Habits of Kindness: Put First Things First

So Rosh Chodesh Tevet will take place over the weekend, but never fear, we will hold our Rosh Chodesh Tevet Assembly on Monday morning!  And with another Rosh Chodesh comes the introduction, from our “7 Habits Prototype Team” and Knesset, of the third of the 7 Habits: Put First Things First.

As the song says, there are 525,600 minutes in one year.  However, when you consider that approximately 175,200 minutes of that time will be spent sleeping, 16,425 minutes spent eating, and if you’re a student, 72,000 minutes spent in school, you have less than half that total to spend on the rest of your life. Therefore, it is essential to do the important things first—if you leave them until last, you might run out of time.

You know how something is so obvious that you dismiss it?

That’s how I feel about this habit.

You have likely heard that song and/or seen that video numerous times in the past and you know that the moral of the story is to remember that your big rocks are your family and friends and to not get bogged down in the sands of workaholism and workaday concerns.

So why did I get to work yesterday at 7:00 AM and come home at 9:15 PM?

Why do so many of us struggle with finding balance when we know where our true priorities lie?

I don’t have an answer…but I do have an opportunity!

[Bonus Expat File Mini-Post:]

I really believe that Canada is a place that pays more than lip service to work-life balance and wellness.  It may not have quite rubbed off on me yet, but I welcome the opportunity to share and reflect with my Canadian colleagues about how we try to keep ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically prepared to passionately pursue our profession while remaining loving and present spouses, partners, parents, children and friends.

I have made two commitments to wellness this year that are a constant source of teasing…

…I purchased a mini-standing desk for laptop users.

…I purchased a seasonal affective disorder lamp.

I have seen the articles all about how “sitting is the new smoking” and if that is even partly true, I am sadly stage something with sitting.  So I am now standing a few hours a day at my desk and we’ll see what happens!

It is dark when I get to school and dark when I leave school.  And for fun, for about half the year it is pretty dark while I am at school too!  So I have decided to see if one of these SAD lights will keep me un-SAD during the long winter months.

What do you do to “put first things first”?  Feel free to share your secrets via a quality comment on this blog!

Habits of Kindness: Begin With the End in Mind

So I guess I should have checked the Jewish calendar when I decided last week to share that we had launched our “Community of Kindness” initiative  by bringing the “7 Habits” to OJCS, beginning with Habit 1: Be Proactive.  Because today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev! Which means that at our Rosh Chodesh Assembly, members of our Knesset along with some of the teachers on the “7 Habits Prototype Team” introduced Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind.  The good news is that it really will now be a full month before I blog out the next habit.

“Begin With the End in Mind” is all about having a plan, having goals. It is actually a great month for this habit as we look forward to introducing new report card templates and a slightly new format for parent-teacher conferences.  (I will be blogging much more about that soon!)  As individual goal-setting is a key strategy for helping us reach the North Star of “a floor, but not a ceiling,” we look forward to meaningful conversations with parents about academic and behavioral growth.  As we believe that not only should our students aim towards the North Star of “owning their learning,” but so should we all, our teachers too have their goals, some of which they will be sharing with their students so they understand that these habits are not just for them, but for us all.  Since it is my goal to use my blog to share and model the habits as well, I thought it only fair that I use this opportunity to share some of my goals for the year.

Typically, I wait until the spring to share a self-evaluation that includes what my goals were for the year that is finishing.  And I will again in the spring cycle through my annual “Transparency Files” posts, be sharing out parent and faculty survey data, my self-evaluation, etc., but since I, too, need to “begin with the end in mind,” let me share just a few of the goals I have set for myself this year along with my Head Support & Evaluation Committee.

Jon’s Goals for 2018-2019

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population:

  1. Establish and drive a recruitment plan to promote the school and attract new students
  2. Design and execute a retention strategy and plan.
  3. Strengthen pipeline with Ganon & Early Beginnings.
  4. Deepen relationships with synagogues.

