Habits of Kindness


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.

With a huge assist from Andrea Hernandez, who has been quietly encouraging this for at least five years, we are going to go ahead and adopt and adapt The Leader in Me:


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.

Shana tovah!

Shofar, So Good!

K & 8 HavdalahThe very first thing we do at the beginning of each school year is gather together as a school community and celebrate the ceremony of Havdalah.  Havdalah literally means “separation” and is the ceremony that marks the transition between Shabbat and the weekday.  Because of its length (short), melody, and prominence in Jewish camping, Havdalah is a relatively popular ritual even with those who are less ritually observant.  Part of what makes any ritual powerful is its ability to infuse the everyday with transcendent meaning.  My small way to lend transcendence to the typical “Back to School” assembly is to use the power of Havdalah to help mark the transition between summer and the start of school.

And so this past Monday morning, the students and faculty of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School marked the transition between the summer that was and the school year that is presently unfolding with a heartfelt Havdalah.

9552597393_cde60ed76bI told my faculty during “Pre-Planning Week” that I had never been this excited for the start of a school year in my 9 years as a head of school.  All the work of the last three years combined with a cast of talented, dedicated, loving, enthusiastic returning and new teachers has led us to this point.  We are as ready as we have ever been to deliver on the the promise of “a floor, but no ceiling”.  And this first week has more than lived up to my expectations.

It has been wonderful to walk the school, to feel the positive energy oozing through the9552603425_0aec85d685 walls and see the smiling faces of our students and parents.  As we say this time of year, “Shofar so good!”

Our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb and our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.  We are focused on ensuring that we take the time at the beginning of the year to create classroom communities of kindness under the leadership of our new Community of Kindness Coordinator Stephanie Teitelbaum.  We are paying extra attention to lunch and recess to make sure the good work of the classroom teachers don’t full through the cracks of unstructured time.

The first week of our new 1:1 iPad program in Grades 4 & 5 has been a success (with the normal amount of confusion newness brings) and the addition of a full-time K-8 Science Teacher has already raised the bar for science education at MJGDS.  And in my meetings with faculty to discuss their professional development plans for the year, I can see the impact their summer reading is already having on their practice.


I don’t think I am alone in this, but I will admit that in the eight prior years of being a head of school, that whenever I had the time to do a school walk-through, in addition to all the positive things I was hoping to see…a part of me was always steeled for the possibility of the things I was hoping not to see.  If a principal is honest, s/he knows which teachers s/he has concerns about, which students s/he is worried about, and, yes, which parents s/he has difficulty with.  We don’t share that information with anyone, but in our hearts we know the score.  And we go into each year optimistic that those problem areas will improve, but realistic that there will inevitably be fires to be put out.

I took my first walk-through of this school year yesterday.

9555387218_1761fe3553I visited each classroom.  I saw every facet of our curriculum.  I saw each teacher.  I saw every space.  It took me about a half-hour before I could put my finger on what was different this time around.  And then I realized that the small sinking feeling of the possibility of something going wrong that typically accompanies me on my walk-through’s was absent!  Room after room, teacher after teacher, activity after activity, student after student…it all looked…like how it was supposed to.  It has taken us four years, but it just might be possible that we have finally begun to become the school we have all worked so hard and with such positive energy to become!

I am no pollyanna.  Things are going to go wrong during the course of the year.  We will still have behaviors to correct, programs to improve, teachers to grow, parents to connect, lessons to be learned, and yes, probably a few fires (metaphorical ones this year!) to put out.  But if the next thirty-nine weeks go as well this one, the 2013-2014 school year will, indeed, be a very special one.

Square Holes

This series aired on CBS in 1982-1983…so you may or may not recall its glorious one-year run, documenting the real life adventures of two “square pegs” entering their high school years.  I was thinking about the show (and its awesome theme song by The Waitresses) as I have recently finished one of my summer reading books from our Faculty Summer Book Club:

Book Club- Square PegIn the seventh grade, Todd Rose was suspended—not for the first time—for throwing six stink bombs at the blackboard, where his art teacher stood with his back to the class. At eighteen, he was a high school dropout, stocking shelves at a department store for $4.25 an hour. Today, Rose is a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Square Peg illuminates the struggles of millions of bright young children—and their frustrated parents and teachers—who are stuck in a one-size-fits-all school system that fails to approach the student as an individual. Rose shares his own incredible journey from troubled childhood to Harvard, seamlessly integrating cutting-edge research in neuroscience and psychology along with advances in the field of education, to ultimately provide a roadmap for parents and teachers of kids who are the casualties of America’s antiquated school system.

With a distinguished blend of humor, humility, and practical advice for nurturing children who are a poor fit in conventional schools, Square Peg is a game-changing manifesto that provides groundbreaking insight into how we can get the most out of all the students in our classrooms, and why today’s dropouts could be tomorrow’s innovators.


