Tag Archives: Jewish education

“Lesson-Plan” Your Passover Seder: Ways to Involve Teens

Lesson Plan your Seder!

Lesson Plan your Seder!

 

The Passover Seder is considered by many to be the consummate family education event.

This inter-generational experience can create indelible memories, savored for years, long past the momentary taste of yummy matzo balls floating assertively on top of your soup bowl.

So, why are so many seders…um….boring?

Try table reading at this Seder!

No shortage of readers here. (An historic seder with new immigrants at an Israeli Kibbutz, might have been the opposite of boring!)

 

Don’t settle for the all too common reading-around-the-table routine, a time- honored tradition where those around the table take turns reading from the Haggadah.

That technique might remind you of your junior high history class:  “Good morning class, open your books to page 129. Susan, please read the paragraph at the top of the page, and then we’ll go around the room and everyone will take a turn reading….”

This can be compared to the fun one might experience while watching water boil. Seriously, reading aloud in turn is a slow process with an extremely high degree of predictability–at some tired point you do get to the end.

Let’s not sell the Seder short by using educational techniques that are outdated.

The Passover Seder is the consummate educational program, so why not plan for it the way one might plan a lesson?

What might that look like? Well, think about set induction, varied activities, opportunities to engage participants using multiple sensory experiences, asking deep questions of meaning….and you’ll be on the right track.

A sample of ways to engage Jewish teens might be:

“Let My People Go” is a powerful statement in the Torah.

Why is this not recounted in the Haggadah?

What does this say about Leadership? Can one stand without the other?  

In a sense, this idea of obtaining a people’s freedom spurred on a revolution, which has had ripple effects even today (think of how many people are demanding self-determination).

How might you communicate that concept today in a way that people would respond? Think of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. What #Hashtag would you use? What would be your update? What would your 140 character message be? 

What other powerful sayings have rallied individuals behind a cause?

Think of “If you will it, it is no dream”, ‘I Have a Dream”, “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” , and not to be too trite, but even “Think Different” (apple’s tagline from its early days). 

You get the idea….forget the predictability and go for the unknown.

Isn’t that what the Seder is truly about? Our ability to tell stories and pass them on through the generations is what brought us as a people to this point in time.

For sure, those themes are what teens can relate to: safety versus risk, predictability versus self-determination….just think about the rich conversations that could be going around your table!

Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What many Jewish adults regret—do you?

Do you want a 'do-over'?

Do you want a ‘do-over’?

On a weekly basis, I interact with members of a cohort that have been recently featured in a rash of reports: Jewish teens.

This sudden interest in teens is a good thing, because as little as two years ago (when I started this blog), a Google search of Jewish teens turned up barely any recent research at all 

Try searching now, and this is what you’d get. Progress? Definitely.

Although as Jewish educators we are pleased that these new studies have contributed to the conversation about how to engage Jewish teens, no research center or foundation will know what I know, from the stories I hear.

The stories are not from the teens I work with now, but the ones I’ve worked with and known for the past decade. Now, they are young adults…out of college and into their busy lives.

What they share with me is not the stuff of research: not from surveys, phone polling, focus groups, or market research.

My undocumented data is gleaned from speaking with thousands of young adults about their Jewish education over many, many years.

I listen very closely to what they say, and have had conversations with young adults in multiple settings: camps, youth groups, schools, and even around a kitchen table.

The one comment I’ve never heard is that anyone ever, I mean ever, regretted obtaining more Jewish education.

In fact, when their friends (who usually have had significantly less Jewish education than they did) have been part of these conversations, they regret not continuing, and say things like:

“I wish my parents forced me to go to Confirmation/Hebrew High after my Bar/Bat Mitzvah”

“I found out that I know so little about Judaism….I wish I paid more attention and continued my education when I could” (“there’s no deadline for that”, I usually chime in….).

Sometimes the teens themselves are able to recognize the value of continuing beyond the dreaded drop-off of a young 13.  I just read online about a Jewish teen who extolled the virtues of his continued education .

The sad fact is that many parents have said the same thing. They regret not having more education. This is such a pervasive feeling that we can not deny it, even when tempted to defer to data, statistics, surveys and charts.

Photo: courtesy of http://www.flickr.com Alyssa L. Miller


Four Simple Steps Teachers Need to Engage with Jewish Teens

See on Scoop.itJudaism, Jewish Teens, and Today’s World

This is for teachers in supplementary schools, particularly those who work with Jewish teens.  I’ve been invited to observe classes where teachers really feel that they’re doing a great job.

