Thoughts on Teaching and Learning

One of the many blessings of being the rabbi at The Davis Academy is that I’m afforded daily opportunities to reflect on the most basic components of education: teaching and learning. Here are a few gleanings from my day (in no particular order).

  1. True learning is, by necessity, transformational. If we’re truly learning then our future self will, by necessity, differ from the person we are today.
  2. Classroom learning is most impactful and exciting when students are able to connect their learning to real life.
  3. Two people can look at the exact same thing and see completely different things.
  4. In all great classrooms there are multiple lessons being taught at the same time.
  5. You can’t bake bread without flour.
  6. Growth is wonderful, healthy, necessary, and beautiful. And sometimes it’s also painful.
  7. Teaching in the absence of learning is not an absurdity, but rather an impossibility.
  8. We all connect to passion and do our best when our motivation is sincere and compelling.
  9. It only takes a moment or two to know when you’re in the presence of a master educator.
  10. The sound of deep learning is as glorious as any symphony and in many respects more redemptive.
  11. Thoughtful, respectful, and authentic dialogue and conversation are cornerstones of teaching and learning.
  12. Children have many teachers and are constantly learning.
  13. Reflection is that set of activities, skills, dispositions, and capacities that allows any learner to become his or her own teacher.
  14. Teaching and learning are not only about imparting knowledge, but also about helping one another to encounter the wisdom within.

It was a great day! So was yesterday. And I’ve got a pretty good feeling about tomorrow! Educator friends: what did y’all reflect on about teaching and learning today?

The Three Most Important Qualities of Educational Leadership

There’s a lot of ink spilled on the topic of leadership and an abundance of good ideas about what great leadership looks like. My own thinking about leadership is continually evolving. In short, leadership requires a diverse and ever expanding set of traits, skills, and capacities. As I approach the 2015-2016 school year, here are my top 3.

The three most important qualities of educational leadership are: reflection, curiosity, and relationships.

Reflection: Educational leaders must practice ongoing reflection. We must consistently think about who we are, what we are doing, how we are doing it, and how our actions, decisions, and presence impacts others. We must encourage everyone around us to take time for reflection as well. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders– the school year often moves at a frantic pace. We must encourage reflection, we must model reflection, and to the extent that we are able we must encourage and help others around us to do the same.

Curiosity: When we are curious about something we show that we are interested in that thing, that we care about it, and that we are willing and interested in deepening our understanding of it. If we are curious about something the implicit message is that we value it. As educational leaders we have ample opportunity to be curious. We can be curious about our colleagues lives and aspirations, we can be curious about curriculum and how it impacts learning, we can be curious about our students and the work that they create. We can be curious about our families and why they choose our school and what they hope for their children. We can be curious about why things are the way they are within our schools. We can be curious about the impact that our school has on the broader community.  If we maintain a posture of curiosity we might find ourselves asking the right questions and uncovering new insights to help move ourselves and our schools forward.

Relationships: The essence of leadership is relational. There’s no point in talking about educational leadership in the absence of relationships. The relationships that we have and the relationships that we promote in our schools are the most important thing that we do as educational leaders. In the context of a strong relationship built on mutual trust and respect anything is possible. In the absence of a positive relationship or when a relationship is deteriorating, it is virtually impossible to be an educational leader. Sometimes the work of relationships is pushed to the side because of the many tasks that fill our days and the days of our colleagues, teachers, and students. It is the responsibility of the educational leader to make sure that the work of relationships never comes off the list of top priorities.

The Great Migration: Back to School 2015-2016

The month of August ushers in one of the greatest of all human migrations: the migration back to school. It’s a migration not only for students but for parents, teachers, administrators, and the countless other people that make schools come to life each year. As we collectively gear up for this annual journey I want to share a few thoughts that might inspire us to pause and reflect on what this migration is all about. Though I write from a very particular context, that of The Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School, I believe most of these thoughts are relevant for anyone embarking on the great migration back to school.

