Knowing our “WHY”

Knowing our “WHY”

by Daniel R. Weiss

Daniel R. Weiss is the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, Tennessee.

This past week I had the privilege to call myself a Harvard student. Over one-hundred and thirty school leaders from around the world came together to learn from Harvard professors in the Graduate School of Education, Principals’ Center. Our program, entitled LEV – Leadership: An Evolving Vision, brought leading professors to teach about strategy, leadership, performance, culture, developing expert learners, transforming school organizations, differentiated instruction, multiple intelligences, goal setting, assumptions and supporting our staff.

The program was exactly what one would expect from Harvard educators. The diversity of the participants only served to enrich the discussions and experiences. Hearing from the over 40 participants from Australia, those from Mexico, the UK, Brazil, and the United States (among others), showed that though our schools are diverse, the role of a leader and the struggles, accomplishments and days of fulfillment are quite similar.

The week at Harvard focused on strategy, goals and culture. We discussed the challenges of leadership, including; multiple demands, relationships, values and commitments strategy, resources, mission and vision, and finding a balance in life. We realized that each challenge interacts with other challenges. We talked about the importance of being coherent, intentional, full of design, looking for a common goal and evolving as progress is made. Ultimately, we decided that the most important thing is “knowing your why.” When you know your why, your what has more impact because you are walking in or towards your purpose.

Bornblum’s Board of Directors will be working hard over the next several months to create a comprehensive Strategic Plan for our school allowing us to be forward thinking in helping to ensure the long-term stability of our school. This will allow us to further understand our why, so our what has an even greater impact as we plan for our future.

In our session on Building School Based Systems of Support for ALL Students, we talked about the important role of a school counselor and how working ability is impacted by stress. This session illustrated how important the work that our school has been doing in partnership with Jewish Community Partners, Jewish Family Service and Margolin Hebrew Academy in hiring a School Counselor who will work in both of our community’s Day Schools. Our hope is to have a School Counselor in place by early September.  

We are also embarking on a program for our staff and parents on becoming First Responders to recognize the signs when people are “fragile” or suicidal and to know what to do next. More information will be forthcoming about a community-wide seminar for parents and other individuals who are in a position to be First Responders. In addition, we have invited educators from St. Mary’s, Lausanne, Bodine, Riverdale and Houston Middle to join us on August 8, at 9am for First Responder training with our faculty. These programs are being generously sponsored by The Sidney Kay Fund.

In recognizing that working ability is impacted by stress, we are also able to focus on Developing Expert Learners in a Complex and Changing World. During this session, we talked about the differences between expert and novice learners. We recognized that expert learners tend to work at the edge of their competence; notice deeper, more meaningful patterns; engage in a process of problem solving; manage how they deploy attention; learn new information in order to do something with it; and seek out deeper engagement opportunities. There is active processing when you care about what you are learning.

And that just covers the first two days of our week of learning.

While the remaining days were equally intense, informative and inspiring, it is my take away from the entire week that will stay with me. For many of those attending this outstanding program, the eighteen of us who work in Jewish Day Schools and were part of an AVIChai sponsored program, were the first Jews that they had ever met. The questions that I was asked about kashrut, my kippah, why I missed Saturday morning’s sessions to attend synagogue, my connection to Israel (it is important to note that there was one educator from a UN sponsored school in Gaza, who also was interested in engaging with members of our group), were asked with true interest. The fact that we worked and lived in distinct worlds, yet had the same personal and professional struggles, achievements and love for our profession, brought us together and strengthened our ties.

During the program’s closing session, participants were given an opportunity to share something about the institute after a prolonged moment of silence for everyone to sit and think. This is what I shared – “How great it is to have a moment of silence. Time to be with my own thoughts in a world where there is lots of volume. When I first saw the title of the institute, I focused on LEV, which is the Hebrew word for heart. With the constant work and effort that each of us puts into our craft, in building relationships, in solving problems before anyone knows that they are problems, in constantly listening to those around you, whose voices simply need to be heard, I often lose track of my heart, my love for teaching, for educating, for leading, for being a part of a team and a community where heart is at the center. My experience with the educators on this program gave a jolt to my heart and a reminder of why I wake up every day, loving what I am doing.”

I am indebted to the AVIChai foundation for sponsoring my participation in this remarkable program, to the members of our Day School contingency who spent hours together after the seminars each day to learn and put a Jewish lens on our sessions, to the professors whose knowledge was shared, my discussion group who will remain a part of my growth support system, Bornblum’s Board for allowing me to attend the institute, the amazing Leadership Team at our school for allowing me to disappear for a week in order to further help us achieve our goals, and my wife, Jessica and my kids for letting me leave them for a week of learning in Boston.

Shabbat Shalom,


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