I recently spent a week training at Harvard’s Principal Center.
There were lectures and workshops covering a wide range of topics from “Adaptive Leadership”, to “New Approaches to Teacher Assessments” and “Defining School Efficacy” and much more. It was a fantastic institute and an extraordinary learning experience.
How surprising, then, is the fact that 3 of the most memorable experiences of my week in Harvard are the ones that took place outside the classroom:
Lesson 1 – The International; The Cultural Divide
170 participants from 22 countries around the world participated in the institute.
On the second day of the institute we had a morning of ice breakers and team building activities in smaller, 14 person, cohorts. For one of the very first activities I found myself paired up with Eida. The activity was this – pairs needed to decide on a song they are both familiar with. One person stands and sings the song while their partner walks around them in circles. When the singer is ready for a switch – he taps the partner on the shoulder and they switch places.
(The purpose of this ridiculous activity was to get us way, way out of our comfort zone as an opener to a full day of team building and open conversation).
A bit about my partner. Her name wasn’t actually Eida, rather – by her own admission – something none of us would be able to pronounce. Eida is the Student Activities Coordinator of a 1300 student, public high school, in Southern China. I, on the other hand, am the Judaic Studies Principal of a 200 student private, Jewish-Orthodox, high school in Toronto.
After apologizing and explaining that we will have to do without the tapping due to “religious restrictions”, we moved on to search for a song we both knew. I asked if she knew any nursery rhymes. She didn’t. She asked if I knew any traditional Chinese songs. I, foolishly, responded that I knew some of the songs from Mulan. She frowned, though I’m not sure if because she didn’t know what I was referring too, or because I was being ‘culturally insensitive’ (the absolute worst of crimes at a place like Harvard). No success with the Beatles or Madonna either. She came up with “Jingle Bells”, which I wasn’t comfortable with as – for the rest of the group – it would strongly be associated with Christmas. (“Jingle-Bell-Rock-Dancing-Santa” shout-out to the Malkosh clan…).
Several minutes had gone by and the rest of the group was standing around waiting on us to start. They all threw in their own suggestions. Finally, someone suggested the “A, B, C” song.
Looking approvingly at each other we awkwardly carried on with the (ridiculous) activity. By the end of it we recognized that we had done more than find a way to carry out the activity. We had found a bridge, albeit a slim one, across a massive cultural divide. It was the opening – for all of us – to an extraordinary cultural education throughout the week as well.
Lesson 2 – The National; How Close and How Far We Drift
Lesson 3 – The Personal; Me and My Chicken Soup (Coming Soon)