As we head into the High Holidays, it seems an appropriate time to revisit and update where we are as a school and an academy when it comes to “community of kindness“. The truth is that the last substantive update came as part of a blog post that dealt with day school faculty and did really not include a lot of specifics.
Let’s rewind and review what we accomplished in the pilot year.
Last year was a pilot. We learned through surveys that our most significant failing when it comes to kindness in our schools is social exclusion. We learned through experience that one significant roadblock to kindness in our schools is what happens outside of school hours and places. We also recognized the unique challenges that living in the 21st century bring to issues of kindness. And we acknowledged that without parents as sacred partners we are unlikely to be the community our children deserve. We provided support to faculty, facilitated experiences with students and hosted two parent forums.
Was it successful?
Well, I would say “yes” with limitations. We succeeded in raising awareness. We began exploring structures for addressing the issues and there were individual successes with specific children that we can point to. But I do not think we had the sort of systemic impact we had hoped for. We are better off for having gone through the pilot than had we not done so. We learned what worked and what didn’t. And so as we head into a second year working with this initiative, we have made significant changes that we hope will lead to an increased impact felt not only within the times and spaces of school, but in our community writ large – our academy, our synagogue, and beyond.
It begins with staffing, but goes much deeper.
The first strategic decision was to pull the initiative in-house (last year we worked in partnership with Jewish Family & Community Services) and give the position to a full-time employee with knowledge, experience and relationships that transcend the academy, and so we have named Stephanie Teitelbaum as our Galinsky Academy Community of Kindness Coordinator. 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. It continues to serve the faculty, parents, and students of our Academy’s schools, but now with an insider’s knowledge and access.
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.
The Leader in Me process is designed to be integrated into everyday language so that it isn’t “‘one more thing” teachers and administrators have to do. It becomes part of the culture, gaining momentum and producing improved results year after year, benefiting schools and students in the following ways:
- Develops students who have the skills and self-confidence to succeed as leaders in the 21st century.
- Decreases discipline referrals.
- Teaches and develops character and leadership through existing core curriculum.
- Improves academic achievement.
- Raises levels of accountability and engagement among both parents and staff.
The Leader in Me process also 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 from their website:
We began at Faculty Pre-Planning when we held a joint session of DuBow Preschool and Martin J. Gottlieb Day School Faculty introducing the big idea and how we plan to proceed. Teachers of similar ages and grades were led through brainstorming activities on how to incorporate the first two habits as it is our plan, beginning in September, to focus each month on one habit. [The Bernard and Alice Selevan Religious School and Makom Hebrew High are coming on board as they open up.] Activities will be grade and age appropriate and will include stories, lessons and resources. Parents should look for evidence of how the habits are coming to life on school websites, classroom blogs, student blogfolios, as well as in parent forums and synagogue events. This month we are focusing on “Be Proactive”.
For my part, I am going to try to “be proactive” by dedicating my first blog post of each month – this being the first – to its habit.
Community of Kindness isn’t going anywhere. We are committed to getting this right because there is no other alternative. And we will need your help. If you are a parent in the academy, 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 sit on the edge of 5774, let’s make this the year that kindness ceases to be a slogan and starts to be a habit.