Asking a child to do a grown up’s job

A recent JEDLAB discussion on Passover got me thinking. Are Jewish educators asking children to do the job of grown ups when it comes to Jewish life and living? And if so, are we inadvertently infantilizing grown ups in the process? Here’s what I mean…

When it comes to Passover, Jewish tradition is pretty clear that it’s the job of the grown ups to find ways of engaging children in the seder. As a Jewish educator I know that I have limited capacity (time, influence, and otherwise) to equip grown ups with the skills to do this if they don’t already have them. So I focus on the kids. I make sure that they’re conversant in the liturgy of the seder and also that they’re equipped to bring something creative, provocative, engaging, and different to their seder so that they might be the ones who engage the grown ups. A complete reversal of the traditional Jewish view that places this onus on the grown ups.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the grown ups are very appreciative that their children come to seder ready to engage them in a meaningful experience. But this comes with a potential (and I do mean potential) shadow side– we empower the children but infantilize the grown ups and the seder experience more generally.

While children are more than capable of bringing something cute and interesting to their seder table, they’re not capable of facilitating and participating in the kind of adult conversation that really honors the complex themes and social critique embedded in the Passover story. Seder, when focused only on the children and built around their engaging contributions, may be memorable, enjoyable, rewarding, celebratory and many other things, but it is likely not deep,  challenging, transformational, or significant. Of course a well-timed query from a child can propel a seder table to new depths, but this isn’t a guarantee. As grown ups wait for and depend upon the energy and creativity of the children at the seder table the really important questions may go unanswered.

More than likely seder is actually a blend of child generated joy and adult conversation. But as Jewish educators we have to ask whether our focus on the child runs the risk of letting grown ups off the hook a little too easily.

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.

Elul: A time for reflective practice

It is great that Rosh Chodesh Elul (the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul) coincides with pre-planning week and the official start of the 2013-14 school year. Elul, the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days, is a time when Jewish tradition prioritizes the act of self-reflection. Reflection and reflective practice are vital capacities for all educators. Jewish educators are blessed that the start of our school year coincides with Elul. It’s as if our tradition is urging us to be reflective practitioners.

I recently heard a great leader in Jewish day school education, Rabbi Josh Elkin, speak to a small group of Jewish educational leaders. His remarks focused on leadership lessons from his many years in the field. I was struck by the fact that Rabbi Elkin chose to start and end his remarks by focusing on the importance of reflective practice. He argued that reflective practice is perhaps the greatest capacity an educator can cultivate. I agree.

Reflective practice is the what allows us to grow as educators and human beings. It’s what makes the second time delivering a lesson better than the first. It’s what allows us to move from the dance floor to the balcony to take a look at what’s really going on in our classrooms, on our teams, and in our schools. It allows us to step outside of our ourselves by stepping inside of our ourselves.

Sometimes reflection seems like a luxury. Often it’s something that gets sacrificed in the name of putting out fires, or fulfilling our more concrete and tangible responsibilities like grade books, phone calls, meetings, and lesson plans– all essential job functions (and relational in nature). But the further away we get from reflective practice the less intuitive it becomes. It’s slippery slope. Eventually growth stagnates, new ideas and insights dry up. We risk becoming brittle and ossified.

Reflection allows us to greet ourselves anew, to see with fresh eyes, to diagnose clearly and incisively. Reflection also  allows us to generate hypotheses, test them, and assess the data when needed.

Judaism values reflection and the month of Elul is one of the most profound embodiments of this value. Special prayers such as slichot and rituals like sounding the shofar each day are like appointment reminders, asking us to check in with ourselves.

Reflection is both a vehicle for self-awareness and self-transcendence. By pausing to deeply consider the stuff of our lives we can see our patterns and tendencies, our strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, reflection points us towards things beyond ourselves– relationships, commitments, communities, responsibilities. We begin to see our interconnections and interdependence as well as our limitations and ultimately our finitude. As we come home to these existential truths we can emerge with meaningful ways of ordering our time, articulating our priorities, and exercising our talents and abilities.