Friday, January 25, 2019

It's All About Relationships

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I came across an article recently that really resonated with me, and I want to share it in this space. It's called "Students Learn from the People They Love: Putting Relationship Quality at the Center of Education." It resonated with me because I know that it's true, and I'm afraid that it's something we've lost in education. Not in our preschool, thank goodness, but in the upper grades where the stakes seem so much higher and there's more and more pressure to be successful.

I've been an educator for over 20 years; I've taught children preschool through high school; I've taught in private schools and public schools; I've taught in religious schools and secular schools; I've taught formally and informally. Each experience was entirely different, and each experience was exactly the same. It's all about relationships.

My big "aha" moment happened at a workshop on brain development early in my career. I learned that in order to really learn something, a skill or a concept, to really internalize it, we have to have a positive association with the experience. The more positive the experience, the better and deeper the learning. So I figured, "A child can't have a positive experience with me if they don't like me." That doesn't mean I ever let my students set the agenda so that they would always get what they wanted. It doesn't mean I wasn't a disciplinarian. Instead, it meant that it was on me to create an environment that welcomed and respected every child. It was on me to treat every child with care and concern, to let every child know that I "got" them. It was on me to challenge every child in a way that they knew meant I believed in them. It was on me to create activities and lessons that were engaging and exciting. It was on me to make sure that every single one of my students wanted to come to school every single day.

To bring it back to the preschool level, I'm sharing a post from May of 2017. It explains the science behind the importance of relationships:

Shortly after Passover, I attended Children Together’s spring conference. 
This year’s conference, presented by Dr. Beth Tuckwiller from The George Washington University, was entitled Neurodevelopmental Science and Social-Emotional Development. The essential understanding was objectively simple but essential and profound. In order to be successful in the classroom, children need to form attachments with their teachers in ways that are similar to those they form with their parents. While nothing ever could or would replace the parent-child bond, the teacher-child bond is nevertheless crucial. Too often, classroom teachers focus too much on routines and procedures, which, to be fair, do serve an important purpose. But focusing on routines and procedures to the exclusion of building relationships can actually be counter-productive. If children love and trust their teacher, if they have a positive, authentic, and mutually respectful relationship with their teacher, children will be more likely and able to comply with their teacher’s requests, whether the request is to line up or count to ten. Children are able to learn only when they feel supported emotionally and socially.

Every single aspect of a child’s healthy development, including academic growth, involves a social component. There are always two people involved, and in a classroom, one of those people is always a teacher. To take the essential understanding a step farther, this means that when a teacher encounters a challenging child, one who doesn’t meet the typical expectations, the teacher needs think about what they are bringing to the relationship before they can even begin to think about what extra support the child might need. The more challenging the child, the greater the need for a stronger teacher-child bond. I am reminded of something Haim Ginott, the psychologist and educator, wrote: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

This is no easy job, but it's not one I would trade for the world. It's such a privilege and a joy to build these relationships with so many amazing young people.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- Beshalach

Image result for children listening to musicIn this week's parshaBeshalach, the children of Israel finally leave Egypt. Followed by Pharoah and his army, they reach the Sea of Reeds, where it seems as if they're trapped. God then causes the sea to split, creating two walls of water and a path of dry land on which the Israelites can escape. When Pharoah tries following them, the waters fall back into place, drowning the Egyptians. In celebration, the Israelites break into song. Moses's sister Miriam leads the women in singing and dancing and making music with their timbrels. There is a reason this Shabbat is known as "The Shabbat of Song." 

There's no better way to engage children in a story or a tradition than with a song, and singing around the Shabbat table at the end of the meal is lots of fun. Ask your children which songs they know, or check out some new music. Try Debbie Friedman, Judy Caplan Ginsburgh, Sheldon Low, Rick Recht, or (my personal favorite) Sally and the Daffodils.

You can also check out PJ Library Radio, a free streaming service. It's a great way to discover new music. I've enjoyed listening to Nefesh Mountain, a lovely blend of traditional Jewish music and bluegrass. Also featured is Josh Warshawsky. Josh visited the preschool last year and taught us the beautiful "Am I Awake? Am I Prepared?" , a song that has become a staple of Hazzan Dienstfrey's repertoire. Better yet, ask your children to teach it to you.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- The Lunar Calendar

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In this week's parsha, the final plagues are visited upon the Egyptians, and the Israelites are told: "this month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year."

The Hebrew calendar is lunar, which is why the Jewish holidays are never on the same (English) date year to year. Since the celebration of Passover must happen in the spring, leap months are added to the calendar (seven times every nineteen years) to sync up the seasonal celebrations.

We mark the beginning of each new month at the new moon, and many of our holidays fall in the middle of the month, at the full moon. I genuinely enjoy watching the night skies in the weeks leading up to Passover to remind me how much time I have left to get ready for the holiday. As the moon grows and gets fuller, I have to plan faster!

It's a wonderful thing to make the time to look up at the stars and the moon with our children. Not only can we use the moon to track our holidays, but looking at up the celestial objects reminds us of the vastness of God's greatness. It gives us yet another reason to be thankful.

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