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Coronavirus Update for Spertus Institute Friends and Patrons
Coronavirus Update for Spertus Institute Friends and Patrons
Daily Dispatches During Quarantine
In a break from his reports on re-entry and the online learning that the Spertus team has beautifully provided for our students and community, Spertus President and CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell shares some of what he learned about communication and connection during the pandemic.
Effective communication—according to a considerable amount of scholarship as well as everyday common sense—is key to successful leadership. It inspires conversation and helps build communities of shared beliefs and ideas. But it is also more than that. By constructing and sharing meaningful narratives of our experiences, we connect with others, even when we are apart. Communication executed with consideration and consistency can usher us through crisis and change, as it anchors and grounds us.
As the Covid-19 pandemic was emerging, bringing with it rapidly changing circumstances for members of the Spertus Institute team, I took this advice to heart. I began writing and sharing a Daily Briefing, upping my regular communications from once a week to every day. At first I included only the professional staff, but soon was urged to include Trustees and faculty as well. I committed to writing the Daily Briefing as long as we were working remotely. That turned out to be a period of almost three months!
With the cautious, limited, and staged reentry of staff midway through the summer, I took the opportunity to end the Daily Briefing and replace it with a Weekly Launch—a Monday morning update for the week. I continue to write the Weekly Round Up religiously, as it were, as well.
I had a number of goals in writing the Daily Briefing. Among the obvious, first-level goals were to keep people connected remotely and help coordinate work, so the briefings included updates across departments and on the work of task forces and committees, especially as they related to the pandemic, as well as the latest information on local, national, global conditions, and sector-specific conditions.
On a deeper level, I desired to use this as a tool of compassionate and transparent leadership, an opportunity to allow people to get to know about me and each other in new and deeper ways.
Early on, as those in the Spertus community struggled with uncertainty, disorientation, and individual and collective concerns, the Daily Briefing became a tool to share optimism and hope. I sought out news items that shed light on the important work that people were doing across the institution—and the good in life generally. I tried never to miss an opportunity to express gratitude or call out individuals and departments for their service, devotion, and creativity. I am not sure I was always successful, but I always tried to do that while also being honest about the challenges we faced individually and as an institution.
At the same time, I saw the Daily Briefing as an opportunity (with my quarantined, thus semi-captive, audience) to deepen familiarity with and connection to the mission, values, programming, history, and recently launched Strategic Plan of the institution. It was a way to help people understand and differentiate our institution from its competition. I, therefore, regularly focused on and contextualized our various core institutional values and provided examples of how they guide and are reflected in our programming, community engagement, and development work. I also penned a brief history of the first several decades of the institution (we are quickly approaching our centennial), as a way to provide framing for and connect our founding and development with current and future directions. Related to this, extending the institution into the present with an eye to the future, the communication became a forum in which to share insights about the needs among our diverse constituents in the communities we serve. It became an important tool to highlight various individual and organizational successes, with stories about students and alumni that animated in very human ways some key institutional performance indicators.
But what the Daily Briefing became was an opportunity to learn together—not in the traditional classroom setting and not with students. Rather, it became a forum for ideas and texts (including poetry, academic writing, and rabbinic texts)—sharing insights from a wide range of writings and encouraging colleagues to discuss these materials and ideas with me and with each other. In fact, I heard from many as they pondered the implications of the material I offered, including questions about how to apply Jewish texts and ideas to issues ranging from societal problems to more mundane concerns.
They were taken by the ideas that probed the nature of adults and how they learn, the opportunities that arise when crises force us to rethink the world or our frames of reference, and the ways that Judaism can help us to engage with communal and social justice concerns. I invested a great deal of time, energy, and, I hope, thought into preparing the Daily Briefing—and it proved to be worthwhile. It served as a valuable conduit for information sharing, support, and team building. It allowed me to develop more individual and direct connections with staff, faculty, and Trustees. It gave me a platform through which to share the most important elements of the institutional history, programs, impact, and direction. Perhaps most significantly for me, as the President and a faculty member of an institution of higher education, it allowed me to practice what I preach, what we as an institution preach—that by engaging in discussion, reflecting on ideas, and learning together for the greater good, we see first-hand why what we do is so important. We understand why our work is important, all the time and profoundly in times of crisis, and as we address the most pressing challenges and needs of our day.
