Adam Simon is the Foundation’s Associate National Director and the director of the REALITY program.
A month ago, I sat in a classroom with 60 kids in Mumbai, India. I was on a site visit as part of the Teach For All annual conference, a gathering of 200 people spending four days deeply engrossed in discussing how to build a global movement that will end educational inequality in the next 50 years.
The meeting brought together representatives from Teach For All affiliates in the two dozen countries that are replicating and adapting the well-known and highly regarded Teach For America model. I was privileged to be among the social entrepreneurs and funders in attendance from places like Mexico, Germany, Afghanistan, Israel, Lebanon, the UK and Columbia.
What made this gathering unique was the relentlessness and intensity with which we stayed focused on the task at hand. We took advantage of a unique opportunity to be physically present together and were driven by both the importance and urgency of our mission for the sake of the world’s children and a better future. Everyone pushed each other—often publicly and with great passion—to settle for nothing less than excellence. Good, even very good, was not enough, and no one offered excuses.
In the midst of it all, my mind kept returning to how much Jewish organizations could learn from Teach For All. Indeed, I believe there are particular facets of its culture that the Jewish community would do well to emulate.
With this in mind, I offer five questions as food for thought that I hope we will continue to discuss, both online and in person:
- What if we always hired for excellence, never settling for just the best person from a given pool of applicants?
- What if each Jewish organization articulated what success would look like in 50 years, and what it needs to do in the next five years to put us on a path toward that vision?
- How could we create a Jewish world of no excuses and an embrace of doing whatever is necessary to reach our goals?
- What if we determined our time priorities with an honest and tough focus on what will get us closest to our articulation of success every single hour of every single day?
- And, given our goals and priorities and the urgency of our task, how would we best use the precious time we have at gatherings of community leaders?
We may feel there are not enough hours in the day or dollars on the table to act on these questions and align our communal vision on these grounds, but Teach For All is proving us wrong.
The classroom I visited in India had no door, no open-air windows and no lights. Its most remarkable feature was its peeling paint. There were 60 malnourished and physically underdeveloped eight- and nine-year-old kids jammed inside a space better suited for 20. And yet, they were not making excuses or lamenting what they did not have. What’s more, neither were their teachers. Instead, huddled together inside that classroom, they were myopically focused on learning to read.
If they can achieve learning under those conditions, what can we do? What would need to change in Jewish life to put that culture of excellence and drive at the heart of our work?