This week the school hosted its annual parent teacher conferences. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the parents that took time out of their busy schedules and numerous responsibilities to join us at the school. For the parents who were not able to make it, you can still email your son’s Rebbi or teacher and schedule a time to talk to them about his progress. Of the many reasons schools have parent teacher conferences, one is to facilitate communication between parents and their child’s educators. By meeting face to face, parents are able to establish the beginnings of a dialogue that will hopefully continue and prove to be productive in furthering their children’s schooling.
There has been a lot of research done to determine the key components in a child’s religious development. While parenting is unanimous in being a critical factor, school ranks a clear 2nd place in the hierarchy of influential socializing experiences. This leads into the next segment of our discussions on communication – which is communication between Rebbeim and or teachers and their students. In a New York Times op-ed article dated Oct 28th 2014, Frank Bruni talks about Joel Klein’s, the chancellor of New York City’s public schools, upcoming book where he points out that “the biggest factor in the education equation.” is “teacher quality,” adding that “a great teacher can rescue a child from a life of struggle.” He then highlights what makes a great teacher with mastery of the subject matter and the ability to communicate it in a way students will understand and absorb the material. This is true even where the curriculum extends beyond academics and includes subjects such as Middos, Yiras Shomayim and a love for Yiddishkiet. It goes without saying that Rebbeim need to have mastery of those very same subjects as well as the ability to transmit them to their students.
The Torah tell us that HKB”H considered Avrohom Avinu a partner and needed to be consulted with about how to deal with the people of S’dom. The reason that Avrohom was considered such, was because he shared HKB”H’s vision of justice and judgement. In testifying about this, the Torah tells us that Avrohom instructed his children and the generations that followed to continue in the ways of Hashem. Avrohom was perhaps the first real Rebbi and his mastery of the subject matter is certainly not in question. What remains as difficult to understand is how was he able to teach it to his progeny. The Sefornu explains Avrohom ability to communicate his ideals and vision to the “generations that followed” was through the example he presented to his children – Avrohom’s message was so powerful that the impression he left, led his children to follow in his footsteps and then pass it on to future generations – cementing his legacy as the original Rebbi.
And now for something completely different… Catch your child doing something he should not be doing.
Last week we spoke about catching our children doing something good and how it can be used as an opportunity to appreciate our children and learn more about them. There is also great value in catching your child doing something he should not be doing. While this may sound somewhat simplistic, the point I want to make is that as parents our teaching moments are mostly reactive ones. We are not in control of the situation – we just react to the circumstances. I don’t believe good parenting can come about in such an environment – so catch your child doing something they should not be doing; be prepared. For example, when you know your child has a time management challenge and you want to teach him the importance of keeping to an agreed upon time – you may have to wait for an opportunity where his not being ready is detrimental. While you may be itching to say I told you so – stop and help your son reflect on what happened, how it happened and what to do in the future to prevent it from happening.
This past Shabbos I went to shul on Friday night at Shaarey Zedek in the Valley as I usually do. Yet, this was not a usual Shabbos. As mincha ended and Kabbalas Shabbos began, I became acutely aware that this Shabbos was not like the last. While davening at Shaarey Zedek is always beautiful, the energy and passion during Kabbalas Shabbos was inspiring beyond its usual level of inspiration. What was different? Well, when I began to scan the room I saw many of our wonderful Etta participants (Etta is an organization focused on supporting Jewish adults with special needs) dancing with their amazing teen advisors. When I looked closer, I realized that many of the advisors were our Valley Torah students, along with some wonderful students from YULA and Shalhevet.
Although I have only been the General Studies principal at Valley Torah-Boys for a couple of months, I can’t tell you how quickly I was filled with pride when I saw our students with their Etta participants. Every single one of the VTHS students acted in a manner that was responsible, caring and devoted to making sure the Etta participant was having a wonderful time and meaningful Shabbos. The singing was boisterous. The dancing was powerful. The Etta participants were smiling. Our students were leaders.
As many of you know I think often about how we at VTHS can continue to build our program to ensure that we give our students as many opportunities as possible to explore their passions, interests and reach their individual potential. At the helm of this building process is the integration of leadership skills that will support our students in building their character and having the specific skills needed to be flexible and successful in an ever changing world. As many of you already know, the leadership skills we will be integrating are based on the seven habits of highly effective people by Dr. Steven Covey. We, as a VTHS staff, have been receiving training in these habits all year and we plan on implementing these habits with the students in the fall. However, with what I saw this past shabbos, our students are well on their way to being tremendous leaders.
I would like to give a shout out to our students who did such a great job at the Etta Shabbaton. Mr. Yonah Darrison, Mr. Josh Forman, Mr. Mitch Goulson, Mr. Benjy Halpern, Mr. Ashi Jones, Mr. Max Leibowitz, Mr. Samuel Leibowitz, Mr. Eitan Ohana, Mr. David OHana, Mr. Matthew Roesslee and Mr. Yoni Zisblatt, you are true leaders and we are proud to have you as representatives of Valley Torah!