They feel that students are attentive, absorbing material, and advancing their learning.  I’ve seen some of the best, yet….there are so many that just seem to miss the mark.

How do I know?

They’re talking, and often teens are texting (under the desk or in pockets or defiantly, right out there).

There’s no excitement or signs of life in the class, save for the teacher talking, talking, talking in front of the room; center stage.

Their students’ faces belie boredom (why don’t the teachers see this?)

Here are four simple steps to take that I believe have the power to transform how you work with students.

1. Back off. Yes, sounds a bit harsh I know, but I need to make the point. Try ‘retreating’ from the space in front of the room. There’s no podium in the front of the class, so no need to stand there.

Test yourself. See what happens when you move around and view things from the back of the room—from their perspective.

Even more important, make sure that you’re listening for a greater percentage time than when you’re talking. That will do wonders by itself.   Get rid of the frontal dynamic by making sure students work in groups.

2. Ask questions. Good ones. Ones that don’t need a yes or no answer. If you haven’t mastered the art of inquiry, read up. There are tons of materials out there. Make sure you’re not just asking to ask…really pay attention to the responses and respond back. Every student needs to feel valued.

3. Get familiar with social/emotional learning and reaching students down deep. It makes for more impactful lessons. Focusing on making that emotional connection will help you make sure that you’re reaching all students, not just the ones who are either the most vocal or the most problematic.

4. This is so obvious, it’s embarrassing to say. But here goes. Know every single student by name. This is an absolute must and tells your students how important they are to you.  If you have a bad memory, ask them to make name placards and bring them with you. No excuse. Every student needs to be valued in this way.


One odd recommendation to help #Jteens reduce the academic pressure they feel

Enlightened teen  education

Enlightened teen education

What I’m about to write is counter-intuitive, fair warning given.

The phenomenon I’m about to describe has interested me for over a decade.

It’s the one big thing that I’ve seen make a difference in teens’ lives, often enabling them to cope with the stress of being at public or private schools during the day.

It’s attending more school –though of a different kind entirely.

They attend this school in the evening, or on Sunday mornings. Surprising, no?

It’s mostly a laid back school—a supplementary high school for Jewish teenagers.

Hundreds of Jewish teens attend a weekly educational program and absolutely unwind when they arrive. They rarely miss attending–despite upcoming mid-terms, papers, and after school obligations.

What do the teens mostly do?

They visibly relax, smile, laugh, and spend some down time with each other before, during, and after class.

They listen to each other, discuss interesting topics with skilled teachers who want to hear what they have to say.

It’s powerful.  

In what they feel is their own space, teens get to network with each other about strategies to cope with school, how to deal with upcoming tests, which study guides are best….and countless other tips shared with each other in a relaxed and supportive environment.

More school? Who would have thought…. 

Related Posts:

Do Jewish Teens Need an Ethical Tune-Up?

One Comment I Never Hear as a Jewish educator


“What if I don’t believe in God—am I still Jewish?”

what are we teaching teens about belief?

what are we teaching teens about belief?

A confident, tall, yet boyish 11th grade teenager asked this question of Rabbis who were participating in a panel called “Ask the Rabbi Anything”.

The teen who asked the question wasn’t just any boy–he is already different from most other Jewish teens his age.

He’s attending a supplementary school program one day a week and working as a Hebrew school teacher’s aide a second day.

His plan is to earn a Teaching Certificate at the end of a two-year program.

Yet, he had a concern about whether or not the community considered him Jewish simply because he has doubts about God.

The good news?

He received warm and thoughtful responses by all Rabbis that I’m sure allayed any concerns he had, plus gave him plenty of things to grapple with and think about.

There were about 45 other teens in the room that seemed really interested in hearing the answers….so we can assume that the question resonated with them as well.

So, what can we learn about from this very important and urgent question? 

We need to create the space for teens to share their feelings of doubt.

How well have we taught our teens that asking questions is the beginning of a journey? 

How many of the teens we work with feel discomfort about faith? God? The bible?

How many teens might turn away from Judaism believing that they don’t quite measure up to some arbitrary definition of what a Jew is?

Judging from the thoughtful questions the teens asked and the depth of their comments, it was apparent that they experienced a wide open and accepting space to begin to figure things out, and for me–I was happy to share that space with them. 


