The Jewish Education Project
A Beneficiary of UJA-Federation of New York

Project LEAD: Good Leaders Need to Raise the Heat Once In a while

Shariee Calderone

Why do some change initiatives in your school take off, while others fail?

How are some school directors able to mobilize their staff around innovative ideas, while others aren’t as successful?

Everyone knows it takes ample resources, time, and energy to make innovative changes in an organization, still, almost anyone call fall short of their objectives. While having a clear vision and a strategy for getting there might sound like the winning ticket, it may not be enough. Why? Well, it’s because as a leader you don’t operate in a bubble. Sometimes your colleagues and staff just aren’t there with you yet. And not being there with you means you will have greater difficulty reaching, making progress and seeing the impact of all of your thoughtful planning.

Beyond vision and goal setting, Bryna Leider, Project Director of The Jewish Education Project’s Project LEAD initiative, will tell you that it also takes having Courageous Conversations to move beyond the superficial and often technical fixes that most leaders focus on. Courageous Conversations are those uncomfortable conversations that most people avoid 99% of the time if they can. They are the conversations that raise the heat and stakes in a given situation. But the good news is, it’s often the conversation to have; the one that can help move your initiative forward by leaps and bounds.

“Courageous Conversations… a dialogue that is designed to resolve competing priorities and beliefs while preserving relationships.” – Heifetz et al, 2009, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

As you will hear in the following clip, Courageous Conversations are not like other conversations. They are not the conversations you have during staff meetings or with teams of teachers. And they are not the conversations you have during regular “check-ins” or “one-on-ones” with a particular teacher.

Bryna Leider, Project LEAD Seminar, November 2, 2016

Having a high performing team doesn’t mean conflicts won’t come up. Conversely, if you are doing things right you are pushing people a little further beyond their comfort zone, And while some conflicts might seem simple or easy to solve at face value, they’re often the nagging ones that never seem to go away or get resolved. And they’re the conflicts that prevent you, the team, and your school from moving forward.

“A Courageous Conversation is a discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions differ, and strong emotions are present”Intro to Courageous Conversations – Creating Powerful Conversations to Achieve Maximum Results – Diane Boivie

One way to identify when a Courageous Conversation might be useful is when previous interactions with staff haven’t resolved the conflict. Communication failure points can be the result of a number of different weaknesses, including “disempowered leadership” or “constantly changing goals” (Diane Boivie, Intro to Courageous Conversations). But no matter how you got there the goal now is to get out from being stuck, to resolve the conflict or situation, and move past behaviors that are holding things back. And to do that, your approach to the conversation is as important as having the conversation in the first place.

Here’s an example of a mediated conversation held between two employees at Acumen, facilitated by Eric Martin from Cambridge Leadership Associates. At first you will think the topic and area of conflict should be simple to resolve. But as you’ll see in the video clip, it takes a little raising of the heat and persistence to get at the heart of the conflict, and the emotion holding back the desired behavior change. (Note: this is an 18 minute video clip because, as you will see demonstrated, it sometimes takes a good amount of time for these conversations to play out. Plus there’s some narration.)

If you are now saying, “I get it”, and you want to follow Bryna’s advice on confronting conflict (something not working for you), here are four important elements you’ll want to keep in mind:

  1. Understand the role you are playing, especially if you were multiple hats
  2. Don’t be afraid to raise the heat
  3. Keep your inquiry focused on getting to the real issue, and
  4. Be mindful that the outcome often involves learning and loss (and potentially on all sides)

When educational leaders are exposed to this strategy and have opportunities to practice and role play, they can find it very beneficial. Here’s how one Project LEAD participant described already putting this new information to use…

I thought it was really helpful and I have already had a need to use it.  It was with one of my teachers. She had a strong reaction to something that had recently occurred and I couldn’t understand why. When we sat down, and I kept asking her more about it and really listened, I found out that there was something else bothering her. We were able to come to an agreement about it and move on. It felt great. Thanks. Patty Goldstick, Early Childhood Director, Temple Israel Center Nursery School

To read the previous post in the Project LEAD series, click here.

To learn more about Project LEAD and the strategy being used to support directors and teacher leaders in being change agents in their schools, contact

Refining Your School Tour: Being Different is About Being Memorable!

