“What is the one most important thing that will be different in our school in 2020?” This profound question was asked at our headmasters’ tea welcoming parents new to our school. Referring to a substantial ten year strategic plan, lovingly called Vision 20/20 because its realization is anticipated in 2020, this wise parent put eighteen months of strategic planning and another year of beginning strategic implementation into perspective. My mind raced; arriving at an understanding I had been grasping at, but had been unable articulate without the prompt of a meaningful query. Our strategic planning and implementation, impacting so many aspects of school life so substantially can, in my opinion, be described in its essence in one sentence.
In 2020, our focus will have shifted from teaching to learning.
To some the answer may sound trivial; to others nonsensical; and to still others mere semantics signifying nothing. To me, the answer shapes a process of cultural change and school reform that has paradoxically been grueling and invigorating, oppressive and freeing, painful and joyous, and perhaps most meaningfully, transforming and eternal. Walking the narrow bridge balancing that which is in the process of being transformed and that which is eternal, I could not with integrity explain my answer to this parent’s question without first posing an additional question. What is the one most significant thing that will remain the same in our school in 2020?
In 2020, we will continue to be guided by the core values of our ancient, enduring Jewish tradition. Regardless of how much we change, our essence will remain the same.
Tradition and change has long been a tenet at the heart of Conservative Judaism, the Movement in which I was trained as a rabbi and with which my school is affiliated. But, I don’t believe I am being defensive of my theological heritage when I state that in today’s educational landscape, healthy schools – Jewish schools regardless of denomination, parochial schools of various religions, independent, public and charter schools – will need to balance all that must change with all that must remain the same. As we experience the tremendous responsibility to prepare students for a future we cannot imagine, in which many perhaps even a majority of our students will one day embark upon careers that do not yet exist, we must remember that values; enduring, eternal values, will continue to ground us, serving as a moral compass to help us navigate our rapidly changing world.
.There is no recipe for change just as there is no recipe for how to keep our core values central to all we do. Remaining the same does not mean mindless adherence to practices that no longer make sense, but rather embracing enduring values that are lived in the reality of our daily experiences. Changing does not mean throwing out all of the old, but rather carefully examining ourselves and our practices. We will have to reconsider curricula, the types of learning experiences we provide, student support models, assessment practices, educational technology and other resources, approaches to school leadership, and more. To be successful, we will have to shine the spotlight on the learner rather than the teacher, making each child the star of his or her own educational experience. No matter how compelling or riveting a lesson may appear, no matter how interesting or engaging a curriculum may seem, we will have to be honest about how deeply students have understood, made our learning their own, and found a place in which their own curiosity, wonderings, talents and passions can emerge.
What will be different in 2020? What will be the same? Please join in this important dialogue and share your thoughts and reflections.