Month: September 2020

A Taste of Torah – Succos

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In the Clouds

Tonight we begin sitting and eating in the Sukkah as we celebrate the holiday of Sukkos. One reason given for why we do this is to commemorate the Clouds of Glory that surrounded our ancestors while they traveled in the desert. The question arises  – what lesson is there for us today that we should be thinking about as we sit and eat in the sukkah? It was a miracle then; what relevance is it for us today?

The Vilna Gaon shares a little background information that will help us understand this. He quotes the Chazal who tell us that after the sin of the golden calf, the Clouds of Glory disappeared. This disappearance of these clouds was G-d’s message to B’nei Yisroel of his displeasure with their actions. The removal of the clouds was G-d’s way of physically distancing himself from them. It wasn’t until Moshe pleaded with the B’nei Israel to do teshuvah and they complied that B’nei Yisroel was forgiven.  This act of G-d’s forgiveness culminated on Yom Kippur when they received the second Luchos signifying that G-d and B’nei Yisroel were once again close. Immediately after the completion of this act, the Clouds of Glory returned which was right before the holiday of Sukkos.

Now, we can understand what we are commemorating. We are not recognizing the Clouds of Glory that were with B’nei Yisroel all those years in the desert. Rather, we are recognizing the ones that came back illustrating that we are once again close with G-d at this time of the year. May we all feel that special relationship throughout the coming year.

Assessing students’ readiness for learning in 2020

The need to assess students’ knowledge is vital to enhancing teaching and learning. But with so much disruption to the school year last year, assessments this fall 2020 are even more important than usual. In order to prepare for the school year, ATT teachers attended a workshop with Rabbi Dr. Dovid Jacobson, Educational Consultant, Yeshiva Educational Services, Inc.,  about the types of assessments they can use.

 There are 4 types of student assessments:

  1. Placement testing: a pre-assessment before instruction begins. This creates a baseline for instruction.
  2. Formative assessment: done by the teacher at the beginning and during instruction to note students’ progress and check for understanding. This is not necessarily for a grade, it is to help the teacher assess the progress of the learning.
  3. Diagnostic testing: used to figure out if there is an impediment to learning so that the teacher can make accommodations or provide extra resources.
  4. Summative assessment: tests at the end of a chapter, unit, year, course for purpose of giving a grade or advancement to next level of learning and to collect data on the student progress.

Placement testing and formative assessment are used to assess readiness, and teachers might need to adjust their teaching accordingly. This is always important, but it’s more important this year since students have not been in the traditional classroom since March. 

Once you have your assessment results, you’ll need to  

  • Revisit the plan for the course/unit/lesson and make adjustments as needed.
  • Provide or seek support for students who are below (and above!) level,
  • Implement differentiated instruction based on student needs

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Ha’Azinu

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Believing in the Power of Yom Kippur and the Power of Teshuva

The awesome day of Yom Kippur is upon us, and we approach it with dread since it is a day when our fate is decreed for the coming year. As we say in U’Nesane Tokef, “…on the fast day of Yom Kippur, it is sealed who will live and who will die.” This dread and fear should drive us to utilize the days leading up to Yom Kippur to review our previous successes and failures and figure out what we can change so that the future has more successes and less failures. No matter how well we do in this endeavor, there is something else we must do to utilize the wonderful gift of Yom Kippur to its fullest extent. We must believe in the gift of teshuva (repentance) and the gift of Yom Kippur!

We must believe that no matter how far we have strayed and no matter how severe our misdeeds are, we can achieve repentance and be redeemed by Hashem’s dual gift of teshuva and Yom Kippur. In the liturgy of Tzom Gedaliah we refer to the case of Menashe, king of Yehuda. Menashe committed the most heinous of crimes, murdering countless people, uprooting the spiritual edifices and Torah learning that his father and predecessor, Yechizkiyahu, had created. He went as far as murdering his grandfather, the prophet Yeshayahu! After such a terrible career, he was captured and tortured by his Assyrian enemies. Menashe first called out to all of his false deities, and only when there was no response, did he turn his entreaties for help to Hashem.  The Midrash in Megillas Rus (5:15) tells us that the ministering angels argued that he was not worthy of grace. After all the crimes he had committed and the insulting behavior of turning to Hashem only as a last resort, why should he be saved? Hashem did not follow their counsel. He created a special pathway of teshuva for this grotesque sinner so that no one would ever have the excuse not to repent by saying that he/she were beyond redemption.