When early childhood leaders commit to school improvements, and the intentional hard work it takes for them and their staff to adopt innovative practices, they sometimes lose site that those changes won’t mean a thing if they aren’t simultaneously recruiting new families for their school.  To help you find your marketing voice and identify ways to translate all the goodness that’s happening IN your school with prospective parents, we turn to Chanie Wilschanski, founder of DiscoverEd Consulting. Also, to see other previous posts related to “marketing your school” click here

Chanie Wilschanski

Do you ever wonder why some schools fill their slots months and sometimes even years in advance?!  Why can some directors engage with parents and have them sign up on the spot, while some struggle to get even 3-4 parents to register?

While some of these results can be due to living in an overpopulated area of young families, there are also some key steps that you can take to fill your slots, max out your registration and build meaningful relationships with your parent body.

I believe that being different is about being memorable.

Do parents remember your school after the tour? Or was your school just another one of the very many schools they visited?

Do you want the parents to be talking about the tour well after it’s over?

  • Like at the dinner table
  • Or even the following week at a dinner party with family or with friends?

Or does the tour they went on become a faded memory, like what they wore to their friend’s wedding 6 months ago? (who remembers that?)

How can this even happen?

Do things that no other director would even think of doing and you will be memorable!

Here is the fact! People are busy!

The very act of needing to choose a school for their child can be a very daunting task.

They have so many options and they simple don’t know what will be the best place for their child.

As a leader – your job is to show the parents WHY your school is the best option for their child. You need to show them what your school offers that nobody else does. Why your school will be the best place for their child to thrive.

But here’s the secret – you need a team to do this.

Your staff need to help you create this in your school.

In this series, I will show you

  1. How your teachers can create their USP – unique selling proposition for their class.
  2. How to be a super connector and stand out.


What is a USP?

Every business and company has a USP. It’s what sets this company apart from everyone else.

FedEx- Same day delivery

Costco – Bulk and save

Apple – Innovation

Zappos- Free shipping both ways

You get the idea. Each of these companies has something about them that is unique and special.

That’s why you know them and REMEMBER!

I’m going to venture a guess, that every single person reading this guide knows each of these companies! So crafting your USP is about thinking why I’m different? Remember, that high school phase- when all we wanted was to fit in and be like everyone else? We all needed the same hairstyle and shoes and clothes and oh my, if we didn’t have the same bag as everyone else!

Well now, you want to be different and stand out.

Your teachers need to know how to market their class in 2 minutes or less and position it to the parents in a way that has their jaw dropping!

You want parents to walk out of each class saying “Oh my gosh!” “Wow!”

I NEED my child in this school. This is an amazing place.

Here’s another piece.

If you are reading this guide, you are a committed director and leader for your school. You take the time to invest in yourself and you want to learn more. You probably have great teachers you do incredible things in your school. And here is where you wish things were different.

Many directors have shared with me.

“I feel like we are slice of heaven that nobody knows about.”

“Our program is amazing, why don’t we have full slots”

“My staff are so creative, and they do amazing things, but we are still not full”

Teachers are educators. They know how to connect with the children. They know how to create engaging provocations that invite the children to learn and explore.

They aren’t marketers or salespeople. And they don’t need to be.

What you want them to be able to do is position what they do in the classroom in a way that highlights to the parents the tremendous values of the school. So parents know this is the place to be!

Every educator should start by thinking through these three steps below.

Step 1

What age do they teach?

Step 2

What are some of the skills that the children are learning right now that are developmentally appropriate?

Step 3

What is happening in the class? What unit, projects, or investigations are the children currently immersed in?

Let me share a sample so you can get the idea

“At this time of year, our children are 21/2 years old. We are focusing a lot of social skill building and independence. Some of the way that we facilitate this learning is through our center play.

In the block center you can see that the children are still in the parallel play stage – which means they play alongside each other. Our goals is to offer experiences that allow the children to play interactively and build their social skills.

If you take a look in our art center, we have individualized trays. This helps the children understand personal space and also assists with cleaning up independently.  

These are some of the experiences that we offer to the children so they can process concepts, information and make meaningful connections.”

Now let me break this down for you.

“At this time of year, our children are 21/2 years old. We are focusing a lot of social skill building and independence.”

This class is a 2 year old class and chose to share with the parents 2 skills they are working on now. Your staff can choose any skills. But it should be 2. This keeps it short and specific and easier to remember.

“Some of the way that we facilitate this learning is through our center play.”

You want to highlight to the parents that play is a valuable part of the learning process in your school.

In this next part – I chose 2 centers.

You can pick any 2 centers that you want to speak about. But again, pick 2. This will help you stay focused when a parent comes in and you want to share with them in under 2 minutes what’s happening in the class.

