Earlier this month, I attended the Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools Conference. Gathered in Atlanta were 1,100 educators from organizations across America, Canada and even South Africa. It was an immersive two-and-a-half days of learning for heads of school, board members, directors of development and admissions/marketing and teachers. Having attended many sessions, I returned with new ideas for our school.
One of the keynote speakers was George Couros, who spoke about leadership, innovation and learning. He spoke passionately about his belief that innovation begins with empathy; he stressed that meaningful and inspiring change must be connected to one’s heart before one’s mind. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” What George doesn’t know is that Judaism has always held this to be true; the Gemara (Jewish law) teaches, “A person can only learn from where his heart desires.”
George Couros believes that students must be encouraged to take risks without fear because innovation happens at the intersection of ability, intellect and curiosity (three EHS attributes!). Couros challenges educators to help students take risks and not be afraid to fail in the process. He asserted that the process is where learning takes place, rather than the final outcome. “Empowerment is teaching children to help themselves.” Our classrooms must be ones in which students can safely take risks and build their resilience. We need students to embrace this journey and not put undue stress upon themselves in the pursuit of perfection. Students must believe in themselves and their ability to tolerate failure so they can have the courage to keep trying, grow and create. Couros proclaimed that, “We must make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.” This phrase became a tagline during the conference as an inspiration to everyone.
At breakfast on the last morning, a group of students from two of the local day schools serenaded the packed ballroom with a song that they composed and wrote. It was inspiring to see the next generation singing proudly in Hebrew and English. It was a visual reminder of the importance and impact of the work we do every day at Epstein Hillel. In a time where we sadly see a rise in anti-Semitism, it’s all the more important that we embrace the teaching of the V’ahavta prayer, where we are charged: V’shenantem l’vanecha (teach your children). Just as we want our children to be excellent students of mathematics, science and literature, we also want them to be connected to an ever-evolving history of Jewish peoplehood.
For some, that identity will be bound in rituals associated with holidays or teachings from sacred texts. For others, it will be personal connections to the land of Israel, Hebrew language and the culture and innovation of “start-up nation.” Some will identify through spirituality, mindfulness and the call to action of tikkun olam (repairing brokenness in our world). Whichever path our children choose, maybe just one or maybe all of them, they will be grounded in a shared history and values that supersede time and place. We as educators and parents have the awesome responsibility of preparing them to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead. An Epstein Hillel education prepares them to forge a path with passion, curiosity, intellect and the innovator’s mindset. Our students are the builders and leaders of the future.
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