Month: November 2020

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayetzei

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Yaakov Avinu left his father’s house on a journey which lasted 22 years. On his way to Charan, he falls asleep and has a wonderful dream and prophecy. Hashem says to him, “I will be with you, and I will guard you wherever you go; I will bring you back to this land. I won’t abandon you until I have fulfilled all which I have told you (that I will do for you).” This reassuring message would seem to be all that Yaakov needs to continue on his quest for a wife and a family with confidence. Yet, when Yaakov wakes from his sleep, he makes a monument and a solemn vow. He says, “If Hashem will be with me and keep me safe on the way which I am going, He will provide me with food and clothes. I will return in peace to my father’s house and Hashem will be known as my G-d. I will make this monument into a place of worship and tithe everything which He gives me.” This is puzzling. Did Yaakov doubt Hashem’s promise? Why did he have to seek Hashem’s protection with a vow? Wasn’t Hashem’s promise enough?

Rashi, following the approach of the Gemara, explains that Yaakov was uncertain that this trip would leave him as righteous and worthy as he was now. He had spent the first part of his life in the shadow of his great parents as a “dweller of tents” pursuing Torah and righteousness. Now, he was heading into the world where he would have to deal with some negative personalities and the general temptations which present themselves in the big world. Yaakov wasn’t sure he would be able to preserve his character, and if he would fail, he would forfeit the protections and wonderful destiny which Hashem had promised him. This is what he was asking. He wanted Hashem to assist him in protecting his character, that he should remain unaffected by his interactions with unsavory people such as Lavan and Shechem.

The Ramban has a different approach. He translated the first word that Yaakov said, “im,” not as “if” (Hashem will be with me), rather im means, “when.” This means that Yaakov was certain that the promise of Hashem would come, but he didn’t want to be an unworthy recipient of Hashem’s benevolence and protection. He made a vow that all of the benefits he would get from Hashem’s protection and benevolence would be utilized to enhance his service to Hashem. He wasn’t going to take Hashem’s promise and simply go about his way. He understood that a great destiny awaited him and that was Hashem’s reason to give him this support and reassurance. He acknowledged it by rededicating himself and his works to glorifying Hashem in this world.

Our ancestors’ behaviors and reactions are recorded in these parshiyos to guide us and to help us make wise choices in our lives. The two ideas that are expressed in Yaakov’s vow following the dream are that one has to be strategic and realistic about the environment in which they are operating. Being out in the big world is different than being cloistered in an insulated environment and requires much more internal control and self-evaluation. Also, when Hashem blesses us with success of any kind, we need to reinvest that kindness into a renewed dedication to righteousness and good works. This applies to good health, intellect, material wealth, social standing and any other of the wonderful gifts we are blessed to have.

Working with learning difficulties

Candid conversations with specialists on the frontlines

When making considerations for helping a child with learning difficulties, there is an abundance of information that can be overwhelming to parents and teachers. 

To better support these students, as well as ATT staff, ATT teachers heard from Mrs. Rivka Varnai, M. Ed. LBS1 a reading specialist and Heera Chandani CCC-SLP/L, a speech and language pathologist to support them. 

The four pillars of learning

The four pillars of learning connect neurobiology and cognitive psychology to try and make the best use of the brain’s learning algorithms.

The first pillar of learning is recognizing that attention is the gateway to learning. By reducing distractions, students are more attentive, aware and better equipped to retain what they are learning. 

Students benefit from being taught how to pay attention to relevant details. Students can become easily overwhelmed with information, but when they are taught to pay attention to captions, headlines and context clues, this can make the learning more manageable.

The second pillar of learning promotes active engagement and participation in lessons. Especially when learning is difficult, teachers can encourage participation by making learning more fun, setting clear learning objectives and encouraging rewards. Rewarding the process, not just the end product can help minimize anxiety and stress and give students a dopamine boost to learn effectively and have a positive association with education. 

