April 24, 2024
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RPRY Teachers Continue to Glow and Grow in This COVID Year

On Taanit Esther, Thursday, February 25, Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva teachers, administrators and staff participated in a professional day of opportunity that highlighted the profound work that occurs daily at our school. Under the aegis of the Shenkman Family Think Tank Integration Initiative, we continue to create a vibrant, sustainable and unique educational program that supports children’s holistic development. Great learning occurs through the medium of emotions and with glowing, emotionally resonant instruction, students attain increasing levels of academic rigor in a meaningful context.

Here is a glimpse of our recent day:

We began with a brief mindfulness activity. Mindfulness is a practice and a way of staying in the moment. This is a very useful skill for supporting attention and focus. At RPRY, as adults we try to engage and model the behaviors that our students will emulate.

Let’s explore a bit about mindfulness practice, as explained by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

“Wherever you go, there you are!” This statement is simple and deep simultaneously. This moment is really all we have to work with. In every moment, we find ourselves at the crossroads of the here and now. To allow ourselves to be truly in touch with ourselves, we have to pause in our experience long enough to actually feel the present moment, to hold its awareness. Often, we are preoccupied with the past, with what has already happened or with a future that has not arrived yet. We are always looking for something better, happier, more the way we want them to be. This tension permeates our beings. We think that what we are thinking—our ideas and opinions—are “the truth,” instead of just being in our minds. Meditation or mindfulness practice helps us be in the moment, and what happens in this moment then, of course, influences the next moment. No one else can do this job for us; each person must do this for him/herself. Mindfulness helps us get unstuck.

Morah Hadas Rosenthal led our team in a brief and beautiful meditation centered on the pasuk of “כי האדם עץ השדה,” “ki ha’adam etz ha’sadeh,” combined with the tree pose. The language of support and message to ourselves was about our mission as teacher heroes in this challenging time. Our strong roots are deep in the ground of Torah values, learning and raising our next generation, and that centers us and keeps us firm and taking care of ourselves. With those strengths we can produce our fruits to share with our students.

Fully energized, we dived into the rest of our day! Sessions were divided by division, with early childhood and kindergarten, lower school grades 1-4 and middle school grades 5-8. Each cohort completed a session with our Hidden Sparks coach, Lily Howard Scott. Topics included “Normalizing Vulnerability” for early childhood and kindergarten, “Student Agency,” for lower school, and “Promoting Positivity” for middle school. During each rotation, another group completed the first session of our Nurtured Heart training as well. All of the workshops provided the teachers with numerous recommendations of resources and read-alouds to support the classroom. In addition, none of these workshops are one-offs. Rather, they are part of our teachers’ access to continuous support, not only from their supervisors, but also directly from the workshop coaches.

The workshop on vulnerability helped teachers define vulnerability and courage in the classroom. It was filled with ideas for how to support students identifying their “brilliant mistakes,” where they can grow and the work that they love. Teacher discussed best practices for classroom routines and frameworks that promote openness, connection and risk-taking in a warm classroom community.

The workshop on student agency focused on fostering classrooms that seed initiative, creativity, self-knowledge and engagement. Many practical tools were reviewed through the prism of weaving student choice into curriculum, balancing pressure and tension in the classroom community and promoting metacognition and intrinsic accountability.

Finally, Ms. Scott’s workshop on marshalling positive energy for the last trimester of the school year emphasized the importance of joy in our learning. She supported teachers to find ways to incorporate positive narratives, celebrations and connections with each other.

Teachers were excited to begin their first session of The Nurtured Heart Approach training with Yael and Naftoli Walfish. The Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA) is a comprehensive behavior support positive mindset shift for our school with clear expectations and encourages pro-social behavior for grades early childhood through eighth. It is simple to use with quick results. NHA develops a new lens for adults to model mindfully noticing and verbalizing success. It allows schools to share and model values in a way that children can absorb. It helps to develop children’s positive inner voices and language by building a portfolio of greatness so they can identify with their best selves. NHA is built on the premise that it is human nature to get back more of whatever we energize. Children want to connect with us, and so we need to have clearly defined rules with quick, unenergized consequences, provide mega-doses of positivity and consciously be low-key about the negative.

NHA is transformative and the teachers began by paying attention and identifying where in their days they were putting their energy. They had to ask themselves, “Is intensity automatically a negative or is that really a sign of a person’s vitality and it needs a response in kind?” “How can we celebrate and energize the positive and allow children to step into their greatness?” Over the upcoming months, the teachers and staff are empowered and excited to gradually increase their practices.

We will end with several comments from teachers:

“I immediately had so many ideas to bring back to my classroom the next day and that felt great.”—early childhood teacher

“Every time I hear Lily, I feel energized. Then, I can strategize about yet another plan for a challenging situation.”—lower school teacher

“When I hear the students using my Nurtured Heart language in their social interactions with each other, I feel like it has transformed my class.”—lower school teacher

“All the sessions were so well-run and so applicable to what I teach. Very helpful for my teaching and my students.”—middle school teacher


Mrs. Chana Luchins is principal of general studies at RPRY.

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