OJCS is a school of excellence:

  1. Translating our “North Stars” (“The OJCS Way”) into a strategy document.
  2. Connecting the dots between our work with NoTosh and our work with Silvia Tolisano.
  3. Clarify what role the CAT-4 plays in evaluating academic “excellence”.
  4. Prototyping “Teacher-Led Evaluation”.
  5. Create a technology plan for teachers, students and school.
  6. Develop a comprehensive PD plan.
  7. (Constantly) improve faculty morale.

OJCS is financially sustainable – now and into the future:

  1. Staff the Strategic Fundraising Steering Committee and steward its plans for Annual, Capital and Endowed Giving.
  2. Improve Grandparents Day & Walkathon.

OJCS inspires Jewish journeys in its students, families and community:

  1. Leverage personal relationships with holiday and Shabbat experiences.
  2. Expand holiday family experiences.
  3. Thought-leadership

 

Hopefully, by better using the 7 Habits this year, when it does become time for me to share my evaluation I’ll be able to say that because I “began with the end in mind” that I reached my goals and then some!

How about you?  What are your big goals this year?  Let us know!

Habits of Kindness: Be Proactive

We have been having a conversation as both a staff and a board about the difference between “values” and “strategy”.  Now that we are living our North Stars and about to unveil (stay tuned) a powerful strategy document and presentation, all the energy we are generating and all the prototypes we are launching are dedicated to bringing us closer towards our values.

Values define who we are and why we exist. They guide us, like a moral compass for all in the community. They are the foundations of what we do and the ultimate test of whether our goals and strategy have a ‘fit’, now and in the future.

Any strategy we undertake, therefore, is to provide us with the actions and behaviors – habits – we need to adopt in order to best live our values. Today, I want to introduce a new strategy with its attendant prototypes that we have begun at the Ottawa Jewish Community School to help us truly become a Community of Kindness, where we are “responsible each to the other” and “we learn better together”.

Something I often say is that if you really want to know what a school values, you only need to look in two places- the budget and the schedule.  How we spend our two most precious resources is the clearest way to reveal what we truly value.  If we want to live our values, if we want to build a true community of kindness, not simply a catchphrase, we will need to allocate time and money.  So the first strategic decision was to position this work in the portfolio of our Student Life Coordinator, Deanna Bertrend.  We believe this strategic combination of personality and position will help ensure we are dedicating the proper resources to an initiative of such great import. As important as staffing is a plan…

“Community of Kindness” makes a great slogan and a lousy call to action.  We all recognize the need to be more “kind” and to ensure that our community act with increased “kindness” to all…but what exactly do you do?  To answer that question and to provide us with a common vision, language and set of behaviors, we are turning to a well-researched set of habits, seven of them to be exact.

Our strategy is to go ahead and adopt and adapt The Leader in Me:

The Leader in Me helps to create a common language within a school, built on proven principle-based leadership skills found in Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

  • Habit1: Be Proactive® • You’re in Charge
  • Habit2: Begin With the End in Mind® • Have a Plan
  • Habit3: Put First Things First® • Work First, Then Play
  • Habit4: Think Win-Win® • Everyone Can Win
  • Habit5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood® • Listen Before You Talk
  • Habit6: Synergize® • Together Is Better
  • Habit7: Sharpen the Saw® • Balance Feels Best

It is important to note that there has also been work in the Jewish day school field work on translating the habits into Jewish settings and value language.  Our friends at CAJE-Miami who work in this area offer the following helpful chart:

Introducing “Be Proactive” at our Middle School Retreat.

We began at Faculty Pre-Planning when we spent time in “Book Club” with those teachers who chose to read The Leader in Me as their summer reading and then later that week in a full staff briefing on the new program.  We had a soft launch at our Middle School Retreat where we introduced each of the habits to our middle school students with fun, informal activities to help them understand how these habits could positively impact them.  Our plan for the whole school will have us, beginning last month, introduce and focus on a new habit at our Rosh Chodesh assemblies.  There will be a role to play from Knesset (our student council) and as we ramp up there will be grade and age appropriate activities, including stories, lessons and resources. Parents should look for evidence of how the habits are coming to life on the website and blogs.  In fact, we even have a dedicated 7 Habits page on our OJCS Student Life blog!