Error feedback is the third pillar of learning that inspires students (and teachers!) to learn from past mistakes. It’s important to adopt a growth mindset to learn how to accept and correct mistakes. Eventually, students will be better equipped to correct their mistakes quickly and take constructive criticism more easily. 

Once the first three pillars have been constructed within, the fourth pillar of learning entails consolidation – practicing every day. Regularly practicing these pillars will help make them habitual. Space out the learning and practice with daily drills of about five minutes. Throughout the process, check the retention to ensure the students are retaining the information. 

Keep cognition in mind

Understanding different elements of cognitive processing can play a major role in helping a student with learning disabilities. Cognition consists of the mental processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension. These cognitive processes include thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem solving to show how learning becomes a cycle.

The cognitive process of selectively emphasizing and ignoring sensory stimuli is known to students as attention. These modalities process information from different sensory fields: visual, auditory, spatial, tactile. Try to get students to focus on one sensory modality instead of having their attention distributed across modalities.

There are different types of attention used in learning. Sustained or selective attention is used to emphasize what is relevant in teaching.  Alternating or divided attention is the ability to switch from one area to another. 

Visual or orthographic memory is one part of visual perceptual skills. This type of memory is used when students have to copy or spell. It focuses on one’s ability to recall visual information that has been seen. Visual memory is a critical factor in reading and writing and the best way to help students build their memory muscles is with practices. 

Be aware of how students process information

Auditory memory is the ability to remember information that is heard. Teachers and parents should be mindful of whether their students can process what they hear the same way other students do. They may have normal hearing, but there is interference with how the brain interprets sounds. These students will respond better if the teacher speaks more slowly, pauses often, breaks down directions, provides visuals and graphic organizers. 

Phonological processing is the ability to listen for and manipulate individual sounds in spoken language and is a key factor to diagnose dyslexia. These students have difficulty rhyming or with sounds. They may also experience difficulties with visual processing which affects how visual information is interpreted, or processed by the brain

Dyslexia is a type of learning disability that may be accompanied with the following: 

  • Difficulties with decoding and spelling (fluency)
  • Deficits in phonological processing
  • Neurobiological
  • Brain differences
  • Runs in families
  • Unexpected – a weakness in a sea of strengths
  • Secondary implications – reading comprehension and vocabulary, behavior difficulties

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) has a Dyslexia Handbook for Teachers along with many helpful resources such as a guide to their structured literacy program and how it works to help students with dyslexia. 

Managing dyslexia 

Many students with dyslexia are able to thrive with the right support. Students with ADHD often have trouble with executive functioning and could also benefit from working on these skills.  Helping with executive functioning skills can provide a way for students to manage the brain systems more effectively.

These mental skills to build include: 

  • Attention
  • Working memory 
  • Flexible thinking – read and read
  • Organizing, planning, prioritizing, setting goals
  • Self-monitoring
  • Initiating tasks
  • Self-control
  • Ensure basic needs are met – food, sleep

Students with dyslexia may also require help building social emotional functioning skills. A student may require support if they have difficulty in social interactions or seem isolated. When major changes to family structure, upheaval such as job loss, school closures, or remote learning may also impact the student more greatly. To help with the social emotional side, check out Growing Our Resilience Muscle by Alexandra Fleksher. 

Anxiety is a big part of the world these days, but particularly with students with dyslexia they may face challenges with their sense of well-being. Emotions are like oil, and rationale is water. Oil always rises to the top. To reach learning, the layer of oil has to be traversed first. 

Overconsumption of Technology

In The Book in Crisis, Carol Jago  issues a call to action saying reading is in crisis among students in general. “Too often, too many students are choosing not to read.” She surveys teens who admit to almost always being on their phones. Especially in the times of the pandemic, working and learning remotely takes a toll. Overconsumption of technology affects sleep, self-control and inhibition for children and adults who may or may not have other learning processing challenges.

