Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Safe Spaces

I've been 'encouraged', pushed, prodded and many other terms that probably stop just short of being harassed by various people over the last week.  There is, it appears, a voracious desire for me to write (to have something to read) about Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner and his comments to the Royal Commission.   There is a veritable craving for thoughts on the veracity of his words, opinions on reports of investigations by the Australian Federal Police on the matter and with enormous emphasis, the actions - or lack of them - of the various Yeshivah Boards.
So to all who have 'encouraged', pushed and prodded, (but not yet harassed), my previous post (Complicity) included my thoughts on the importance of timely decision-making by leadership and I'm not going to do a re-visit - my thoughts haven't changed on this at all over the last week.

That being said, when critical issues arise, considered decision-making requires both apt time and deliberation.    Discussions  in many circles currently reverberate with the question at the moment as to whether the presence of Rabbi Groner as a Director on a Yeshivah Board continues to be tenable.  If local conversation is any reflection this is  clearly an issue for many, both internal and external to the Yeshivah community at the moment.  Right now there is a runaway train of gossip, an endless exchange of talk, in the shops, synagogues, schools and streets.  Over Shabbat tables, waiting to collect students from school.  What of Rabbi Groner?  What should the Yeshivah Boards be doing?  What are the Yeshivah boards not doing?  What of Rabbi Groner?

I have my own mental timeline as to when a decision needs to be taken by, what factors might impact on that decision-making and an ideal as to what a preferred decision would look like.  But till the end of that timeline is reached, or till some further action is taken or an  announcement is made, I won't be commenting on the actions of any of the Yeshivah Boards.  

From beneath my governance hat I can only interpret current events at Yeshivah as placing them in severe disruption, a point of crisis.  As such, I support a Board being entitled to a 'Safe Space' to make a crucial decision.  So at this point in time, I won't be commenting further on the actions or non-actions of Yeshivah Boards and Rabbi Groner.

Any Board needs to be able to come together to reach largely consensual conclusions, if not entirely consensual in these situations.  This is not an easy task and particularly so for inexperienced Boards, barely in place for a number of months, with new relationships and dynamics still settling into play - such as they are at Yeshivah.  
Consider a well established symphony.  They benefit from the long-standing experience of  familiarity as musicians. Each develops further through private practise and as a symphony they rehearse together repeatedly to achieve expertise in how they undertake their work.   Finally, when they perform before an audience they are well-versed in every bow-stroke, every finger placement, the choices necessary so that as a group they can come to make perfect music together under the direction of a talented conductor.
Likewise, an established Board of experienced Directors having invested in their own professional development as well as in their practice as a group, have a developed, inclusive, respectful, dynamic for decision-making with balanced reflections and opinions.  They are led by a strong Chair, who is able, among other roles to frame arguments and provide guidance in the process of broad consideration of factors while not allowing an environment, issue, elements or fear impede when action must be taken.  

With the brevity of their experience, it would not be unfair to presume that directors are still struggling with a dynamic that includes fragmented opinions in trying to deal with this dilemma.  

How can the Boards be assisted in their decision-making processes?  What does a Board need in such a situation?
What the Yeshivah Boards require and certainly should be supported and aided in their undertakings with, is a safe space.  A space where the group can come together, discuss, reach conclusions and act without additional pressure, various threats or ill-will present and with the confidence of confidentiality.  

Unfortunately, Yeshivah is not a community given to confidentiality and this is a trait that must be learnt by Directors as much as anyone else.  There is far too much leakage damaging their own opportunities for a 'safe space' to work in.  Every time conversations are held over Shabbat tables they spread to 10, 25, 50 people at enormous speed. With the same speed comes additional pressures and distress from various members of the schools, congregations, community and media that re-bound to prevent the Directors from working within the safe space they need.

There are many looking over the shoulders of the Directors of Yeshivah.  At this crucial time they deserve a Safe Space; if gifted with it they must make the most of the opportunity, rather than diminishing their own opportunities by not respecting their commitment to each other and their community.

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