 

Davis Tree

 

 

1. Old School. Formal education is one of the most ancient of human institutions. There have been societies that didn’t have the wheel or know how to kindle fire, but there has never been nor could there ever be a society without a structure for ensuring that the young learn from the “less young.” Though the aims, content, and structure, necessarily vary, education is one of the roots of human experience. It’s something we do out of biological necessity. Knowing that we are participating in this great and timeless undertaking should be a source of pride, and more importantly, a source of meaning. There is truly no calling more noble than that of teaching and learning.

2. Covenant. Too often we think of the relationship between student and teacher, between teacher and parent, between family and school, as a contractual or worse a transactional one. If we dig a little deeper we’ll discover that these relationships are actually covenants. A covenant is a relationship between equals. It is a relationship that places mutual obligation and mutual promise at its core. It’s a relationship that, by its very nature, cannot be broken (though it can be damaged). It’s a relationship of deep accountability and respect. It’s a relationship built on honesty and dialogue. A relationship where both parties are responsible for teaching and learning.

3. Whole child. We talk about educating the whole child, but too often talk isn’t translated into action. The whole child is mind, heart, body, and spirit. Would any of us really assert that American schooling as it exists today is educating the whole child? From where I sit, the answer is no. One particular area where we could and must do better is nurturing spirituality. The separation of church and state doesn’t mean that we can’t and shouldn’t be helping students cultivate a sense of connectedness, awe, and wonder. The sciences and the humanities provide endless opportunities for awakening and engaging the human spirit.

4. The classroom. The classroom is an undeniably important learning site, but it’s not the only one. Learning doesn’t start and and end in the classroom. When our students come back to school, they are coming from somewhere. When the bell rings they are headed to somewhere. We are all learning all of the time. Students don’t come to class ready to learn, they come to class in the midst of learning. If what we teach them is operative only within the classroom then our students won’t carry their learning with them. If we ask them to disconnect from the natural learning that they’re doing when they enter our classroom then we are inadvertently stunting their learning. We all have the chance to view our classrooms as spaces wherein we can acquire certain skills and knowledge that will help us thrive in the ultimate classroom of human experience: the world.

5. Poetry. There are times in life when prose is insufficient. Wherever we are, whatever we teach, however we fit into the back to school migration, let us find ways to bring poetry into our lives and into the world. Read a poem, write a poem, be a poem. Let us show our students the poetry of the world and let them show us the same.

6. Relationships. Relationships are the core of our humanity. Our existence is meaningful only to the extent that we are connected to one another. That we value other people and are valued by them, that we take an interest in other people and are of interest to them, that we care… This is what gives our life purpose. The relationships between teachers and students, children and parents, teachers and fellow teachers, teachers and administrators– these and other relationships are what make schools work. Good relationships are built on trust. They take time to cultivate. They are simultaneously strong and fragile, dynamic and stable. Growing and sustaining meaningful relationships may be the most important thing to focus on as we head back to school.

7. Optimism. There’s a great debate out there. Sometimes it takes the form of an obscure argument about whether human nature is good or evil. Sometimes it focuses on whether human beings will eventually destroy or save the planet. It’s basically a debate between people who think things inevitably (if sometimes slowly) get better and people who think things inevitably (and sometimes rapidly) go down the toilet. If you’re headed back to school then you are, by definition, an optimist. Even if you don’t think so. If you’re headed back to school and you’re not an optimist then you should consider taking an eternal summer or reconsider your self-assessment. Optimism, a belief in progress and human potential, is a non-negotiable for education. If we believe in the human capacity to learn and grow then we inherently also believe in the human capacity to become more compassionate, thoughtful, loving, gentle, and interested in advancing not only our own betterment but the betterment of all.

As we flock to gather our school supplies and migrate back to school I want to wish all of my fellow teachers and learners a meaningful and memorable school year.

The top 11 reasons why EVERY rabbi should consider a career in Jewish day school

NB: It’s been pointed out by a number of colleagues, quite accurately, that virtually everything in this post applies not only to rabbis to all Jewish professionals, particularly Jewish educators. Feel free to read it in that spirit as the focus on rabbis is simply meant to highlight the potential to increase rabbinic presence in the day school environment. 

