The Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) upholds a vision of Jewish day school excellence that is based on Judaism, education, and leadership—and put into practice by inspired and inspiring Jewish educational heads. Every aspect of DSLTI programming focuses directly on some facet of these three pillars of Jewish education, and integrates their themes and perspectives.
Reflective practice involves thinking about and learning from your own practice—and from the practices of others—in order to gain new perspectives on the dilemmas and contradictions inherent in each educational situation, improve judgment, and increase the probability of taking informed action when situations are complex, unique, and uncertain. With ongoing reflection, a fellow's practice can develop into a systematic inquiry that begins with thinking about his or her own teaching and learning experiences and then becomes collective when informed by their interactions with colleagues, students, and theoretical literature.
Every fellow will write in a Reflective Leadership Journal on at least a weekly basis throughout the summers and the school year as a way to deepen thinking. DSLTI experiences, learning, readings, and applications in their own schools are all areas that can be included. Journal writing is not a report of activities, but primarily a reflective process. There will be sessions during the DSLTI experience that are devoted or partially devoted to journal writing and reflective practice. The journals will be kept in Google Docs, and the expectation is that they will periodically be shared with the mentor, who may then respond.
The program admits 15 aspiring leaders with the goal of preparing a cadre of Jewish day school heads who will use their training individually to inspire their schools and collectively to elevate the entire field. Its two three-week summer sessions—held one per summer over two consecutive years—and retreats in-between will combine intellectual, interpersonal, emotional, and religious experiences designed to stimulate these leaders' individual growth and their development as a cohort.
Drawing on cutting-edge practice in leadership development, fellows will collect data about their own performance to assess their strengths and weakness. With the support of their mentors, they will develop a course of action to increase their skills and capabilities.
I. Preprogram Interview
Fellows will conduct an interview with their school supervisors to get an assessment of current leadership strengths and weaknesses and recommendations for skill development.
II. Benchmarks® 360°Assessment
DSLTI requires each fellow to complete the Benchmarks® 360° Assessment designed by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). This assessment tool measures the skills learned through development that are critical for success, as well as problems that can stall or derail one's career. The 36-page feedback report compares the individual's self-descriptions with the ratings of his/her boss, peers, and direct reports. Fellows process the findings with an outside consultant and with their mentors. This feedback is used to create their developmental action plans for leadership growth, which then become a central focus of the mentoring.
DSLTI articulates its vision of a successful graduate in six areas of competency, and ties every element of the program to building skill and knowledge in these areas. Participants will work with their mentors to assess their current capabilities in each area and to set personal goals for moving to higher levels of mastery. By graduation, DSLTI fellows will be expected to achieve mastery of these competencies.
DSLTI employs five outstanding day school heads with complementary professional and personal strengths as core faculty and mentors for each cohort of participants. A veteran DSLTI instructor serves as senior mentor, and functions as a key member of the DSLTI leadership team. Each fellow is matched with a personal mentor who provides new perspectives and helps the mentee gain new insights through regular private meetings. Mentors look at assessment data with their fellows to identify developmental needs and help them create action plans for growth, and provide support and encourage reflection along the way. The diversity of the mentor group provides multiple leadership role models for fellows and convincing evidence that there is no one right way to lead. Most DSLTI alumni maintain active relationships with mentors long after graduation.
Fellows will gather data assessing their leadership performance from the Preprogram Interview, the 360° Benchmarks® Assessment, and the competencies described in the Vision of a DSLTI Graduate. Fellows will reflect on these findings, select areas of challenge with their mentors, and then create Leadership Development Plans to be implemented at their schools. The plans will focus on measurable goals, and will include a timetable for check-ins and completion. Each fellow will include a goal for Jewish growth, in keeping with DSLTI's balanced focus on Judaism, education, and leadership.
Each fellow will keep a journal of ongoing reflections that are shared regularly with mentors and periodically with other fellows. The Reflective Leadership Journal provides a place for fellows to write to themselves about the varied individual and group experiences of DSLTI, their new insights and perspectives on life in their schools, the ups and downs of their developmental action plans, their reading, and the challenges of translating theory into practice and vision into reality.
As DSLTI goes paperless, cohorts will use web-based technology to keep their journals; this innovation will allow fellows to keep some of their writing totally private.
During the school year between the two summer sessions, fellows will be expected to visit the schools of their mentors. During this visit, they will have the opportunity to observe academic and operational practices in a well-functioning school, shadow the head, meet with the leadership team, and attend a board meeting. Alumni describe this visit as a highlight of DSLTI and a stimulating source of new thinking.
DSLTI creates a vibrant learning community that equips participants with content knowledge, practical skills, and a new lens through which to reflect on leadership issues. Summer and retreat sessions are academically rigorous, but they don't stop with theory and research. They engage participants to apply theory to practice through case studies, simulations, role playing, and planning exercises. Fellows will probe real school dilemmas to generate multiple solutions, weighing each one's benefits and liabilities. Working as individuals, in pairs, and in other assigned groups, they will learn to take responsibility for their own thinking and for contributing to a group that is collaborating to achieve outstanding results. Woven into and among session topics is a thread developing communication skills, such as listening and speaking, giving and receiving feedback, building relationships, and taking the role of a community leader. Participants will also practice specific school management skills, including managing staff performance, financial and budget analysis and planning, fund-raising, student recruitment, and parent relations. Sessions will be team-taught by DSLTI mentors, JTS faculty, and outside experts.
Drisha (exploring, searching) ensures that DSLTI stays focused on developing leaders who put Jewish learning, religion, and peoplehood at the forefront of their practice. This will be reflected in the following: the focus on Judaism, education, and learning; Beit Midrash; spiritual check-in; reflective practice; and personal study. Drisha provides rich Judaic sources, texts, and communal tefillah. Jewish text study (usually in havruta) introduces each week's major educational leadership theme, punctuates the learning midweek, and closes the week with sessions on reflective practice. Heads of school in Jewish day schools will be asked to take Jewish leadership roles.
As part of the drisha work, each fellow will be asked to facilitate a group experience at DSLTI. Potentially related to the Judaic area goal for the Leadership Development Plan, the leadership experience might include preparing a devar Torah or leading a service during a retreat, facilitating a spiritual check-in, or guiding a text discussion. The specific experience a fellow will lead should be discussed with her/his mentor.
Getting deeper into the professional literature of Jewish study, education, and leadership is a key part of DSLTI. Fellows and mentors will continuously share readings from the professional and popular press, research journals and books, and the traditional texts of Judaism. Required reading for the summer and the retreats frames topics and provides a common language on which sessions can build. Often, summer reading lists allow fellows to choose one of several books selected for each week's theme.
Starting in March and working through the second summer, fellows will work in assigned groups to develop an extended case study based on realistic data from a hypothetical elementary, middle, or high school. They will grapple with issues requiring complex analysis, recommending a strategic plan of action that considers impact on multiple constituencies and requires adoption by management and trustees. The work will culminate in presentations to the cohort.