By: Michael Berger
In an earlier blogpost on AVI CHAI’s program to help leaders advance their schools’ Jewish missions, Deborah Fishman wonderfully captured the essence of the Harvard Summer Institutes which serve as a launching pad for school change. The elements that participants highlighted in their remarks – the opportunity to reflect, practical leadership advice, and the development of peer networks for learning and support – were once again in evidence July 12-18, as a cohort of more veteran Jewish day school leaders enjoyed the powerful experience Harvard offered them in “Leadership: An Evolving Vision,” affectionately referred to by its acronym “LEV.”
In contrast with “Art of Leadership,” the June institute which targeted instructional leaders in their early years of administration, LEV aims to re-charge the batteries of more seasoned school professionals from around the world who, over time, may have begun to see themselves more as managers than as instructional leaders. Committed to helping leaders “Learn to Change the World,” LEV focuses on implementing school improvements through deeper understanding of organizational culture, developing strategy, collecting and using data, and even probing one’s own role in promoting – or preventing – change.
As with all Harvard Institutes, LEV included an array of outstanding presenters who offered their research-based insights about school change via engaging sessions that got the 160 participants actively involved in their learning. In addition, after each presentation, facilitators – themselves alumni of Harvard Institutes – led small group discussions reflecting on the contents of the session and its application to participants’ own schools. In many cases, facilitators used various “consultancy protocols” to maximize the impact of the learning. In this way, LEV modeled effective teaching and learning for adults, powerful tools that leaders could use with their own staffs and administrative teams when they returned to their schools.
A highlight of these summer institutes is “Project Adventure,” an outdoor experience early in the week that allows leaders to explore the complex dynamics of being in a team. The visceral yet often unspoken (or unacknowledged) emotions involved in all organizations – trust, risk-taking, fear and support – surfaced during the day as each small group was shepherded through various outdoor activities by a trained Project Adventure leader. Participants discovered much about themselves and their own leadership styles as they went through the demanding outdoor course with others whom they met only the day before. All in all, the Harvard summer institutes offer participants a powerful, transformative professional development experience, one that AVI CHAI was eager to offer day school leaders each year.
About seven years ago, as AVI CHAI began to plan its spenddown in earnest, the Foundation desired to focus its leadership programs more deliberately on advancing the Jewish mission of day schools. Day school leaders who had participated in the Harvard Summer Institutes all agreed that they offered an incredibly powerful launch pad to consider theories and strategies on school change, and they greatly appreciated the opportunity to meet and interact with day school leaders from around the country. But how could we give these weeklong programs both a more Jewish and practical focus? After studying and attempting various models, AVI CHAI created a year-long framework of school improvement that begins at Harvard. School leaders are invited to apply to the program with a Judaic enhancement project in mind, thus giving the overall experience its practical orientation. Each day, AVI CHAI-sponsored day school leaders participate in evening sessions facilitated by Jonathan Cannon, former head of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, during which they discuss how the lessons learned that day could be applied to their specific context and project. By sharing their thinking and dilemmas with one another, and working with Jonathan Cannon individually, they are able to develop clearer strategies for their work back home as they implement their Judaic enhancement project. Cannon works with participants over the coming year as they report on their progress and work through obstacles or challenges they face in trying to advance the Jewish mission in their schools.
Day school leaders have always found the Harvard Summer Institutes transformative; with the benefit of a larger, year-long framework, they now have the resources and structure in place to move their schools forward in meaningful and hopefully lasting ways. Moreover, the relationships and networks with diverse day school leaders forged through an intensive week together in Boston provide unexpected but much-needed support and encouragement as they tackle change head-on in their schools. This AVI CHAI leadership program strengthens leaders, their schools and the day school field as a whole. Stay tuned over the coming year as we feature some of the school enhancements alumni and current participants have developed through this program.