Affordability: How do you ensure day school education is financially accessible to all Jewish children during times of economic recession?
Governance: How can day schools adopt best practices, particularly in finance?
Education: How do you increase its quality, adjust the balance between Judaic and general studies, and improve the integration of technology in the classroom?
Personnel: How do you train qualified teachers and administrators who will serve as inspirational role models for the next generation of young Jews – and how do you grow and retain them?
These are all complex and serious issues for day schools today. Yet there is one that stands out to me as the most compelling cause for concern – and in whose solution might lie the solution to many of the rest of the issues as well. That issue is personnel.
In his recent article in eJewishPhilanthropy, Dr. Hal Lewis succinctly summarizes the personnel problem as applicable beyond day schools in the Jewish and general nonprofit sphere. He reports that, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, 70% of not-for-profit professionals call their jobs “disappointing or only somewhat fulfilling,” while in the Jewish world many talented and Jewishly-educated young Jews either go directly to the private sector or, if they do initially choose to enter a Jewish nonprofit, soon burn out – leading to a “brain drain” of good people and ideas simply going elsewhere.
Lewis cites Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (check out an animated version here) as providing a bit of light toward the end of the tunnel. Pink concludes that, more so than money or other perks external to a job, three intrinsic benefits drive job satisfaction: autonomy (sense of ownership over one’s work), mastery (opportunities for professional development), and purpose (believing in the cause, and that the work one is doing is making a difference in it).
The key question for day school education then becomes: How do we instill autonomy, mastery, and purpose into day school educators’ jobs? The answer, I believe, is through networks. Through connecting, sharing best practices, and learning from peers, educators can not only achieve mastery, learning new skills such as how to teach a particular topic through a new curriculum or a new technological platform. They can also be awarded autonomy: the opportunity to represent their existing work to peers and to collaborate with peers on new endeavors will give them a feeling of ownership over their talents and what they produce with them. Furthermore, they will even be endowed with purpose: an enriched understanding of the field at large, what colleagues are dreaming of, struggling with, and accomplishing (and why), and how their individual work feeds into that greater picture.
Imagine if day schools could reach multitudes of aspiring teachers passionate about education and young Jews passionate about disseminating Jewish identity and knowledge – and deploy their talents and energies to solve the burning problems such as those listed above. Imagine if these aspiring teachers could not only solve these existing problems – but also impact generations of young Jews to be knowledgeable ambassadors of and contributors to the Jewish people. In doing so, they might even revolutionize day school education in ways we can’t even conceive of yet.
I believe that this all can happen – through connecting day school educators with their fellow day school educators and enabling them to dream and grow together into new opportunities. Just as importantly, they can provide an invaluable support network for one another during the challenging times, and help each other toward potential solutions.
Networks are about capturing the human capital in a system and leveraging it to provide information, skills, and other resources that will make the entire system more effective and connected. Going a step further, since networks offer such added value, I project that the very awareness of the existence of well-built, active, and productive networks which provide opportunities for learning and growth will attract and retain talented professionals.
There’s lots to be done – but through having more and more outstanding personnel at the table, and through having conversations and cross-pollinations between them spreading new ideas and best practices, it can be done together.
Thanks to Naava Frank for the stimulating conversation and important lessons on day school education.