First, let me thank those who offered encouraging, and candid, feedback on my first attempt at vlogging. [If you want a recap, pop a dramamine, and click here!] Separate from the technical feedback (perhaps staring at myself in the webcam was not the most useful technique) and the performance feedback (perhaps rocking incessantly back and forth in my chair was not the best staging), useful as it is, it is the form and content feedback that I found most interesting. Awkward as it may have been to watch (and shoot), I think the occasional vlog post will be a helpful way to ensure the tree of my voice finds its way through the forest of words I generate most weeks. There is an intimacy that sound and image brings that no typed sentence can match. I may have plenty of room to grow as a vlogger, but I think I am convinced that it is worth the investment of time and energy to accomplish. I imagine the blog will remain my primary vehicle of communication, but supplemented with targeted vlog posts.
And I promise to sit still next time.
Second, as I am typing the afternoon that will soon become Erev Yom Kippur, let me take this opportunity to offer my sincerest apologies to any and all I may have inadvertently harmed or hurt during this last year. I will try to do and be better in the new Jewish year just begun.
Third, let me offer my annual hope for parents to make Sukkot as much a part of your annual attendance as Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur. Please click here for an impassioned plea for marching with fruits and vegetables. New this is year is an incentivization program that will provide an extrinsic motivation designed to ensure sufficient attendance to allow for the much preferred intrinsic motivation of celebrating the joy of Jewish holidays with friends and community.
If any parents have questions about the new program, please email or call me at your convenience. We are looking forward to seeing you on our most joyous of holidays.
Now onto the business at hand…
Dr. Steven Brown, now a Program Officer at the AVI CHAI Foundation, wrote a wonderful blog past last week called “Religious Purposefulness on the High Holidays” (click here for the whole post), in which he issued the following challenge:
Day schools have been fairly successful in the cognitive domain, seeing student learning accomplishments of high order in Jewish studies and Hebrew language. But I raise some questions:
- How can we create Jewish day schools or summer camps which truly affect students’ commitments to seeing the world through Jewish lenses (in whatever denominational form), making Jewish life and practice part of their daily lives now and in the future?
- If you are connected to a Jewish day school or summer camp, what are examples of religious purposefulness that you can see and can describe in your school or camp?
- What are the biggest challenges in cultivating religious engagement and purposefulness in the Jewish educational context you know best?
He then asked the field to contribute examples of religious purposefulness in Jewish day schools, and I said to myself, “Community of Kindness“!
Utilizing the questions Dr. Brown asks provides me with the perfect opportunity during this period of reflection to reframe “Community of Kindness” as an example of religious purposefulness in action. As we move from the initial phase into surveys culminating with calls to action, I find it helpful to remind ourselves of why we are doing this in the first place. Although there is nothing new in what follows, I find the reframe a useful way to reorient and refocus on what is most essential. Without further adieu…
Religious Purposefulness Vignettes
Goal: To begin a national conversation on the nature of religious purposefulness in Jewish day schools by providing succinct examples in the form of vignettes about practices in our schools.
What is the activity or learning experience? What does it look like?
I am pleased to share the first-ever initiative of the new Galinsky Academy [the home for all the schools of the Jacksonville Jewish Center including the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, the DuBow Preschool, the Bernard & Alice Selevan Religious School and Makom Hebrew High] will be an exciting pilot program called “Creating a Community of Kindness”! We launched at the beginning of the school year and are partnering with Jewish Family & Community Services to create a sustained, meaningful, comprehensive program that will not only include our schools, but also our clergy, to ensure the fullest participation and the maximum impact possible.
Why is this an example of teaching or modeling religious purposefulness?
The purpose of this program is to create a community of kindness amongst students, teachers and parents at Galinsky Academy. This is intended to support what is already being taught with the message of chesed throughout the religious institution. Jewish schools are in the character-building business. It is a significant motivation for parents to enroll their children in our schools. We care at least as much about who our students are as we care about what they can accomplish. We utilize Jewish value language across the curriculum to reinforce the idea that being a mensch is not something one does only in certain classes, but something one is all day long. Our teachers, along with our clergy, work hard all day to ensure that our school lives up to the ideal of being a community of kindness. And even during school we struggle to achieve our goal. That’s precisely why we launched the “Community of Kindness” initiative in the first place. We recognized that in order to become that community it required all of our schools working together with our clergy to build the safe, loving environment our children deserve.
Where and when does it sit in the life of the school (classroom, shabbaton, school-wide, extracurricular, one-time occurrence, ongoing) and to whom is it directed?
Our plan from the beginning, has been to avoid the one-shot assemblies or training that have some, but fleeting impact on the lives of our students, teachers, and parents and move to something deeper and more powerful.
We began last month month with teacher workshops during “Preplanning Week” and “Faculty Orientation”. We also presented information at PTA-sponsored “Back to School” brunch. Student, parent and teacher surveys are in creation and are scheduled for October. Depending on the data, programs, trainings, workshops, town halls, etc., are scheduled to begin in November.
What is the context enabling this activity to happen? How does the school administration and staff lead and manage this activity? How do you measure success?
Prior survey data from our schools indicate that the most prevailing form of “bullying” or “mean” behaviors throughout our institution are those of social exclusion. Our students, academically, know what the right thing to do is. But many suffer from a pervasive “by-standerism” that prevents rightful action from occurring.
The schools are capable of responding appropriately once behaviors happen. The reactionary system is working appropriately, by and large. We need to create a culture that reduces, if not eliminates, those kinds of behaviors from happening in the first place. We lack a proactive system. It will take students, parents, teachers, administrators, volunteers, and clergy working together to create a common vocabulary and to build a culture where a child of 3, a teen of 15, and a parent would each be equally willing to come forward when faced with “mean” behaviors and articulate that this is not how we behave here.
We will know we have succeeded when we hear peers tell each other that…
“We don’t let friends eat by themselves here.”
“We don’t let our classmates play by themselves on the playground.”
“Of course you could be my math partner!”
“No one works by themselves on class projects here.”
“We invite all our friends to birthday parties in our community.”
You can supply your own appropriately positive quote. But we will know the culture has shifted when those kinds of expressions are voluntarily offered, not teacher prompted.