Our sages (Pesikta 21) note that teshuva is not logical. Once we have been disrespectful to our Creator, we have lost the right to exist. Yet, as we say when we recite the שלש עשרה מדות, the thirteen attributes of mercy, Hashem tolerates our missteps and affords us the opportunity to do teshuva. Teshuva is a special kindness that is a product of Hashem’s mercy; it can accomplish far more than we can understand. We use our human interactions as a frame of reference to limit the power of teshuva. Hashem doesn’t see it that way.

The same idea is present when we think about Yom Kippur. We prepare for this holy day through תשובה – תפלה – צדקה and that is our feeble way of showing that we are serious about the process. Hashem, in his magnanimity, takes it to a completely different level. Yom Kippur is the ultimate cleansing which Hashem graces us, completely disproportionately to our efforts. This is the meaning of  כי ביום הזה יכפר  עליכם – It is with this day He will atone for you. Our job is לפני ד’ תטהרו, to cleanse ourselves before Him so that we are worthy of this tremendous gift of forgiveness.

While we are in fear of the judgement, we trust in Hashem’s kindness and believe that this day will bring us redemption from the mistakes we make. The more we believe in the power of the day, the more it will change us. If we leave Yom Kippur with the feeling that we have a new lease on life, the longer we will be able to act as a reborn people.

May we merit to experience the full beauty and majesty of this day and emerge pure and reconciled with our Maker so that we move forward serving Him with love and joy!

Interactive & creative ideas to make virtual learning exciting

This year it’s essential that teachers focus on ways to make remote learning interesting and effective. Now’s the time to make a habit of finding ways to make virtual learning interesting and interactive, as some students in the ATT system have opted to learn from home this year and others have to stay home even for a slight cold. Plus, there’s the realistic possibility that some classes or schools will have to learn remotely at times this year.

To help provide teachers gain the tools necessary to make this unusual year successful, the ATT is offering teachers additional professional development opportunities. Recently, education consultant Lakey Silber met with teachers over Zoom to explore creative ways to make virtual learning exciting for students. 

Practice using the virtual whiteboard whether it’s in-person or virtual 

With the many types of different learners out there, having a visual component to any lesson can be both engaging and essential for some students. Take the time to practice on your own and with your students by writing your name, drawing, coloring and using the different tools offered. 

Here are a few ways to use the whiteboard to make learning engaging: 

  • Hangman – Take turns coming up with the word the students guess and having students submit words to use. 
  • Pictionary – A fusion of words and pictures can be both fun and educational for students.
  • I packed my bags to Israel – “And in it I put…” Followed by an object and the next student repeating the original object along with an addition. 
  • Picture by piece – Draw one part of a picture at a time and have the students copy each part. At the end, share the picture with the class.
  • Alphabet four squares –  A name, place, animal, think in four squares
  • BINGO  

Shared screen

Having access to a screen sharing feature offers many creative learning opportunities for the virtual classroom. Games such as Boggle, Scattergories and Secret Code can all be used while screen sharing. Putting up a maze on your screen allows the students to simultaneously journey to the completion together. 

Sharing your screen can also be an engaging way to read a story together as a class. Read the story on slides so that the text and pictures are clear and vibrant to students. Screen sharing also allows the students to participate in a show and tell virtual experience. 

More activities to use with a shared screen include: 

  • I spy
  • Word find
  • What is missing
  • Can you guess the sound
  • Show a part of an object and the students guess what it is 
  • Memory game
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Dots and boxes
  • Find the hidden objects in the picture 

There are enough options that you can incorporate many of these activities into daily lessons and see what works best with your class for the future. 

Effectively playing games 

Learning games are a tried and true method of teaching, and remote learning affords teachers many opportunities to incorporate fun and educational games into the mix. has different game modes to make quizzing students on materials fun, social and engaging. Similarly, teachers can use Family Feud, multiple-choice activities or other trivia games. Powerpoint and other software enable teachers to easily create Jeopardy-style games to quiz students’ knowledge. 

