I had been a Jewish educator for over twenty five years, thrilled and satisfied to be in the classroom as a middle school teacher. Journeying along an incredible path in Jewish education, my life was transformed five short years ago, when the principal of my school (Greenfield Day School in Miami) offered me the opportunity to participate in Project SuLaM, a program presented by RAVSAK and sponsored by AVI CHAI. It was a professional development program that was specifically directed to general studies school leadership looking for a rich and meaningful Jewish experience. I took that opportunity and nothing since has been the same in my life. It takes insightful leadership to recognize the potential of those working closely with you. As a result of this, I quickly learned that when the road to learning is shared, an inspired and committed community can develop.
A valuable asset to Jewish education is a compassionate and skilled staff. Sherry Blumberg states (Jewish Educational Leader’s Handbook) that the focus of a school is learning, of which the staff must be a part of, both as individuals and as participants in a team. I have found and absorbed, as Ms. Blumberg states, that the purpose of professional development is not only to enhance pedagogical skills and Jewish content knowledge, but also to assist in improving the culture of the school as the staff become participants working together to ensure the continuity of Jewish life.
Once a philosophical vision is developed, the head of school has the power to lead the staff in the direction that will help make this vision a reality. Professional development is a productive and powerful tool that can facilitate this vision. School leadership must be aware of the fact that they are forging a path to develop teachers, and that teachers need time and encouragement to think about teaching.
Research on the effect of professional development suggests the expansion of a common language for teachers to examine curricular issues, texts, and the need for peer mentoring. Change is slow and progressive as educational knowledge is shared. Robert Marazano (2003) indicates that the effectiveness of the individual educator and the school dramatically affects student achievement. A school’s leader knows that it is his/her responsibility to the teachers and students to model an inquisitive style of leading. There is a shift toward a collaborative model of professional development practices, allowing for faculties to function as effective learning communities. The trend toward peer coaching, action research, and mentoring are all part of the model for teacher-led professional development.
As the president of the Principal’s Association Council in Miami, Greenfield’s principal Dr. Lee Binder presented Project Day School Excellence to our faculty this year. She created the opportunity for the teachers to learn alongside their students about the school’s technology program. Each teacher participated in a year-long program empowering them to be more technologically knowledgeable, while creating consensus to implement peer to peer training. She formed a leadership team to provide a way for teachers to become increasingly accomplished instructors for the benefit of the students. In her words, “Using this forum for professional development validates Stephen Covey’s principle…begin with the end in mind. This process has helped our faculty evolve into stronger teachers and stronger leaders on their educational journey.”
When I came back to school, after the first summer course with SuLaM, Dr. Binder gave me room to soar. She encouraged my enthusiasm and sharing my experience with others. I recognized, however, that I could not create change personally without a serious commitment to becoming a leader myself. With support from The Central Agency for Jewish Education in Miami, teachers were being offered an opportunity to attain a master’s degree in Jewish Studies. Once again being assisted by my local community, I worked for a year and a half and have successfully achieved my goal.
Along the way have been other opportunities for professional development which have nurtured my growth as a leader. Through RAVSAK I recently participated in a training program on social justice. Attending RAVSAK’s annual conference and learning from top educational leaders in the world of Jewish education has been invaluable. This summer I will be a participating Fellow in the Day School Leadership Training Institute in New York at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
In the 1969 song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” the lyrics state: “The road is long with many a winding turn that leads us to where, who knows when…His welfare is of my concern...no burden is he to bear… We’ll get there for I know he would not encumber me…It’s a long, long road from which there is no return… While we’re on the way to there why not share…and the load
doesn’t weigh me down at all.” I know for certain: if it had not been for the vision of my principal to see the leader within me, nurturing the seeds of leadership within, I may not have been given these vast opportunities. In her wisdom, she knew it would not impede her and only benefit our learning community and our children. On the shoulders of others have I been uplifted so that I might “pay it forward.” How fortunate am I! ♦