AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

PECKS: The Key to An Effective Educational Environment

Posted by: Guest

August 13, 2013

By: Jonathan Cannon
This summer I had the privilege of facilitating two cohorts through programs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Principals’ Center, sponsored by the AVI CHAI Foundation and, for Chicago participants, the Crown Foundation. The first program was called the Art of Leadership (AOL) and the second was Leadership as an Evolving Vision (LEV). The programs are targeted at school leaders with differing levels of experience and seniority. However, they share the common purpose of motivating leaders to improve the quality of their instructional leadership by learning with some of the best scholarship available in the field of education.
One of the least important but most pervasive things that I learned to Harvard was that in order to legitimize one’s credentials it is necessary to generate a unique acronym so I thought that I would have a go. The one that I have chosen is PECKS. It stands for Peers, Educational Culture, Knowledge and Skills.
Any teacher will know that these are among the basics of an effective classroom:
1)     Peers: The classroom is a place in which learning is enhanced by interactions and relationships.
2)     Educational Culture: A successful classroom rests upon an agreed set of norms and parameters that are clearly articulated and collectively owned.
3)     Knowledge and Skills: Although there is substantive debate on the correct balance of knowledge and skills, there is broad agreement that some balance of these is intrinsic to the educational experience.
For the purposes of this article I would like to draw attention to the reality that PECKS is one more thing that we take for granted in the classroom but is often absent in the adult workspace. (Think punctuality of attendance, meeting deadlines, behavior at meetings etc.). One of the most valuable aspects of the learning at Harvard was both the theoretical and practical importance of the elements of PECKS to educators in all areas of school life.
1)     Peers: One of the most exciting aspects of the experience was the small groups that were a part of the daily learning. There were approximately 150 participants in each Institute and on arrival, each person was allocated to a smaller group that would be the same throughout the week. Additionally, the AVI CHAI participants had a cohort of our own that would meet together in the evenings to digest the day and look at how to apply the learning to the Jewish missions of our schools. We spent the first full day at Project Adventure, an outdoor learning environment that specializes in group facilitation and team building skills. As well as being part of a newly created close-knit group of colleagues, each of us left the experience with a tool-kit of facilitation skills to bring home to our own organizations.
2)     Educational Culture: There is widespread agreement that schools need a coherent culture in order to function effectively and manage change. Yet many schools are home to a disparate set of educators, often territorial and juggling a series of allegiances, with the mission and goals of the school not necessarily being primary. In many cases this is a result of the goals not being articulated by leadership.  Dr. Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell presented a methodology for framing a culture and a practical step-by-step guide for building a more cohesive culture that can work to strategically move the school forward. She broke down culture into five components; Fundamental Beliefs and Assumptions, Shared Values, Behavioral Norms, Patterned Behaviors & Artifacts and Creations. For each one, Dr. Bridwell-Mitchell presented examples and strategies for analyzing that component and also practical and realistic methods for affecting change in our schools, thus creating a collaborative process for aligning staff, mission and philosophy.
3)     Knowledge and Skills: There were some lectures on knowledge and skills that can be directly applied to the Jewish day school goals of Jewish Literacy, Religious Purposefulness and Peoplehood.  These included:
a)     Dr. Kim Marshall (of The Marshall Memo fame) discussing effective supervision and evaluation strategies that have the potential to be very helpful in measuring the effectiveness of Jewish text, tradition and skills instruction.
b)     Dr. John Collins presenting on literacy, including how to teach language in ways that generate interest and initial comprehension before moving into grammatical constructs and linguistic accuracy; a systematic approach that can be applied to Hebrew language instruction.
c)      Dr. Barry Fishman looking ahead to how schools will look and feel in the next 5-10 years; an intriguing session that provided much to think about, including ways to harness technology that will broaden our connections and move us beyond current boundaries. Clearly an exciting prospect for making it possible for Jewish students to see themselves as part of a larger people and be connected with Israel in a meaningful way.
So alongside its signifying bird bites; measurement units of capacity equal to 8 imperial quarts; brief kisses; and a slang word for pectoralis major, PECKS is also my acronym for some key elements of an effective educational environment. The individual components are necessary pre-requisites to successful learning and growing. The courses at Harvard helped provide knowledge and practical skills to be better leaders and practitioners in these areas. I was able to work with two wonderful cohorts who arrived in Cambridge as individuals and departed as a team. I will work in partnership with each participant to apply his or her learning to further the Jewish mission of the schools in which they work. I look forward to keeping you updated as to our progress over the course of the year.
Jonathan Cannon is the former Head of School at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland and the Carmel Jewish Day School in Hong Kong, China. Currently he is working as an independent educational leadership consultant and his projects include the facilitation of the AVI CHAI-sponsored leadership program in partnership with the Harvard Graduate School of Education Principals’ Center and working with the Yeshiva University’s YU Lead, an asynchronous leadership program for school leaders, part of YU’s University-School Partnership. He can be reached at educannon1@gmail.com. 

WordPress Video Lightbox