Author: ATT Chicago

10 tips for a connected classroom

On December 19, 2021, a group of ATT early childhood teachers spent their Sunday afternoon very productively by attending a special workshop given by Morah Chaya Shapiro, an early childhood teacher from Far Rockaway, NY. Her session contained specific strategies and tips on how to achieve the goal to keep students happy, engaged, successful, confident, valued and safe. According to Shapiro, building a connection with students allows teachers to achieve these characteristics of resiliency.

Following are Shapiro’s top 10 tips for building connections in the classroom:

Morning greetings

This is the first opportunity of the day to create a connection. Teachers can give students a choice of their favorite morning greeting. Is it an elbow bump, wave, or high five? This shows that the teacher cares about them as individuals.

For example, Morah Chaya wears a necklace with choices that students can point to when they say good morning.

Soliciting opinions

Asking students for their opinion builds rapport and is a good transition activity. Ask students which picture they like best (from a choice of four pictures). If you do this one on one, you will be more likely to hear the student’s real choice. Otherwise, young students conform to the choices of their peers. Remind students that it’s their answer, not their friend’s answer.


Choices help students develop problem solving skills and ensures they will follow through with something. This improves self-esteem and empowers them because they do have a choice. They are not making a decision out of fear and thus feel more connected.

For example, give some options like the following:

  •  “You may give your friend a turn now or you can give him/her a turn in two minutes. What do you choose?”
  • Let the child choose the toy with which he/she wants to play.
  • And when problem solving: “What choice will you make?” Some have an award “paper watch” that says: “I made a good choice.”

Please notice this

When we take time to notice children (without judgement) and their behaviors, then those students feel connected to the day, the learning, and you as a teacher. Remember to say: “I noticed…” It gives you the opportunity to positively comment on ALL students, even the ones harder to compliment.

Partner activities create a sense of belonging

Assign/choose a different partner every day. Use a gimmick to make it exciting. For example, you can do this with two sticks that have the same color or a heart with the same letter of the A, B,Cs. You can create a “friend” day and have a paper that says, “I have a friend.”  You can ring a bell and say, “Look at your friend. Ask their favorite color, candy, etc.” Share a book as partners. Shuffle partners during lunch time.

Show and Tell

Children love showing things from home. You can have thematic show and tell activities – e.g. transportation show and tells, family show and tells, etc.

Knowing your students

You, the teacher, need to take time to think about your students’ strengths, interests, parents, siblings, fears, hobbies, home life, past experiences, etc. Exploring these areas are especially helpful when dealing with a challenging student.

Getting to the root of the problem

Create empathy by seeing your students in the 3D’s listed below:

  • Deep breath – allows us to access our toolbox;
  • Decide – what’s going on? Are they missing a skill?;
  • Demonstrate – every time there is an incident among children, it is a teaching opportunity to demonstrate the correct behavior. Ask: “Did you like it when that happened?” Then discuss the root of the problem, talk to the child(ren), and determine the real issues so you can resolve them.

Classroom jobs

Every child should have a meaningful job that makes the child feel important, needed, and connected to the classroom. Jobs empower children to be responsible and ready to learn. Some larger jobs can be shared by multiple students. There should be a “substitute” job  (like a substitute teacher) in case a child is absent. Be sure to include a “get well helper” job to makes cards for those students  absent from school due to illness.

Breathing exercises

This gives students (and you, the teacher!) the tools to cope with challenging situations and builds resilience. This can be a job choice for students as well, reminding each other to breathe. You can have a basket with breathing exercises, calming lotion, bubbles to breathe in and out, a windmill from the dollar store, a soft pillow, etc. There are lots of examples at

Bonus tip: “Just Because!”

Do some fun unannounced activities “just because.” Examples include: put on music and dance, finger plays, read a story, paint a picture, puppet show.

By the end of the session, the participants were looking forward to Monday morning to put some of the wonderful tips they had learned into action! 

ATT receives $5 million grant for Chicago-area Jewish day school students

The ATT and it’s REACH program are proud and grateful to announce we have been selected to receive multi-year grants from the Northwest Home for the Aged (NWHA) and Park Plaza. This $5 million multi-year gift, earmarked for operational use for all Jewish Schools in Chicago, is in addition to the funding ATT received from NWHA and Park Plaza in 2019 to support and sustain Jewish day school education across the Chicago Jewish community. 