“In the block center you can see that the children are still in the parallel play stage – which means they play alongside each other. Our goal is to offer experiences that allow the children to play interactively and build their social skills.”

Notice how I subtly added what parallel play is- this SHOWS the parent that you are educated. Telling them you have a Master’s degree doesn’t really mean anything to the parent.

“If you take a look in our art center, we have individualized trays. This helps the children understand personal space and also assists with cleaning up independently.”  

To sum up: here are the guidelines for you and your staff.

  1. Remember the age you teach and what skills you are working on at the time of the tour.
  2. Pick 2 centers that you will highlight to the parents during the tour.
  3. Close off with a short sentence about how these experiences are beneficial for the child.

In the next post, I will share some simple strategies for a school tour and how to follow up as a super connector!

To download the “Market your school” Cheat Sheet – click here

photo-of-chanieChanie Wilschanski M.S.Ed is an early childhood strategist and leadership coach – founder of DiscoverED Consulting a RESULTS driven company designed for early childhood progressive directors who want top talent teachers, maxed out registration, parents who value their work and more strategies and time with less overwhelm!

With a decade of experience and extensive training in the Reggio Approach she has had the privilege of training thousands of educators spanning 6 continents and 16 countries.

She is also the author of the DiscoverED curriculum series – The Ultimate Idea Generator which guides early childhood centers to bringing in more progressive materials and provocations into all the centers for many different units of study and the Jewish Holidays.

In addition, Chanie currently directs the early childhood program at the Beis Rivkah Seminary in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY where she lives with her husband and 3 children.

Note: To view other posts related to “marketing your school”, click here.


Modeling Leadership: A Note To His Staff the Morning After The General Election

With permission we are sharing Noah Mencow Hichenberg’s letter to his staff today, November 9, 2016,  at the  Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School, JCC Manhattan, NYC. He then extended it to a close network of colleagues, modeling great leadership and collegialship in our community.

Hi friends – sent this to our staff this morning – thought of each of you while writing it and wanted to share. Wishing you and your schools strength and hope.

Hi team,
As we wake up in a post-election world I wanted to check in with our team.

Deep in my heart, I so firmly believe that teachers of young children create the pathway to the future. As I wrote about in my “Note” last week, I have always seen the primary responsibility and motivation of teachers as being advocacy for tikkun olam, for repairing the world. This is why we come together on the second floor every day – to model for our children how to behave and how to treat each other, how to engage in good deeds and tzedakah projects, how to express love, empathy, and understanding.

We do this not so that individual children will grow up to be kind and strong, but rather so that the society they build together will be kind and strong. Everything else that we do is tangential. With the transition that our country will experience after yesterday’s election, this work becomes not frivolous but ever more important.

Our Jewish values offer us a guide for framing this work. Pirkei Avot, a chapter in the Talmud that focuses on ethics, reminds us in a haunting passage that,

“The day is short, the task is great” – we have a lot of work to do in repairing the world, and will always feel that our time is too limited to approach such an overwhelming task. Yet,

“You are not obligated to complete the work (of repairing the world/tikkun olam), but neither are you free to abandon it.”

We know that there are problems with our city, our country, and our world. We know that much of the “repair” that we strive for will not be accomplished in our lifetimes, and for that matter, in our students’ lifetimes. But Pirkei Avot reminds us that we are obligated, ethically, to operate with hope and optimism. We are obligated, as teachers and advocates for a more peaceful and loving future, to pour our heart and soul into showing our children just how good the world can be. It is only through hope that this vision of a repaired world will be actualized, as our children take the reigns of society from us and make the world their own.

I applaud the work you do daily, serving as role models for your children, the youngest citizens in our community. I am so proud of the warm, loving relationships you are building with them. And I know that those relationships are the pathway to the repairing of the world.

The day is short, and the task is great. I can think of no better partners in our task of tikkun olam than each of you.


Noah Mencow Hichenberg
Director, Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School

JCC Manhattan
The Samuel Priest Rose Building
334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th street
New York, NY 10023
phone 646.505.4470

What’s In Store for Early Childhood & Family Engagement This Year


A New Year’s Message from the Early Childhood & Family Engagement Team

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Judaism teaches us to believe in and embrace the power of change. The Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) provide us with support and opportunity to be introspective and reflect on our lives so that we can recognize how we need to change, and gather the courage to change. It takes reflection and courage to understand and see things in new ways and to challenge our assumptions about ourselves and others.

In her new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dwek, a renowned developmental psychologist, makes the case that a growth mindset is essential for change:

Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.

