DSLTI Rules

It’s early morning and I’m watching New York City come to life outside the window of my dorm room at 121st and Broadway. Why? DSLTI Rules.

Last night I had dinner at a kosher burger joint with 2 members of my DSLTI cohort who have become close friends. Our table looked like the premise of a really bad rabbi joke– a Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbi are out to dinner… But instead it was a celebration of friendship founded on mutual respect, shared experience, and dedication to the field of Jewish Day School education. Why? DSLTI Rules.

This year I went through the experience of having a 360 review. I got candid feedback from my Head of School, administrative colleagues, people in my department, as well as other members of the faculty. I tried to honor their feedback by embracing it and using it to make a plan for professional growth. Spoiler alert: I’m still in progress! Why? DSLTI Rules.

Jewish Day Schools are complicated entities. We each have our own culture, our own community, our own strengths and challenges. Previously I had deep concerns about the state of the Jewish Day School field– do we have the leadership, the dedication, the resources, and the vision to carry forward our collective work? Now I know. DSLTI Rules.

The best teachers are the best learners. Were DSLTI to be based solely on the premise that our “mentors” were the teachers and “fellows” the students then the program would collapse. Instead, DSLTI creates a community where voices with varied backgrounds and levels of experience share generously, listen attentively, and argue freely with one another. DSLTI Rules.

One of life’s challenges is that as we get older it can be more difficult to establish lifelong friendships. Our professional roles, the demands of our primary responsibilities– these things rightfully require the fullness of our being. That DSLTI is an 18 month fellowship that places relationships at the center means that I “graduate” with 20 new friends. What makes someone a friend? The fact that their heart breaks if my heart breaks. The fact that if I need them, they’ll be there. The fact that I can turn to them to celebrate successes and learn from failures. The fact that their happiness contributes to my happiness. The fact that we can be real with one another even though we might, one day, compete for the same professional position. Why do I have this group of amazing new friends? DSLTI Rules.

Jewish Day Schools need to be, without exception, transformational institutions in the life of our individual communities and the larger landscape of Jewish education and Jewish life. In order to get there we need to guarantee that our individual schools meet the highest standards of professionalism and excellence. Together we need to address certain critical issues like the cost of tuition and the fact that many Jewish families cannot afford or have no interest in Jewish Day Schools. DSLTI’s clear focus on Day School leadership speaks to the heart of the matter. Empowering the next (and the next) generation of Jewish Day School leaders is a high impact way of advancing the causes of excellence and professionalism within individual schools as well as raising the profile of the Day School movement in North America. DSLTI Rules.

I’m a different person now than I was when I first entered DSLTI. There are plenty of reasons for this, many of which aren’t directly connected to DSLTI. But the fact that DSLTI has been a consistent presence during this period of personal and professional growth means that I have a framework for reflecting on how I’ve changed. Bi-weekly calls with my mentor, summer institutes and mid-year meetings, phone calls and emails with other DSLTI fellows– these touch points have helped me to see myself more clearly. If only because of these opportunities for self-reflection and to assess my own learning I’d have to say, “DSLTI Rules.”

This post is meant to serve as a personal testimonial for DSLTI. Could I say more about how DSLTI Rules? Absolutely. But if anyone wants to learn more about the specifics of the program I’m happy to chat. DSLTI Rules.

Giving Thanks for Jewish Education

 

As Thanksgiving approaches our calendars give us all an additional cause to pause and reflect on life’s blessings. One blessing, for which I feel truly fortunate, is that my life’s work is Jewish education. Not only do I feel blessed to be a Jewish educator, but I feel exceptionally blessed to be a Jewish educator at The Davis Academy. In the months that follow I hope to carve out time to reflect on the overwhelming abundance of blessings I encounter on a daily and weekly basis here at Davis. In the meantime I’ll focus on three—the first three that come to mind.

 

 

A learning community. There may be no greater blessing than to be a part of a learning community. Every constituency at Davis is committed to learning. We see the transformative impact of learning not only in our children, but in our families, and our faculty as well. The power of a learning community is that each person is granted the permission to be honest and vulnerable. While we may have great expertise, insight, and wisdom, we can say with honesty and integrity that we are not fully formed and that our own learning journeys are far from over. Instead of creating a dichotomy that places teachers and learners on opposite sides of the table, the Davis Academy creates an environment where everyone is simultaneously a teacher and a learner. At Davis, teachers, administrators, and parents share the responsibility for modeling a commitment to lifelong learning so that our children understand the true and enduring nature of education.

 

Some of our youngest learners welcoming guests to their “cereal box” Sukkah.