Introducing the 7 Habits at our Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan assembly.

This month, we have been focusing on the first habit – “Be Proactive”.  For my part, I am going to try to “be proactive” by dedicating a post each month – this being the first – to its habit.  And we will need your help!  If you are a parent at OJCS, you are welcome to read and learn along with us.  Incorporating the habits at home will only make what we do at school that much more powerful.  So you can “be proactive” as well!

As we aim towards our (North) Stars, let’s make this the year that kindness ceases to be a slogan and starts to be a habit.

We Left As A School and Came Back As A Community

Wow.

That’s all I can say.  We got back exactly one week ago from our three-day inaugural Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa (CBB) and it was everything we could have hoped for in a Jewish informal educational experience.  We had learning, games, athletics, prayer, social bonding, community building, hiking, zip lines, and a campfire to boot!  It felt like we squeezed a summer’s session of camp into just three days…and we are all tired enough to prove it!

After having spent a good chunk of time, in between catching up with the rest of the school and planning through the rest of our holiday experiences, putting together a video of our experience, I will let the video to the talking. I will likely have more to say after the holidays when I’ve had a chance to properly process and reflect.

We didn’t necessarily know what we would come out with, so I apologize to parents and students that not everyone may have made it in – it is not a reflection of anything other than happenstance.  We will more than make up for it with photos and videos throughout the year.  It is, I hope, a taste of why this retreat will become an important part of our middle school.  Our relationships are forever changed – for the good.  We will be able to do things within the walls of the classrooms that we never would have without having spent time together outside of them.

Here’s a taste:

Go to the Principal’s Office! You’ve Been “Caught Being Kind”!

If each time the school calls is to inform the parent that their child has misbehaved (or is sick or forgot their lunch), one imagines that when the phone rings and the school’s phone number comes up on the “caller ID”, the parent is not exactly excited to pick up.  But what if just every now and again we are calling to let them know how proud we are of their child?

How often do principals or heads of school get to call parents with good news?

We are on a mission at OJCS to inspire acts of lovingkindness by building a community of caring.  We want to be a school where we proactively avoid unkind behavior through explicit skill-building and incentivizing menschlichkeit, not (only) reactively addressing unkind behavior through meaningful consequences.  Our students are engaged in the work through Knesset (our student government) and our faculty are engaged in the work through its “Minds Up!” committee.  And the administration is eager to play its part as well…

If each time you were sent to the “principal’s office” was because you were in trouble, you probably wouldn’t want to be hanging out in that part of the building.  And if a principal only spent his or her time with students referred for misbehavior, there would be a significant gap in relationships.

As part of developing this spirit of leadership and a community of caring in our school, how wonderful would it be if each of our students – and our parents and teachers – held the additional title of “Kindness Ambassador”!

One step we look to take right away is to empower our teachers to start sending students to us when they do something kind.  We look forward, as an administration, to focusing on positively rewarding kind behavior as much, if not more, than applying consequences to unkind behavior, so that when the phone rings in the home of an OJCS parent and the school comes up on the “caller ID” that the emotion it triggers is excitement and not dread. Pick up the phone when we call…your child may have been caught in the act of being kind!

As promised

The Inclusive Jewish Day School

jdaim_hires1People who know our family know that since we moved to Florida six years ago, we will take any opportunity to maximize our proximity to Disney.  So it should be no surprise that with a daughter’s birthday nearly conflated with a three-day weekend, that I found myself in line for Space Mountain yesterday people-watching with my ten year-old.  A few families ahead of us was a tween who exhibited a variety of tics, both physical and auditory, who, thanks to the 50-minute wait, attracted his fair share of glances both furtive and obvious.  I observed my daughter and watched her split her gaze between the tween and the watchers and felt myself grow tense as I wondered what she was thinking, what she might say and whether I had prepared her for encountering difference with grace and acceptance.

But beyond the living parenting litmus test the situation created, the question shifted as it often does for me from the personal to the professional and I wondered if this tween had been a student in a school I had headed, would he have felt safe, appreciated, loved and, perhaps most importantly, included?