Do Jewish Teens Need an Ethical Tune-Up?

cheating

How ethical are today’s teens?

When given the chance to cheat, what would the teenagers you know do?

A recent New York Times article on the subject of Ethics in Life and Business explored the difficulty adults have in making the right choice.

The author says: “The problem, research shows, is that how we think we’re going to act when faced with a moral decision and how we really do act are often vastly different.”

How much more challenging is this for teens growing up in a confusing world of right and wrong?

Months ago, I was surprised to learn how teens defined cheating while defending their behavior.

Since the scandals of the 80′s, businesses and researchers were propelled to give ethics serious consideration and there is now a website devoted to the matter.

As the article states, the difficulty in teaching ethics is that there is a difference between the ‘should’ self (what should be done in a given situation) and the ‘want’ self (wanting to be liked, accepted).

I imagine that with teens, that ‘want’ self is really strong in the adolescent years.

Social media hasn’t made things any easier for them, where there is even more of a pull to be one of the crowd.

Academic pressure hasn’t helped either, with the resultant urge to cheat becoming ever stronger.

Based on everything we know, there is a real benefit to training teens in this area while giving them real skills to succeed in the world of business,

So, how to we hope to teach ethics to teens?

By practice. Repetition. Role-plays. Scenarios where teenagers get to act out their choices.

High schools rarely offer ethics as a subject area.

Monthly programs for teens can not begin to instill these skills, there’s just not enough time to make anything ‘stick’.

Jewish educators who meet with teens weekly have an exceptional opportunity to give them a much-needed tune-up.


“There Is Only One Way to Change the World, and That Is By Education” Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks

stainedglassstar

 

What would you say about how to change the world?

Why does Judaism value education so much?

How are educational values embedded in our tradition?

It’s not possible to improve on the eloquent words of a master writer and teacher, the Former Chief Rabbi of the U.K.

Rabbi Sacks writes a series of articles on the Torah portion of the week entitled “Covenant & Conversation”.

I encourage you to get acquainted with his writings; they will stir you. 

When I read something written so beautifully, that exquisitely states Judaism’s mission of perpetuation through education, all I can hope for is that others like you will read it too.

Education has been the key to our survival, and that notion is at risk.

We’ve often gone for the glitz and forgot the substance.

I’m not bemoaning the loss of old ideas, worn out ways of doing things, or suggesting that we return to unsuccessful models.

But I am saying that whatever we do, we must do it in the name of education.

In today’s world, ‘content is king’.

How fitting for us at this time. We have permission to offer our teens real substantive content.

astrostar

If we focus on this, we will guarantee a healthy future.

This must be our unified message.

“The Mesopotamians built ziggurats. The Egyptians built pyramids. The Greeks built the Parthenon. The Romans built the Coliseum. Jews built schools.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks continues: …..”that is why they alone, of all the civilizations of the ancient world are still alive and strong, still continuing their ancestors’ vocation, their heritage intact and undiminished.”

Click, Read, Learn….may your efforts continue our tradition.


Some important questions you need to answer about Jewish teens

Wandering Jew

Wandering Jew (Photo credit: pellaea).             I’m a wondering Jew

A while ago, I reached some kind of milestone. I’ve been writing incessantly about a niche group within a niche group.

I’ve written over 100 posts on the topic of Jewish teens.

Posts about parenting, marketing, college readiness, Jewish identity, school aides, cheating, allowed me to share observations and frustrations.

I am so lucky to have the opportunity to write about what matters to me in Jewish education.

When I started writing, there were virtually no relevant results for Jewish teens on my Google search.

Thankfully, that has changed, but many things haven’t.

The most important question we need to ask ourselves, especially in light of the Pew study, is “are we doing enough for our Jewish teens?”

Do we have answers for the following?

1. Day schools continue to be the darling of funders, who fail to realize that the largest percentage of Jewish teens are not going to day schools, despite scholarship incentives.  Yet, students with at least seven years of supplementary Jewish education fare very well when compared to day school students.  Why?

2. Serious (yes, I did just say that word) supplementary high school programs work, yet get no recognition for the leaders we send to college campuses, year after year. Why?

3. Research confirms that students are less likely to attend high school programs when they have negative experiences in elementary supplemental education, yet communal incentives are rare for encouraging teens to ‘try out’ programs.  Why? (The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is taking a lead in this concept).

