As an attorney, I dedicated my career to giving people advice. This has actually made me more receptive than ever in my retirement to listening when someone has a suggestion for me.
Several months ago, I was given a great piece of advice relevant to my role as Prizmah’s board chair. Through Prizmah’s participation in Preside, an exceptional program focused on the confluence of governance and leadership through a Jewish lens, run by a prominent national foundation, I am part of a cohort of board chairs and professionals in Jewish nonprofit organizations. As part of Preside’s leadership support, our coach suggested that I schedule annual calls with each member of the board.
The benefit of making these calls was easy to understand, even if logistically it took considerable effort. By connecting one-on-one with my fellow board members, I got to know them personally instead of as a face around a table or a box on a crowded Zoom screen. I learned what made my colleagues tick and what it would take for them to contribute even more. This also gave me a leg up for the times when I have had to reach out for support. Once a real relationship exists, it is much easier to hear, ask and respond.
We know that, for day school professionals, the value of relationship-based learning is second nature both within the day-to-day functioning of their school and beyond the school itself to the broader day school field. During the worst of the pandemic, when school leaders were determined to keep students learning and maintain their school community, connecting with peers throughout the network proved even more valuable, and those lines of communication and connection remained active. Whether it is as part of a cohort program, through in-person gatherings or in online formats like Prizmah’s networks, many day school professionals make it a regular habit to invest in learning with their peers—and they are cultivating deep relationships in the process.
I am delighted that 120 lay leaders followed in the footsteps of their professionals and attended the Prizmah Conference in Denver this past January. In casual hallway or elevator chats, at meals or in relevant sessions, I made it a point to get to know a number of these lay leaders and saw firsthand how energized they were from being together and discussing the latest ideas in the day school field.
The lay leaders who attended the conference learned about ways to address challenges their schools face, like affordability, and opportunities within the broader field, such as how to amplify the day school value proposition. They also explored how to be a more effective board leader, including how board chairs can engage their board and the principles of a successful board/head of school partnership. Spending two to three days away from home and their occupations was a significant sacrifice, and I am so pleased to have heard how much they valued the gathering.
Prizmah is committed to helping lay leaders build on these relationships and continue to learn, through initiatives like the recently launched Level Up Your Lay Leadership series of three webinars designed especially for lay leaders. Topics include: From Obligatory to Obvious: Designing your Board to Attract the Right Lay Talent; Building a Strong Board-Admission Professional Partnership; and Leading Effective and Engaging Board Meetings.
Our strength comes from our track record in creating a network among schools to share ideas, provide a forum for discussions, and offer support and confidence in implementations. What thousands of professionals already know should be shared more widely with lay leaders.
I specifically want to encourage heads of schools to reach out to their lay leaders, and for already involved lay leaders to reach out to other lay leaders, to help them take advantage of cohort-based learning with other board chairs and lay leaders. The lay leadership series has sessions taking place in May and June 2023. This involvement is easy and fun, with a lot to be gained. Just think: Board chairs will no longer be alone. They now can have an experienced team to count on for support and shared learning.
Prizmah intends to continue to nourish the network with opportunities to open lines of connection and develop relationships. We welcome suggestions from lay leaders for how Prizmah can help them leverage the network and develop the relationships that will sustain them and their schools for many years to come.
It is also not too soon to look ahead to the next Prizmah Conference in Boston in February 2025, when I hope we will see a significant increase in the number of lay leaders in attendance. Let us all mark our calendars to save the dates. I, and my colleagues at Prizmah, look forward to seeing everyone there.