It made me ask myself, as a leader of schools, “Are we providing our schools with the resources and support they need to tackle issues of difference in ways that accord with our highest Jewish values?”

I am not sure that we are.

And sadly, as a number of articles that have come out in response to this being Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, a significant number of parents and organizations would agree.

We recognize that Schechter schools, Jewish day schools, private schools, etc., are not always capable of handling each and every situation appropriately.  We are not always the “best educational setting” for each Jewish child of difference, disability or with special needs.

But.

We also recognize that if our starting point was “how can we make this work for this child and our school” instead of “here are all the reasons why this cannot work” that a lot more Jewish children and their families would be included.  Our philosophical and moral starting point must be that difference or disability ought not preclude a Jewish day school education for those who wish it.  And then a conversation about how can begin…

 

This Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, let us declare that our schools have a passion for meeting the needs of all Jewish children because we recognize that each child has “special” needs.  That to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  And each time our resources prevent one Jewish family from joining our Jewish day school family, let us be resolved to secure the resources so that not one more family share a similar fate.

When God’s “Breath of Life” is Snuffed Out

God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he became a living soul – Genesis 2:7

I was already contemplating how and whether to step into the emotional minefield of the breath-of-lifeMichael Brown case when news of the grand jury’s decision not to indict in the Eric Garner case broke this week.  And now…

I am not an expert in anything related to this and so I wonder what, if anything, I have to contribute to the conversation.  I am a Jewish educator.  I work with Jewish day schools and do my best to help them they be the best schools they can be.  Is there something I can say or offer that will help them be the best they can be in how they choose to address what is going on in our country right now?  Our schools are led by talented and bright professionals and lay leaders who in this day and age have access to a myriad of resources. Sure, I might be aware of one or two they are not and could help by making them available, but it would be hubris to think that I have an answer to address this that they don’t or that they couldn’t easily find.  And yet…

The Spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty has given me life – Job 33:4

Saying nothing at all doesn’t feel right either.  To say nothing would suggest that I have no stake in this issue, that it neither impacts me nor is incumbent upon me to participate in. Even, if I am unclear as to what “participation” ought to be.  As a citizen and as an educator, I do have a stake, I am impacted and I believe it is incumbent upon me to participate.  And I will, like many others, have to struggle to figure out what participation looks like because I am unwilling to remain forever a bystander.  Are we our brother’s keeper?  What does that keeping look like today?  And so…

All the while my breath is in me, the Spirit of God in my nostrils – Job 27:3

Typically when I prepare to write a blog post, I do a little bit of research. I am very rarely, if ever, writing about something that someone else smarter or more experienced hasn’t already discussed elsewhere. But in light of the onslaught of columns and opinions, I wanted to inoculate myself from outside information and speak purely from the heart about what role I believe all schools, and Jewish day schools in particular, should play in educating our students to appreciate and exercise their civic responsibility as members of a democratic society.

I have lived and worked in so-called “red” and “blue” states and I recognize how passionate people are.  I appreciate how emotionally-laden the conversation can become. It is no surprise with the stakes so high that people can become extremely sensitive. Politics can also be personal and defenses automatically are raised.  Watching the discourse fly back and forth on Facebook or Twitter, even with people I know well, can sometimes be disconcerting.  It doesn’t take much for a conversation to veer off course into unkind territory.  And, thus…

Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. – Ezekiel 37:5

Our responsibility as schools seem simple, straightforward and entirely non-controversial. We should inform our students as to the facts.  We should educate our students as to how our political system works to effect meaningful change. We should teach them the history of American politics. We should instill in them the desire to participate fully in the political process and to proudly exercise their right to vote. We should encourage them to seek truth so that their beliefs and attitudes about how government should work (one of the definitions of “politics”) are rooted in objective reality.  They should learn to be respectful of differing opinions and to always keep an open mind.  I do not believe that we are here to promote a political ideology.  Our students should be largely, if not entirely, unaware of a teacher’s personal political leanings.  We respect that our families represent the full spectrum of political viewpoints.