 

I’m writing this post because I’m something of an anomaly– I’m a rabbi that works at a Jewish day school. Most rabbis, especially Reform and Conservative rabbis, don’t work at Jewish day schools. They work primarily at synagogues– which is great. If they don’t work at synagogues they work at a host of different worthy organizations– also great. But rabbis are radically underrepresented in Jewish day schools. I have some thoughts about why that’s the case (compensation, perceptions, seminary training– to name a few), but this post is dedicated to a different topic: why EVERY rabbi should consider a career in Jewish day school.

1. Rabbi means Teacher. While day school rabbis have an array of duties and varied portfolios one thing that is consistent is that our primary focus is on teaching and learning. As a day school rabbi I get to do what I thought it was that rabbis are supposed to do: teach Torah. There’s a lot of stuff that comes along with teaching Torah at a Jewish day school but none of it is so cumbersome that it detracts from this fundamental goal.

2. A Rabbi and a Jew. One of the unresolvable tensions of the American rabbinate is that rabbis work when Jews are supposed to rest. Shabbat is the best example of this. When the rest of the Jewish world is invited to stop what they’re doing and try to taste the holiness and shalom of Shabbat, rabbis are on the bimah officiating, presiding, and preaching. As a day school rabbi I get to be a Jew on Shabbat. I get to do what Jewish people are supposed to do. I get to rest. For me, the ability to live the rhythms of Judaism is important for the authenticity of my rabbinate.

3. 180 days. Day school rabbis see their congregants 5 days a week for at least 8 hours a day. Think about the depth and breadth of relationships that day school rabbis can nurture and sustain with this literally unparalleled access to our people. All the buzz in the Jewish world today is about engagement and meeting people where they’re at. It’s easy to meet people where they’re at if you work at a Jewish day school.

4. Lots of colleagues. Most Jewish organizations have very limited full time professional staff. Consequently, many rabbis are lonely, especially if they’re in smaller communities. I work with more than 100 professionals every day. These passionate professionals have diverse interests and talents, different needs and personalities, and so much more. A day school rabbi is never lonely.

5. Hebrew. Many of my colleagues, across denominational lines, report that their Hebrew language skills have dropped off the planet. Part of my portfolio as a day school rabbi is supervising our Hebrew program. That means sending and receiving emails in Hebrew every day. That means having coaching and mentoring meetings in Hebrew. That means department meetings in Hebrew. All this means that my Hebrew has actually gotten better since I left seminary. It’s sababa.

6. Impact. Judaism has long understood that our children are our most precious resource. Working directly with students and helping them find their place in Judaism and in the world is truly a joy and a blessing. For young children it means that their formative Jewish experiences happen under our roof. For older children and adolescents it means that we help them transition from the Judaism of childhood to a more mature and nuanced engagement with our tradition. This isn’t unique to the day school setting but the fact that our work is so child/adolescent focused is unique.

7. Authentic community. Jews are meant to do more than worship together. We’re meant to study together, to eat together, to play together, to travel the world together, to mourn together, to celebrate together, and much more. The Jewish day school environment allows all of these things to happen without the pressure of limited time. Colleagues in supplementary schools and synagogues often report that they struggle to reconcile their many goals and aspirations with the strict time constraints of their programs. As such many synagogues focus primarily on religious training and preparation at the expense of some of the other things that Jews are supposed to do. Summer camps are able to build authentic community from May-August but struggle to extend that programming into rest of the year. Sometimes the most important thing I do on a given day is hang out at recess and play football with 2nd graders.

