How do educators become successful leaders? This qualitative study set out to learn more about The Lookstein Center ELAI program as well as mentoring and leadership training in general, with the hope of offering insights to other school leadership programs. The mentor-mentee relationship was seen to develop into a collaborative partnership, with the reflective relationships becoming enriching for both the mentor and mentee. The findings also emphasize the value of mentoring for midcareer educators. In addition, the importance of the cohort experience was stressed. Finally, unique to the ELAI program, location was viewed as a very influential aspect of this leadership training program for Jewish educators.
This research article aimed to answer the following questions:
- How do current and aspiring leaders of Jewish schools view the role of mentoring in leadership training?
- What elements in the ELAI program do the participants view as most important, inspiring, and unique, and what are the implications of this for other school leadership programs?
The interviewees, mentors, and mentees alike, clearly saw mentoring as a key component of a successful leadership training program. While the value of mentoring to the mentee is well-documented (e.g., Bowman, 2014), this research highlights the professional and personal impact of the mentoring process on the mentor. In our interviews, mentors mentioned how they had become more reflective in their work as educational leaders and practitioners and more collaborative in their leadership roles.
The research also highlights the multilevel relationships that can develop between mentor and mentee. On the one level, the mentor is seen by the mentee as the wise and experienced educator who can answer questions with ease and provide simple solutions to complex issues. They provide support and advice to the mentees giving them the confidence to succeed in the future. On a different level, the mentor-mentee relationship can develop into more of a partnership, in which both are on an equal footing, sharing ideas and experiences. When this happens, relationships can become more enriching for both mentor and mentee. This chavruta model was seen by some participants as important in the success of their mentoring relationship.
In addition, this research emphasizes the value of mentoring for participants in a midcareer leadership training program. While student-teacher mentoring is well-documented for beginning teachers (e.g., Ingersoll & Strong, 2011), the current research points to the effectiveness of mentoring also for those more experienced teachers who wish to move into leadership positions in the world of Jewish education. As mentioned, many did.
Regarding particular elements of the ELAI program which participants view as important, inspiring, or unique, our research highlights the cohort experience as being very influential in the ELAI program’s success. The heterogeneity of ideologies and religious backgrounds of the participants enriched the discussion and fostered tolerance for different viewpoints and positions. Religious diversity, rather than acting as a barrier between participants, led to fruitful discussions within an accepting environment.
The fact that core components of the program took place in Israel was very meaningful and inspiring for many participants. Israel, the historical home of the Jewish people, was seen as a unique location to learn what it means to be a Jewish leader of a school. Experiential components, like the shepherding activity in Neot Kedumim, stood out as formative events in gaining insights into what leadership is.
While some of the above points are unique to a program for Jewish school leaders, others are valuable to consider for leadership training programs as a whole. Regarding mentorship, consideration needs to be given to the multifaceted nature of the mentor-mentee relationship, ranging from a more hierarchical student-teacher relationship to one of equal partners in a joint journey of discovery. While Israel as a location for leadership training is unique to the Jewish experience, attention can be given to how location and educational experiences can be an inspirational component to any leadership training. This study seems to indicate that, as with teaching, the affective components of such a school leadership training program can be of equal or even more significance as the cognitive ones. After all, educators train the heart as well as the mind.