Text People: the DeLeT Alumni Network

Photo courtesy Hebrew Union College

By Jody Passanisi

“What we need more than anything else is not textbooks but text people.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel

DeLeT: Creating Text People

I heard this quotation for the first time thirteen years ago in my DeLeT year at Hebrew Union College- it was presented as a kind of a credo, a raison detre for the program. At the time, I didn’t understand how important this concept was. Thirteen years later, it became clear to me that the DeLeT program’s enduring understanding, as it were, truly is to create text people: text people who integrate themselves, their content, their passion, and their drive into their work; text people who constantly reflect in order to perfect their craft.

The DeLeT Alumni Network (DAN): Reflecting on Why

As an alumni network, the DAN strives to connect DeLeT fellows all over the country and the world, through professional learning communities, a Facebook group, and, in this particular instance, book talks. It is a powerful thing to bring together people across cohorts, over many years, in order to improve professional practice and lean into lifelong learning.

I remembered the prominence of the “text people concept” as our alumni dug into Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. It does seem ironic, this idea of connecting through a text, when the idea is to get beyond a text. Heschel, though, wrote in order to reflect and to provoke reflection, and there is an actionable impulse behind Sinek’s text- for both the individual as self and the individual as part of a larger system. As participants, as DeLeT alumni, as educators, each and every one of us seemed moved by this idea of finding our “Why.” And each seem moved to be part of the conversation at our individual schools to do this as well. After all, we know it is incumbent upon us, as educators, to be text people.

Text People in Schools

At my school, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, there are five DeLeT alumni on the staff and faculty. Our shared vocabulary and values, and habits of reflective practice, can become contagious. The critical friends protocol- turned DeLeT credo- of “I wonder, I notice, I appreciate” is one that I see visually in the halls of my school, and hear in each meeting I attend, and see in the reflective practice of teachers here and at DeLeT schools.

It was clear, too, in our conversation for Sinek’s Start with Why, that it is a goal and imperative of many of these DeLeT alumni to make sure that the “why” of their schools is articulated clearly, that values are being modeled and actualized, and that their voices are part of the leadership working to articulate that “why.”

Toward a SharedWhy

DeLeT at its heart is a model of cohort learning that values the chevruta and idea that we are stronger leaders together rather than separately. Many of us feel the same way: when we post something we are wondering on the DAN Facebook page, we know we will receive thoughtful and insightful feedback, materials, and ideas from colleagues who have a shared language. And, as we each strive in our own roles and unique ways to rise up and be heard and counted in the conversation about Jewish day school education, we depend on the strength of our cohort. We have a shared “Why” though our perspectives and schools may be different: we all believe in the power of text people to change and shape education into what it could be for our students.

Why a Jewish Education? Why Now?

To be a text person– at a time with fewer texts, and more myriad types of “text”- to be a beacon to interpret those texts- complex and perhaps even more engaging than ever before- to ask those reflective questions in the face of change in education and opportunity in this moment of Jewish day schools- is to look to our traditions, embrace modernity, and light a path for our collective prosperity.

The “Why” of the DAN, to provide a space for collaborative life-long learning and reflective practice, to wonder, to notice, and to appreciate, is more important now than ever before.

Our students need text people: leaders and teachers in Jewish day schools who model what it is to be an active and engaged learner. A learner with compassion for others, who allows the middot of valuing others to guide their choices.

Our students are creating their futures as they learn and create in our schools. What kind of adults will they they grow up to be? What world will they create?

They are beginning to build that world in our schools and imagining their place in the world to come- a world based on compassion, the strength of tradition with flexibility in interpretation, appreciation for others’ thoughts and contributions, and the driving curiosity to always learn more.

Jody Passanisi is the Director of Middle School at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto. She was a DeLeT fellow in cohort four and a DeLeT mentor and clinical educator. She is the author of History Class Revisited, and the co-host, along with fellow DeLeT alum Shara Peters, of the podcast “Find Yourself a Teacher.”