These days, especially, it’s important to be aware of over consuming technology.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Toldos

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Assuming Responsibility

In this week’s Parsha Toldos, we meet Yitzchak’s two sons, Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov, the ish tam yoshev ohalim, is the man who studied all day in the tents. Esav is known for being the one who despised his birthright of being the first born and sold it to his brother. He is condemned in the Torah for this action.  However, when taking a closer look at Esav’s action, it is not readily apparent that what he did was wrong.  In fact, Rashi comments that Esav realized what kind of responsibility being the first born was and he said, “Behold, I am going to die from this birthright.”

Esav knew that as the first born, he would be required to follow certain laws related only to that position. He also knew that there was no way he could do that. Therefore, the question arises what did he do wrong by selling his birthright? After all, wasn’t he just being a realist about himself? He understood his nature and realized that he was incapable of fulfilling this responsibility.

Actually, Esav’s mistake was just that. He sold himself too short. He automatically assumed that there was no way for him to accomplish this task. He was overwhelmed by the responsibility and gave up before even trying.

On the other hand, Yaakov rose to the occasion and willingly accepted upon himself a monumental task as our forefather. As Jews, we understand that although at times it appears that we have an awesome responsibility, we do not shy away from it. We take it on and realize that this is our purpose in life, to assume the role of being an Am Segulah (a Treasured Nation) to Hashem. This is a very important lesson that we must instill in our children. We must teach our children that even when a task seems daunting and overwhelming, one must still assume the responsibility for with Hashem’s  help, we all can accomplish much more than we ever imagined.

3 brain states and collaborative problem solving

ATT teachers recently heard from Sarah Wineberg of REACH to discuss three “brain states” as a way of promoting behavioral understanding. By identifying these brain states, teachers are better equipped to connect and collaborate with children in a way that helps them move through the brain states.

The three brain states are survival, emotional and executive. Some students may experience difficulty building a bridge between them. Learning these techniques can help kids move from the survival or emotional state to an executive one, building skills and allowing for lasting change and problem-solving. 

Basic principles

There are some essential foundation points to keep in mind to help stay focused and on the right track:

  • Modeling has the greatest impact
  • Kids do well if they can
  • Skill not will – assume the positive intent
  • Expect conflict and use it as an opportunity to teach
  • Love, connection and relationships are the best motivators for learning and growth
  • The child is the best source of knowledge

In a typical response to a child or situation, even if a teacher knows the proper response it does not always translate to reality. Practicing these responses helps a teacher respond effectively in the moment. 

Three brain states and responses

  1. Executive state – What can I learn from this?
  1. Emotional state – Am I loved and in an emotionally safe environment?
  1. Survival state –  Am I safe right now?

The survival state is the most unregulated state and in it, students may be triggered by fight, flight and fright or feel helpless and in trouble, Factors that contribute to this can be the teacher’s tone, relationship until now, or when the emotional bank account is imbalanced. 

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For the teacher, the first step to balance the equation is to regulate ourselves by breathing and gaining the reassurance that we can properly manage the situation. Waiting until a calmer moment will help handle the situation more mindfully. 

For the student, use the following techniques to help them:

  • Encourage them to breathe
  • Validate them in public
  • Have them spend time in a calming corner
  • Provide reassurance and empathy
  • Stay calm yourself as your calm is contagious
  • Remind them to be a STAR = Stop, Take a breath And Relax.

The three brain states correlate to the three states of engagement: regulate, relate and reason. The survival state may look like screaming, tantrum, avoidance, resisting eye contact, eye-rolling or not wanting to be touched. 

Steer clear of telling the student to calm down to avoid stressing them out further. We can only regulate or elevate others to the place that we are at, so if we are currently residing in the survival state, we will need to identify which stage we are in before responding. To promote self-awareness and relate to students, try to identify the triggers that put you into survival mode. 

Often we can just see the tip of the iceberg, but if we look deeper we can discern what the child is really saying. 