8. L’shem chinuch. Many of us are familiar with the longstanding principle of “L’shem chinuch” (“for the sake of education”). The essence of this principle is that we are allowed to bend some of the rules and think outside the box when it comes to matters of Jewish ritual and practice when our goal is to teach these concepts in the most compelling ways. Because day school rabbis work in environments that exist for the sake of education we are empowered to bring an extremely creative and liberal lens to Jewish ritual and practice. Tefillah is a great example. Tefillah in the Jewish day school differs from tefillah in synagogue because the congregants typically aren’t obligated to recite prayers (since many aren’t b’nai mitzvah age). This opens the possibility of making tefillah incredibly dynamic. At The Davis Academy our middle school tefillot are a great example. You might find us having a traditional shaharit service (with abbreviated liturgy) or you might find us having iPod tefillah, yoga tefillah, or a hundred other types of tefillot. Because we are trying to cultivate a sense of prayerfulness and teach concepts like keva and kavanah rather than fulfill the obligation to pray, we are able (and obligated) to be creative, experiment, and innovate. The full power of “L’shem chinuch” can be realized in the context of the Jewish day school because it is the essence of why Jewish day schools exist.

9. Summer. One of the unknown delights of working as a rabbi at a Jewish day school is summer. I work year round but there’s no doubt that when summer comes the cadences of my weekly schedule shift dramatically. There’s plenty of work to be done over the summer, but a lot of this work is strategic and reflective in nature. At its best summer can actually feel like an annual sabbatical– a time to explore areas of interest and passion, to do some continuing education, to reflect on what’s working and what can be improved. The rhythms of Jewish day school life can be as intense as the rhythms of any congregational rabbinate. Summer is an amazing gift for day school rabbis. And, if you’re not a year round employee, it’s an opportunity to complement your day school work with time spent at Jewish camp, in Israel, or wherever else your rabbinate may take you.

10. Rabbis needed. There is currently and there will continue to be a need for rabbis in Jewish day schools. Jewish day schools need passionate, knowledgeable, professionally trained Jewish educators in a host of areas.

11. Jewish day schools work. Lastly, for now, there’s the simple fact that Jewish day schools work. Day school alumni are disproportionately represented in almost all areas of leadership in Jewish institutional life. Jewish day schools are helping to insure that subsequent generations of Jewish adults are engaged, empowered, informed, and passionate about carrying on the story of the Jewish people.

So these are my top 11 reasons for why EVERY rabbi should at least consider a career in Jewish day school. I hope other colleagues from the field will chime in!

 

DSLTI Rules

It’s early morning and I’m watching New York City come to life outside the window of my dorm room at 121st and Broadway. Why? DSLTI Rules.

Last night I had dinner at a kosher burger joint with 2 members of my DSLTI cohort who have become close friends. Our table looked like the premise of a really bad rabbi joke– a Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbi are out to dinner… But instead it was a celebration of friendship founded on mutual respect, shared experience, and dedication to the field of Jewish Day School education. Why? DSLTI Rules.

This year I went through the experience of having a 360 review. I got candid feedback from my Head of School, administrative colleagues, people in my department, as well as other members of the faculty. I tried to honor their feedback by embracing it and using it to make a plan for professional growth. Spoiler alert: I’m still in progress! Why? DSLTI Rules.

Jewish Day Schools are complicated entities. We each have our own culture, our own community, our own strengths and challenges. Previously I had deep concerns about the state of the Jewish Day School field– do we have the leadership, the dedication, the resources, and the vision to carry forward our collective work? Now I know. DSLTI Rules.

The best teachers are the best learners. Were DSLTI to be based solely on the premise that our “mentors” were the teachers and “fellows” the students then the program would collapse. Instead, DSLTI creates a community where voices with varied backgrounds and levels of experience share generously, listen attentively, and argue freely with one another. DSLTI Rules.

One of life’s challenges is that as we get older it can be more difficult to establish lifelong friendships. Our professional roles, the demands of our primary responsibilities– these things rightfully require the fullness of our being. That DSLTI is an 18 month fellowship that places relationships at the center means that I “graduate” with 20 new friends. What makes someone a friend? The fact that their heart breaks if my heart breaks. The fact that if I need them, they’ll be there. The fact that I can turn to them to celebrate successes and learn from failures. The fact that their happiness contributes to my happiness. The fact that we can be real with one another even though we might, one day, compete for the same professional position. Why do I have this group of amazing new friends? DSLTI Rules.

