Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo: What one Jewish Day School Head learned on his Disney vacation

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo from the Disney film, Cinderella, 1950. Copyright Disney.

Lyrics:

Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
Put ‘em together and what have you got
bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
It’ll do magic believe it or not

 

I do believe it.

I spent the majority of the last week with my family on a Disney cruise.  (My poor children were crushed on our first night back home to discover that no one had created elaborate towel animals on their beds or left chocolates on their pillows!)  We have cruised a bit in the past, but a “Disney cruise” is a completely different creature.   Disney is not messing around – no one takes customer service more seriously.  As the days moved on and memories piled up one on top of the next, like any good reflective practitioner, it occurred to me that it would be worth reflecting on what lessons might Disney have to offer me in my (not-with-mouse-ears) Jewish Day School Head’s hat.

Let me begin by stating clearly that I am hardly the first or best one to think about this question.  I am most familiar with my former American Jewish University (then University of Judaism) professor, Dr. Ron Wolfson’s work in this arena.  He is well-known for bringing students to Disneyland for a firsthand taste followed by reflection and application.  [Click here for a brief article about Dr. Wolfson's work and here for his book, "The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation Into a Sacred Community", where he shares his work in this area.]  I am not sure how much I can add to the conversation, but when in Disney…

Cleanliness is next to Princess-liness

I have never seen a cruise ship, or even a large room, as meticulously groomed as the Disney Dream.  Whether they were soaking up moisture on the pool deck in order to avoid slipping or polishing the brass railings at 11:30 at night, someone was always cleaning up something somewhere at sometime.  Details are important and appearance does matter.  Students are not employees, I realize, but I would like to see our student body take more pride in our school’s appearance.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what role you play in the organization – caring about picking up litter, taking an extra half-second to clean your shoes on the way inside, not standing by while someone else damages property – pride shows through.

Everyone is a Greeter

This comes straight from Dr. Wolfson’s work – it is a core Disney principle that each employee understands that they are a “greeter” first.  For our school to truly embrace a “spirituality of welcoming” each student, teacher, parent, staff person, etc., would recognize that they have a responsibility to make everyone else feel welcome in our school.  It extends well beyond greeting a stranger – imagine how much closer we would be towards becoming a true Community of Kindness  (here, here and here) if we treated each other as someone deserving of the feeling of being truly welcome.  Older students looking out for younger students.  Teachers looking out for parents.  Parents looking out for teachers.  What struck me on the cruise is how clearly this cut across hierarchical lines – the maintenance person swabbing the deck and the captain of the dining room treated each of my daughters like true princesses.  [Insert gratuitous photo here.]

Time is of the Essence

There is not a minute of wasted time on a Disney cruise.  They have constructed a schedule to allow for a maximal experience.  We certainly know the challenges of doing the same in a Jewish day school!  I am finishing up presently a revised schedule for our Lower School and it has taken hours and hours and still isn’t quite ready.  [Spoiler Alert!  It will for the first time make transparent hours of instruction dedicated to each subject.  I think it will be a most positive surprise.]  It is a worthy goal to make each moment of our Jewish day school be filled with maximum meaning.

Personal Navigation

This may be my favorite one (and one that I will likely think the most deeply about in the weeks to come).  The Disney cruise line calls their daily schedule a “personal navigator” and I don’t think it is simply a matter of semantics.  They create a schedule which allows each customer to clearly identify which activities create the most meaning – activities for each demographic, activities for different lifestyles, activities that bridge and activities that winnow, etc.  We would sit down as a family each evening to plan out the next day, factoring in the interests and abilities of our complete family – the four of us plus my wife’s father and wife.  The schedule was our invitation to take responsibility for meaning-making.

I talk a lot in my work about how the truest reflections of a school’s values can be found in two places – the budget and the schedule.  If you want to know what a school really believes to be important you need not go any farther than how it chooses to spend its money and its time.

As we continue to walk down the common paths of differentiation and 21st century learning, the answer to the question posed in Alan November’s new book “Who Owns the Learning?” is obvious: The Student.  If the student owns the learning, how does that impact what we teach, how we teach, when we teach, etc?

What would it mean to organize learning by the paradigm of personal navigation?

I hate to mix metaphors on a Friday afternoon, but as one moves from student to teacher to principal, one peeks behind the curtain and realizes that the Wizard is simply a person like anyone else.  Similarly as to how one moves from camper to counselor to rosh at summer camp and one realizes how the magic is made.  But it doesn’t make the experience any less magical for the student or the camper just because there was a science behind the magic-making.  My daughters’ experience of the Disney Dream was magical even if I know how they did it.

I realize that creating a culture at our school that embraces these ideas will be harder than singing “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo”.  But if we could achieve them?  Well that would be some real magic.

 

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About Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of Galinsky Academy [which includes the DuBow Preschool, the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (a K-8 Schechter), the Bernard and Alice Selevan Religious School, and Makom Hebrew High] located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center. He is the Executive Director Designate of the Schechter Day School Network. Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.
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