4. Hillels around the country don’t connect with Jewish supplementary high schools to help teens transition to their new environment. Why is there this incredible missed opportunity?

5. Turf issues continue to pervade many communities, even though some programs offer teens little choices for social and/or academic experiences. (Philadelphia, through an initiative called Jteenphilly is breaking ground in this area).

6. Teen aides in supplementary schools are generally not being served by that experience.  Keeping teens in the building doesn’t mean that their needs are being met.

7. Studies have confirmed that once on the college campus, teens tend not to care about Jewish denominational lines, yet their pre-collegiate youth group experiences are most often confined to movement-related programming. Why?

I don’t get many responses to these posts, which for most, would be a red flag to do something different.

Somehow, I’m content to do what I’m doing, and hope that some things will eventually ‘stick’.

Plus, I know you’re out there (the stats confirm this).

I appreciate you–you’re that very special reader who cares enough to read about Jewish teens.

Thank you!


One comment I never hear as a Jewish educator

There's data, and then there's what I know

There’s data, and then there’s what I know

I’m lucky.

I regularly interact with a cohort of individuals that others write reports about these days.

I learn so much from the young adults I speak with about their Jewish education.

No research center or foundation will be interested in this data, because it’s anecdotal.

The information I’ve gotten is not from the stuff of research: not from surveys, phone polling, focus groups, or market research.

It’s gleaned from speaking with thousands of young adults about their Jewish education over many, many years.

I listen very closely to what they say, and have had conversations with young adults in multiple settings: camps, youth groups, schools, and even around a kitchen table.

The one comment I’ve never heard is that anyone ever, I mean ever, regretted obtaining more Jewish education.

So, what will we do with that information?


Why Should Our Teens be Jewish?

Being Jewish? Too easy!

Being Jewish? Too easy!

The image above came up in a Google Image advanced search (free to use or share) for “Why be Jewish?”.

The image speaks to the casual nature of being Jewish, and some might think that it actually pokes fun a bit…after all, how many Mountain Jews do you know?

The fact that we might just accept this image without even thinking twice, kind of makes my point.

Answering the difficult question “Why Should Our Teens be Jewish”  is an extreme challenge for parents and Jewish educators.

It’s a basic question that we will need to grapple with for several reasons:

1.     In today’s open society, Jewish values resemble good old-fashioned American humanistic values.

Kindness to animals? Check.

Respect for the elderly? Check.

Caring for the environment? Check.

Social and humanitarian causes? Check.

Well, you get the idea. Our teens are so much a part of the American (Judeo-Christian) value system, that selling them on Jewish values is tough.

Not only that,

2.     Jewish teens don’t perceive themselves as different from their friends, nor do they want to be different.

Religion is pretty much a non-issue among friends. In high school, most kids aren’t staying up into the midnight hours talking theology.

Chem? Yes.

Advanced Physics? Totally.

God? Don’t think so.

3.     Jewish teens aren’t so much interested in doing things that are devoid of personal meaning, and many rituals connected with Judaism have not passed                that test for them. What’s been missing is context.

Ritual without it is pretty empty, since there isn’t the automatic compulsion to follow ritual for halachic  (Jewish legal) reasons.

You can try this. Just ask them how important it is for them to….say Kiddush. Motzi.

Thought so.  (We’re talking about most Jewish teens here, not those for whom a context has been provided).

4.      Back to the God thing. In high school, Reason is King. They haven’t delved far enough into the sciences to really, really comprehend the mystery of it all, which when they do, (later, in college perhaps) can be an awesome and spiritual experience.

Yes, they’ll talk string theory, and quantum physics, but won’t really be able to absorb all of its implications. (Check out my earlier post: Thinking about Religious Truths and Scientific Lies, ). In short, they’re not there yet.

So, we have a job to do. Far more than even worrying about Bar and Bat Mitzvah drop-off.

We have to get them to want to be Jewish.  They need to Love Being Jewish. 

The very first step, is letting them see how much we love it. 

Photo credit: Deviantart.com “MountainJew” by grenadah


Patchwork Fixes Don’t Work for Roads or the Jewish Community

English: A large pot hole on Second Avenue in ...

The Pot-Hole Problem

We’re already past pot-hole fixing season, so I can reflect on it with some degree of dispassion.