For me, as an educator, the most difficult trend in political discourse, which impacts our ability to help students “seek truth” is the seeming inability to agree on an objective truth – about just about anything.  This is particularly challenging in schools – like ours – where the ability to develop critical thinking skills is amongst our highest responsibilities.  Facts are facts and opinions are opinions.  Or at least they used to be…

As facts themselves have been called into question, politicized, and debated, it makes it more challenging for schools to play their proper roles.  We want to provide students with the tools and skills they need to discern truth from fiction, fact from opinion.  Armed with facts, they can then form informed opinions.  When we cannot collectively point to a fact and call it “fact”, any hope for intelligent debate fades away.  When we cannot collectively watch a video and agree about what we are seeing, confidence in the system is undermined.  What is a school (or society) to do?

For North American Jewish day schools, current events provide a powerful opportunity to demonstrate how to have complicated and important conversations in accord with our highest values.  We are all made in God’s image, regardless of political affiliation.  At our schools, we will remind our students of that fact while encouraging their informed opinions.

To stay on the sidelines for fear of political correctness would be an abnegation of our responsibility.  So all we can do is our best.  We try to live up to our ideals.  We teach facts. We provide respectful space for opinions.  We encourage civic participation.  We acknowledge that when one of us cannot speak, then none of us can speak.  When one of us cannot vote, then none of us can vote.  And as we learned this week…when one of us cannot breathe, the none of us can easily draw a breath.

For we are all made in the image of “the God in whose hand thy breath is in” (Daniel 5:23).

Studying With Auggie

Like a lot of people – particularly educators – I read and was touched by Wonder.  The 20128290048 bestseller by  R. J. Palico has inspired schools and parents to take a hard look at themselves and take the moral litmus test that lies at the heart of the book:

How would we respond if Auggie showed up tomorrow?

As a school leader, the question was, “Is my school a place where Auggie would feel safe and loved?  Would he succeed here?”

Gross Schechter Skypes with real-life "Auggie" Gabriel Hafter.
Gross Schechter Skypes with WonderKid Gabriel Hafter.

This past week, I was re-introduced to Auggie through a real-life “Wonder” by the name of Gabriel.  Through the power of social media and six degrees of separation, I was made aware of Gabriel – a real-life, Jewish “Auggie” who has begun sharing his transformative story with Jewish day schools, including Gross Schechter a few weeks ago and the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston last spring.

It made me ask myself, as a leader of schools, “Are we providing our schools with the resources and support they need to tackle issues of difference in ways that accord with our highest Jewish values?”

I am not sure that we are.

As I continue what I feel is still my self-introduction to the field in this new role, I wanted to do some thinking together about another issue that I have a great deal of passion for – inclusion – and my enthusiasm for Schechter’s growing ability to become the inclusive Jewish day schools our community and families deserve.

We recognize that Schechter schools, Jewish day schools, private schools, etc., are not always capable of handling each and every situation appropriately. It does not mean that we are, in fact, the “best educational setting” for each Jewish child of difference or with special needs. It is hard to imagine any (private) school that can possibly claim to be that – there is way too much variation in resources, mission and children for any one school to be the “best educational setting” for every child.  It does mean, however, that we are interested in helping our schools learn to better work with families to determine if they are the best setting, to prepare a structure for children to be successful when they enroll, to establish processes to evaluate successes and failures, and to maintain healthy communication to take next steps as they occur.

[Disclaimer: My wife is a special needs educator whose academic and professional experience is with “special education inclusion”.]

In preparing to write the blog, I reviewed my research in this area I think this link from the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) provides good definitions, a concise history of inclusion, decent explanations of federal law, a fair framing of the debate between “full inclusion” and “resource room”, and examples of academic research. I encourage you to read the whole thing. But for my purposes, let me quote a few highlights:

Inclusion
Inclusion is a term which expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend. It involves bringing the support services to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class (rather than having to keep up with the other students). Proponents of inclusion generally favor newer forms of education service delivery.

This would be an accurate expression of our attitude and aspirations for the children in our schools with special needs. (Please understand that GIFTEDNESS is a SPECIAL NEED. “Inclusion” includes our philosophy of how we strive to meet the needs of gifted students as well.)

