We are deep into the “bitter” month of Cheshvan, the month with no holidays. Finally, after all the excitement, meaning and activity of the month of Tishrei, after the High Holidays and Sukkot, we are back to routine, and everyone seems relieved, or perhaps guiltily glad, for the sense of “normal.”
Schools are places where routine can be celebrated, where the comfort of having things “back to normal” can be reassuring, however much we appreciate the joy of Tishrei. Children especially find routine a solid base from which to grow and learn. “Hozrim l’shigra,” “return to routine” they say in Israel, where “acharei hahagim” “after the holidays” is a veritable mantra across all fields. Yes, it feels more stable to be back to full weeks of school.
But routine is not the end-goal, is it? At our schools, with our children, we want—and need—a lot more.
At Prizmah, we are passionate about how we can accelerate and encourage educational innovation. I enjoy hearing about schools taking a risk, implementing a cutting-edge curriculum, trying a new administrative approach, or adapting the latest technology to solve a perennial challenge. Too often, when I congratulate whoever is telling me the story, I hear something like, “well, it actually hit a few snags.” In our Reshet network groups, members support each other through the inevitable bumps as they try new practices in their schools. We are all “creatures of habit,” and change elicits strong reactions. How often are potentially game-changing new ideas shot down or dismissed before they have a chance to get off the ground? How many back-to-school nights turn into gripe sessions?
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayeira, three visitors (angels) bring news to Avraham and Sarah that, despite their advanced age, they will give birth to a son in a year’s time. Sarah’s reaction at this news is laughter, just like Avraham in last week’s Parsha (portion). Becoming parents at their late age is far outside the routine or expected, and the instinctive reaction is one of surprise. This imminent miracle elicits laughter, the human emotion we can probably least control.
Hearing momentous news, an occurrence they believed was impossible becoming inevitable, shakes Abraham and Sarah to their core. The news is shattering, breaking the mold of the world that they anticipated, challenging their routine and order for the better, happily not for worse. Miracles do just that.
In our schools, we observe miracles of a different kind every day—the “a-ha” moment of a child who, for the first time, grasps a new concept after struggling and perhaps almost giving up, the support of the veteran teacher who helps the rookie address an intractable classroom conundrum, the announcement of a major endowment gift. These miracles change the course of the future, of an individual and sometimes of the school community. However wonderful they are, we may still be prone, like with Avraham and Sarah’s laughter, to react initially with signs of discomfort or anxiety.
When educators and administrators are bold and innovate in our schools, there is bound to be resistance or anxiety, even the occasional skeptical guffaw or chuckle. As children of Avraham and Sarah, we are human, with unexpected reactions at times. The task of innovators is to hold steady to their vision, and to bolster the ability to facilitate growth and change. As an organization dedicated to networked learning, Prizmah fosters opportunities for innovators to learn with and from each other and to tackle challenges and problem solve together. Through Reshet networking groups, at in-person events like the recent YOU Lead gathering and upcoming Small Schools Retreat, Day School Investor Summit, and of course at the Prizmah Conference in March 2019, day school leaders leverage opportunities for the networking and building connections that support innovation and allow it to take root. The more we, as a day school community, support each other to introduce new ideas or approaches, the more we can succeed and enhance student learning.
It is our duty when we make change and seek to innovate that we take note of the sometimes nervous or surprised laughter of our colleagues, parents, students and lay leaders. If we are able to listen to understand its meaning, and respect and channel the energy and caring that the reaction stems from, we will be more able to work together to fulfill the promise of providing a rich education. Then, the laughter of shock will be replaced by joyful laughter, as we witness students thriving in the warmth and beauty of their Jewish day school.