What is Effective Educational Leadership in Jewish Day Schools and How Can it be Nurtured and Sustained?

October 19, 2016

CASJE (the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) recently released findings from the first phase of a study conducted by American Institute of Research (AIR). In Leadership in Context: The Conditions for Success of Jewish Day School Leaders, researchers offer valuable insight about specific leadership practices and the conditions that support them in Jewish day schools. As we discuss below—and as presented in Table 1 that summarizes these findings—the research highlights specific actions school leaders can take to be effective leaders and to have the most positive student outcomes:

  1. Vision: The school leader promotes a vision for Jewish living and learning.
  2. Staff: The school leader enables teachers’ learning and professional growth.
  3. Community: The school leader interacts with the school community to attend to the interests, priorities, and needs of students, teachers, parents, and external organizations.

In the “vision” domain, school leaders consistently articulate the Jewish vision of the school, encourage staff to promote it, and are role models who bring the vision to life. To do this effectively, school leaders first develop relationships with teachers. A relationship of trust, according to the study, helps leaders build a committed staff united by common understanding of school values and a shared purpose. Participation in professional development on topics related to Jewish studies also enables leaders to promote the school’s vision for Jewish living and learning.

In the “staff” domain, school leaders build teacher trust and promote collaboration, empower teachers to identify and implement new approaches to instruction, solicit feedback and suggestions from teachers, and provide access to professional development. Researchers found that spending fewer than three hours per week on planning curriculum; meeting with teachers and parents about instruction and learning; and observing teachers in their classrooms [1] hampered leaders’ ability to support their teaching staff. Spending more than eight hours on each, however, did not significantly increase leader support of teachers’ growth.

In the “community” domain, school leaders are accessible to students, teachers, and parents; proactively initiate dialogue with students, teachers, and parents; and encourage and model a culture of open and honest communication. These behaviors can be practiced more easily when school leaders are part of a professional leadership team and when school leaders have collaborative relationships with other organizations. The school leadership teams help develop effective communication systems with parents and cultivate a caring school community. Developing relationships with Jewish community leaders and other Jewish organizations greatly benefit schools by expanding the curriculum and enhancing extra-curricular activities.

Thus, Phase 1 of this study offers a full set of findings and potential new and important implications for better understanding Jewish educational leadership in Jewish day schools. The study proposes that certain leadership practices and contextual factors that influence those practices—in the domains of vision, faculty, and community/collaboration—lead to specific school, teacher, and student outcomes in those domains to be further explored and tested in Phase 2 of the study.

By the end of Phase 2 of the 3-year study, the study will have produced databases and findings showing relationships between principal practices and student, teacher, and school outcomes. In addition to a set of briefs and a final report, the effort will produce a research-based and standards-aligned evaluation tool that measures the effectiveness of school leaders by providing a detailed assessment of a principal’s performance. This assessment will focus on learning-centered leadership behaviors that influence teachers, staff, and—most importantly—student achievement.

[1] There is greater depth and specificity in the full report, such as that adequate facilities and technology are associated with leaders’ abilities to support teaching staff, and there are suggestions from the data of ways to manage time and make more room for instructional leadership.

Susan Kardos is Senior Director of Strategy & Education Planning at The AVI CHAI Foundation, which provided funding for this research. Ellen Goldring is the Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Education Policy and Leadership, and Chair, Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations, Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, and is a member of the CASJE Board of Directors.

Learn more about the study and review the “At a Glance” brief of the key findings.

This originally appeared in eJewish Philanthropy, which includes the Table 1 Summary of Findings and Potential/New Important Implications.