The picture story game is a very engaging and thoughtful exercise to do with students. For the game, each student receives a picture. Then, one student begins the story and each student continues the story with their individual picture. 

Another option is to play “Last Letter.” To play, the teacher selects a category for the game. The first player names a word in that category. Then the next person names a word in that category that starts with the last letter of the previous word the person said. The game continues until everyone is stumped.

Art projects for virtual learning

Participating in arts and crafts projects is proven to reduce anxiety, and in a time of such uncertainty, students will certainly appreciate the change of pace. The projects don’t need to be so complicated either. Make a flying paper airplane, paper boat or a simple paper plate project like a smiling sun. Teachers can have the students draw a picture and cut it out to create their own puzzle. 

Movement and exercise 

With remote learning, the thought of sitting and staring at a screen for hours can be daunting for even the most patient students. Break up the learning with some movement and exercises as often as needed. Play “Simon Says,” and teachers can give students the opportunity to play “Simon.” 

Freeze dance is a great way to incorporate music and energy into the learning experience. Put on music and let the students dance until it stops. Students can also dance with an object like a broom or a scarf to make it more interactive. 

“5,4,3,2,1” is an exercise where the teacher proposes five different movements in descending order. Five jumping jacks, four spins around, three hops on one foot, two walks around the room and one high-five for a friend. 

Movement and exercise can also mean using the time for relaxation and focus techniques. Practice breathing strategies with students such as smell the flower and blow the pinwheel. Have students breathe in while raising their hands and breathe out slowly putting their hands back down.  Giving students clapping rhythms to copy or providing Youtube videos such as JJ Duchman’s “Keep School Fun” are also creative ways to keep students engaged. 

Although nothing can replace the power of in-person learning, using creative and engaging activities can make the best of the virtual learning situation and give students a positive experience when they need it most. 

Helping students re-enter in-person learning

There is hardly an area of our lives that is unaffected by the pandemic. It has brought uncertainty, anxiety and isolation. For students even under normal circumstances, sitting and learning can be difficult. With the pandemic, the potential roadblocks to education are that much harder to break through.

As ATT teachers launch this unusual school year, we are offering several professional development sessions to support them. Sarah Steinberg, MS, BCBA of Steinberg Behavior Solutions and Jill Hollederer, MA, BCBA met with teachers over Zoom to provide tools for transitioning to learning in-person. 

Although we are fortunate to have programs such as Zoom and Google Classroom, learning remotely presents many added challenges to students. In the physical classroom, there are distractions, but the energy of having a teacher and other students often helps students focus and stay accountable. 

It’s also important to approach education with a balance in striving for meaningful learning during the pandemic as well as emphasizing emotional support for students. Fortunately, there are tools and techniques to help students adjust back to in-classroom learning and thrive in this unusual school year. 

Set goals and expectations 

The first step in helping students acclimate back to learning in the classroom is for teachers to identify the specific needs of their students. Teachers will then be able to offer personalized support throughout the transition. 

Teachers can ask students to reflect on both the challenges and benefits of remote learning. Teachers may find that students prefer certain elements of the remote learning experience, and they can work towards implementing those strategies. This also has the potential of addressing some of the emotions students might be feeling and can be a helpful way for them to cope. 

Setting clear classroom expectations will provide students with knowledge and understanding to reduce uncertainty. This increases the students’ willingness to comply with new behaviors.  

Here are some helpful tips on how to set solid expectations for in-person learning in 2020:

  1. Present what students can do rather than what they can’t do

Stating rules and expectations in the positive encourages students’ compliance and also makes it easier for the teacher to enforce. Rather than telling a student what not to do over and over again, reframing a command in the positive creates a more nurturing environment and better promotes meaningful learning. 

For example, instead of writing a class rule stating, “Don’t get out of your seat without permission,” write, “Please remain in your seat until you are given permission.” It’s a slight change that makes a big difference. Another example of a class rule in the positive is “We are respectful.” Under the rule, you can elaborate on the practical applications such as, “Listen to the teacher and your peers, speak kindly and respect personal space.” 

