To Thine Own Self Be True:
Exploring Authentic Leadership in Jewish Education Through the Development of One’s Own Character

By Annie Glickman

[This is the third article in a series about relational engagement and learning written by M² Relational Engagement Circle participants.]

To Thine Own Self Be True. As a life-long lover of The Bard and a Jewish professional with 20 years of experience, this familiar quote from Hamlet reminds me of what we can become when we are true to our own character. When I take the time to reflect on my own character, to be true to myself, I strengthen my capacity to lead authentically, even, potentially, decreasing burnout and igniting my inner passion for effective leadership.

As a participant in M²’s Relational Engagement Circle, I learned there are three elements at play in every relational learning opportunity: “Character,” “Self and Other” and “Thirdness,” a context that frames our relationships. The element of character, defined as the qualities, traits and virtues of the educator, became the foundation for me as I, along with my colleagues, designed and led this year’s international Melton School conference for directors of our community-based adult learning programs with the theme of It All Begins with You: Recharging, Retooling and Reimagining Our Vital Work.

As Director of School Services for the international Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, a Project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I am an advisor to nearly three dozen Melton directors who hire faculty and recruit adult learners to study our Jewish sources in a pluralistic, text-based and interactive format. Our directors are the lynchpins of the Melton enterprise of creating vibrant centers of Jewish learning where adults find meaning and community. In my role, I teach others how to be self-reflective in their professional practice, helping them to identify their own character traits and abilities and strengthen their own work.

The goals of the recent conference were to promote best practices for Melton directors and provide space for the directors to reflect and experience stimulating encounters with colleagues. Given that our expanding network is one of Melton’s greatest attributes, creating a meaningful encounter for colleagues to nurture and inspire each other is integral to our success.

To create this important relational space, I grounded our learning in character development. M²’s relational learning pedagogy suggests that a metaphor for character would be a well that beckons educators to reach in and draw out their personal virtues, traits, attitudes, dispositions and middot (intentional habits). Nurturing these characteristics within ourselves can deepen our relationships with others. Focusing on character allows us to first come to understand what it means to be authentic and thus experience authentic encounters. Given the role of Melton directors, focusing on character and the nurturing of one’s authentic self can help propel them forward in their work.

I saw the middot of anava (humility) and emet (truth) as valuable character traits to frame the entire Melton directors’ conference. At the opening session, I asked our directors to set personal goals for their experience in our limited time together. I proposed two questions:

  • What advancements do you want to make in your work and how could this week be of benefit to you?
  • What could you proactively do to seek the answers you are looking for in order to make progress?

Asking these questions to begin the conference provided the attending directors a paradigm, the lenses of character and authenticity, to view all of the content through.

In addition to framing the conference for the directors, I also asked questions of myself related to the development of my own middot as I prepared for the conference:

  • In what ways would my role as leader of the conference promote the values that are most central to our organization and how could I convey them with anava (humility) and rachamim (compassion)?
  • What steps could I take in my preparation so that I could be mindful of the experience overall as it unfolded and lead with kavanah (intention)?
  • In what ways could I be open to others’ ideas and possess kavod (respect) in our co-creation during workshops and discussion sessions?

Exploring these framing questions allowed me to better actualize the goals I wanted to achieve. I was more focused during my interactions with Melton directors at the conference and could better identify moments when Melton directors learned ways to make changes that could lead to greater success in their own communities. By following my own character, I was able to create a space where the directors could also grow, which in turn energized my work and capacity to give. Jewish professional leadership is a field that can easily stagnate if we are not careful. Investing in our own professional development, and focusing on character, can help bring us closer to authentic leadership through a renewed sense of meaning for our important work.

Annie Glickman is a participant in M² Circles: Relational Engagement, cohort 1 and the Director of School Services for the international Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, a Project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Melton School is an international network of community-based schools offering adults the opportunity to acquire Jewish literacy in an open, trans-denominational, intellectually stimulating learning environment. Melton has brought rich Jewish learning to over 40,000 adults since its creation almost forty years ago. This year 4,000 will attend Melton courses in over 40 Melton Schools throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and South Africa.

Are relationships the lens through which you pursue your work, regardless of your role? Are you looking for a cohort of educators with whom you can delve deeply into relationships as central to creating meaning and learning? Learn more about the next cohort and M² at www.ieje.org.