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Entrepreneurial Educational Leadership: Seeking Excellence Beyond Our Resources

The following is a guest post by Jon Mitzmacher, Head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, in Jacksonville, Florida.

It all started a few weeks ago, when I was digging up material for a “Parent University” course I teach with some parents in our day school. I somehow unearthed this piece, from The Jewish Week, about the creation of Yeshivat He’Atid, a school that, according to its website, “aims to be a leader in re-envisioning the classroom to incorporate 21st century educational approaches.” The article sparked off some great conversations about the connection between affordability and 21st century technology, something this new model of JDS seems to represent. It even carried over to a meeting with our school’s 21st century learning team, which then evolved into a hearty debate on the educational merits of devoting some portion of the curriculum to distance learning experiences. This idea, different from the “flipped classroom” (I like this blog post’s definition best) may reduce contact time between teachers and students and thus runs counter to how our school understands 21st century learning.

A few weeks later, with these ideas still lodged in my head, I attended the Day School Leadership Training Institute’s (DSLTI) Alumni Retreat. This wonderful program brings together alumni and current fellows from all the cohorts—there are now seven—who have attended the 18-month program that prepares people to run a Jewish day school. It represents a cross-section of relatively new or soon-to-be Heads of every flavor, size, and model who have the chance to learn from various mentors and thought leaders.

During the retreat, we were blessed to spend some quality time with Rabbi Joshua Elkin. Rabbi Elkin, who recently stepped down as PEJE’s Executive Director, presented to us some fascinating ideas—one of which was the theory of “entrepreneurial leadership” and how it might apply to leading Jewish day schools. For definitional purposes, Rabbi Elkin pointed us to a classic Harvard Business Review article, in which authors Stevenson and Gumpert state that general entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources one currently controls. He also cited a 2011 article, “Entrepreneurial Leadership: What is It and How Should It Be Taught?”, which suggests that entrepreneurial leadership “should be about developing appropriate abilities with which to combine, exploit, and maintain the particular capabilities of entrepreneurial teams, especially balancing creativity, influence, a particular attitude to risk, and an ability to access scarce resources strategically.”

All of which—the critical thinking, reflective practice, and collaboration—sounds pretty 21st century, no?

Yes.

Rabbi Elkin encouraged us to employ the theory of entrepreneurial leadership as leaders of Jewish day schools because it frees us from a false choice. Sometimes it feels like we can either bemoan our lack of resources or we spend our time trying to acquire resources. But what would it mean to pursue “opportunity” beyond the resources one currently controls?

Yeshivat He’Atid is striving to build a model that moves “beyond resources”: by employing technology and innovative classroom design, this “yeshiva of the future” aims to reduce costs (presumably in teacher salaries) to make JDS more affordable. It refuses to accept that Jewish day schools must be either expensive or inferior and it is easy to see why it has attracted so much hope and attention.

But Yeshivat He’Atid is not alone.

Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South, another Orthodox Jewish day school, is walking a similar entrepreneurial path. They employ technology to connect students throughout all its programs, but especially through its JcoonecT program, which bridges middle and high school students from small Jewish communities in meaningful academic ways.

In my school, the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, we eased on down yet another road. MJGDS has recently undergone a three-year process in which we redefined job descriptions of non-classroom teachers to include 21st century learning profiles. Our “Technology Teacher” has become a “21st Century Learning Consultant.”  Our “Librarian” is now a “21st Century Media & Literacy Specialist.” We call the “Academic Resource Teacher” a “21st Century Pedagogy Consultant.”  In this way, we maintain the core elements of each person’s job—we still have books to catalogue in the library, keyboarding skills to teach, and remediation to perform—while stretching each into coaching and collaborating relationships with faculty in their areas of expertise. This has allowed us to transform teaching and learning in our school without adjusting the budget at all.

In addition, having been bit by the prosumerism bug, we are currently exploring research grants and for-profit partnerships that would allow our teachers and students to create apps and games. As we have bumped up against the edge of the possible, we are eager to teach our teachers and students how to create apps that do not yet exist that would allow us to take our teaching and learning to the next level (that’s how we incorporate STEM). We are also beginning to explore with a new thought partner, Rabbi Owen Gottlieb, opportunities to pilot applications of gaming theory to Jewish day school curriculum. Both of these ventures bring with them commercial possibilities that could help the school grow its resources. It takes Alan November’sdigital learning farm” out of the metaphor and into reality. Not only would students be making meaningful contributions to society through their work; they might be making financial contributions to their school as entrepreneurial student-leaders.

To conclude, here are some questions for you:

  • What are some examples from your schools? What would it mean for you day school’s leadership team or board to adopt an entrepreneurial leadership stance? What might this mean for the field?
  • Tell us, in the Comments section, about how your school’s current (or future) adventures in entrepreneurial education.
  • Tikvah Wiener

    I teach at The Frisch School in Paramus, NJ and have just started a club called RealSchool where students choose their own projects, such as web design and app making. The students and I are just getting started, but I’ve already begun to consider the implications of having our school be involved in a potential moneymaking venture. I agree that new technologies are creating ways for schools to raise money in innovative ways. We need to begin discussion on this topic.

  • Ken Gordon

    That’s terrifc, Tikvah. Interestingly enough, I just found a Harvard Business Review article, by entrepreneur Dan Bricklin, who says that an important part of his early entrepreneurial training came “the religious instruction I received in Jewish day school, which I attended from kindergarten through high school. Many of my values, my ways of approaching problems, and my first skills as a leader were formed there. One concept of Judaism that greatly impressed me was Tikun Olam. According to one story, when God made the world, he left it a little bit incomplete. Instead of making bread—so the story goes—God gave us wheat; instead of bricks, we have clay, and we have to bake the bricks ourselves. Why? So that we are partners in completing the act of creation. The point of Tikun Olam is that our time on earth is important; we are not passive observers but active participants in making the world a better place. That sense of individual responsibility—the need to ask, How will I participate?—stuck with me.”

    I think your students–and your parents–might be interested in article [http://hbr.org/2001/09/natural-born-entrepreneur/ar/1 ]. Good luck with RealSchool and let us know how things develop.

    –Ken Gordon, Social Media Manager, PEJE

  • http://www.frisch.org Tikvah Wiener

    Thanks for your encouragment. I had a great time at the NAJDSC and am now back at Frisch getting second semester started for my classes and RealSchool. Right now, that means finding out how useful free tools such as codecademy.com are and monitoring the student-run RealSchool blog. I continue to be on the lookout for educators interested in social entrepreneurship, but in the meantime, RealSchool is making its own social entrepreneurs, with a Microfinance team and two RealSchool team members, one of whom is my son, heading hopefully to Brandeis University’s Genesis: Social Entrepreneurship summer program.

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