Funding from the gift will be allocated in three ways:

1. Building well-resourced, highly effective support services departments in all of our Jewish day schools including hiring new resource staff. 

2. Hiring occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists for full-time work in our system

3. Working with all school staff to ensure that student needs are being met in the most inclusive classroom setting.

This gift builds on NWHA’s ethos of service to the Chicago Jewish community for more than 75 years and its mission of providing high quality housing for Jewish seniors. NWHA’s flagship facility is Park Plaza, an independent living community located on the far north side of Chicago.

The ATT honored NWHA with the Crain Maling Pillar of Education at its annual dinner in 2019.

“The Hebrew words l’dor v’dor are literally inscribed into the doors at Park Plaza,” says Alan Caplan, president of Northwest Home for the Aged. “From generation to generation; that’s what we believe in, as individuals and as part of the Jewish community, and that’s exactly what this gift is: a gift that gives from one generation to the next, and the next after that. We at NWHA/Park Plaza are thrilled to make these gifts to support Jewish education in and around our communities.”

The NWHA/Park Plaza grant will have a far-reaching impact on ATT’s REACH program. Rusi Sukenik, REACH’s director of student services noted, “This endowment enables us to provide support to schools and teachers to teach struggling learners in a manner that best fits the student and addresses the needs and learning styles and needs of each student.” Rabbi Mordechai Raizman, ATT’s Executive Director of Operations added, “An endowment of this magnitude impacts our day school community in a profound manner. It ensures that no parent will worry that their child is falling through the cracks. This grant gives everyone a chance to succeed. Programs such as REACH are very costly to sustain. This grant is visionary in its nature and will allow us to provide for children for many years to come.”

Jewish diversity, inclusion, and acceptance are the hallmarks of NWHA/Park Plaza. The community’s residents span the spectrum of Jewish observance and experience. Many are lifelong Chicagoans. Others have moved to Chicago to be close to adult children and to enjoy a secure, supportive, and fully modern and updated facility. Park Plaza provides a rich Jewish life that includes broad based programming as well as kosher meal service. Park Plaza recently completed a major renovation to allow it to continue to provide a high quality of life to its residents.

The cross-generational aspects of Park Plaza are obvious the moment one enters. “Local school kids, grandkids, great-grandkids … they’re here all the time,” said Elly Bauman, Executive Director of Park Plaza. “Kids are here to celebrate Shabbat and holidays, to visit relatives, and to volunteer. It’s part of what helps us fulfill our mission of providing Jewish seniors with a life that’s not just comfortable, but which has dignity and meaning.”

“It’s just really what Park Plaza and Northwest Home for the Aged are all about,” added Alan Caplan. “We put ‘l’dor v’dor’ front and center, the first thing you see when you enter the building, whether you’re a resident or a first-time visitor. It’s what grounds the Jewish community. 

Northwest Home for the Aged couldn’t be more pleased to put our primary principle into action with these gifts. They are investments in the future of our community.”

Public speaking tips from renowned Jewish personality

At the heart of teaching is the daily practice of public speaking. A masterful educator who also masters public speaking can have his or her students rapt attention. And a weak speaker, no matter how hard he or she prepares the lessons, will be less effective in the classroom.

That’s why we welcomed Rabbi Henoch Plotnik for our first professional development class of this school year, together with Walder Education, to offer public speaking tips to ATT rebbeim. Rabbi Plotnik is a rebbe at Yeshivas Kesser Yonah and a popular speaker in our community and U.S. cities.

The fast-paced class for rebbeim of all grades presented numerous strategies to give effective presentations in a public/classroom setting.

Rabbi Plotnik shared tips for engaging content and professionalism:

Maintain perspective – always remember who your audience is and plan accordingly.

Prepare – one can never prepare “too much.” Be clear on the language and be sensitive to every individual present. Have citations clearly available and never misquote pesukim or Chazal.

Be clear – Ask yourself, “Is the message clear?” Try to emphasize at least one powerful line.