We are proud to continue the venerable Jewish tradition of learning together, even when we are apart.
Dear Spertus Community:
In compliance with the most recent City of Chicago and State of Illinois guidelines, Spertus staff and faculty will be gradually returning to the Spertus facility in mid-June, in a safe and limited capacity. A task force with members of our professional team and Board of Trustees is working to ensure that all safety precautions are in place and requisite conditions are met.
In the meantime, we continue to meet our mission with online courses and seminars for our graduate and certificate students, and slate of innovative online public offerings being planned for the months ahead. We have already found that our online presentations are reaching wider audiences and laying the groundwork for new programmatic models.
For decades, Spertus Institute has been a respected leader in distance learning. In the midst of this pandemic, we have been able to draw on this experience. We have offered programs to build community and connections, nurture new skills, and introduce ways for our colleagues, students, and alumni to meet the challenges facing Jewish agencies and nonprofit organizations worldwide.
During this time, I have been surprised and honored to find my research and expertise in demand. For many years, I have been studying, writing, and teaching on the history of pandemics and issues of resilience, knowing that this work was relevant in terms of how we respond generally to challenges in our lives. I wish it was otherwise, but the topical link has turned out to be much closer. I have had the humbling experience of serving as an expert for media on responding to COVID-19 and it is my pleasure to share a recent OpEd and radio interview. Just as we can glean hope and strength from Jewish community actions in times of past crisis, we wish you a time of safety, faith, and promise in the weeks and months to come.
Like many other institutions, Spertus will face a variety of challenges in the short- and long-term, but we are actively planning for the important work we intend to do after the crisis subsides. We are grateful to our students, alumni, members, donors, and the community at large for your continued support.
Amidst this time of uncertainty, know that we remain here for you, consistent in our commitment to learning that is real, responsive, and relevant, today and for whatever the future brings.
Let your home be a meeting place for sages. – Pirkei Avot 1:4
Dear Spertus Community:
Our thoughts are with you, even as we remain separated to slow the spread of COVID 19. In compliance with the most recent City of Chicago and State of Illinois guidelines, Spertus Institute staff and faculty will continue to work remotely through May 30.
At the same time, we are proud and grateful to continue the venerable Jewish tradition of learning together, even as we remain physically apart.
For decades, Spertus Institute has been a respected leader in distance learning. In the midst of this pandemic, we have been able to draw on this experience to develop and provide a wide range of online programs and resources, and we will continue to do so. In the last six weeks, we have offered programs to build community and connections, nurture new skills, and introduce ways for our colleagues, students, and alumni to meet the challenges facing Jewish agencies and nonprofit organizations worldwide.
Across program areas, we continue to innovate. We created and hosted an incredibly successful four-part online series titled Rallying in Challenging Times, which concluded this past Monday. The series brought together Spertus faculty from our Center for Jewish Leadership—including those who teach in Spertus Institute's Certificate in Jewish Leadership (presented in partnership with Northwestern University)—to share their impressive expertise on leadership in uncertain times. Across the four sessions, there were 342 participants. Through guided sessions and interactive chats, they discussed vulnerability and resilience in times of crisis, organizational problem-solving, and what we can learn from history as we consider life during the pandemic. Their feedback left no doubt about their appreciation of the series’ focus on confronting, responding, and moving forward with strength. “This series has created a new community of learning, leadership, and being prepared to develop solutions,” said Shelley Stern Grach, a Spertus student and new trustee.