Judaism also recognizes that growth takes mutual support and that support is found in the power of Jewish community. That is why it is very important that we as an educational community come together to support growth mindsets for ourselves and our young children.

One of the essential tools for growth for young children and adults is play – especially self-directed, open-ended play – and experimentation that leads to discovery. This year we have many exciting opportunities for you to play with new ideas that will support your growth mindset: Experience new early childhood approaches in action through site visits; connect with colleagues through networks; contribute to our In-site-ful Journey blogs; attend conferences; and immerse in new ideas through webinars. All are planned to stretch your mind and practice.

We are very excited for you to join us this March for a very special experience as we dedicate our spring conference to the power of play. The conference will be led by the “play mavens,” and authors of From Play to Practice, Marcia L. Nell and Walter F. Drew, who teach that “play is for keeps and central to human growth and development at all stages of the life process.”

This year let us take another lesson from Carol S. Dwek and remember that “becoming is better than being.” Let us dedicate ourselves to developing a growth mindset by taking cues from our children and each find new ways to play, create and innovate!

Wishing you a Shana Tova u’Metukah,

Shellie, Sue, Shariee, Yael and Rachel
The Early Childhood & Family Engagement Team

Project LEAD: How “listening to children” translates in the Pono approach to learning

Shariee Calderone

If you were to interview an early childhood teacher or leader, even the most progressive teacher or leader, and ask them to describe their educational approach, you probably wouldn’t hear the word “democratic” come up too often. But when Merril Feinstein and I visited the Pono Learning Center (a preschool) in New York City on a 90+ degree day this summer, this is exactly how the founder and director of the school, Maysaa Banza, describes the approach to learning that’s core to the school’s vision and approach.


I should premise the rest of this post by saying Merril and I had, in part, misinterpreted what the Pono Learning Center was about. Literature describing the school, says it’s,  “An “outdoor” center where children…” The emphasis on the word “outdoor” is there’s and not mine, and therefore, Merril and I thought we were visiting a school where nature engagement played a bigger role. We were wrong.

However, that’s not to say that the children in the Pono school don’t occasionally enjoy traipsing through the woods, collecting and sorting rocks, or listening to water as it hits the ground during a rainstorm. They may very well do all of those things. What I am saying is that nature is not a core component of the school in the same way I would define it to be by a school that says it’s an “outdoor” center. Probably because I’m so deeply involved in the nature movement. For the Pono school, “outdoor” means two things. A) It means at least 50% of their time is spent outdoors, or out of the school (which is amazing), and, B) that learning experiences are rooted in the community itself and its resources (included people and places). This is one of TWO essential ingredients at the Pono Learning Center that Maysaa says makes her school unique.

The second ingredient is this concept of Democracy. And the part of the visit that I’m sure had the strongest impact on us both as we tried to make connections to the work we each do. Merril as the Director of Brotherhood Synagogue Nursery School, and me as a consultant in early childhood and family engagement. So what is this “democracy” thing? And what does that have to do with listening to children? And what does all of this have to do with Project LEAD?

Democracy at Pono Learning Center

This is where it’s important for me to finish the quote that comes from Pono’s own literature that I began above. The full sentence there should have read, …

An “outdoor” center where children suggest and agree upon their own curriculum, including the location of the ecological adventures in and around New York City.

This time the underlined emphasis is all mine, because this is a core component to the Pono approach. They don’t mean “suggest and agree” in some small way. When they say the children “suggest and agree upon their own curriculum”, they mean exactly that. Everything that gets investigated stems from the children’s suggestions at the beginning of the term, and from their suggestions Maysaa leads the teachers in a three week process to uncover all the opportunities that exist in the community that could help the children deep dive into the topic. The photo below showcases how the children’s suggestions become a living map and a target that guides the teachers. And the children’s interest areas can range from “hold chickens” to “volcanoes” to “magic tricks”.

Children's Study Interests

Children's Study Interests

Samples of the children’s study interests at the Pono Learning Center

The goal Maysaa explained, is to hit 70% or more of the children’s interest areas during any one term. And there are four terms per year. And planning by the teachers happens between each term. The check-marks you see is a remarkably simple, yet effective, way to show that there’s been an investigation in that subject. And the two-letter symbols near many of the topics are the initials of other children who said they too would be interested in the topic as well. It’s like a large puzzle that gets pulled together day by day and which eventually fills out the entire term and experience for the children.