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Empathy as a prerequisite 

The starting line for collaborative problem solving is learning how to empathize to try and regulate the child through a deeper understanding. There are tools and techniques to use to achieve this such as reassurance and reflective listening. 

When interacting with a student, make sure to open with a neutral statement such as, “I noticed that.” “Can you tell me more about what’s going on?” 

According to  Think: Kids, “Lagging skills are the reasons that a child is having difficulty meeting these expectations or responding adaptively to these triggers.” These are not about having teachers be diagnosticians but instead allows teachers to take a best guess as to what may be getting in a student’s way. 

It’s helpful to consider the skills you can identify that are lagging when a student is pulled into their survival state. Helping them figure it out can lead them in the right direction. 

Techniques to try

  • Deep breaths, draw feelings, model or vocalize to children what you are doing, and use a calming activity
  • An emotional state is our response to upset and can only be soothed through connection.
  • Stay with the child and calm them down until they can talk about it.

Behaviors in an emotional state

Sass, chutzpah, attention-seeking, attitude, testing and tears are just some of the major behaviors you will see in students. For the teacher, self-care, sharing with a helpful adult, and empathy can help work through emotional states. For the student, showing empathy, being “curious not furious,” giving jobs, choices, staying close and building the relationship are ways to help. 


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Collaborative problem-solving stages

The first stage of collaborative problem solving is empathy. We tend to insert our own thoughts when someone else is talking. Real empathy is being able to understand others from their perspective. Empathy is nonjudgmental, feeling with people. Rarely an empathic response begins with “at least.” Rarely can a response make something better. What makes it better is the connection felt through empathy. 

The executive state is the optimal state for problem-solving and learning. It frees us from past conditioning, attunes us to the feelings and experiences of others. The goal is to act out of rational ideas and respond from a place of calm and inspire the student to rationalize, problem-solve or come to a conclusion on their own (or with some guidance.) Getting into the executive state makes it possible when both sides are regulated. 

The second and third stage occurs when the child is regulated, shares adult concern and hears another perspective. This is when the problem-solving magic happens and together you can brainstorm solutions. 

Collaborative Problem Solving solves the problem durably, builds skills, builds connection and relationships. It teaches children to have long-term healthy response techniques, to not avoid conflict and to use every opportunity to learn or teach.

For more resources on the three brain states and collaborative problem solving, check out and

Week of learning campaign

Join the ATT’s week of community-wide inspiration & virtual learning

November 28, 2020 – December 6, 2020

Launching our annual campaign with lectures from world-renowned speakers and short videos from local educators all week long

Support the ATT annual campaign with a donation for our week of learning


Rabbi YY Jacobson

Motzaei Shabbos, November 28, 2020 @8PM: Keeping Positive in an Age of Uncertainty
34th Annual Rabbi Isaac Mayefsky Memorial Lecture
Sponsored by the Mayefsky Family in memory of Rabbi Isaac and Mrs. Florence Mayefsky z”l

Zoom link:

Rabbi David Fohrman

Sunday, December 6, 2020 @ 11AM: The Unfinished Story of Jacob’s Ladder
Sponsored by the Tanielle Miller Foundation by Ruth Rotenberg and Glenn Miller

Zoom link:

Support the ATT annual campaign with a donation for our week of learning

Contact Rabbi Uri Zimmerman with any questions.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayera

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Knowing Our Place

 This week’s parsha, Yayera, includes the story of the destruction of Sodom. Avrohom, the story’s protagonist, teaches us two very important lessons. When Avrohom learns Hashem’s plans for Sodom, he pleads with Him to save the city, a corrupt and immoral society. These actions teach us the importance of compassion.  Although, the lifestyle of the inhabitants of Sodom is the antithesis of his own, Avrohom still pleads to G-d on their behalf. He despises their actions but not the people themselves. Avrohom understands his place and shows tremendous inner strength to pray on behalf of his spiritual enemies. As the parsha continues, Avrohom shov lmkomo,returns to his place, after Sodom is destroyed. The Talmud gleans from this phrase that Avrohom has a set place for prayer.