Disclaimer: I know not a thing about road-fixing, pot-holes, construction workers, unions. What I do know is that the cycle of pot-hole making and fixing has no end in sight.

Years ago, after driving over one particularly large one, I must have ranted about it, not knowing that my very young son, in the back seat, was particularly paying attention. He pointed his finger in the air and loudly exclaimed in a royal voice (obviously pretending to be some sort of king): “I declare, there shall be no more potholes on the byways and the highways.”

This became a family joke, since, really, if he had all that power, would pot-hole fixing be such a priority?

Well, now that I think about it, maybe.

Gaps in services in the Jewish community are what we all can agree on, but the short-term fixes are just temporary. Unless I missed something somewhere, where are the long-term fixes?

We’re all too familiar with the band of orange-clad road workers, guiding you past their work area (most likely in rush hour), with the knowledge that they’ll most probably be there again, in seemingly just a few short months,doing the very same thing.

Why, when it is perfectly obvious that pot-holes occur in the same spot every year, are we trapped into that model of crack, repair, crack, repair.

I can think of several reasons, all of which can apply to the Jewish community, just substitute ‘pot-hole fixing’ for ‘(teen) leadership development’:

  1. No one wants to invest in pot-hole fixing, it’s just not a campaign grabber or an interesting-sounding project
  2. Even though everyone agrees that it is a recurring problem, the money to fix the small problem is much more manageable than to fix the problem for the long-term
  3. It’s easier to redirect traffic in the short-run, than to try to convince everyone to get behind another method
  4. In some areas, different methods have worked, but wouldn’t necessarily apply to another (weather, traffic, road conditions, etc.)
  5. There is no overarching state agency that has the funds, to invest in the long-term solutions
  6. There are not many local organizations that would have the infrastructure to manage the above, since they’ve been designed for the short-term fix

A Command Center Approach 

We need a command system approach

Someone is needed at the helm

More disclaimers: There are wonderful programs that build teen leadership. But, we lack connectors from these programs to other programs. Missing are the follow-up programs and the links to the larger Jewish community.

Where are the natural bridges linking the teen years, the college experience, and mentoring from Jewish communal professionals?

Movements have talked about teen engagement, but for sure, it doesn’t seem that they’re talking to each other.

Birthright, agreeably one of the most successful programs to launch a young adult on the Jewish identity path, has no pathways from the teen years—although everyone seems to agree that reaching teens is crucial regarding Israel education and identification. Instead, what has happened, is that many youth-sponsored Israel trips have suffered because potential participants end up ‘waiting for the free trip’ in college.

Crack, repair, crack.

Let’s begin to think big. Long-term Investment.  You might call it the “Warren Buffet* approach” to pot-hole repair.

We need large, systemic changes. We need a “Department of Transportation” that truly cares about the road ahead. These changes are possible. We’re living in a connected world. We can pave a smoother road ahead.

(Warren Buffet is known for his preference for investments that pay off in the long-term).

Photo credits: Wikipedia


How We Are Shortchanging Jewish Teens

Teens need to be with other teens. Lots of them.

Teens need to be with other teens. Lots of them.

Some time ago, I wrote a post called What I learned about marketing from working at a Jewish Community High School. The “Aha, yes, you got it right” e-mails never came,  but I wrote that post mostly for myself anyway. It was a way to help me clarify some of the challenges inherent in my part of the Jewish world, because getting buy-in from Jewish teens was just too impossible of a job and I needed to explore why that was so.

Well, things have gotten much, much harder.  Then, I carefully outlined the primary reasons for the recruitment struggle, giving much detail of the built-in synagogue realities that make it even harder than anyone would think it would be.

Taking stock is a helpful exercise, but expecting change is another matter entirely. In fact, looking back, I was naive because I thought the challenges I referred to were the major obstacles to scores of teens signing up for enhanced Jewish education programs.

Boy, did I underestimate things.

What I didn’t experience so much then was turf, mostly because things just a short time ago, weren’t that bad. I’ve encountered it so much that I feel shell-shocked from the experience.

Let’s say that in a sea of drowning people, no one is going to throw you a lifesaver.

Specifically, no one is going to ‘share’ precious resources i.e. members. The Jewish community is in a period of deep change (though some have said chaos), and I can almost see the curtains being drawn and shutters being shackled as many organizations and synagogues are just trying to weather the storm and hold their own.