Jewish Day Schools need to be, without exception, transformational institutions in the life of our individual communities and the larger landscape of Jewish education and Jewish life. In order to get there we need to guarantee that our individual schools meet the highest standards of professionalism and excellence. Together we need to address certain critical issues like the cost of tuition and the fact that many Jewish families cannot afford or have no interest in Jewish Day Schools. DSLTI’s clear focus on Day School leadership speaks to the heart of the matter. Empowering the next (and the next) generation of Jewish Day School leaders is a high impact way of advancing the causes of excellence and professionalism within individual schools as well as raising the profile of the Day School movement in North America. DSLTI Rules.

I’m a different person now than I was when I first entered DSLTI. There are plenty of reasons for this, many of which aren’t directly connected to DSLTI. But the fact that DSLTI has been a consistent presence during this period of personal and professional growth means that I have a framework for reflecting on how I’ve changed. Bi-weekly calls with my mentor, summer institutes and mid-year meetings, phone calls and emails with other DSLTI fellows– these touch points have helped me to see myself more clearly. If only because of these opportunities for self-reflection and to assess my own learning I’d have to say, “DSLTI Rules.”

This post is meant to serve as a personal testimonial for DSLTI. Could I say more about how DSLTI Rules? Absolutely. But if anyone wants to learn more about the specifics of the program I’m happy to chat. DSLTI Rules.

Why I Love Graduation and the End of the School Year

While standing in the hallway waving goodbye to Davis Academy students headed off to enjoy their well-deserved summer vacation I observed a group of 5th grade boys joyfully singing the refrain of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” I figured what the heck and joined with them for a chorus or two as they proudly paraded down the hallway. Many educators greet the end of the school year reluctantly, I think it’s a beautiful and important time. It’s a time that I greet with joy. Here are some of the things I love about graduation and the end of the school year.

1. Summer is to the school year what Shabbat is to the work week. It’s a necessary time that allows children, families, and educators to reflect on what has come before. Everyone involved in full time education– students, parents, teachers, and administrators eventually reach a point during the school year when the pace, the demands, the obligations, and everything that comes with a typical Fall or Spring semester is overwhelming. The fact that our work is sacred and that this sense of overwhelm affirms most educators in the importance and value of our work doesn’t change the fact that time to reflect, read up, and rejuvenate can be scarce at times. Though many of us work during the summer, and many kids and families keep very busy, the arrival of summer offers the possibility of meaningful perspective, truly self-directed personal and professional growth, and a chance to be intentional about our aspirations for the upcoming year.

2. Students  teach us a bold and enduring lesson as they look forward to and embrace summer. It’s not that they don’t love school, their teachers, and their classmates. It’s simply that they resiliently and optimistically look toward the future. They embrace growth and change. We might not be ready (or we might be VERY ready) to let them go, but they’re ready to move on (or at least they think they are). As many adults are both consciously and unconsciously afraid of change we can look to children to find an authentic alternative that embraces change and growth. I asked a group of 5th graders if they were nervous about the transition to middle school —  they said they weren’t and I believe them. In chatting with graduating 8th graders many expressed nervousness about leaving Davis– but they’ll all do it and greet the challenge head on.

3. Educators  need to remember that our task is to inspire and empower students during the time that we have them in our care. Though the “school year” is an artificial construct, it’s one that carries with it a certain measure of wisdom. Judaism teaches, “Who is truly wise? Someone who learns from all people.” Each of us is meant to have many different teachers over the course of our lives. The unique “Torah” that each of us has to teach is meant to be shared with many different people. Stated differently, each of us is meant to have many students. Relationships typically don’t die, they change. Our students of today will become our alumni of tomorrow. They will find new teachers who will give them new insights and present them with new challenges. At the same time we will welcome new students and the “Torah” that we teach will evolve and change as we navigate through our lives and our careers.

Graduation and the end of the school year are unavoidable facts that all educators know well. That they cannot be avoided is a blessing to students and teachers alike. It’s humbling to know that we have one another for a finite period of time, that despite our best efforts our work will remain imperfect and incomplete, and our relationships will grow and evolve. These are existential truths that all people experience. As educators we get to experience them head on and try to glean the wisdom that they offer us.

