About 1000 Jewish lay and professional day school leaders from across the globe gathered in Washington, D.C. on February 3 – 5, 2013 for the fourth annual North American Jewish Day School Conference. The theme for the 2013 conference, "Learning to Lead–Leading to Learn," highlighted the importance of visionary leadership and network weaving for ensuring the vibrancy and value of Jewish day school education, now and into the future. The North American Jewish Day School Conference is jointly planned and sponsored by RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network, the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University, the Schechter Day School Network, PARDES Day Schools of Reform Judaism, and PEJE, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.
More than 100 learning sessions and workshops designed to challenge, support and engage participants were led by respected thought leaders – from the opening plenary by Deborah Frieze, author of Walk Out, Walk On, and large-scale change facilitator Tim Merry to the concluding keynote address by Tony Wagner, the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University and bestselling author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World and The Global Achievement Gap.
An enhanced networking approach, designed with experts from Weave the People, and an Open Networking Lounge, inviting colleagues with shared interests to connect for professional collaboration, fostered meaningful conversations and relationships before, during and after the conference.
Deborah Fishman of AVICHAI shared a first look at the convention:
"On the conference’s first day, some participants described the atmosphere as a “big family reunion,” welcoming of both long-term colleagues and new attendees. The large attendance gave testament to a thriving and committed day school field comprised of deeply passionate people. Here are some of the ideas emerging from conference sessions as they gather together as learners:
Leaders as Shapers of School Culture: Jonathan Cannon, Head of School at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, used the metaphor of conducting to explain components of day school leadership. He argued that heads of school needs different conducting styles, each of which should be used at different times. The goal of employing these styles should be to empower the musicians – or educators, lay leaders, and other members of day school communities – to give of themselves without any individual dominating. This, indeed, produces a beautiful symphony.
Affordability is the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. What is the Question?: Even as discussions amongst day school leaders regarding affordability challenges often unearth many commonalities, this session featured several perspectives as to the path forward toward sustainability. Sacha Litman of Measuring Success argued that reaching affordability will require first reaching sustainability through enrollment growth, itself a product of improving elements of day school offerings. Meanwhile, Harry Bloom of the Institute for University-School Partnership/YU explained why he feels finance and governance are key. The sharing of ideas and strategies across day schools as such strategies are employed could prove beneficial for the entire field.
Leadership in Creating a Blended Learning School Environment: Dr. Rob Darrow of iNACOL discussed that the goal of online/blended learning should not just be about bringing the cost down. Rather, a school should carefully think of the larger vision and plan for what they wish to achieve through the use of online/blended learning – in particular, how it will help the school offer a better education."
The AVICHAI sponsored Online/Blended Learning Expo offered an in-depth exploration of online/blended learning. Open to all conference participants, the Expo provided opportunities for educators to learn from vendors and presenters active in the growing field of online/blended learning. Visitors explored new modalities of learning and also learned how to integrate these advances into their own educational settings.
While the Expo was open throughout the conference, special scheduled programming included presentations from innovators leading the way in such areas as blended learning, teaching for the 21st century, and the establishment of new blended learning schools.
At the YU School Partnership Network Day on Monday Feb. 4 2013, over 270 educators broke up into 25 groups and learned with 12 experts in the field of education. After the morning learning kiosks were complete, each group worked together to develop innovative ideas that would advance their school and presented them for fantastic cash prizes!
Rabbi Akevey Greenblatt of Ohr Chadash Academy blogged about his takeaways from the conference:
"The real work begins now that I have returned to OCA. Here at Ohr Chadash we must build a sense of community within our faculty and stakeholders. Together we can build a progressive school by setting goals and creating an action plan to implement the themes and ideas I bring home from these conferences into a reality.
The theme of the conference was “Learning to Lead and Leading to Learn”. This catchy phrase boils down to the following central themes:
- There needs to be a paradigm shift in education away from just imparting information to one where we insure that our students are inquisitive, innovative, critical thinkers, and collaborate with their peers.
- We must create a culture where students and teachers are willing to take risks and learn from our failures.
- Teachers must be forced to examine their curriculum to ensure they are not only teaching, but IMPACTING their students.
Creating a 21st Century curriculum takes time. This should not scare us, nor prevent us from digging in our heels and starting to work. However, we can’t simply snap our fingers and see the changes appear before our eyes."