Monday, January 30, 2012

Ayelet Lichtash

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Ayelet Lichtash founded the Alef Bet Montessori School in North Bethesda, Maryland after experiencing a need in the community as a mother and leading a community-wide, transdenominational effort to bring the school into existence. She is now in the process of revolutionizing Israeli education through creating a Montessori training center in Israel. She is a member of the International Board of Montessori Administrators. She holds a master’s from Tel Aviv University and a law degree from Georgetown Law School and is also Director of Legal Affairs for Aish HaTorah of Washington, DC.

What is network-weaving?

Compared to academic intelligence, networked thinking is the social/emotional intelligence involved in leadership. It’s understanding people and being empathetic. It’s incredible and very powerful; it can get you to places you’ve never been before. But it’s not something that can happen all of a sudden when you arrive at a conference. It’s something you need to work on ahead of time to be prepared. This preparation involves contemplation time – time you have to take away from daily chores to make a plan, work on it, and brainstorm with others.

What challenges do you currently face in your network-weaving work?

My challenges are on two levels. First, on a local level, I’m working on creating a first-of-a-kind Montessori school with the most stringent accreditation. That’s something that requires a lot of networking, because wisdom from experienced people will help me choose the right path. I have to meet with business people to understand the business world; heads of school to learn how to structure schools; and board members, both on my own board and on others, to learn what we can bring to our own practice. Leadership and vision are crucial to plan room to grow and so that everyone can participate.

My second challenge is international: I’ve started a Montessori network in Israel. I’m establishing a Montessori training center, which will be a third of the cost to match current prices for Israeli education but provide the same high caliber of training we have here in the US. The challenge is working with stakeholders like the local community, education gurus in Israel, the department of education, the council of higher education, and more to create support from here to bring Montessori over there.

Where have you experienced successful network-weaving practices?

At the recent North American Jewish Day School Conference, Daniel Petter-Lipstein understood my needs to connect with others. He introduced me to Dr. Bruce Powell, and I had 3 hours of intense conversation with him about things I really needed to know to move my school to the next level. Those kinds of introductions happened over and over again throughout the conference.

The session at the conference on networks by Seth Cohen from the Schusterman Foundation and Leah Meir from The AVI CHAI Foundation with Bill Robinson from the Jewish Education Project was so good – I still have the network effectiveness diagnostic workbook on my desk. I learned that it takes homework to weave a network – it’s a thoughtful, engaging process, and you have to know what questions to ask and put principles and best practices onto paper to share with the rest of your network.

Also, PEJE did speed-dating networking exercise where we met 25 people – 5 minutes per person. It took off the embarrassment and emotional barriers of introducing yourself for the first time, and gave confidence that others will talk to you even if they don’t know you.

What are your next steps in network-weaving?

I am a startup, starting something new. I would love to meet people who work with other entrepreneurial startups to help set my expectations as to how I can expect to grow within the current economic conditions and demographics. I would also love to meet more local people in DC who have made an impact. At the same time, I’m working on sharing the wealth of knowledge I have with people in Israel.

I’ve learned that the best network works through referral. The element of weaving is fascinating to me: How do you expand your network to reach more resources who can share information with you? The more people who call me to say they can help me with one angle or that they have someone I can talk to – that’s how it works. I’m weaving my way through it.

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