This behavior has not necessarily held true for the number of partnerships that are beginning to sprout up everywhere, albeit out of necessity. The economics of sustaining organizations has driven collaboration and that is a good thing to come of all this.

The issue I’m focusing on is limiting choices for others when the desire to hold on to them becomes paramount.

I respect and value the desire of synagogues to create ways of keeping their teens involved–especially as it pertains to keeping Post Bar/Bat Mitzvah teens on site—-we know how powerful Jewish role models can be, and that goes both ways. Jewish teens are role models for the younger students, and the professional leadership are mentors for the teens. That works.

Except when the teens themselves are being short-changed out of their own educational opportunities.

Holding onto your Jewish teens is wonderful, as long as you’re providing them with substantial, content-laden experiences. It’s just not okay if you simply want them on your real estate.

I’ve heard comments like “We just like to have them in our building” to “Our teens are needed here because they sell snack at break”

Sorry, but the way to have teens on hand, is not simply to have them give a hand. They need more.

Having classroom aides is not a bad idea in and of itself,  when done correctly. As an experience that stands alone, I don’t think it gives teens a fair deal. Please read here for some of the reasons why I believe that to be true.

In order to ‘weather this storm’, there needs to be some long-term planning on creating better business models, one that allows teens some choices as to how they want to play out their Jewish journey.

The reality, is that building those skills now, of helping teens actively choose their Jewish involvement, is what may make a difference for Jewish continuity when they get to college.


Jewish Teens: Thinking About Religious Truths and Scientific Lies

Science and Religion: Not a good fit

Science and Religion: Not a good fit

Among students I’ve worked with, the majority are really not comfortable talking about Religion, at least in the way that American Judaism seems to define it for them. As they describe it, Judaism involves prayer to a Being they can’t comprehend or even believe exists.

Granted, these conversations are held with high school students, who haven’t yet been exposed to deeper scientific or philosophical thinking. They live in a daily world where logic and  mathematical constructs rule supreme.  The unknowable, the impenetrable, the effervescence of life itself….those deep thoughts might come later, after they’ve captured the basic constructs they need to.

But we do need to meet these teens where they are, and most remain dubious about what they call ‘organized religion’, and words like ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ tend to make them wince.

When I’ve probed, to explore these ideas with them, the responses I get come from their limited exposure to courses in science, biology, physics–all good reasoned and rational things to know in order to be an educated person.  Thoughts of anything else seem to go against what they’re learning in a secular school.

This will not come as news to most, as there are studies from both Christian and Jewish sides about the disengagement of our youth, but this post is not about new initiatives or programs, it is about the conversations that never happen, even in the best of programs.

Those are the conversations that usually occur in camp late at night, or in a dorm room somewhere, where students might grapple with the inconsistencies of life in a deeper and longer conversation.

We are limited, in our once or twice a week programs, to touch students in this way. I’m not even sure if enough day schools are tackling these concerns.

How can we jump start that process?  Here is one way:

I happened on this video, on of the University of Pennsylvania’s 60 second lecture series, and thought that it would provide a great trigger to these kinds of conversations. Lying Your Way to the Truth

The video explores the need to dispel any notion that science can provide truths: “Science lets us find out the truth at the independent intersection of lies” the professor boldly states. A Penn Professor at that.

I hope you will find this helpful. I’d love to hear the feedback!


Betrayal, Abandonment, and Jewish Teen Education

education

This past Sunday I met with a group of parents interested in checking out options for their teens’ Jewish education. They were committed to their children’s education and wanted the best for them.  Currently, their 7th grade teens were in a synagogue school, but were unsure that staying there would meet their children’s needs. One parent found the time to attend this orientation meeting even though her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was the very next week!  

I am always impressed when parents become ‘smart shoppers’, critically evaluating which program will offer the best environment for their child’s Jewish education.  For sure, not every program works for every teen, but parents will be in a better position to support their teens’ attendance if they feel committed to the program’s goals.  And if it’s a good fit. 

The consumer attitude that we often disparage, can be flipped toward the positive. The desire to find the best possible option from those available, is a good thing and definitely trickles down. Teens will get it; they’ll understand that spending time ‘shopping’ around for the best fit–whether done by parents, teens or both–means that there is no less importance placed on Jewish education than any other choice one would make. It’s an important lesson.

