The Cross-Pollination of Ideas

by Deborah Fishman

In February 2013, more than 900 day school professional and lay leaders gathered at the annual North American Jewish Day School Conference to network and explore new ideas around 21st century education and leadership. It was, as always, a chance to look at the day school field’s challenges and opportunities through a lens of shared optimism, excitement and innovation.

Three months later, as we continue to reflect on the messages and ideas shaped and shared at the conference, we realize that day school leaders have much to share with the broader Jewish community with respect to their thinking, experimentation and lessons learned – most notably in leadership, educational technologies and sustainability.

In the interest of cross-pollination and with the goal of generating conversations around trends and ideas, we will be curating here on eJewishPhilanthropy a series of posts by day school leaders over the coming months. Our hope is that the topics and ideas will resonate with your own experiences and will spark dialogue and inspiration.

So, what ideas do we hope to present?

Leadership: As with any organization, a day school’s leadership is crucial to setting and upholding mission and vision. Leaders can be a powerful lever for school change. But what levers of change do they have at their disposal, and what skills and habits of mind and heart do they need to cultivate so as to be successful? This series of day school leadership posts will examine: To what extent is work with the board valuable in charting the school’s direction? What are effective ways in which programs in the field can train and support leaders to guide a school’s Jewish mission? One important factor that can inform the answers to these questions is the concept of team leadership. In that vein, the series will also discuss leadership transitions and career paths in the Jewish day school field.

Sustainability: The affordability of a Jewish education continues to challenge the Jewish educational world. Many of us in the Jewish community share a vision of enabling every child to receive an intensive and immersive Jewish education. How are we as a community going to make this dream a reality? School leaders, organizations and communities are experimenting with ideas that could provide information about possible paths toward day school affordability and sustainability. While schools in different locations or representing different populations may well have varying challenges and circumstances, there is an important opportunity to learn about the methods being tried and to discuss best practices in advocacy, increasing enrollment and affordability in the day school community.

21st Century Education: Many day school leaders are demonstrating their creativity and determination as they explore 21st century teaching and learning. Discussions range from teaching new core competencies, literacies and technologies to incorporating elements of online and blended learning. While those on the vanguard of experimentation are collecting data and refining ideas, others are carefully considering the implications of the new tools and skills. Critical questions include: Where along the spectrum of 21st century teaching and learning, online, and blended learning should my school begin to experiment? Will online/blended learning help solve day school affordability issues? What lessons can be learned from new blended Jewish day schools exploring new classroom and financial models, and what could established schools do to apply them and begin experimenting in this realm? As schools and entrepreneurs design new school models, courses, and resources, and as schools continue to find new ways to experiment, the lessons learned can help us all forge new paths for Jewish education.


We look forward to curating these topics in the months to come and hope that each will provide opportunities for conversation here on eJewishPhilanthropy and in your communities about new strategies and ideas to advance Jewish day school education – and the Jewish community. We welcome your feedback.

Deborah Fishman is Director of Communications of The AVI CHAI Foundation.