Introduction: Professionalism in Schools – Beyond the Basics

    RABBI SHIMSHON GEWIRTZ   

When I attended the Loyola University Chicago School of Education over a decade ago their conceptual framework was “Professionalism in Service of Social Justice.” I didn’t learn much about social justice, but the focus on professionalism made an impact that I haven’t forgotten. This issue is devoted to Professionalism in the Jewish Day School, so it’s important to identify what professionalism in education means, beyond returning phone calls, dressing neatly, and saying the right things.
Professionalism, beyond the basics, is to approach our work in Jewish education with the desire to be truly excellent combined with the humility to realize we can always improve and the curiosity to find better ways to achieve this goal. This kind of professionalism means we set personal and organizational improvement goals and then take the time to see if we measure up. To use a medical analogy, when we hope that our physicians are current on the latest therapies and diagnostic tools, it’s not just that we want the best treatments. More than that, we want to be cared for by a person who is invested in medicine to the extent that he or she is a better clinician this year than last. Students deserve teachers, principals, and schools that are, likewise, constantly improving.
Professionalism can also refer to a degree of altruism. In Dr. Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto (from which Mrs. Miriam Gettinger draws some of the ideas contained in her article in this issue), Gawande says that while the definition of professionalism differs from one occupation to the next, all definitions have at least three common elements: selflessness – that the needs of those who depend on us come before our own, skill – we are good at what we do, and trustworthiness – that our personal behavior toward others will be responsible.
There are also other elements of professionalism that can have a real impact on the student outcomes we hope for in our schools. When you think about it, professionalism isn’t one characteristic, it is a combination of qualities. It’s not just what you do, it is the perspective and outlook that you have. It’s not the suit you’re wearing, but the reason you chose to wear it.
In this issue, Rabbi Avrohom Moller thoughtfully defines professionalism for the school leader. Malachi Pancoast offers a fresh outlook on the role of a school principal. Mrs. Miriam Gettinger describes how to best introduce new academic or socio-emotional initiatives in a school so that teachers will be on board and use them to increased success. And I share some thoughts on how professionalism is connected to that most important and sometimes elusive goal, school improvement.
Kim Marshall describes a new model for teacher evaluation that is sensitive to the time constraints of school leaders and helps them fulfill the four basic responsibilities of instructional leadership. Rabbi Perry Tirschwell shares how school should care for their greatest assets – their teachers. Rabbi Yonah Gewirtz makes the case for rebbeim to approach lesson and curricular planning with a skills-based perspective. And Etti Siegel discusses nine crucial behaviors of principals that are correlated to higher student achievement.
For the professionalism of the educator to be appreciated, there has to be a recipient of that professionalism. That recipient is our student body. Great schools are student-centered, understanding that the student is the reason for everything we do. So much of the chinuch of our students happens at home, and the success of that home chinuch is what creates the receptivity for learning and growth that happens in school. In that light, we are privileged to include in this issue a message by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, on raising children.

Enjoy!

Rabbi Shimshon Gewirtz, Editor in Chief
Journal of Jewish Day School Leadership

a project of Consortium of Jewish Day Schools

Professionalism, beyond the basics, is to approach our work in Jewish education with the desire to be truly excellent combined with the humility to realize we can always improve and the curiosity to find better ways to achieve this goal.