Be effective – Try to make your content personal. Responsibly use the technique of name and place dropping. Above all, don’t fake it – your audience can tell.

Remember, the speech starts early – people notice your image and posture, even before you start speaking. Wait for order, dress appropriately, and be physically comfortable yourself.

Watch your words

  • Avoid “um” and quaint expressions. Not everything is amazing and unbelievable.
  • Keep introduction short and attention grabbing.
  • Translate, translate, translate.
  • Keep stories and parables relevant.
  • Keep it short. 12-minute segments are most effective to maintain the audience attention span.
  • End once and once only.
  • Leave with a call to action to the audience!

Miscellaneous strategies

  • Use voice inflection and animation.
  • Be careful with media and handouts – make sure that the technology works if you are using technology.
  • Know the room – make sure you will be audible.
  • Keep things simple, not actuarial.
  • Pay attention to previous speakers so you do not repeat messages.
  • Remember – the speech/presentation ends after you sit down.

The presentation was a model of what public speaking should be. Everyone who attended was entertained and enlightened. More importantly, rebbeim left excited to try the skills in their classrooms.

This class is among dozens of professional development classes the ATT offers to Judaic and general studies teachers each semester.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Pinchas

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

The Three Weeks

Every year when the Hebrew months of Tamuz and Av return, they contain the period of the three weeks. This is a time where tragic events took place in our history which ultimately led to the destruction of both Temples on the ninth day of Av. During this time, we conduct ourselves with customs of mourning and refrain from making weddings, listening to music, etc.

The Torah portion of Pinchos is usually read during the three weeks. This Torah reading includes a section that deals with all of the Yomim Tovim (Festivals). Isn’t it ironic that during the weeks of mourning and sadness, we read in the Torah portion about festive times? Since there is no such thing as a coincidence in Judaism, there must be an explanation for this juxtaposition.

Reb Elimelech of Lizensk (18th c – Rebbe) explains the reason we read this portion during this time of sadness and mourning is so that we should not be swept away by the various mourning rituals practiced during this time frame. We are being reminded that this part of our history will pass, and we will once again rejoice during the Festivals in the Temple. A famous expression gam zeh yaavor (this too will pass) personifies this idea.

We all need to remind ourselves of this lesson. In looking at our own personal histories, everyone has experienced situations where one would think there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Yet somehow, we end up seeing the light, and we do move forward. This Torah portion is read to bring us that message of hope – to keep on looking ahead. May we all merit to see that light of redemption in the near future.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Balak

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Get Real

In this week’s parsha, we read about Bilaam’s attempt to destroy the Jewish nation by cursing them. If we step back and take in the context of this story, it is quite breathtaking. From the perspective of the inhabitants of Moav and Canaan, the Jews are an aggressive upstart nation leaving Egypt with the public goal of conquering Canaan and the neighboring nations. They are allied against this threat and instead of arming themselves and formalizing defense pacts, they choose to bring in a sorcerer to curse the Jews, and thereby, destroy them.

If we consider this in modern terms, it seems childish and naive. (Remember the media allegations that happened when Ronald Reagan consulted the astrologer Joan Quigley regularly during his presidency.) Yet, the Torah gives us a full account of the incident and of Hashem’s involvement with Bilaam, eventually bequeathing us with ספר בלעם – The Book of Bilaam, which the Gemara considers a distinct section of the Torah.

There is a very important message in the way this story develops. The Torah is demonstrating to us that there are many levels of reality and that there are spiritual dimensions of existence that are as real and even more real than the physical world that we engage with our senses. Even the non-Jews of the time understood this world and engaged it. The modern world has relegated “all of that stuff” to backwardness and superstition, yet the Torah validates it and deals with it.

This is not to suggest that we try to engage with the occult; the Torah actually forbids it, and today’s practitioners are all phonies.  Instead, the Torah wants us to realize that there is much more to the world than meets the eye. As Torah Jews, we can and should engage the physical world with the mindset that our actions have major ramifications well beyond the physical confines of existence both in terms of time, since our time frame is eternity, and in terms of place, since this world is merely an antechamber to a greater world.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Chukas

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

What Do We Do With Perfection?

