to widen the lens of possible leaders we might consider for school leadership, looking at candidates from a variety of fields. The common denominators would be their passion for Jewish education and their desire to have a positive impact on the future of the Jewish people. The collective process of creating great schools and reigniting a generation’s interest in the teaching profession requires that we rethink our paradigms for leadership.

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HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
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