Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is there a leader in me?

I am on an airplane flying back to the valley from South Florida. (Wifi on airplanes is a pretty cool feature.) I just spent 36 hours with two teachers from LGA and Heritage. We had the most amazing experiences at three South Florida Jewish day schools. The hospitality shown to us, the time our fellow educators took to show us what was special about their schools, and the way each school takes great pride in educating Jewish children is exhilarating. The main purpose for our trip was to visit schools that are using Stephen Covey's "The Leader in Me." Other than speed reading through the book, I didn't really know much about what it all really entailed. I knew that it involved introducing the concept of integrating "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" but couldn't really explain much past that.

Now you may be asking yourself that my blog is usually about life as a head of school at a small Jewish day school in the Pioneer Valley, why is he sharing his experience about South Florida's schools. but I feel compelled with everyone to share the experience that we witnessed at one of the Jewish day schools that we visited - Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton. I left DKJA in one word - awe.

Like LGA and Heritage, DKJA takes the job of academic excellence and a child-centered approach to learning incredibly seriously. On a daily basis, our schools take their jobs genuinely when it comes to a thoughtful social-emotional curriculum that teaches our children how to approach lifes many challenges in appropriate and respectful ways. It works! At DKJA, it is thoughtfully weaved in ways that figuratively "rocked our educational core" showing us new ways to exhibit leadership in our students. We took an extensive tour of the school. Walking into classroom after classroom, we were not casually greeted by students, but we would have students walk up to us, put out their hand and welcome us in their learning environment. Time after time, without prompting, a student would tell us what was going on. I thought to myself this has to be planned but it wasn't. It's embedded into the culture of the school.

Every morning at LGA, an administrator greets and shakes hands with every student that walked into the building. I've talked many times the importance of this norm in our school culture. Our students are taught to make eye contact and learn how to communicate with an adult that is not their parent. They begin to build self-confidence in a really unique way from a young age. That's imbedded in the school culture of LGA.

The difference between the two schools (and this is not to downplay LGA) is that Donna Klein owns it and has given it a common language that the whole school community can wrap its head around. The administration and faculty embrace this model of student leadership development and see it as a cohesive way to do what they already do best - creating menschen. The 7 Habits are all over the building in prominent places. We read a 1st grade display that took the 7 Habits and explained why George Washington was a hero. We watched two 6th graders who passionately made their case for one of the ten commandments being the most important one while integrating 7 Habits speak. It was impressive to say the least.

Now our team that went has a lot to do, think about, and propose to our community. What sets us apart from all the other choices that parents can select for their children? First and foremost, we are a Jewish day school. We are proud of that fact! It stands for a lot. And second and I would say as equally important - we are creating students who will be THE leaders in their communities. It takes leadership to create leaders. Donna Klein gets it. LGA & Heritage get it. I look forward to blogging more about this as I ponder this concept of leadership.

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