In Search of a Compass
What distinguishes the most effective heads of day schools? How is it that at a moment when about half of Jewish day school heads and principals stay in position for three years or less, some individuals do so well that their schools don’t want to see them leave after 10 years or more? What do we know about these people? How much is their success about who they are? How much is it about what they know how to do?
These questions, and others like them, were provoked during the course of a study the Rosov Consulting team recently completed on behalf of Prizmah, with the support of The AVI CHAI Foundation. The study was published as "The Learning Leadership Landscape: Challenges and Opportunities for Jewish Day School Personnel.”
At a time when there are more programmatic opportunities than ever for Jewish day school heads and principals to learn leadership, the study was inspired by the following questions:
- What leadership learning opportunities exist for Jewish day school leaders? What are their key features? To what extent are they likely to achieve their goals?
- Are there leadership development needs specific to Jewish day school leaders that are currently going unmet?
Our first challenge in answering these questions was to navigate the bewildering number of assumptions about what it takes to lead a day school successfully. For example, a search for the term “school leadership” on Amazon yields 14,736 books on concepts including mindful leadership, collaborative leadership, renegade leadership, human resource leadership, ethical leadership, change leadership and more, just on the first screen. In similar fashion, programs to develop school leaders are shaped by widely varying assumptions about the abilities and personality traits needed to lead schools, let alone about how such competencies or characteristics can be developed.
To enable the comparison of programs conceived in often radically different ways, and to make possible the analysis of how day school leaders think of their own capacities and functioning, our team needed to bring some kind of compass to this study. We needed a conceptual framework of Jewish day school leadership to help us pick our way through different ideas about the learning needs of leaders and the roles that leaders perform.
This article concerns a special insight about the ingredients of school leadership we uncovered in the course of developing such a framework. We explain why we believe this insight can be of great value to the day school field. It brings into focus the dispositions of school leadership and the importance of cultivating such dispositions.