Listening to Children

So what does this have to do with listening? Well, as Merril quickly pointed out during our visit, it has everything to do with listening to children. And she felt totally connected to this in-depth listening approach that personified the Pono center. It also reflects the values that guides their work – inclusion, respect and kindness. Every child is included in the direction of the school. The children show respect for others and even for their own intentions. And it was completely clear to Merril and I that there is a sense of kindness that permeates the children’s interactions – with each other, their teachers, and even with us as visitors. Yes, the children are listened to by their teachers, and yes this is what they mean by Democratic.

The Project LEAD Connection

Next year each leadership team participating in the Jewish education project’s Project LEAD initiative will be practicing and understanding better what it means to listen to children. How listening to children can shape the learning. And how listening can shape the intention of the educators in their interactions with the children.

So while this visit took a turn I didn’t expect, I think the Pono Learning Center offers educators – no matter what your own educational approach is – an incredible example and model for listening to children in an incredibly intentional and unique way.

I wish I could write more about the Pono approach, but I simply can’t, I don’t know enough. For that you will have to turn to the woman who carved out a little piece of democracy for children on the corner of 124th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. For more about the Pono Learning Center, please visit, or email Maysaa at Another good description of the school exists here:

To learn more about Project LEAD, contact Bryna Leider,

To read the next post in the Project LEAD series, click here.


Leading for Change: Looking ahead at Year 2 in Project LEAD

Shariee Calderone

In my first blog post about Project LEAD, I gave a glimpse of how the participating educators reflected on their efforts to bring forward thinking ideas and conversations into their schools with their staff in June 2016. They shared stories of success with one another using artifacts from the past year and also articulated the challenges they saw still ahead of them in trying to create systemic change as leaders of their centers.

Now we get a little more insight into this transition from Year 1 to Year 2 for Project LEAD through an interview conducted with project director, Bryna Leider.

Bryna cropped

Bryna Leider

Can you describe what you hope participants will gain from Project LEAD this year?

I hope they become increasingly confident leaders of learning—adept observers, inspirational visionaries, guides of growth. Leading a change effort is very challenging, but I hope they persist in ways that honor their school communities and model the change they seek in the classrooms.

The concluding seminar held in June reintroduced the topic of goal-setting for the directors and teacher leaders. Can you share why this was the direction you chose to move into?

Last year, we asked the coaches to meet with each leadership team and co-create goals for the year. We wanted schools to have autonomy in the goal-setting, but as the year progressed, we realized that there were common challenges surfacing that everyone might be willing to work towards. If we could collectively determine some goals, we might better help each other as we work towards them.

Additionally, most of the schools had set goals in a number of focus areas. This is a legitimate change strategy (and very natural when one is eager to realize a vision), but in choosing breadth over depth, you often sacrifice a deeper understanding of the “why” behind the change. It felt important to give schools permission to narrow their goals so that they might ultimately get further in the future.

goal setting photo

Now that the goals have been narrowed, how is each leadership team preparing to use them in their schools to influence change?

The leadership teams participated in a two day summer institute with Betsy McKenna, Exponential Returns, LLC, that focused on designing professional development that models Reggio practices. We explored how to set up supervisory meetings that are tailored to the interests of staff members, but still connect to where the organization is seeking to go. We practiced observing, documenting and providing feedback, which are core to the Reggio philosophy.

On the second day, we thought about the design of team learning. We discussed ways to build community and respect for the group and created sample agendas for opening meetings that would reflect the enhanced staff cultures we are seeking to cultivate. Our goal is for these new processes to be included in the planning that directors typically engage in over the summer and become part of an expanded professional development schedule in the new school year.

What has been a big “aha” for you about the challenges directors face when moving into the role of change agents in their school?

I am fully aware that time is one of the biggest challenges schools face, but the real “aha” was the extent to which the challenge correlated to time spent on professional development.

Change requires an enormous amount of learning—learning that can’t take place by one’s self after hours. We realized together that carving out more time for teacher learning was essential. This was deeply complicated, but I am so gratified that they figured out how to make it work. Our next challenge is to make sure that the time is used effectively, in a way that has a positive impact on students. This seems straight forward, but it’s not. The research on PD demonstrates that most of it has a minimal impact on students. But it’s possible and that’s where we are heading.

What do you appreciate most about this cohort of Project LEAD participants?

They are so open and honest! The group consists of directors, assistant directors and teachers. I expected some hesitancy about giving honest feedback, but participants have been deeply reflective and up front about everything!

To read the previous post in the Project LEAD series click here. To read the next post in the Project LEAD series, click here. To learn more about Project LEAD, contact Bryna Leider, at