  1. Offer choices

Many students respond better when offered a choice between different options. This gives them responsibility and some level of control. Teachers can give the students an option to use hand sanitizer or wash their hands, to choose the schedule of activities or actually help create the guidelines for the class (with some guidance, of course.) 

There are many areas that teachers and students are not able to be flexible in the classroom, but finding an area with flexibility and offering choices to students will help encourage participation and even excitement in regard to classroom activities. 

  1. Use reinforcement charts and praise students 

Now that the guidelines are in place, reward students for following them through some form of reinforcement. Teachers can use a sticker chart, participation dollars or another creative option as a reward. Teachers can ask students what reward is best for both short-term and long-term reinforcements to help motivate them. 

  1. Clearly and visibly display the expectations 

Create an appealing poster or graphic to display the expected behaviors to earn the reinforcer, how the teacher will check, what the reward will be and when it will be given. Try to only present what is relevant for the students today in the short-term. The long-term plan for fading out the reinforcement will come gradually as students are more adjusted back to in-person learning. 

Look out for behavioral concerns

Students often display troubling behavior when going through a challenging time, so it’s important to identify what these possible behavior challenges are and how to best work through them. 

Some examples of COVID-19 related behavioral concerns might include:

  • Struggling to wear a mask especially for long periods of time
  • Washing hands frequently or overusing hand sanitizer
  • Restlessness 
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Aversion to certain fabrics 
  • Hyperactivity

For a student who is exhibiting challenging behaviors, try offering choices, offering extra assistance and allowing additional time for them to complete tasks. This will help with students who need to build up skills potentially lost from the lack of in-classroom learning which may be a factor in their acting out. To limit the over-use of hand sanitizer or handwashing, make sure to plan frequent times for both so the students can expect when they will be able to eliminate germs.

Allowing the use of noise-canceling headphones, separating workspaces or having students work in small groups are all helpful ways to channel both hyperactivity and difficulty focusing. Making sure to use reinforcement rewards and specific verbal praise will also motivate students in the classroom. 

When the expectations and reinforcements are at the forefront of the students’ minds throughout the day, they will be more likely to exhibit positive behaviors. Reminding students before recess or social activities can help encourage positive interactions between students and their peers.  As the teacher models following the rules and expectations, great emphasis should be placed on praising students who are serving as role models for their peers. 

Be mindful of sensory issues related to COVID-19

Sensory issues related to COVID-19 might be anything that affects the senses such as touch, sound, taste, smell and sight. A recommended technique to help students cope with this challenge is systematic desensitization. This will vary depending on the sensory need, but examples include gradually increasing the duration, offer choices, provide scents in their masks and to encourage frequent breaks in the bathroom or plexiglass corner. 

Students who may be slightly more sensory can have a hard time wearing masks, especially those made out of certain fabrics. Work with the parents to find a mask that may be more comfortable and manageable. 

The four main motivations behind behavior are: 

  1. Sensory challenges
  2. Escape or avoidance
  3. Attention seeking
  4. Tangible (to get something a student wants)

By taking the time to really listen to what the students are going through and what they could benefit from, teachers can work towards more meaningful, effective and engaging learning in the classroom.

A Taste Of Torah – Rosh Hashana

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Avinu Malkeinu

On Rosh Hashana we will be saying  the famous prayer of Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father our King).These words have a powerful meaning which can be understood through the following  story that I heard from Rabbi YY Jacobson (Founder and Dean of

There once was a rabbi that specialized in working with at risk youth. He worked tirelessly to reach out to these young adults and connected with them in many ways to bring them back to the way of Torah. One day a tragedy struck in his home and his youngest child took ill and passed away suddenly.  As he was sitting shiva, a group of these boys walked in to pay a shiva call. The leader of the group made a pledge on behalf of the group and said the following, “Rabbi, you have done so much for us and we are grateful to you. To show our appreciation, we have accepted upon ourselves to observe this coming Shabbos in memory of your son.” This group of boys had not kept Shabbos in years. The rabbi was touched and sincerely thanked them for this gesture.

As the boys left, people commented, “Really!! Is that all they could do for you after all you have done for them. Just one Shabbos – they should accept much more than that.”

