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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

School Leaders Search for Solutions

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At YU School Partnership Conference, Educators Are the Experts

More than 70 Jewish day school leaders from 62 schools gathered on Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus this week to pool experiences, ideas, connections and resources in a uniquely structured conference that put participants, rather than experts or speakers, in the spotlight.

Organized by YU’s Institute for University-School Partnership (YU School Partnership), the two-day convention, “CFG 2012,” ran from November 11-12 and built on previous Critical Friends Groups (CFG) which have been meeting regularly under YU School Partnership guidance for three years. Each group is a professional learning community of educators, administrators or school staff who come together in person and online to improve their practice through collaborative learning. That can mean sharing case studies in a confidential, supportive atmosphere or encouraging each other to think deeply and critically about individual challenges their schools face.

“We know that all leaders need to continuously learn and develop and we know how difficult it is to schedule time for themselves to fulfill that,” said Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of the YU School Partnership. “We are committed to providing the platform and network for leaders to grow their leadership capacity and feel more connected to their colleagues in what can often be a lonely job.”

The interactive conference drew on the experience and collaboration of participants to brainstorm solutions to a range of difficulties in the field of Jewish education, at both the universal and individual level. A session called “The Challenge” cast educators as heads-of-school in a variety of institutions that had been invited to apply for up to $100,000 in unrestricted technology grants and asked them to devise a spending plan based on their school’s unique needs. Participants were also able to form fast bonds through a speed networking session, where they swapped news about exciting programs at their schools and talked about personal leadership goals and school-wide changes they had or hoped to initiate.

YU President Richard M. Joel joined the group for a Monday session titled “Difficult Conversations,” during which educators wrote and acted out tricky professional encounters, such as intervening in a conflict between faculty or approaching uncooperative parents about their children’s learning needs, and offered advice on how those situations could be handled better in the future.

Yossi Kastan, head-of-school at the Jewish Day School of Lehigh Valley, felt the gathering’s unconventional style got right to the point. “Speakers use general terms or discuss theoretical situations,” he said. “This way, we actually discuss the real day-to-day issues, the nitty-gritty heart of what we do, and we can drive the issues we want to discuss and get feedback on, rather than someone else telling us what we should be thinking about.”

“Our discussion of real-world cases provides a structure that engenders deep insight into pressing issues that school leaders grapple with,” said Melissa Perl, assistant principal of the Margolin Hebrew Academy in Memphis. “Each member of the group draws on his or her individual background, training, personality and experience to tease apart the complexities of each topic on a micro and macro level. This has been an enriching and enlightening experience that has unquestionably helped shape me as an educational leader.”

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