Professional Development to Promote a School's Value Proposition
Collectively across the country, Jewish day schools allocate numerous resources to attract new families and generous donors. Marketing campaigns often focus on a school’s secular academic offerings, advanced technology, state-of-the-art facilities and student acceptances into top universities. Taking a quick glance at private school advertisements or their social media posts, prospective families may find it difficult to distinguish one school from the other. As the cost of a private school education continues to increase, parents want to see a physical representation of where their tuition dollars will be spent.
But ask any admissions director, and they will tell you that parents also want to know how to ensure that their child becomes a mensch, marries within the religion and contemplates making aliyah. So what is it that makes your school stand out from others, and why should a prospective family or donor choose your school? The answer lies within the school’s carefully crafted value proposition and its commitment to ensuring that this statement guides the living and learning taking place each day.
Parents’ Deeper Question
A school’s value proposition is perhaps the single most important aspect of a Jewish day school’s identity and is usually displayed prominently on a school’s website and as a welcoming statement in its advertising and marketing materials. It is intended to answer parents’ questions as to why a school would be a good fit for their child. However, all too often a school’s value proposition is written by a marketing team that may lack insight into the depth of what brings exceptional value to a Jewish day school education.
While we can all agree that most parents and donors look for schools with a rigorous and diverse educational program, there is an even more thought-provoking question that, while not always asked outright by prospective families, lies nonetheless at the forefront of their decision making. This question focuses on the intrinsic and intangible benefits of a Jewish education, and how investing in a Jewish day school education will provide these benefits to their children. Such benefits include developing a strong Jewish identity, being part of an inclusive Jewish community, understanding the history and traditions of the Jewish people and advocating for the State of Israel. Ultimately, these somewhat intangible benefits are the reasons why most families choose a Jewish education for their children, and these benefits need to be the focus of the school’s value proposition.
A Jewish day school administrator must be able to guide parents to envision what the end result of a Jewish educational experience will look like, even for the youngest students who may just be starting their educational journey. Beginning with the first admissions visit and continuing until the senior commencement program, the tenets of a school’s value proposition should always be a priority for school leadership and serve as a constant reminder to the faculty and staff of the promises made to the school’s families. It is imperative that the school’s value proposition be infused not just into its academic offerings but into all activities that are offered to the students.
So, as Jewish day school administrators, how do we ensure that the faculty and staff embody the spirit of the school’s value proposition? It is not enough for your faculty to merely repeat the mission, they need to be able to clearly articulate it through various communication channels and more importantly, through their actions in the classrooms. However, ensuring that your faculty incorporates the value proposition in all they do requires extensive and ongoing professional development that focuses on creating continual value within the school.
Professional Development Strategies
The following strategies are ways in which professional development can be used to highlight and build upon a school’s value proposition. Administrators can use and share these strategies with their faculty and staff so that the value proposition remains as the focus of all interactions with both students and parents.
Debriefing after teacher evaluations. The time following a teacher’s evaluation is a perfect time to debrief about how to best infuse the value proposition into conversations with parents and students. Since the majority of teacher evaluations more than likely cover measurable goals and objectives, an administrator can use the time following the formal evaluation meeting to share with the teacher positive feedback that has been received about how the teacher has made a special effort with students. Acknowledging difficulties at home, offering extra help to a struggling student, and simply listening to parent concerns are all ways to ensure that families appreciate the intangible value offered at your school that they may not always receive elsewhere. Acknowledging the importance of these initiatives goes a long way toward making your faculty feel valued and ensuring that they will continue to share this value with the families.
Professional growth goals. Ask your teachers and administrators to set professional growth goals that include at least one that is related to the school’s value proposition. If your mission includes, for example, motivating students to form a lifelong connection with Israel, faculty should keep this idea in mind even when planning secular academic learning activities. Geography lessons about Israel’s natural resources, history lessons discussing Theodor Herzl and Zionism, and even math lessons converting shekels to dollars are all ways in which a connection to Israel can be reinforced in the classroom and support the value proposition of the school. Especially in a dual-curriculum culture, faculty need to understand that the creation of cross-curricular learning goals brings tremendous value to a Jewish day school experience.
Time to observe and inquire. Perhaps the greatest professional development is that which is self-driven. Faculty benefit greatly from observing and learning from their peers, but often do not have adequate planning time during the day to do so. Arrange to cover a class so that teachers can observe other faculty members in their classrooms and discover new and innovative approaches to teaching. This technique applies to all levels of teachers, not just those who are new to the profession. Oftentimes veteran teachers may need to step outside their comfort zone and try different ways of teaching in order to keep pace with changes in educational pedagogy. Seeing how the value proposition of the school is infused into the daily learning of various topics provides a valuable professional development experience.
Collaboration and coaching. Similar to the observation of classrooms, faculty greatly benefit from collaborating with their colleagues and being assigned a mentor, teacher or coach. Encouraging the exchange of ideas between teachers and departments also will assist your faculty to make connections between value-based aspirational goals and academic learning.
Self-assessment and reflection. Faculty need to clearly understand the school’s value proposition and be able to effectively communicate it to their students and parents. Understanding the value that a Jewish day school education provides to families is not always easy and may require the teacher to assess and evaluate their own beliefs and classroom behavior.
Bringing it All Together
Does your school’s value proposition include specific wording that describes the incremental value of a Jewish day school education? If so, faculty will benefit from a variety of professional development initiatives in order to embed this message into their lessons, instruction and communication to parents. Let’s say that your school’s tagline reads, “Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders Today.” This sounds great, but what does it truly mean and what can your faculty do to support this aspirational statement?
The first step might be to have teachers openly discuss during a faculty meeting what leadership skills they possess for themselves, and how they can best teach these specific skills to their students in an age- and grade-level-appropriate manner. While we recognize that not everyone is a born leader, there are important Jewish values that can be identified as being essential for inculcating leadership skills.
In addition to guided collaboration and reflection, professional development for this specific example also may include small-group discussions with their peers to find out how other faculty are infusing leadership skills into their class lessons, and pairing new teachers with those who have been at the school longer and may have a greater understanding of the school’s value proposition. Additionally, having teachers include a section on their lesson plans where they can identify how the lesson promotes the school’s value proposition serves as a reminder to faculty of the importance of creating lessons and activities that consistently align with the stated mission.
A well-defined and clearly articulated value proposition is essential for the growth and sustainability of Jewish day schools. While a school’s mission statement typically addresses the fundamentals of educational programming, a school’s value proposition describes the underlying beliefs, ideology and mindset of the administration, board of trustees, faculty and families. Jewish day school administrators must establish that all faculty and staff understand the significance and meaning behind the school’s value proposition, and that they regularly reflect on whether their actions are consistent with its wording and intent.
A strong and continual professional development program will help to ensure that faculty and staff are able to deliver a value-driven education of outstanding secular and Judaic values to its students each and every day. This approach is paramount to ensure the growth and sustainability of Jewish day schools throughout North America.