 

Tradition and innovation. Here at Davis we have a dual obligation when it comes to Judaism. On the one hand we are responsible for bringing the richness of Jewish tradition to our children and families. We greet this obligation with joy and enthusiasm every day. The second obligation we feel here at Davis is the obligation to bring new voices to Judaism, to help author the next chapter of Jewish life. We greet this obligation with a sense of possibility and excitement as well as with a commitment to innovation. One concrete example is the soon to be released Davis Academy CD: “Be a Blessing.” This album will feature 14 original Jewish songs as well as more than 20 pieces of original Jewish art. It’s a community undertaking that reflects our dual obligation to not only pass on the richness of Jewish tradition, but to author the next chapter. I am personally very excited about this CD because I have been blessed with the opportunity to write and compose the music.

 

Be A Blessing: We turned Davis into a recording studio. Here are some of our recording artists and album producer.

 

A sense of something greater. There is an ongoing conversation here at Davis about the obligation of a school to the broader community. Our tzedakah program is a source of great pride for our school as we continue to celebrate our partnerships with the Humane Society, The Bremen Jewish Home, The Atlanta Community Food Bank, The Community Action Center, Camp Twin Lakes, Camp Jenny, and numerous other local, national, and Israel based organizations. One of the many metrics we use to assess the immeasurable value of The Davis Academy is the extent to which our presence plays a vital and positive role for our neighbors, our city, our Jewish community, and our world. In addition to the tzedakah program we celebrate the blessing of our partnership with Camp Coleman, as expressed in the Nadiv Educator Grant that we share, as well as our connection with Atlanta synagogues and Jewish organizations. The blessing of being connected with a greater purpose is something that animates our work here, and something that vitalizes our entire community.

 

Davis Academy 8th Graders on the 2012 Israel trip. Israel is definitely part of the “something greater.”

As we all sit down to our Thanksgiving tables I hope we can each take a moment to reflect on the blessings that come to us in our professional lives. For those who are a part of our Davis family, I hope you’ll take a moment to think of a blessing you have received and a blessing you have given to Davis.

Limitation and Liberation

Down here in Atlanta the 2012-2013 school year is well underway, even though it’s only mid August. The yearning for summer endures, but it’s balanced by the incredible surge of energy that comes with the beginning of a new school year, especially at The Davis Academy. One of the things I appreciate most about being part of The Davis Academy is that it’s truly a community of learners. Obviously student learning comes first, but there’s a healthy recognition that authentic teaching requires authentic learning. At Davis I’m surrounded by adults who are modelling what “lifelong learning” is all about.

One of the ways we promote a community of learning amidst the frenzied schedules we all keep is through our commitment to professional development. Without delving into the depths of PD here at Davis, I want to share a personal takewaway from a session we had during our preplanning days when we were lucky enough to host John D’Auria, noted educational author, researcher, and president of Teachers 21.

During our time with D’Auria he engaged us in thinking through several of the key points in his excellent, accessible, and provocative book, Ten Lessons in Leadership and Learning: An Educator’s Journey. The lesson I want to highlight has to do with different beliefs about intelligence: limiting and liberating.

Limiting beliefs about intelligence center around the idea that intelligence is essentially determined at birth. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Each of us has a fixed amount of intelligence. Mistakes, errors, and failures show us the limits of our intelligence and let us know when we’ve reached our intellectual capacity. Pretty dreary stuff, but unfortunately these limiting beliefs are alive and well.

Liberating beliefs about intelligence suggest that intelligence can be acquired, molded, and developed over time. Rather than being an elusive quality granted to the lucky few, intelligence is available to all, assuming we’re willing to work to achieve it. The same mistakes, errors, and failures that are so devastating in the world of limiting beliefs about intelligence become the very tools that drive learning in a liberation mindset. Simply stated, we learn from our mistakes, and our failures help us rise again.

Our time with D’Auria coincided with the London Olympics. As I was fast-forwarding through my DVR one evening I inadvertently stumbled upon a commerical that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a Nike ad that was speaking directly to the point that D’Auria had made earlier that day. The ad has stirred a bit of controversy because some viewers think it’s poking fun at the child featured in the ad.  But I think it’s a remarkable commercial that espouses liberating beliefs about intelligence, and about the capacity for growth more generally. On the first day of school we had a chance to share it with our middle school students and drive home the point that greatness isn’t granted at birth, rather it’s achieved through effort and strategy. Fellow educators who are concerned with imparting liberating beliefs about education may want to use this commercial as well.

Wishing us all, Northerners, Southerners, Jewish Educators, Independent School Educators, Public School Educators and champions of intellectual liberation, a great 2012-2013 school year.