Israel 2014- Am Yisrael Chai

As Shabbat approaches in Jerusalem I feel truly blessed to be leading the Davis Academy’s 2014 Israel Trip. It’s been an amazing journey with an amazing group of students and chaperones. I’ve been blogging each day on a Google Blog that helps chronicle how we live our menschlichkeit values at The Davis Academy, but wanted to copy yesterday’s post here so I could revisit it in the future. As I don’t know how to cross post I’m simply cutting and pasting and hoping that works!

 

5/15/14

 

[It’s almost 10pm on a typical Thursday and we are stuck in an epic Jerusalem traffic jam right outside the walls of the Old City. How did we end up here??? It’s a good story.]

 

We started our day with a visit to a very unique place—Yad L’Kashish (“Lifeline for the Elderly”). Yad L’Kashish employs more than 300 Israeli senior citizens, many of them Holocaust survivors. These senior citizens work as artisans, carefully creating beautiful pieces of art ranging from simple greeting cards to magnificent tallitot, from elaborate pottery to adorable stuffed animals.  Prior to entering Yad L’Kashish Morah Sigal shared that when she was a graduate student she worked in a home for the elderly in Beersheva. In spite of her loving and dedicated spirit she reported that the residents in the home suffered not only from the typical ailments of old age, but from severe neglect, boredom, and a sense of irrelevance. They’d been forgotten. Little did we know that “memory and forgetting” would be one of our day’s themes.  She was particularly moved by the sense of meaning and purpose that comes with working at Yad L’Kashish. As we watched an elderly man carefully sand and dust a dreidel we spontaneously burst into the song, “Sevivon.” If your child brings home a souvenir from Yad L’Kashish you will know that it was made with love and care by a truly special person at a truly special place.

 

[FYI—we are about to drive our 50 passenger bus on the opposite side of the street to circumvent this traffic jam!]

 

After Yad L’Kashish we visited Yad V’shem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. As has been the case for the last couple of years the kids were not only engaged but profoundly knowledgeable about the Shoah, due primarily to Ms. Schwartz’s exceptional teaching on this topic. We receive many compliments as we travel through Israel, but the compliment we received from our Yad V’Shem tour guide—that we were the finest group of middle school students she had ever toured—that means a lot. The trick at Yad V’shem is knowing how deeply to dive into the horrific events of the Shoah and the implications of the Shoah. Ms. Scwhartz’s devotion to teaching the Shoah helps ensure that the kids know how to respond to the experience of touring this sacred site.

 

[And magically the traffic has eased up. NO, we didn’t have to drive on the wrong side of the road.]

 

Yad V’shem sits at the foot of Mt. Herzl, Israel’s most revered military cemetery. It has become a Davis tradition to ascend from Yad V’shem to Mt. Herzl. In so doing we reenact the journey from the darkest chapter of Jewish history to the brightest. But we don’t fully reach the light, because Mt. Herzl further reinforces the fact that Israel was not established and is not protected without great cost. Among the tens of thousands of graves, we always visit the newest section of the cemetery. There we saw several graves that weren’t there just last year.

 

While standing on Mt. Herzl we had a fascinating discussion. The graves from earlier eras are all uniformly adorned. They have identical inscriptions and all look the same. Soldiers are not buried according to rank and the feeling is one of equality and dignity. On the other hand, newer graves are adorned with various types of shrines, pictures, and artifacts. Many of the newer graves give you a sense of who the fallen soldier was—what he or she looked like, words he or she lived by, favorite objects, pieces of their uniform, banners or postcards from favorite places, sports jerseys, and so on. Our tour guides asked us to consider which we thought was more appropriate for Mt. Herzl– uniformity or individuality. They shared that this issue had stirred great controversy. The kids spoke beautifully in defense of their various positions, most of them dwelling in the grey, rather than black or white. Later, standing at the grave of Theodor Herzl, Mr. O’Dell offered the idea that it is the life we lead, rather than our headstone, that is the truest and most important monument/testament to our existence. Instead of staring at Herzl’s tomb he asked us to turn around and look at the country that Herzl dreamt.

