The 2013 North American Jewish Day School Conference took place last week, February 3rd – 5th in Washington D.C. Five organizations developed and ran the conference. Yeshiva University is proud to be one of these partners. From the beginning of the day on Sunday, the idea that close to a thousand people were entrenched in learning and networking for our schools across the field was overwhelming. From every corner of the room came the buzz of the work we all do, the sharing of ideas, and the impact of learning together. There was also a sharing of the challenges and obstacles that we face each day. It felt good to be in this together.
In addition to the learning together, different types of schools have the opportunity to engage in professional development during the network programming time. The YU network program began with powerful words of inspiration from President Richard Joel to the room full of Orthodox Jewish educators, noting how much more impactful the network programming is because it is embedded within the context of the cross-denominational programming. He would later address the entire conference – what a special opportunity for leaders of the field to learn with such a successful Jewish educational leader. We were honored to have him at the conference and to have his voice heard in dedication to the work of the leaders of schools. I watched him take in the whole experience of being surrounded by our field and felt a great sense of pride in the people he was meeting and the ideas that were being shared with him. The truth is that the reason the YU network day was so powerful is because of the leaders in the field who led workshops – the heads of school, the principals, who are doing this work each and every day. The authentic voice is what will be remembered by those who went to the different learning kiosks.
The focus of YU network day encouraged all the participants to imagine and re-imagine their day schools as a successful 21st century learning community. In a collaborative environment, groups of school leaders learned together about empowering teachers, engaging parents, and challenging students with best approaches for success. It was loud in the room and so busy with dynamic learning and thoughtful conversations. The buzz was incredible to me as was the engagement in the room. I loved hearing the questions, almost seeing people thinking. Was the network day perfect? By no means. But it is important to experiment and think out of the box. Together with professional and lay leaders we developed a day that pushed our individual and collective thinking. What should a school look and feel like? What should a school be? At the closing of the program each group presented creative, innovative, and bold ideas that would have a major impact on the school environment and school system. I hope we continue to talk about these ideas, develop them further, play with them more, and bring some of them into the field. Many of the ideas are worth pursuing, even though only a few schools received the winning prizes.
The conference, was jam-packed with breakout sessions that explored many topics along the spectrum of Jewish education. It was invigorating to hear the thoughts of my fellow educators and the challenges they face.
I learned so much at the conference, including in unconventional ways. I learned from the person I spoke with outside the ballroom about his school and what he is learning in his headship. I learned from the discussions at meals where people were open and seeking support from each other. I learned from the light talk in the elevators and late into the evening as we relaxed and socialized. I suspect that for many, those conversations are the ones they will also remember. They certainly made a great impression on me.
The newspapers will report that over 900 school professional and lay leaders attended the conference. More importantly, I hope they report about the energy, dedication, and commitment the leaders have to the students and faculty in our schools. I hope they report about how leaders came together and showed that Jewish education is a profession – that we have a field. The conference stands for this professionalization of the field and the collaboration and innovation that will sustain it. No doubt, next year will advance us all even further.
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