As educators in an ever-changing world, we often ask ourselves what is the ultimate overarching goal of education. In over thirty years of experience, I have seen the details of this goal evolve, yet one principle remains steadfast. We need to foster thoughtful, smart and truthful leaders.
The phrase “Jewish leadership” can be vague. Does it mean leadership by Jews, or should it also mean leadership in a Jewish way, according to Judaic principles and values? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that there are seven principles of Jewish leadership: taking responsibility; understanding that one cannot lead alone; being vision-driven; being in a state of constant learning; believing in the people you lead and understanding that there is a delicate balance between impatience and patience, as transformation takes time and leadership is stressful and emotionally demanding.
The responsibility of educational institutions to build and foster leadership within our school communities was a topic of deep discussion amongst my nine colleagues at the Jewish Leadership Enterprise, a newly formed group of seasoned heads of school convened to tackle the universal challenges facing Jewish day schools. Our important charge: cultivate leaders and leadership opportunities for both students and faculty. Helping to build leaders is potentially one of the most enduring jobs we have as educators.
Jewish education has an advantage in this realm. When taught correctly, our values, Jewish texts, history and principles create an environment of inquiry, self-direction and independence, global connections, problem solving, social responsibility and action. These life-long learning skills are essential to any type of leadership. Yet, they are not enough. As teachers, it is our mandate to be role models for our students. We need to create opportunities for g’milut chasidim, generally translated as acts of loving kindness, especially when there is no expectation that the recipient will reciprocate. Isn’t that what leadership is all about?
At Carmel Academy, we believe that giving students the ability to enrich and enhance their learning and social experience is a requirement for graduation. With the guidance of our faculty, our middle school students are tasked with organizing, leading and executing a variety of chesed projects and experiential learning activities, as well as deciding where the Student Government tzedakah money should be allocated. We teach our students to be role models as a natural extension of their place within a school community. Whether it is our older students preparing a lesson and teaching their younger peers about the meaning and significance of Tashlich, or baking challah for their younger peers and then celebrating Rosh Chodesh together, students are learning about the importance of positively impacting others in their earliest years.
Philanthropy, self-advocacy and responsibility to oneself and others in our community is embedded in the ethos of our school. In Pirkei Avot 1:14, Rabbi Hillel stated: If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when? Our sacred texts give us a sense of urgency to be responsible for bettering the world. That leadership quality is one we expect our faculty to model and our students to live. At the end of the day, if we are not fostering Jewish leadership at our schools, what is the point of a Jewish education?
By Nora Anderson
Nora Anderson is in her 15th year as Carmel Academy’s Head of School. She has been a presenter at RAVSAK and PEJE Conferences, has served as a mentor in the RAVSAK-AVI CHAI SuLaM program, and is currently a mentor in the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI). Nora has also served on the Board of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools and is a member of the newly formed Jewish Leadership Enterprise.