Avrohom’s set place for prayer takes on a significant meaning later on in the Torah, when Bilam, an enemy of the Jewish people, attempts to curse the Jews through prayer. When his prayers are not answered, he keeps switching the place where he prays in hopes of being successful. Bilam’s actions illustrate that he has the wrong attitude towards prayer. He is so arrogant and impressed with his own power that he assumes he can change Hashem’s mind and thinks that if he prays at another place, his prayers will be answered. As we know, it is true that sincere prayer can alter events, but even when that occurs, we need to realize that we are not in control of that happening. Ultimately, G-d decides what will or will not happen.

Avrohom’s act of returning to his place demonstrates the second lesson. His behavior exhibits that we need to return to our place no matter what response we receive regarding our own prayers. Avrohom taught us a lesson in humility when he returns to his place. He accepts Hashem’s decisions and moves on.

As the children of Avrohom, we are asked to maximize our potential to help others as well as ourselves. Sometimes it may seem at that moment, our prayers are answered and sometimes they are not. However, what is important to remember is, regardless of the perceived result, we should not be deterred from returning to our place and to continue to move forward.

Social and emotional learning strategies to benefit mental health needs

If there’s one lesson to take from 2020, it’s that the job of a teacher extends beyond just teaching. That mental health can affect student learning is well-known, but this year it’s that much greater. 

Fortunately for the ATT, in collaboration with Walder Education, Angela Searcy, Ed.D recently presented to ATT teachers how to implement social and emotional learning strategies to help students thrive in learning despite the extraordinary challenges of learning in a pandemic. 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Helping students thrive 

For some teachers, being mindful of social and emotional learning may come naturally. If that’s not yet a strength, there are many tools and strategies teachers can implement to ensure students’ emotions aren’t standing in the way of learning.

A systemic approach to social and emotional learning intentionally cultivates caring, participatory, and evidence-based practices to actively involve all students in their social, emotional and academic growth.

In her book Push Past It! A Positive Approach to Challenging Classroom Behaviors, Dr. Searcy shares examples and explains where SEL fits within the mental health continuum. In her presentation, Dr. Searcy reviewed steps that support good behavior planning, outlined tools to help educators MATCH a strategy to their unique students and program, and shared what to expect at different phases of implementation.

Implementing SEL techniques 

It takes time to master any new teaching strategy, so a great starting point is a visit to the National Center for Pyramid Models Innovation  (NCPMI)’s  Practical Strategies for Implementing the Pyramid Model for social and emotional learning idea inspiration. 

Following are strategies to easily and effectively implement SEL into lesson plans. 

  1. Book Nook 

There are many popular books that can be read to children to support social emotional development and teach them about various emotions and responses to life’s daily events. 

book nook

Each book has a lesson or activity that is relayed in a positive and engaging manner with hands-on ways to embed social emotional skill building activities into everyday routines.

Check out this comprehensive children’s book list to teach about cultivating relationships and enhance positive behavior. 

  1. Keep in touch with student emotions 

There are countless visual tools to monitor or express how one is feeling emotionally. From feeling wheels or faces to charts, to greeting boards, to bulletin board mood meters samples, teachers can be in touch with the mood of their students. More importantly, this helps the students gain the awareness to be in touch with their own feelings. These concepts are effective from toddlers to teens and help build community in the classroom.

  1. Resolve conflict creatively 

Once students understand their emotions, they can progress to conflict resolution.

There are additional videos to help teachers guide their students in conflict resolution.

Coping and calming strategies with sentence starters are also effective ways to help children practice expressing empathy and feelings in daily situations. In the classroom, creating creative, peaceful and calming corners works for some students. 

By modeling these strategies for students, teachers can help inspire social emotional learning and help students thrive in learning whether it’s in the classroom or remote.