April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Keep the Excitement Going

Throughout the Jewish world, tens of thousands of children and young adults recently returned to the classroom for another year of schooling. The excitement was palpable. Children and parents were busy purchasing and labeling school supplies, clothing, lunchboxes and other related items. Teachers worked diligently to ready their classrooms, organize materials and foster an engaging, productive learning environment. Administrators toiled throughout the summer to have everything in place for day one, including back-to-school programming for students and professional development for teachers.

The first day finally arrived. With great eagerness, children rose early for school, ready to reconnect with friends and meet their new teachers. They excitedly learned new routines, began to understand expectations and set off on a new journey ripe with opportunity.

While some children and adults are able to sustain their enthusiasm well into the year, for many their initial interest quickly dissipates, sometimes within but a few days. We start to think of school less in terms of growth potential and achievement and more about the daily grind, an endless process of work, discipline, assignments and the like that for too many converts opportunity and passion into burden and indifference (if not outright contempt or despair). What can we do to make this school year the one that fulfills all of its promise? How can we make this year the best one ever?

While there is no formula that will work for all of us, there are some strategies that, if followed carefully and consistently, can help our children and ourselves gain the most from the upcoming school year.

1. Adjust your mental paradigm—Too often, we think of tasks and processes as sprints. Our goal is to get off to a quick, strong start and we don’t anticipate having to sustain our effort for all that long. To succeed at school requires a different approach. Children as well as the adults who teach and support them need to take a long-term view of things. This may include general persistence and strong study habits. It also refers to a mindset that we are in it for the long haul, with much to do before we can say that we’re finished (at least with this year’s work).

2. Clue them into the goals—Too often, children and parents don’t really know what the year’s goals and objectives are. Most would probably say “ to finish __ grade.” As a former teacher, I would submit that teachers (particularly newer ones) also may enter the year with a nebulous sense of what needs to happen in order for the year to be considered a success. Teachers can help themselves and their charges by offering a list of objectives (“ By the end of third grade, you will have learned … and be able to…” ) Even if certain individual students are
unable to achieve those goals as they are presented (more about that in a bit), they give the class and the year a sense of direction and purpose.

3. Get to know children’s learning styles—Most instruction, particularly in elementary school and higher, tends to be auditory and visual (verbal). This means that teachers rely heavily on their ability to articulate concepts, instructions etc. and have students learn and process by listening. We do our children a great service by helping them understand how they learn best. They may be kinesthetic learners, who learn better when they can move as they learn. Perhaps they have strong interpersonal intelligence, and need to talk things through in order to achieve clarity. Maybe they are musical, and would be well served by being able to listen to music or put information to song as a way of deepening their learning. Quizzes are available online that can help determine a child’s learning preferences.

4. Communicate early and often—It is crucial for parents and teachers to develop strong lines of communication. This is true on the high school level, and all the more so in primary grades. Of course, such communication should be two-way and proactive. However, I suggest that parents in particular take the initiative, and not wait for conferences or for things to go sideways. I can personally attest from my experience as a teacher as well as principal that involved parents are usually great advocates for their children. This is not to say that parents should overdo it. Rather, arrive at an early understanding as to when would be a good time to catch up and endeavor to stay consistent throughout the year, even when things appear to be going well. This will minimally result in the child receiving more positive feedback and may even allow for the adults to identify an issue and troubleshoot it before it becomes something bigger.

5. Same does not mean equal—To that end, children need to know that different (as in different objectives and treatment) is not unfair. If anything, we create an imbalanced playing field by asking all students, regardless of abilities, supports etc. to perform the same way. Let students know that personal approaches are designed to meet individual needs and then help them identify and celebrate their successes.

6. Develop a routine—Establishing a proper daily routine can be very healthy. Routines ensure that children and their parents remain focused and organized, and don’t let things get past them. Almost nothing causes greater stress in the morning than a child or two that overslept, can’t find what they need, realized that they didn’t do an assignment etc. Moreover, when a child goes to sleep knowing that she is ready for the next day, she is more at peace and more relaxed. The goal is to keep the stress level down while also minimizing the association between school and stress.

7. Tell them the benefits—Take the time to help children see the value in what they are learning. If the material falls within general studies, let them know what they will be able to do with their learning, in terms of employment or as informed citizens. Mitzvos, as well as general hashkafa, also must be presented in the right context. Sure, our children need to know that we learn because that is the way through which to understand and practice d’var Hashem. But they should also be told what they stand to gain, such as reward for the actions, as well as a deep sense of personal fulfillment. This will help motivate them to learn and do more.

8. Daven—We all want for our children to be happy and successful. Certainly none of us want for them to experience a poor year, particularly with all of that money that we pay in tuition. Daven regularly that they should succeed.

Of course, the above list represents but a handful of suggestions that can help to ensure a successful year from beginning to end. May all of our tefillos be answered and may we shep much nachas from our children throughout the most amazing and successful year that is now upon us.

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting (ImpactfulCoaching.com). He can be reached at 212-470-6139 or at [email protected].

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