The rabbi said, “You don’t get it. Think about what one Shabbos means. Do you know what I would give to have my son alive for one more Shabbos? To walk to shul together, to bless him, to tuck him in his bed at night, to watch him play, etc. You can’t minimize what that represents.” These words alone would have been enough of a rebuke, but the rabbi went one step further and continued, “Think about G-d and how HE feels about his children, to have then at HIS table for one Shabbos, how precious that must be to HIM.“

The rabbi didn’t focus on what it meant to him personally, but to Our Father in Heaven. This rabbi understood Avinu Malkeinu, G-d is our Father and we are all His children. Let us all keep that in mind as we approach the New Year and pray for all of His children to be together at His table once again with the coming of Moshiach in our times .

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

There are two interesting midrashim that discuss the history of teshuva, repentance. One (Tanchuma Nosso 11) says that the concept of teshuva predates the creation. The other (Braishis Rabba 22) relates that Adam encountered his son Cain after he had murdered his own  brother, Hevel. Adam inquired what had occurred when he was judged by Hashem. Kayin answered, “I repented, and we worked it out.” When Adam heard this, he felt terrible that he had not utilized the tremendous power of teshuva after his own sin of the Tree of Wisdom. He then went on to compose the psalm of Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaSHabbos which is a psalm that describes the world in a perfect state after the coming of Moshaich which is called the state of “eternal Shabbos.

These midrashim seem to indicate that teshuva is a concept that exists even in a perfect world where there is no sin and even in a world that hasn’t even been created yet. This is in contrast to the description which we find in this week’s parsha, ”…and when all of these events happen to you, the blessings and the curses, you take it to heart amongst the nations in which you dispersed and you will return to Hashem.” These words refer to the baal teshuva who returns as a response to suffering the consequences of bad choices. 

The overall concept of teshuva, and indeed its name implies,  is a return to a better relationship with our Maker. It happens when we evaluate how close we are to Hashem and what we are investing in that relationship. Are we focused on appreciating His greatness and kindness? Have we become unfocused and swept away in materialism or other distractions? Do we consider what we can do to be closer to Him and follow through on those thoughts? That is the essence of “returning” to Hashem.

The midrashim saying  that teshuva exists in a perfect world are telling us that imperfection and mistakes are part of perfection. Teshuva is a journey in which we reflect on our behavior, and we endeavor to resolve the underlying causes for our failings. It is a ladder that we climb as we internalize our yearning for closeness to G-d, and we never arrive because it is all about the yearning and the journey.

There is a range in the motivation to repent. Some might do teshuva because they fear divine retribution (Teshuva M’Yirah, repentance out of fear), and some do teshuva because they have an enhanced awareness of Hashem and this leads to embarrassment of their misdeeds. The highest form of teshuva is that which is done out of love for Hashem where a person wants to draw closer to Hashem and feels that his shortcomings are in the way. This is called Teshuva M’Ahava, repentance out of love.

Of course, repentance involves the aspects of recognizing our mistakes and taking responsibility for them. However, it does not end there. It continues with our recognition that He awaits our return and that he is capable of a great deal of forgiveness. These are all components of teshuva and our goal is to rise to the highest level.

As we enter the awe inspiring Yamim Noraim, we begin by proclaiming Hashem as our King. A king must have a following and Hashem desires us to be His subjects. Once that is in place, we begin the process of cleansing our sins and failures during the Asres Y’mei Tesuvah. May we succeed to rise to the level of Teshuva M’Ahava, repentance out of love, and be blessed with a happy, healthy and fulfilling year!

Supporting schools and families during Coronavirus

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the ATT joins the great number of organizations and agencies who are working diligently to mitigate the impact of this unprecedented event. As humanity struggles with fear, loss and uncertainty, we are buoyed by our faith and our commitment to each other. The Navi Yeshayahu tells us “אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ יַעְזֹרוּ וּלְאָחִיו יֹאמַר חֲזָק – Each man shall assist and encourage his fellowman.” This has become the response of all people of goodwill and compassion, and we are grateful to the volunteers, dedicated lay people, leaders and community servants who continue their daily service to the community with compassion and dedication under trying circumstances. May Hashem repay them with good health and the fulfillment of everything good that they need.