At this point in the orientation, I’m enjoying hearing from these parents what they want for their kids: to be challenged, be with a lot of other teens who are like them, to have many choices of subject matter, be exposed to a large staff of teachers, etc. 

I guess at one point, the conversation shifted. It may have been prompted by thoughts about the reality of enrolling their son/daughter in a different program than the one the synagogue was offering.

I was surprised to hear the words they used next:  “Betrayal, Abandonment, Rejection” were words different parents said that expressed their discomfort with this eventuality. I heard this not just from one parent, but from many.

They felt they were ‘abandoning’ a course that had been set out for them.  They didn’t want to disappoint the Rabbi.  Or the Education Director. Or the Education Committee that had worked on the curriculum. Some felt that by seeking out other options they would be perceived as deserting the rest of the parents who were staying.  Some felt that that making this new commitment would add a layer of difficulty to their lives (arranging different carpools, rescheduling things) and they weren’t sure that it would be ‘worth the change’. Most felt guilty about the decision they were close to making in one way or another.  You could see it in their earnest expressions. They clearly wanted to do the right thing, but were so conflicted.

I appreciated their sensitivity, but had no answers.

I stand on the side of advocating for choice every time.

But this is not so effective unless everyone in the Jewish community agrees to encourage choices. That means making people/members aware of what’s out there, and giving up some influence and control over the information that would contribute to their ‘buying decision’.

This unfortunately, seems a long way off.

Instead of complaining about the consumer mentality, we have to embrace it. That attitude makes us all work a little harder. And yes, there are consequences. However, I believe that we have to be fearless.   


Doing a 360 on Attendance in a Part-Time School

Cover of "Class Clown"

Class Clowns: Not That Funny

Recently, I participated in a webinar, sponsored by JESNA, on issues related to complementary (supplementary, part-time) schools.

This was an unusual experience. I was asked to facilitate a group of about ten online participants and discuss the topic of declining attendance. Aside from one familiar name, I didn’t know any one. We examined the issue from the point of view of these stakeholders; Education Director, Parent, and Teacher, and we brainstormed a list of issues surrounding the topic.

It was interesting that this online group of educators and school directors, representing schools from all over the country, mentioned a familiar list: conflicting activities, less parental engagement, too few class expectations, too much school homework, class management issues, social pressures, plus other reasons that were sound and thoughtful.

I’m sure many of us approached this issue of declining attendance in a variety of contexts and perhaps came up with similar but expanded lists of reasons and issues. So, what’s the news here?

I’m not sure what anyone else took away from this online discussion, but for me, there was a particular enlightening moment.

When I suggested we view this issue from the vantage point of the student, I was literally overwhelmed with all of the emotional baggage that our students have to deal with when they attend erratically.

To be clear, these are not going to be things that haven’t come up in conversations before.

It’s just that listed all together, I felt such compassion for that poor kid having to attend any program in this way.

Would any adult be able to handle such a thing? “Kind of” attending a program? Participating “now and then”?

Really, just think about this for a minute. How comfortable would you be in this situation? Think about the social and academic implications.

Now, think of how you might experience this as an adolescent:

You are lost most of the time. Most likely, you haven’t kept up with the work. You don’t really know everything the teacher is referencing, but you pretend because you don’t want to ask questions or ‘stick out’. You may be out of things socially. You may cover up this inadequacy with acting out behavior. You need some sort of role in the class, and class academic is out. So the other roles available that unconsciously suit you may be class clown, troublemaker, blocker, etc. Other kids may resent the fact that you’re not there regularly, as they are. You  haven’t really formed a connection with the teacher.

Though you’ve been absent often, it actually becomes harder to attend.  So you think of reasons not to go. Like complaining a lot. Finding excuses to do other things. Begging your parents not to send you to that ‘awful’ place.

No surprise then, that declining attendance begets a further attendance drop.

I was totally overwhelmed with what students like this experience when they don’t attend Jewish education programs on a regular basis and the challenges they probably face as a result.

How can we use this information?

I know that as a teacher, I’ve often expressed frustration/guilt when my students did not attend regularly. It’s not that I was ever harsh, I just wanted them to know that I missed them and wanted them to be part of the class.

I’d change that now and say something a little different.

I’d make a real effort to show much more compassion for what they’re coping with, maybe privately even get a reference check about the unique challenges they must feel, and help ease their transition into the classroom world any way I could.

They’re dealing with enough.


%d bloggers like this: