During these first weeks of the new school year, amid the usual start-of-school logistics and preparations, were the inevitable moments of recognition that we had a challenge of some kind on our hands. For example, we began this school year with a broken elevator, and our early childhood building is a fairly vertical one that houses over 250 students from ages 2 to 5. Also, our arrival and dismissal processes were taking up a large amount of time each day—time I was eager to spend in classrooms and with teachers. In working through these issues there were many lessons to be learned, but what struck me most was that with each lesson came the benefit of a blessing (albeit sometimes in disguise). My creative and smart Uncle Eliot once coined the term blessons, explaining this as a lesson that, if you look more closely, is actually a blessing. These past few weeks, I not only learned many lessons, but also had the good fortune to experience many blessons.
Take, for example, the broken elevator. This meant using the stairs exclusively. The immediate and obvious lesson was that sneakers were a must (also, that my legs would ache from all of the extra stair climbing). But the real blesson was that by having so many stairs to climb with young children, the students who were crying at the beginning of the climb, having just been dropped off by their parents and caregivers, had almost completely stopped crying before they even reached their classrooms. The trip on the stairs afforded us time to talk and connect, and this helped reassure and calm our young students who were facing so much newness and change with the start of a new school year. Simple on the surface, but anyone who works in early childhood education knows the challenge of having crying children entering a classroom. A real blesson.
Next challenge: morning arrival and afternoon dismissal. Arrival and dismissal are lengthy processes in September, as buses learn routes and parents figure out dropoff and pickup logistics. Beginnings are never simple and extra time is needed as systems are set, reset, and perfected. The lesson was that spending more time at arrival and dismissal was a reality I needed to embrace, which in turn required an adjustment both in the rest of my schedule and in my expectations of what I can realistically accomplish in a day. The blesson, though, is that because of this time I’ve had the opportunity to personally greet so many of our students, learn their names, understand how they arrive and go home each day, and meet their baby siblings—and sometimes even their pets that accompany them in the car. I get to know them, and the details of their lives, faster.
To me blessons are a matter of perspective. Simply viewing the above happenings as lessons ignores the opportunity to sprinkle hope and optimism on a difficult situation. If I learned anything from Uncle Eliot’s blessons concept, it is that the world can be filled with challenges and negativity, but we can make the choice to temper that negativity with perspective.
On Rosh Hashanah some years back, my then-8-year-old son Benjamin stood up in front of about 30 guests and said, “Rosh Hashanah is a choice. You have a choice: You can make good choices [as he raised his right hand and stepped to the right] or bad choices [as he raised his left hand and stepped to the left]. But here is the thing—it is your choice. If you decide to do something, don’t blame someone else; they can tell you what they think, but it is your choice in the end.” Profound words spoken by an 8-year-old, which is where I generally get my best advice!
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, make a choice. Choose to search for your blessons. What seemingly small and insignificant lessons might contain a hidden silver lining? Life is so much brighter when we enlighten it with blessons!
Alana Rifkin Gelnick is the associate principal of the SAR Early Learning Center.