Busy day school professionals, like almost everyone these days, often need to carve out time for reflection. Whether it is a few moments of thought during a daily commute or through a more formal experience like a conference, time spent reviewing and thinking, alone or with key partners, can yield enormous benefit.
Leaders to Leaders, a unique gathering taking place this October in Newark, NJ, is an opportunity for day school leaders to connect, share and learn together over two days. Modeled after the former YU program Critical Friends Group (CFG), Leaders to Leaders brings together professionals in a spirit of reflection and active problem-solving. Using a consultancy protocol designed by the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF), participants share a specific challenge and enlist their peers for insight and perspective. This process helps individuals or teams think more expansively about a particular, concrete dilemma. Outside perspective is critical to this protocol working effectively.
We spoke with two former CFG participants who reflected on what they and their schools gained from the experience.
Rabbi Adam Englander, Head of Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton, recalls CFG as “one of the most powerful professional development experiences I’ve been involved in during my career.” Convening with other heads of school helped Englander learn how to ask different kinds of questions in order to elicit deeper thinking. “I was in the process of transitioning from the principal role to the head of school role within the same school, and I sought feedback to help me think through potential challenges. You end up with a better perspective and a new way of thinking about your own issue after presenting it,” said Englander.
The consultancy protocol teaches participants how to listen attentively and ask the right questions in the right order. It helps focus attention on understanding the problem, not rushing prematurely to solve it. The process is a powerful example of effective communication and problem-solving. After the conference, leaders are encouraged to bring the protocol back to their schools to help leadership team or faculty meetings to examine challenges and dilemmas in their schools more deeply.
Participating in a reflective, active process with peers also can expand leaders’ professional networks. “It opened my eyes to the wider world of the Jewish day school field and promoted communication and connection,” Englander said. The time spent at the conference proved rejuvenating and energizing. “You get out of your own element and listen to others, connect with them, hear their issues. It feels good to help people.” Englander credits the program with helping him mature into his role and learn to approach problems in a healthy way. “I’m a big proponent of this kind of experience, particularly for newer administrators, earlier in their career. I am still benefitting from it. It really helped me to become a better leader.”
Rabbi Menachem Linzer, principal of Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School in Skokie, IL, echoes Rabbi Englander’s thoughts, especially on the value of the network. “Heads of school are typically very alone in their positions with few people who can relate. As heads of Jewish day schools, we face similar challenges even though they manifest differently.” The support he received from the experience is what Rabbi Linzer calls a “gamechanger, giving you the chizuk to deal with the kinds of challenges we face.” Rabbi Linzer also notes the practical importance of engaging through the framework of the protocol. “You learn a lot by discussing your own dilemmas as well as other people’s.”
Shira Heller, Prizmah’s Director of Teaching and Learning, continues to steer the Leaders to Leaders experience after past models of success. “We know that one of the best parts of CFG was that it was a place that school leaders, veteran and new, came together to share their practice with curiosity and sincerity. Whether they came from a small or large school, right-wing or more liberal, a large urban center or an outlying suburb across the country, everyone had something to share and something to learn. We’re excited that through Prizmah, Leaders to Leaders will provide this opportunity to an even wider learning community.”