 

The Hebrew word cavod (“respect”) comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for “heavy” (ca-ved). Cavod was another of the day’s themes.

 

After another pizur meal we headed back to the Kotel for a tour of the underground tunnels there. It was a beautiful evening and we expected the Kotel to be relatively tranquil, allowing our kids additional time to be in a reflective, spiritual space. Instead we arrived 25 minutes before a Swearing In Ceremony for a squadron of several hundred Israeli Paratroopers. Together we toured the tunnels and then joined with thousands of Israelis of all stripes for the swearing in ceremony during which each paratrooper received two items: a gun and a Tanach. Afterward we celebrated with the soldiers and their families. We sang, “Am Yisrael Chai” and shared in the many feasts that were taking place all around us. Grandmothers and mothers of soldiers offered our kids home baked delicacies and our kids gracefully and gratefully accepted. It was a unique celebration—the type of celebration that is, in essence, a prayer. Watching grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers and fathers cry with joy, younger siblings look up with admiration, boyfriends and girlfriends hug and take “selfies”—knowing that to be a guardian of Israel is to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if that is what it takes. Surely there was someone in attendance who had lost a child, a relative, a friend, a neighbor, or a classmate, in service of the State of Israel. The seamless merger of deep joy and honest emotion made it  a truly Jewish celebration. Menawhile, as “Am Yisrael” celebrated we could see fireworks coming from East Jerusalem—the sign of a Muslim wedding celebration. Jerusalem is a place where all people come to celebrate.

 

We had intended to conclude our day at the Kotel with the prayer for the State of Israel and the Mishebeirach for the soldiers of the IDF. Instead we got to witness this incredible ceremony—a living testament that the lives that were sacrificed, both during the Shoah and in defense of the State of Israel—that they were not lost in vain.

 

Here’s a shot video of the singing of Hatikvah at the IDF Ceremony:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eekh2CvInkM

 

 

 

 

[And now we just passed a motorcade that was CLEARLY carrying the Prime Minister or some government official of equal status.]

 

 

So that’s the story of how we ended up in the epic Jerusalem traffic jam and almost had to drive down the wrong side of the road. I love Jerusalem. I met my wife here and began my formal rabbinical studies here. I even lived in an orthodox yeshiva in the Old City for a summer while translating a Hebrew book from 1809 called “Characteristics of the Rabbinate”. In spite of this deep connection, in my heart of hearts I’m glad I don’t live in Jerusalem. There are just too many stray cats. But it sure is a great place to call home. If they didn’t understand what our tour guides meant when they greeted us at the airport with the words, “Welcome Home!” They definitely get it now.

Why Am I Studying to be a Doctor of Education???????

This is a question I’ve asked myself again and again over the last couple of years. It’s a question that any sane doctoral student asks, again and again. I can almost feel the universe of doctoral students pulsating with the rhythm of this question being repeated over and over again with a mantra-like hypnotism.

My answer(s) are many, ranging from the mystical to the practical, from the inscrutable to the babbling. Let’s start with a few of the “nots.”

1. It’s not because I’d rather be inside clacking away on my keyboard on this beautiful, sunny precursor-to-Spring sort of day.

2. It’s not because I enjoy eavesdropping on the weekly men’s club group that occupies the seminar table at my local Panera.

2a. It’s not because I enjoy the two near deaf folks sitting across the restaurant who are engaging in delightfully banal “small scream” (as opposed to small talk) for the pleasure of all other guests.

2b. It’s not because I like asking strangers to watch my computer when I inevitably need to run to the restroom during my 3-4 hour cafe sagas.

3. It’s not because my vision of good parenting involves entrusting my kids to a legion of fabulous babysitters on Sunday mornings.

4. It’s not because friends and family queue up to hear about my doctoral research at social gatherings.

5. It’s not because I believe the doctoral dissertation is an under appreciated genre of literature in need of a revival.

I’ve entertained all these notions before, and let me assure you, they fall definitively in the “nots” category!

So why AM I studying to be a Doctor of Education??????

Panera JPEG

 

1. I love learning.

2. My work at The Davis Academy warrants more than curiosity, it warrants deep and sustained inquiry.

3. My students at The Davis Academy warrant more than appreciation, they warrant serious study and consideration.

4. My research topic– adolescent spirituality– deserves to be more than a buzzword. It needs academic study to broaden respect and understanding.

5. To be the best practitioner I can be I need to be engaged in ongoing study. I need to force myself into a reflective place, a place of critical inquiry, and a place of ongoing curiosity.

The list goes on…

To my fellow Doctor of Education journey-people, let’s be strong and strengthen one another! Whatever cafe we find ourselves in, whatever conversations we’re overhearing, whatever babysitting fees we’re paying, let’s keep our eyes on the prize and remember that the destination is only as meaningful as the journey.

The Gift of Time

Someone recently shared a personal story with me. It was  a simple story of how one of her loved ones gave her a gift and how this gift made her feel.

I was very moved listening to this story. I was moved because of the simplicity and universality of it. Each of us has received and each of us has given. Each of us has known the profound feeling of bringing joy to someone we know and love; each of has felt the profound joy of receiving such love.

The gift in the story wasn’t a physical gift. It was shiny or expensive. It was the gift of time. Time is undoubtedly the most precious and powerful gift any of us has to offer.

I listened to this story as a husband, a father, a son, and a brother. I also listened as a colleague, school administrator, and educator.  The message of the story cuts across personal and professional boundaries and is relevant in all areas.

Time is a gift that each of us can and should give freely, especially to those we value most. Rather than waiting for others to ask for our time, we should be mindful each day to give the gift of time. Rather than piling appointments right on top of one another, we should allow enough time to be present for the person in the room.

Time given to students and colleagues both affirms and strengthens relationships. It helps us recognize what really counts and what really matters. It allows others to express concerns and get at what’s really important, rather than rushing through an agenda or checklist. In many ways it’s the simplest gift we can give; a gift that enriches our lives as well.

Three Steps Back and Three Steps Forward

At (or near) the center of any Jewish prayer service is a series of prayers known as the “Amidah” or “standing prayer.” The Amidah is a time when we express, both communally and individually, our most heartfelt prayers. We praise God, ask God to grant us wisdom, strength, forgiveness, and justice, and then thank God for the countless miracles we experience on a daily basis. Prior to beginning the Amidah it’s customary to take three steps backward and three steps forward.

Recently I participated in a prayer service where we set aside the heavy themes of the Amidah prayer and focused instead on the three steps backward and three steps forward.

We asked our middle school students– “If you take three steps backward and three steps forward, where do you end up?”

To which they answered–  “Exactly where you started.”

We pushed a little harder– “Do you end up exactly where you started or close to where you started?”

And a little harder– “If you end up exactly where you started then what’s the point of stepping back and stepping forward?”

Together we realized that taking three steps back means creating enough distance to gain perspective. Taking three steps back means entering a reflective space. It’s a purposeful transition from a state of “doing” to a state of “being” and “reflecting.”

As human beings it’s important to take three steps back. It’s particularly important if we are interested in gaining perspective on our lives.

While Judaism encourages taking three steps back, that’s not the end of the journey. Having taken time to pause, gain perspective, and reflect, we are supposed to take three steps forward. We are supposed to immerse ourselves in the daily business of living life to the fullest. We are supposed to act, to serve, and bring the fullness of our being to everything we do.

As school leaders who are interested in understanding and nurturing school culture we need to make sure that we remember the importance of taking three steps back and not just the importance of taking three steps forward.

Part of our mandate as school leaders is to make sure that our actions are informed by the perspective and insight that can only be achieved by stepping back on a regular basis.

If we can model the balance between stepping back and stepping forward for our faculty and our students then we can help promote a school culture that is mindful, purposeful, and even prayerful.