I also want to thank the Etta team who did such a wonderful job. Thank you to Mrs. Leah Schachter, who organized the Shabbaton and is a VTHS parent, Mr. Adam Rhodes, who oversaw and worked closely with all the student advisors, and Mr. Josh Taff, who is Etta’s Director of Outreach and did a fantastic job! Thank you all for caring for our brothers and sisters with special needs and giving our students an opportunity to lead in the most important of ways.
While I was not asked to post this, I personally feel Etta is a wonderful organization and worth supporting. They will be having their annual Gala November 12, 2014 and you can order tickets by clicking here.
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “Change in Perspective.”
VTHS Boys Division is part of the ComedySportz Improv League. Our first workshop took place today.
The VTHS Girls Division Open House will be held on Tuesday, November 11 at 7:00 PM in the Riverside Drive Campus.
The Entrance Exam will be held on November 23 at 8:45 AM.
Last Motzei Shabbos, the VTHS girls went ice skating in the dark! The girls had an amazing time skating and spending time together. The event was a huge success and the girls really enjoyed themselves. Thank you to our dedicated alumna and new Melava Malka head, Jasmine Ohevshalom, for coordinating this spectacular event.
Hoping you had an uplifting Yomim Noraim as well as a joyous Yom Tov. School is back in session with all major and most minor kinks worked out. Students, teachers & parents are ready to get into the thick of things and now the real work starts. For the teachers the newness of the school year has come and gone, for the students they have already caught up with their friends about what’s new and cool and for parents the most they are going to get out of their adolescent about school is the occasional grunt “school oh yes, its ok”. What does that mean? How do parents fulfill their role as supporters of their children’s development with such a response.
This is where communication between parents and their children comes into play. How do we ensure there is a dialogue? In this weeks’ Parsha we see an unprecedented level of communication among the inhabitants of the entire world to the extent that Rashi tells us that all of humanity were in agreement (The UN wishes it could duplicate that level of unanimity). Rashi later on in the Parsha tells us that this level of Achdus was real. Rashi writes “that they conducted themselves with love and friendship” answering how it was that the flood generation was destroyed whereas the dispersion generation was spared even though their transgression was by far greater (their plan was to attack HKB”H).
So what was their secret? How were they able to achieve and maintain such a powerful level of Achdus. The answer lies in the words “The whole earth had one language” sharing the same language with others is how one connects and creates relationships. We see from the Torah how powerful communication is, it can traverse over socio-economic statuses, distance and time. For all of humanity to be in unison it must have meant that one’s financial situation, demographic and age were not an issue. Thus finding a common language with our children is how we communicate with them. A common language is not necessarily English, Hebrew or even Yiddish it is a language they relate to. For some children it is music, for some it is nature, for some it is a video game and for others it is a combination of Whatsapp, Xbox and singing Zemiros at the Shabbos table.
Knowing your child’s modes of communication is the key to his heart. Rashi attests to that as we saw earlier. So what went wrong? Why did this generation that had achieved the elusive “peace among nations” go so wrong? Once again Rashi helps us by telling us that they lacked Hakoras Hatov – they had just been rescued by HKB”H from a flood that had destroyed the majority of the world and here they were, ready to wage war against their savior. If the foundation of a relationship is based on gratitude it is a relationship that is guaranteed to be an everlasting one. This is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children (to be expounded on more in a later episode).
Catch your child being good
This may sound very simple or at least as simple as noticing every time you child doesn’t do what he is supposed to do. But the truth is, it’s much more difficult. When something is out of place we notice it – when it is where it belongs we pass over it without a second glance.
Therein lies the value of this Felt Tip – catching your child being good is an exercise for us as parents as well as being helpful in encouraging good behavior. Just like the early bird catches the worm, we need to rise early – mostly figuratively 🙂 and pay attention to what is happening in our child’s life and learn to appreciate them. Completing this exercise will also help us learn what our children’s modes of communication are (see above).
Who loves coming back to school after vacation? If you are imaging a blond principal with glasses and yarmulke with his two thumbs pointed to himself loudly proclaiming “this guy,” you would be correct! I was so excited to return to VTHS after a wonderful holiday and break. I was excited for the return of our students as well as our two day staff Leader In Me training. While, I hope in the near future to share more about this amazing program, I want to share an aha moment that I had during our focus on “Synergy”, which is the sixth habit of the seven habits of highly effective people.
Synergy, according to Steven Covey is the “the habit of creative cooperation.” The common paradigm of synergy is “let’s compromise” while the highly effective paradigm is “let’s come up with something that’s better than what either of us had in mind.” BAM!
