Stored for all but eight days a year in white packing paper within large cardboard boxes in the back of our garage, the ritual of unpacking our Passover dishes is for me poignant. Although not officially part of the holiday ritual, unwrapping those dishes to see the light of day after a year in darkness is an integral part of my holiday ritual. The dishes are necessary because the Passover laws not only mandate that we not eat bread, but also that we have separate dishes used only with kosher for Passover food. Yet for me, more than a requirement, the dishes have become a symbol, rife with meaning and standing out even in a holiday filled with symbols.
As I glimpse at the familiar pattern for the first time in a year, I remember the day I bought the dishes, my then two month old now seventeen year old daughter in my arms. I remember, almost concurrently, each of our family Passover celebrations since – where we were in our life journeys; the challenges and the joys. I remember Passovers before I purchased my dishes, with my grandparents and my parents. I remember the “me” I was, consider the “me” I am today, and reflect on the “me” I am becoming.
The dishes remind me of the packing and unpacking, literally and metaphorically, that lies ahead. In August, I will start a new job as Head of School at The Solomon Schechter School of Queens, leaving The Solomon Schechter School of Westchester where I have been Lower School Principal for the past thirteen years. As the similar school names imply, much will be the same. Yet, much will also be different. I think about the advice the wise coaches and mentors I have gathered close to me in recent years have offered on this new beginning.
Listen more than you speak.
Focus on culture and relationships.
Share in a short phrase what is most important to you.
I think back, striving to remember the guidance given me when I began my current job thirteen years ago. As I recollect, it was a list both longer and more specific than the current advice given me; connected to the particular challenges and strengths of the school I was joining. Although I couldn’t articulate this at the time, looking back I recognize that the insights shared were far more about “doing” than about “being”. At times the guidance served me well, but when times were toughest the guidance failed me because at heart culture is stronger than strategy, change isn’t easily scripted, and communities can’t recognize their own blind spots without carefully creating space for those with differing perspectives.
I am more experienced now and I hope, more humble as well. I recognize that before I can truly listen, I will need to establish enough trust for people to speak. I understand that people will experience many different emotions at the prospect of a new Head of School; anxiety, excitement, and even indifference. I will need to be patient and present, seeking to understand the culture and community I am joining and to develop strong, respectful relationships.
As one of my mentors suggested, I have reflected on the short phrase about what is most important for the school community to know about me as a leader and an educator, and shared it on my first meeting with teachers and with parents at The Solomon Schechter School of Queens. It is a reflection of the me I am becoming.
We build on our community strengths to empower our children to build on their strengths.
Stemming from appreciative inquiry, positive psychology, and strengths based coaching, I choose, as much as I can, to recognize and celebrate strengths to be nurtured rather than deficits to be fixed. This doesn’t mean I’ll ignore challenges and problems. It does mean I’ll deliberately seek to focus on quality by enhancing what is good within the school community. Most of all, I hope to help teachers and even more significantly students to recognize, embrace, and build upon their own strengths, abilities, and qualities of character.
As I look to my short phrase on what is most important for the school community to know about me as a leader and an educator I realize, with some surprise, that it is not twenty-first century specific but an enduring statement on the lens with which we can choose to view the world. Like my Passover dishes, it connects the “me” I was, the “me” I am today, and the “me” I am becoming; enabling me to focus on what is core, enduring, and of ultimate import in a rapidly changing world.
As I pack away my Passover dishes, and reflect and plan for the year to come, I wonder what to consider. What advice and guidance do you have? What insights might you share? I thank you, in advance, for your perspectives, ideas, and wisdom.