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“I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate, or public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.”

This is the start of the book turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope to the future by Margaret Wheatley introduced to me at the Akiba R&D training we had. It captures my thoughts for this week where I would like to focus on three conversations had at Akiba in the last few days.

Conversation #1

This week was Staff Week which is the traditional week of meetings and professional development that happens in most schools, but as we all know we are not most schools and so there was nothing traditional about it. Our Staff Week was custom designed with each staff member in mind. There was very little lecture, and even the lectures were highly interactive. What there was were many conversations. The staff was not spoken to, but rather we all spoke together. This is our model for the classroom as well. I want to thank all the staff for their active listening, high engagement, and positive participation. I am also so grateful for all the hard work that went into the Staff Week by Miriam Kass who is responsible for ensuring how we learn together as a staff is unlike anywhere else. Thank you, Miriam!

Conversation #2

As part of Staff Week, there were three opt-in conversations, and the staff was requested to participate in one of them. The three were about homework, advisory programs and, the one I participated in, how do we bring more Jewish life into the school? The conversation highlighted for me the care and respect given to the diversity of our families. We spoke about larger than life Jewish experiences as well as the minutia of daily rituals and how do we experience both with, as one of our Judaic staff framed it, “a love for Judaism and Jews.” I left the conversation inspired and wished the rest of the Jewish world were flies on the wall of Loeb Hall listening so that they too could learn how to discuss these important issues to create a stronger community.

Conversation #3

This conversation is more personal as it is from my perspective as an Akiba parent. As four of my children are coming to Akiba (my 5th is in High School) and new to Chicago and the school, it was suggested that my wife and I meet with their teachers to discuss their learning styles and personalities. As a parent, I walked away from those meetings feeling very fortunate. The questions the teachers asked, the intense listening they did and the way they responded made me feel great for my kids They are so lucky to be here. As a Head of School, I could not be prouder of our staff and who we are.

My children also got to meet some of their teachers briefly. As you can see below,  my youngest, Evan, got to meet Mr. Salk who I captured in the middle of a conversation. The listening that Mr. Salk was doing was genuine and beautiful. My son’s face says it all, but if that is not enough, Evan told me later “I love my new teacher!”

I look forward to welcoming all of our amazing students on Monday and having more conversations with our staff, students, families and community members throughout the year.

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