May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

School is starting. New faces, new school supplies and hopefully some new ideas. That is not to say that all old ideas need to be jettisoned. However, since we are in the season of cheshbon hanefesh, an introspective examination of our behaviors, it behooves parents, teachers and administrators to evaluate what works, what doesn’t and how to make changes where necessary.

Parents, especially in a two-income home, face serious time challenges. Since children already spend more time in school than they do at home, how best to maximize the quality of that time that is spent at home? Does the family eat dinner together regularly? What percentage of meals are take-out or pizza? Are policies regarding homework, TV, electronics, bedtime, etc. well thought out and fully discussed and understood by all? Do parents and children communicate well with each other? Is there a follow-up question beyond the perfunctory “How was school today?”

New teachers are anxious to put into practice the theories they learned and often try to bring new ideas into the classroom. New isn’t always better, but sometimes it is. Veteran teachers prepare for the new school year as well. The better ones try to invigorate their classes with new materials and approaches to the same subjects they have been teaching for years. The lesser ones will recycle the same tired lesson plans. Creativity doesn’t come easy to everyone. There is a big difference between an inspired teacher with 15 years of experience and a teacher who repeats the same material for 15 years.

Ten years ago I created a program called Seeing Is Believing supported by a grant from the Gimprinch Foundation and run by Jewish Educational Services of the UJA. I videotaped master teachers’ lessons and catalogued them by subject and grade. When a teacher wanted a new idea on a variety of topics and subjects he/she could go to the Merkaz-Teachers’ Center and not only get a lesson plan but watch the lesson being taught by a pro. In addition, we encouraged principals to arrange for teachers to visit other classes to see the good teaching exemplars in their own schools. When the Hebrew in America program was running, teachers visited teachers in other schools to observe how they were teaching the material. It is still a good idea.

Principals can also engage in reflection as the school year begins. Their job is not easy, but with large support staffs and many administrators in most schools it is made easier. Principals are like symphony orchestra conductors. They may not play every instrument but they know how to make beautiful music. Similarly, there are many components to running a school, and when it all comes together it is a thing of beauty.

I suggest the following limited set of Ani Ma’amins for principals for the coming year:

  1. I believe in always doing what is in the best interest of the child.
  2. I believe in the primacy of Ivrit B’Ivrit in practice not just as a slogan.
  3.  I believe in being an educational leader, not a paper pusher. I expect to spend part of each day in the classrooms.
  4.  I believe in minimizing administrivia.
  5.  I believe in the value of technology but not at the expense of the teacher-child relationship.
  6.  I believe in quality professional development for faculty with year-long follow-up and continuity.
  7.  I believe in fostering a positive self-image for every child.
  8.  I believe that grading for limudei kodesh needs re-examination.

School board members also need to engage in cheshbon hanefesh. How can the cost of Jewish education be contained? There is already a communal joint purchasing plan in place for paper, janitorial supplies, etc. However, additional savings can be found if all religious texts were purchased en masse via a bidding process. Every school buys siddurim, Chumashim, Mishna and Gemara texts, posters, Neviim, etc. The purchasing power of schools could also be expanded to include health insurance. School boards can also band together to support tuition tax credits and to work within the federation system to increase allocations to day schools.

The ba’alei mussar advocated introspection as a daily activity. Annual reflection is also a great way to start the new year.

By Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene

Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene was the director of Jewish Educational Services for Northern New Jersey for over a decade. He was also a day school principal and consultant.

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