Sep 2009

A Shift in Focus

Rachel Lerner is a Davidson Scholar in the Wexner Graduate Fellows/Davidson Scholars Program.  Rachel is pursuing an EdD in the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She can be reached at

I watched in awe as students ran community-wide Israel education programs, brought new members into their clubs, led hikes for other students at the school-wide Shabbaton and most of all, slowly began to empower each other. Faculty advisors consulted with each other about how to deal with lack of student follow-through and how to recruit other faculty members to attend events. At the end of the year, one junior club official asked if she could stay on in an advisory role. She knew that she would not have time her senior year to run the club, but wanted to support the incoming club leaders.

How did we get such great student leaders and faculty when the year before these exact same clubs, students and faculty were far less functional? The change erupted primarily from a shift in focus. Previously students had been given top down instruction about leadership. Now, instead of talking about leadership, we (the faculty) were encouraging our students to exercise it, to combine their passions and interests with skills learned during a summer leadership seminar and enhanced during seminars throughout the year. We were empowering from the sidelines, letting the students step up and exercise leadership when the opportunity arose, and it was working. The changes were not complete, to be sure, but there was enough evidence that the students and faculty were “getting it” to be able to encourage more.