In this week’s Torah portion Chukas we learn the laws of the Parah Adumah (the red heifer). One essential part of the details is finding a perfectly red cow. This cow is then totally burned, and its ashes are used to purify those that became impure by being in contact with a dead body. It’s interesting to note that those involved in the purification process of those who are impure become impure as well. This is one of the chukim (law without reason) in the Torah that we can’t fully comprehend.

Rabbi Michel Twerski shared an insight about this mitzvah that contains a deep and profound lesson in how we live our lives. There must be some significance in taking a perfectly red cow and burning it? What could it be? He suggested the following. In life many of us get caught up with the pursuit of perfection. Everything has to be just right. Sometimes that dream of perfection sets us back as we become so focused on the perfect outcome we lose so much in the process itself. Much anxiety and suffering occur because of that elusive pursuit. Sometimes, it actually cripples us to the point where we can’t do anything at all because we think the end result will not be perfect.

The Torah, through the laws of the Parah Adumah, sends us a strong message about how we need to live life. BURN PERFECTION. Obsessing on perfection is not the way on how to live. No human being is supposed to be perfect. That is for angels, not for people.

We all want the best for ourselves and our children. We need to make sure we don’t set up the future generations for failure. False expectations and pursuit of perfection are not healthy options. We need to teach our children a strong work ethic and how to set goals, along with the understanding that failures will come along the way as well. That is how we succeed and grow in life – as human beings who are just fine working hard and building character every day.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Korach

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

In the aftermath of Korach’s insurrection against Moshe Rabeinu, the Jewish people struggled with its outcome. Initially, they blamed Moshe and Aaron for having “killed the nation of Hashem.” Rav Shamshon R. Hirsch explains that they misunderstood Hashem’s reason for destroying Korach. They believed that Moshe and Aaron had invoked Hashem’s retribution on Korach for personal motives. They believed that Moshe and Aaron had been personally affronted by Korach and his assembly. This was not the correct understanding.

Hashem had destroyed Korach because he was challenging the authority of the kehuna and the system of leadership that Hashem had prescribed. Hashem made this point clear by punishing the people for leveling the charge of personal vendetta against Moshe and Aaron. The Jewish people finally realized that the issue was that they needed to accept Hashem’s system of religious leadership, and that they would have to abandon Korach’s populistic argument that “the whole congregation is (equally) holy.”

To drive this message home, Hashem instructed Moshe to invite each of the tribal princes and Aaron HaKohein to present a staff before the aron, the ark, where the staff submitted by Hashem’s chosen person would blossom immediately. When this was done, it was Aaron’s staff that produced almond blossom flowers and leaves overnight while the others did not. What is the symbolism of the almond branch and its characteristics that can serve a symbol of the special status of the kohanim?

Rav Hirsch explains that the almond is unique in the way it presents its fruit blossoms before the leaves are formed. All other trees first form leaves to collect and process the sunlight and nourish themselves. Once that is in place, they begin to form fruit to benefit others. The Kohanim were chosen because they put the community before themselves. This was demonstrated at the incident of the golden calf and during the episode of the meraglim, the spies.

Jewish leadership must be focused and unwavering. It needs to be held by people that truly have the community as a top priority. They have to resist the whims of the times and be able to inspire others with the eternal truths of the Torah.

Learning and Teaching: Pre-Covid, During Covid, Post Covid

Now that we’re completing this unusual year, it’s important to reflect on the challenges and successes and celebrate what our schools managed to accomplish.

We anticipate saying good riddance to many of the pandemic protocols next year, but much of what teachers and administrators learned this year will continue into the future.

As students and teachers adapted to learning during a pandemic this school year, some students struggled more than others. At the same time, others who struggled with traditional learning started to thrive and learn beyond their typical in-person classroom learning. 

Moving forward in education after COVID

It’s time to look forward to what happens next. 

At Janice Levitan’s recent professional development class, ATT teachers discussed interesting findings to help them plan for future teaching and learning. She explored the use of Google Classroom and other online resources that teachers used successfully during the past year. She also offered suggestions on how they  can be used in today’s new learning environment. 

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Google Classroom was a key tool in this year’s new learning environment. Whether students were in school or at home, Google Classroom ensured they always had access to their assignments and work. Those schools that adopted Google Classroom will likely continue using it in future learning.