I am being this descriptive because I want to address a common concern of parents – how will having special needs students in my child’s class impact the experience of my child? Or, won’t the teacher have to spend so much time focusing on the special needs students that s/he won’t be able to provide my child with the individualized attention we expect in private school?

First the research…

There is no evidence that the inclusion of special needs students has any negative impact on the academic experience of the other students if the classroom is structured and staffed appropriately.  This is why the conversation about whether or not a school is the “best educational setting” is so important.  We have to be honest with parents about our resources and abilities.  We should never bring in a child with needs we are not confident we can meet – that risks harm to the child and to the class.  Each child and each situation is different and is handled case by case.  But with the right attitude, support, and training – we are moving to be more capable with more students.

So if there is no impact on the academic experience of the other students…might there be other extremely important and positive outcomes of having special needs students in the classroom?  YES!

While researchers are cautious in their conclusions, there are some positive signs. In particular, students in special education and regular education showed several positive changes, including:

  • A reduced fear of human differences accompanied by increased comfort and awareness (Peck et al., 1992);
  • Growth in social cognition (Murray-Seegert,1989);
  • Improvement in self-concept of non-disabled students (Peck et. al., 1992);
  • Development of personal principles and ability to assume an advocacy role toward their peers and friends with disabilities;
  • Warm and caring friendships (Bogdan and Taylor, 1989).

Do these not seem like the kinds of values a Jewish day school ought to live by?  Would this not represent our highest aspirations for the moral development of our children?  Does this not seem like a good way of making menchen?

Schechter has a passion for meeting the needs of Jewish children – special or otherwise. One doesn’t have to choose between meeting the needs of special needs children or the highly gifted (or the overwhelming majority of children who are neither).  Our schools’ work with children of difference and their families does not detract from their work with all of their other children and families – it enhances it.

To repeat, how we deal with difference in our schools is a moral litmus test…

When my daughter graduates (please God many years from now) from her Schechter school and I watch her walk across the bimah to receive her diploma, my wife and I will surely be proud of her academic achievements (whatever they may be).  But we will be even more proud of who she will have become having learned to love and respect all her classmates no matter who they are, what they know or can do, or however quirky their personality traits might be. And we will be blessed for having had the ability to have her educated in a place that didn’t require families to have to choose between.

 
Gabriel Hafter is a 12 year old from Las Vegas, Nevada. He has Treacher Collins Syndrome. Gabriel has been appointed a WonderKid, by the national Children’s Craniofacial Association. Gabriel speaks to schools around the country, via Skype or in person, about being different, the book, Wonder, by R.J.Palacio, and his anti-bullying campaign to Choose Kind, inspired by the book.
 
If you would like Gabriel to present his 7 Wonder’s of Choosing Kind campaign to your school, please contact Jackie Hafter via phone at 702-845-3731 or email at jackie@thehafters.com.

Aren’t All Jewish Day Schools “Community” Schools?

paper-chain-in-the-dark-1215912-mAren’t all Jewish Day Schools “Community” Schools?

Extended preamble…

Some blog posts evolve into academic mini-treatises with ample hyperlinking both for proper crediting and to stimulate further learning.

Some blog posts are born from a passionate feeling and sometimes read like opinion pieces.

Other blog posts are confessional and lead to catharsis (for me) or humanizing (of me).

The blog posts that are the hardest to write – as we are about to discover – are the ones that are born from a genuine question and a desire to solicit a crowdsourced response.  Not to drive traffic to my blog or raise my social media profile.  But because I am sincerely interested in learning from my colleagues, stakeholders, readers and friends.  I am grappling with a difficult question and I am interested in serious, thoughtful, diverse and challenging answers to help me develop an authentic answer (for me).

The reason these posts are the hardest to write is that within the world of education, and the Jewish educational world even more so, the blogosphere is still largely populated by lurkers.  You are out there and you are reading blogs (which is great), but you do not (yet) feel comfortable contributing to the talmudic chain of commentary that makes blogging so wonderfully Jewish and potentially valuable. I learn some through the process of writing, to be sure, but I learn a ton through the process of collaborating with you through the commentary.