I am one who believes in the power of collaboration. I am huge fan of the famous words by Ben Zoma (Avos 4.1) who asks “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” However, it wasn’t until this Tuesday that I fully understood what I believed. In my opinion, a team is not fully functional unless they are working together in a manner where each member feels they have an equal voice and opinion in the outcome of their work. With that said, I would normally articulate that belief as the need to create a space where ideas can be shared freely without fear of rebuke. What I was missing was the articulation that not only is every idea valuable, but that the collective sharing of ideas is more valuable than the singular idea.
The sharing generates new ideas unlikely to be developed in isolation. It is not that I had not realized this or believed this to be true, but I suppose I used the term collaboration more to describe just the sharing as a way to honor each voice without articulated the goal of creating such a space. What I realize now is that the term “synergy” better defines my vision. In fact, I shared this with our staff the evening of training. Here is a snippet from the email I sent to them.
“There were many take aways from today, but the one that stood out for me was the 6th habit of synergy. I was struck by the idea that synergy is not just collaboration, but the safe sharing of ideas with the goal of generating new ideas that could not have existed without the sharing. This is certainly my vision for us as a staff and I certainly hope we are well on our way to true synergy. In fact, if you ever feel that I am not creating a space for the free flow of ideas call me out. I hope that we all try our best to make everyone feel that they have a voice and that their voice matters.”
We are a great school when each of our members voice is valued. We are even greater school when those voices come together to generate new ideas unknown to us before we came together. We began this process of building Synergy at our first staff training before school started this year when we as a team asked “What if…..” about the school and then added ideas to the “What if” of others. I look forward to sharing that process and their great questions in the future as well. However, from now, it was clear from the questions and ideas the staff raised that we are a team who seeks Synergy so that we can continue to innovate our practice. I look forward to us continuing to grow as a team, increase our synergy and go from great to greater.
Welcome back to our amazing staff, incredible students and fantastic families!
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “Share the Wealth.”
This year’s Simchas Beis HaShoaiva started off with a pre-party pool-party. The party then moved to VTHS for dancing and pizza in the sukkah.
The Yeshiva Sukkah is up and ready to go. We hope you come visit. Valley Torah students, staff and administration wish you a happy and healthy yom tov.
What are you passionate about? This is a question not asked often enough in our schools. This is unfortunate given the fact that we know that when a student connects the learning to something they are passionate about they are more successful. Plus, if we are truly preparing them for their future, supporting the discovery of their interests is a critical preparatory element. At Valley Torah, we are asking this question.
A couple of week ago we began our TED-Ed Club, which is the speech component of our Improvisational Arts and Speech course. As stated by the organization, “TED-Ed Clubs is a flexible, school-based program that supports students in discussing, pursuing and presenting their big ideas in the form of short TED-style talks.” If you have never watched a TED talk, I highly recommend them and have provided a few of my favorites below. However, the talk is the end product of the development of an idea the speaker is passionate about, which is the primary goal of this class. We want our students to discover what they are passionate about, understand what makes a great idea and learn how to articulate their great idea. Sounds awesome? It is! Sounds easy? It is not.
At the first meeting the students were asked to describe themselves and list three things that they are passionate about. The meeting began by watching this video from TED-Ed Clubs.
After the video, which was meant to highlight the expression of passions, we turned to the students to begin the discussion of the above questions. This was a struggle given they were not used to these tasks. So, myself and Mr. McCaffery modeled the answers and explained how knowing yourself is helpful in figuring out what your passions are. The we turned it back to the students and the answers were open, honest, vulnerable and powerful. I was beyond proud of the two groups that have this club. They supported each other and laid the foundation we needed to move to the next question, which was “What makes a great idea….great?”
At at our second meeting, which is where the club is up to, the students watched this video and then were asked these guiding questions:
- What is your club’s definition of an “idea worth spreading”?
- What are the qualities of good ideas?
- Are ideas created by individuals or groups?
- What can keep ideas from spreading?
Again, the students were impressive and beautifully discussed what it will take to create “ideas worth spreading” in this course. We will continue down this path together and the students will learn how to develop their passions into ideas they can articulate as well as film them to share with the world. However, the question of what you are passionate about does not only sit with this club.
After the break, we will begin the Principal Project which will support our students interests in the areas of professions, universities and making a difference in this world. Our fine arts class is completely passion-based where students propose what they are interested in exploring and producing within the arts. We have expanded our electives to increase our ability to target the growing array of student interests and after the break we begin our clubs to further support their interests. In addition, our staff is exploring project-based learning and models of education that increase deeper and meaningful learning with the unique talents and interests of our students in the center of it all.
So, as we enter Yom Kippur focused on atonement and purification, may we all leave with a clean slate undistracted from the irrelevant and be able to return to school after the break able to answer the question what are you passionate about?
As promised, here are a few of my favorite TED Talks:
Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
Phil Hansen: Embrace the Shake (I wrote about it here)
Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling (I wrote about it here)