Graduate seminars, originally scheduled to be held onsite in March, April, and June, have been moved online to keep our students on track, connected, engaged, and learning. The latest segments of our ViewPoints and MentorWorks programs were also offered online, opening up these programs to wider audiences and laying groundwork for new programmatic models ahead. Stay tuned for more online programming as we continue to respond to this dynamic situation.
In the meantime, we hope you will take advantage of the many Spertus resources that are available through our website. Among these, I suggest you explore the very timely resources from our 2020 Critical Conversations program about climate change, which spurred a recent think tank on religion and the environment. Or listen to an interview about how past pandemics can help us contextualize what we are going through today. Please also remember that the considerable online resources of Spertus Institute’s Asher Library are available to students and Spertus members, making this a perfect time to become a member (if you aren’t already) to access ebooks, articles, and films.
Like many other institutions, Spertus will face a variety of challenges in the short- and long-term, but we are actively planning both through the crisis and for the important work we intend to do after the crisis subsides.
We are grateful to our students, alumni, members, donors, and the community at large for your continued support. Amidst this time of distance and uncertainty, know that we remain here for you, consistent in our commitment to learning that is real, responsive, and relevant, today and for whatever the future brings.
Dear Spertus Community:
We hope this note finds you healthy and well!
In compliance with City of Chicago and State of Illinois guidelines relating to the current crisis, Spertus Institute staff and faculty are working remotely.
Although we have been forced to cancel some onsite offerings, we are continuing to offer many important opportunities to learn.
For you and our community of learners, we have developed and launched a special four-part online series, Rallying in Challenging Times. The series is free and open to the public. I invite you to participate. LEARN MORE >
We have also moved online a number of offerings that were scheduled to take place on campus. One example is the next session in our ViewPoints series, which takes place April 21.
For Spertus graduate students, we recently presented an extremely successful four-day online seminar, we have moved a number of other courses online, and have planned online Roundtables for students and alumni to connect, reflect, and share insight, experiences, resources, and expertise. I’d also like to remind you that many Spertus resources are available through our website. These include the considerable online resources of the Asher Library, available to students and Spertus members. Among the offerings perfect for this time: ebooks, articles, films, and online highlights of our collections.
Like many other institutions, Spertus faces a variety of challenges in the short- and long-term, but we are actively planning both through the crisis and for the important work we intend to do after the crisis subsides. We are grateful to Spertus students, alumni, members, donors, and the community at large for the support you have shown, and we know will continue to show.
For now, please accept our best wishes for good health and for a Happy Passover (in whatever format you may be celebrating it).
Dear Spertus Community:
We have joined our colleagues, friends, and neighbors across Chicago in an integrated, city-wide effort to slow the escalating impact of COVID-19. All our onsite offerings will be closed during this period.
Spertus Institute’s Asher Library is closed to students and the public. The Library staff remains available to assist with access to online resourses via email and telephone. See instructions for library materials currently out on loan >
We believe strongly in building a community of learning, sparked by shared moments and in-person connections. But Spertus Institute also has a rich history of distance education and online teaching, and will be making a variety of online offerings and resources available to you, just as we do for our students, inspiring learning and building community from afar. (Already scheduled: an online workshop about learning to listen, on March 26. We hope you can join us.)
As you well know, the situation is dynamic—and will likely have significant impact for some time to come. Updates will be available on our website, by email, and on social media as the situation evolves. If you do not already receive our enews updates, please sign up. We promise not to bombard you, but we do want you to know what’s coming up online. And we look forward to letting you know when we can get together again.
More than anything, this crisis highlights that we are one interconnected community, an idea already much on our minds, as we had made community our programmatic theme for this year. It is in that spirit, the spirit of community, that we will get through this together.
I am certain that many of you are facing similarly challenging decisions. Know that we are here to support you if we can be helpful.
We wish you best of luck as you navigate this global pandemic, and we look forward to learning together.
With best wishes,