Let’s make a game of it and let’s aim big.  The 20th comment received will receive a prize from me.  That means you have to encourage others to comment as well so you can position yourself as number 20.  Let’s go for it!

End of extended preamble…

 

What is a “Community Day School”?

[NOTE: I am PURPOSELY NOT looking up and sharing definitions nor visiting RAVSAK (the Community Day School Network) for answers.  Not because I don’t think their answers are the correct ones.  They probably are.  But because how people – not just people, Heads of School, Board Chairs, Foundations, Donors, – understand what those words mean is at the crux of what I have been thinking about.]

Stuff I Think I Believe:

  • “Community” and “Pluralism” are not necessarily the same thing but they are sometimes used interchangeably.
  • Every Jewish day school thinks of itself in terms of creating community, being a community for its students and parents, being a healthy part of the larger Jewish community it lives in, and has an increasingly religiously diverse student population for whom it tries to craft an inclusive nonjudgmental religious community.
  • To say that a PARDES, Schechter, YU or Orthodox day school is “ideological” and a RAVSAK or Community Day School is “non-ideological” feels like a false dichotomy.

That’s probably controversial enough for now.

I know more about Schechter than anything else and I have firsthand experience heading a Schechter in a Jewish community where it served and serves as the non-Orthodox Jewish day school.  It has a diverse student population with levels of Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, unaffiliated, secular Israeli, etc., that are commensurate to many other Schechter schools and, to my understanding, many Community Day Schools.

In terms of Jewish ritual and practice, it looks and feels very much in the “center”.  This, too, is similar to many “community day schools” where the “center” is the natural compromise between the various religious communities who make up its population.

Yes, in some cases the driver for Schechter’s center approach is a commitment to Conservative Jewish practice.  Yes, in some cases the driver for a Community Day School’s center approach is a commitment to compromise or accommodation.  But there are also cases where the reverse is true in both settings and lines remain ever-blurry.

More Stuff I Think I Believe:

  • There are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform day schools who are explicitly NOT Community Day Schools.  They typically thrive in communities with large enough Jewish populations to sustain multiple schools with more targeted religious purposefulness.
  • There are Orthodox day schools who are Community Day Schools (either by self-defnition or RAVSAK affiliation or both).
  • There are Reform day schools who are Community Day Schools (ditto).
  • If Orthodox and Reform day schools can be ideologically-identified and still labeled “Community”…why not Schechter?  [Fact: There are Schechter schools who define themselves as both.  There are already Schechter day schools who are Community Day Schools.]
  • There are also Community Day Schools who live and breathe a mission-driven pluralism that is clearly nondenominational or post-denominational or trans-denominational.  Whether you want to call “pluralism” an ideology in its own right is a fair question, but the point here is to acknowledge that there are absolutely Community Day Schools whose approach to Jewish living and learning is mission-driven and clearly not Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.  It wouldn’t be fair to leave that out.

Here’s why it matters to me.

It is no secret that in recent years there have been a number of Schechter schools who have explored changing their official affiliation status from “Schechter” to “Community”. In a few cases this has genuinely been about a purposeful, mission-driven decision to change the way Judaism lives and breathes and/or to change dramatically the rigor and commitment to Jewish Studies for whatever reason. In many cases, however, the exploration is born from a feeling or hope that by changing their external status it will somehow cause a spike in enrollment or fundraising because it is signaling that the school is now of and for the community in a way that it wasn’t or couldn’t be as a “Schechter”.

This perception remains despite the data proving that the former is not true and the fact that Schechter schools can be and often are as “of and for the community” as any other kind of school.

Changing one’s affiliation status without any corresponding change to mission does a disservice to affiliation by rendering it a business equation. It reduces “Schechter” to a caricature and “Community” to a strategy. It denies both the full meaning of their philosophies and confuses the marketplace.

 

It is also the case (see Jewish Montessori) that schools that don’t see themselves as “Schechter” by its narrowest definition are beginning to explore how they may fit in with “Schechter” by a more expansive understanding of what it means and has to say about Jewish education. And so the lines between schools and networks blur even more…

What does it all mean?  For our schools and for the field?  Aren’t all Jewish day schools “community” schools? And why does it matter anyway?