There is a lot to appreciate about this book.  It is very easy to read.  The human story is compelling.  The research findings have impact.  The implications for schooling are motivating.  But the common thread I am finding as I interact on our faculty ning with other teachers who are reading the book, is that we are constantly thinking about who have been and who continue to be our “square pegs” and how good a job we have (or have not) done serving their needs.  Do schools have a responsibility to be “square holes” for their “square pegs” and, if so, how can we truly differentiate in ways that meet all students’ needs?  Is it by embracing 21st century learning – which the book clearly indicates is a likely possibility – and, if so, what does it look like on the ground?

One great feature of the book is that it is not just the story of a “square peg” who overcame the odds and went on to be a great success…it is that he has dedicated himself to the very thing that was his greatest obstacle – education (schooling).

I was not a “square peg” – at least not academically.  My learning style is built for education.  And I would guess that many, if not most teachers and educational administrators were good fits and, thus, good at school.  We were round pegs who found round holes.  We are now responsible for all shapes of pegs…


The other connecting point was bullying…that square pegs are frequent targets for bullying and that no one can learn – especially those for whom it is hardest to learn via conventional means – when preoccupied with one’s health and safety.

So…inclusive schooling, differentiation, educational technology, 21st century learning and communities of kindness…sounds like an excellent Jewish day school!  Hopefully ours!


For (a whole lot) more about the neuroscience informing Dr. Rose’s work, please do check this out:


As we round the bend towards school beginning (!), I am pleased to announce that we are indeed fully staffed.  I have already blogged about the structure and makeup of our lead administrative and faculty, but allow me to announce the final group:

  • Second Grade General Studies Assistant Teacher: Dee Ann Wulbern
  • Third Grade General Studies Assistant Teacher: Emma Boette
  • Fourth Grade General Studies Assistant Teacher: Joni Shmunes
  • Fifth Grade General Studies Assistant Teacher: Michelle Lewis
  • Jewish Studies Assistant Teacher: Shosh Orgad

Ms. Wulbern is an experienced public school teacher working her way back after having paused to raise a family.  Ms. Boette has worked in our Preschool and recently graduated with her degree in education.  Mrs. Shmunes has worked at the Center for years and years and was recently honored by the Center for her excellence in teaching.  Ms. Lewis is a new teacher who is also new to our community.  Morah Shosh was on my faculty in Las Vegas who, by happenstance, recently relocated to Jacksonville.

So…we are fully staffed and fully excited (at least I am!) to report back on August 12th for Faculty Pre-Planning (during which we may very well invite a successful former square peg to share his or her experiences and their impact with our teachers).

For now?  Enjoying the present and looking forward to the future…


Setting Limits: Jewish Approaches to Parental Discipline

As far back as the time of the Mishnah, we have been faced with the challenge of setting limits for our teens and children.  Archeologists have unearthed clay tablets, dating back more than six thousand years, that describe how the adults of the ancient Babylonian community were completely confounded by the behavior of their children.

Clearly, this is an old and familiar problem!

Great teachers remind us that our children’s behavior often may reflect more about us than about them.  Children raised in a household permeated with tension, manipulation, dishonesty, distrust, or depression may act high-strung, deceitful, morose, uncaring, rebellious, unsure, listless, inattentive, or angry.  A classic rabbinic parable tells of a man who opened a perfumery in a marketplace frequented by prostitutes and unsavory businesspeople.  One day, the man caught his son in the company of prostitutes and in the midst of a deceitful business deal.  Incensed, he began to shout insults and threats at his son.  Finally, one of the merchants retaliated by asking the man what he expected his son to do and who he expected his son to become when he placed these influences in his environment.

Do you deal with conflict by exploding, pouting, surrendering, bullying or ignoring?  Well, if you do, chances are that your children will study your responses acutely and imitate them consciously or unconsciously.  As Saadia ben Joseph, the tenth-century gaon of the academy in Sura, Babylonia, observed: “Little children do not learn to lie until they are taught to do so.”  Similarly, it is often the case that little children do not rant and rave, yell and scream, hit and pound, ignore and flee, or bully and bluster unless significant people in their lives do the same.

The Hebrew word for parents is horim, which comes from the Hebrew word hora’ah or instruction.  We are the ones who gently guide our children to proper behavior by demonstrating it for them consistently and persistently.  We are the ones who teach our children about appropriate responses to disappointment, threats, challenges, and provocation as much by our actions as by our instruction.

The Jewish approach to discipline advises us never to shame a child or attack his or her character.  We are challenged to teach our children that particular behaviors, words, and attitudes are inappropriate, immoral, unjust, or unacceptable while at the same time showing them love, patience, and sensitivity.  Guidance and instruction are best achieved in a relationship.  If we hold them, hug them, and honor them as human beings in the eternal process of becoming, we manifest the divine, supernal qualities of compassion and wisdom that sustain Creation even when flawed.  We become our children’s models and mentors and by our example and influence, contribute to the world’s blessings and our children’s health and wholeness.