Community-wide contact tracing

The ATT schools have all prepared contingencies for the event that a staff member or student is positive for COVID or has been exposed to someone who tested positive. The schools are mandated to report any outbreaks to the local health department and to receive guidance regarding quarantine and contact tracing procedures.

As our schools are an integral part  of our community’s infrastructure, we want to encourage the parents and staff of our schools to participate in the communal tracking endeavors which will help our community leaders have more focused and accurate information. Data on COVID which is shared about the general population is not as helpful as information that is generated within the community as it helps us get a true picture of how the community is faring in preventing the spread of COVID. There two platforms that are available to report cases of COVID, Community Counter and COJENT. 

We ask community members who test positive for COVID to share this anonymously to or the COVID-19 Orthodox Jewish Emergency Tracker (COJENT). It will go a long way to prevent further spread in our community.

Thank you to our community supporters

The ATT would like to thank the JUF for advancing allocations to all our day schools during this challenging time. The JUF staff have been spending countless hours on ways to provide much needed assistance for agencies throughout the Jewish community at large. We thank all the professionals that are working diligently to meet these needs and may G-d grant all of you the wisdom and strength to make the best decisions on behalf of our community.

The ATT wishes to give a special acknowledgement to the Kehillah Fund and the Walder Foundation for the special emergency grant it has provided to the community’s schools. This will help the schools defray some of the costs of all of the emergency infrastructure that needed to be created on short notice as well as substantial shortfalls in fundraising and other revenue shortfalls. We wish you and yours the best of health and we all pray for a speedy resolution to the current situation.

Here’s how the ATT is doing to support its schools and the community at large.

1. Guidance and Policy:

  • Helping the school community make decisions and to craft policies in response to the unusual circumstances created by the pandemic
  • Consultation with school leaders to help them meet challenges and needs

2. Technology Resources, Training and Support:

  • Helping schools find financial and training resources to maintain continuity of learning
  • Supporting individual teachers with technology and methodology needs
  • Convening ATT’s Principals Council to collaborate

3. Advocacy to Public and Private Funders:

  • Identifying the scope of school needs and working with governmental bodies and nonpublic funders to meet those needs
  • Assist schools to access Federal Payroll Protection Loans (PPP) to assure that staff will continue to remain employed
  • Assuring that remote learning requests are eligible for Title I funds.
  • Consultation with Chicago Public Schools and four other public school districts to access the Federal CARES Act/Education Stabilization Fund and understanding appropriate uses of the funds. These consultations consist of the exchange of information and monitoring that our schools are getting their fair share.
  • Assuring that remote learning requests are eligible for Title I funds.
  • Successful efforts with Chicago Public Schools to reinstate IDEA Proportionate Share special education services for eligible students so that services could resume remotely. These services include speech, LD learning specialists and other LD interventions.
  • Managing the required paperwork for Federal Title programs and tracking their progress for payment.

4. Family Support:

  • Ongoing parent support sessions to help them be effective and supportive of their families during this crisis
  • Individual referrals and supports
  • Resource lists for families to keep children well occupied

5. Partnering with other agencies and organizations:

  • Helping to coordinate and craft the communal responses to the evolving needs of the times for maximum efficacy

6. Supporting Special Needs:

  • REACH is continuing its special services to students remotely
  • Helping mainstream teachers teach effectively to students with varied abilities

7. Mental Health Needs:

  • Providing networking and resources to school social workers and families
  • Monitoring trends to address mental health needs proactively

Social Work Sessions

Immediately upon the closure of schools, we gathered social workers from several ATT schools together for a public Zoom session with parents, followed by second session on March 26 and another one on May 11.

March 15 Session

March 26 Session

May 11 Session

Peer Tutoring

We are setting up peer tutoring and chavrusas for students interested in finding a learning buddy or mentor in limudi kodesh and limudi chol subjects. Complete the survey here If your children would like to participate.

Collaborative Problem Solving

REACH’s expert in Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Tamar Shames spoke on March 29 on Facebook Live and Zoom, offering tips for this challenging time from this research-based behavior method that the use to train teachers. CPS can help you work with your child to build up their intrinsic motivation to make positive choices and solve problems.

