Adapting to the Culture of the Community

by Liz Singer

Last fall, something extremely unexpected happened. I was approached to lead a small religious school. As a new Director with a social work background, I was advised to sit back and learn the culture. Often times, this was difficult, and often I was criticized for taking this “hands off” approach. I assumed my post after school already was in session. During the search prior to my being hired, the school was kept afloat by lay leaders. There had been no evidence of a clear and consistent education model being utilized. The curriculum had been used as a resource by the educators, if used at all.

Programs existed without an underlying structure of what the vision of the future of the religious school looked like. Not having a formal background in education, I initially did not know how to begin creating a vision. I learned in a local young professional development leadership program that, when in doubt, look at what is working and build a support structure to complement it. This was the perfect approach for this community, who had a vocal contingent that had a hard and fast preference for what had been done and how it had been done. After all, my predecessor had been in the position for twenty years. The families in the religious school were hungry for change.

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