Don’t just talk amongst yourselves!  Talk to me and to each other.

COMMENT.  (Remember…20th comment gets a prize.  Spam doesn’t count!)

Habits of Kindness: “Sharpen the Saw”

paper-chain-in-the-dark-1215912-mWe introduced the LAST of our 7 Habits of Kindness this week at our monthly spirit day assembly!

When our school introduces a new Habit of Kindness, I take it upon myself to blog about the new Habit.  (Last month was “Synergize“.)  Beginning with the fifth Habit, we have been enlisting our Middle School to prepare and present the new Habit at a monthly spirit day assembly.  (You can stay on top of all our Community of Kindness activities by checking out its blog.)  They have been very creative!  Each month’s introduction has typically come with a song or dance that tries to explain the Habit in a catchy way that will stick.  Here’s what they came up with for “Sharpen the Saw”:

Sharpen the Saw

Here’s what it says from the “Leader in Me: 7 Habits for Kids” page:

Habit 7 — Sharpen The Saw

Balance Feels Best

I take care of my body by eating right, exercising and getting sleep. I spend time with family and friends. I learn in lots of ways and lots of places, not just at school. I find meaningful ways to help others.

You can see that our students reinterpreted the ways to “sharpen the saw” into being “Spiritually Fit”, “Mentally Fit”, and “Physically Fit”.

And we hopefully do our best to encourage all of those kinds of fitnesses in our school. Certainly being a Jewish day school provides plenty of opportunity for spiritual fitness, which is one of its many benefits.  And unlike many or most public schools, we have managed to hold on to three-days-a-week PE, critical for fitness as childhood obesity continues to plague our youth.  We do our best to offer healthy options with our hot lunch program, but do struggle with the amount of sugar and snacks that the many birthdays and holidays bring with them.  This is something we plan to revisit next year.

Of course mental fitness goes along with schooling, but one advantage to being a leader in 21st century learning is that it provides tons of opportunity for kids to “learn in lots of easy and lots of places, not just at school”.  We agree!

 

Part of my goal of blogging about the habits is not just to demonstrate how the school attempts to foster them, but to model my own attempts to foster them.  So how am I doing?

Unfortunately, being a mourner has definitely enhanced and strengthened my spiritual fitness.  This is something I blogged about recently with regard to my daily minyan attendance.

Mental fitness?  If I reinterpret the language for children into workaday life, mental fitness here would mean that I find opportunities to learn outside what I am required to learn or think about to perform my job.  For years (many years), my graduate work and my dissertation-writing were more than sufficient to ensure mental fitness.  For the last couple of years?  Outside of many robust games of Words with Friends, my mental fitness may be lacking!  I love the opportunity Shabbat affords me to be with family and friends…they are also my only hours to read…would hate to have to choose between those two!  And by the time my kids fall asleep on Friday nights..so have I.  So I definitely need to “Be Proactive” and do some goal-setting for future mental fitness.

That leaves physical fitness…

So I recently had a birthday and with it, a physical.  Now my wife and I share the same general practitioner and by the time my blood work had come back, my doctor decided to share it with her before sharing it with me.  Which explains why I came home from work one day last week to find a variety of items awaiting me from a recent grocery trip:

Oatmeal.  Tunafish.  Whole grain bread.  Fish Oil.  Almonds.

So, apparently my meal plan from now until eternity is set!  I will be eating oatmeal for breakfast, dry tunafish sandwiches for lunch, almonds for snacks and fish oil for supplements.  I am two weeks in and hopefully soon I will adjust to the idea of never enjoying eating again…

In all seriousness, as someone who just lost a parent who waited (perhaps) too late to take diet and exercise seriously, I definitely am willing to sacrifice potato chips to live a long and healthy life.  So, bring on the almonds!

Exercise.  I do remember it.  And I will absolutely “Put First Things First” and prioritize getting my tuchus out of my office chair at work and couch at home and in motion on a more regular basis.

 

That’s how plan on sharpening my saw…how about you?