Click here to watch that session on Facebook

Resources to help children structure their day

Homeschool Resources

We are constantly updating a full list of homeschool resources in Judaic and general studies here. We encourage you to check the website links out for yourself and to supervise children while using the web.

For more information about any of the ATT initiatives during school closures for Coronavirus, email

How teachers can create a relationship with students in this new, unusual school year

As relieved as exhausted parents are to be sending kids back to class this school year, this comes with concerns and challenges. Beyond health and safety, parents, kids and schools alike are all wondering about connecting during this time of wearing masks and social distancing. And for those families opting to keep children home for remote learning, the need to find creative ways of connection is even more crucial.

Rabbi Ephraim Hochberg of YTT and ATT’s Rabbi Avrohom Moller addressed educators from across the ATT system to discuss ways to proactively pursue a relationship with each student. 

Relating to students as a teacher or rebbe is always a key factor in learning and in helping kids have a positive association with school. The concern that we could revert back to remote learning makes building relationships early on even more critical.

Two prerequisites of relationships

Any strong relationship between a student and teacher is based upon safety and trust. Only once these conditions are met, can a teacher move on to build the relationship.

Creating a safe space for learning: 

A teacher has a responsibility to make sure his classroom is safe, everyone is respected and has a role and everyone will be defended against bullying and other aggression. This means a teacher has to be empathic and really try to understand the child’s perspective. He has to be authentic and open rather than aloof and controlling. A teacher should never use sarcasm because many kids cannot process it.

  • A classroom feels safe when learning and the schedule are predictable and clear
  • The teacher is consistent, cheerful and fair 
  • A teacher can admit when she makes a mistake to establish safety and trust
  • A teacher can be vulnerable and show that he is also human 

To build trust, a teacher must listen well and be there for students when they need problems solved. It means to forgive and forget without bearing a grudge. Trust happens when a teacher spends time thinking about solutions for a child’s challenges and gets back to him. Teachers who demonstrate trust will have students who reflect it back. It’s a tall order, but this is all the job of an educator.

Building the relationship with students:

Connecting with students takes effort. In the beginning, it can be as simple as using a child’s correct name and spelling. Or it can be something specifically personal for a student who needs it (e.g. a coin for student’s collection).

Teachers have to be masters of offering genuine and specific praise. They have to tout a child’s achievements to others, including their parents and grandparents. They have to notice what students need even if they haven’t asked for help.

Most importantly a child should feel that her teacher is happy to have him in class.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Ki Savo

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Understanding the Message of Bikkurim

In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to the mitzva of Bikkurim – the farmer’s bringing of his first fruits to the Kohen. As the  farmer approaches the Kohen, the Torah gives him a directive to go back in time and state the passage of “Arami Oved Avi…  – What Lavan tried to do to our forefather Jacob…” and then to continue reflecting that we also went down to Egypt and contemplate more of our struggles and that G-d saved us in all of these situations. Although, it is nice to reflect on history and be grateful for what happened then, why is the farmer given this instruction to do so at this point?  What is the relevance of bringing up our past struggles as a people and G-d’s salvation for us?

Rav Aron Kotler ZT”L (the founder of Lakewood Yeshiva) answers this question with another question. He points out in the Birkat Hamazon, the grace after the meal, that not only do we thank G-d for the food that we have eaten, but also thank Him for the land of Israel, taking us out of Egypt, and for giving us the Torah. Why is this included as we thank G-d for the food we just ate?

Both of these questions illustrate a fundamental lesson in life to be learned about giving gratitude. Most of us like to think of ourselves as independent people. Therefore, to be grateful and to admit to others that you need them can be a difficult task. To acknowledge the presence of G-d for the simple things such as eating the food on our table can be a challenge as well. Through these examples, the Torah is teaching us when one is in a grateful mode, extend that gratefulness to other situations. Although it may not seem related to the function at hand, such as bringing bikkurim, reciting the Birkat Hamazon, the essence of these mitzvos is to bring out the attribute of gratitude in all other areas of our lives. As we approach the New Year, may we all merit the ability to recognize the many things for which we have to be grateful.