Key benefits to Google classroom include: 

  • Students in school and at home can see all the work and materials. 
  • A teacher can post videos, Docs, Slides, Sheets and Forms and can choose to differentiate work with ease and privacy.
  • Teachers can view work in progress and make comments in real time. 
  • Grade books exist to track student progress. 
  • Paperless assignments are cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Google features for better education 

Using Google Docs in the classroom allows for open-ended questions that are easily modified for student needs. Questions can be scaffolded and assignments are able to be tailored to student needs. Teachers can also provide different prompts or rubrics for different students. 

Google Slides is great for interactive work and fill-in-the-blank assignments. Teachers are able to differentiate learning while using Google Slides. Simple worksheets can become interactive ones and add-ons like Peardeck and Nearpod can help teachers explain content. 

Teachers can use Google Forms to take quick assessments of learning. Forms is self-grading, gives immediate feedback and is a great tool for quizzes. Like many Google classroom tools, it’s very user-friendly. 

Using Google Sheets is an effective tool to look at data. When you create a Google Form, you’ll be able to see all the data collected in a Google Sheet. 

Teachers and students can keep track of assignments with Google Calendar. It can also be used to schedule appointments with students and parents. 

Virtual learning tools 

Several virtual learning tools help teachers with review and instruction especially for absent and at-home learners. These include:

  • Loom records quick videos of your screen. Teachers can walk students through an exercise or show them how to use virtual learning software. 
  • EdPuzzle  a teaching tool used to place interactive content into pre-existing videos from a variety of sources, such as TED, YouTube or into teacher-made videos 
  • Kahoot! is a game-based learning platform that can be used as educational technology in schools and other educational institutions. Its learning games, “kahoots,” are user-generated multiple-choice quizzes that can be accessed via a web browser or the Kahoot app.

Ways for students to share work include: 

  • Loom
  • Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions and students can post video responses that appear in a tiled grid display.
  • Screencastify, a free screen recorder for Google Chrome. No download required. This allows teachers to record, edit and share videos in seconds. Screencastify is the number one free screen recorder for Chrome. 
  • Padlet  is a digital tool that can help teachers and students in class and beyond by offering a single place for a notice board. 
  • Kahoot

Other online educational resources that will continue to prove useful for student learning:

  • TeacherMade allows quick creation of online worksheets and more.
  • LiveWorksheets is an interactive worksheets maker for all languages and subjects. Teachermade and LiveWorksheets are very similar, so teachers can decide which one suits them best. 
  • Khan Academy provides individualized instruction for students and is most well-known for math support.
  • Go Formative allows for testing and evaluation of student work.
  • Anchor  is a website to create, distribute and host podcasts.
  • Vocaroo is the simplest audio recorder on the web.

When the pandemic restrictions are officially over in schools, there is still a benefit to using these tools because they allow for individualized instruction and differentiation that is often challenging to execute in the classroom. Additionally, these resources provide a central location for materials and a calendar to keep track. 

These resources also allow for hybrid learning and enhance creativity in both teachers and students alike. Learning about these new strategies and tools can help teachers as they navigate the constantly changing learning environment. 

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Sh’lach

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Heads Up

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the sin of the spies. The spies were leaders of the Jewish people who were sent on a mission to check out the land of Israel. The spies returned with a pessimistic report claiming the Jewish people would not be able to conquer its inhabitants and inherit the land. The people believed them and cried upon hearing this report, causing Bnei Yisroel to be punished by wandering 40 years in the desert before entering the land of Israel.

This story is retold later in Sefer Devorim with a fascinating insight given by the Seforno (a 16th century scholar). The Seforno asks why were the Bnei Yisroel really crying?   Did they really think that G-d was incapable of bringing them into the land? Didn’t they just witness miracles saving them from the plagues in Egypt and at the Red Sea? How can we understand this?  The Seforno says they were crying because they served idols in Egypt and felt they were unworthy of entering the land of Israel. Their doubts were not about G-d’s ability rather their own frailties. They felt that they had sinned in the past and were unworthy of entering the Holy Land.

According to this interpretation, why was this action of crying such a grave sin that the Bnei Yisroel received such a harsh punishment? In reality, weren’t the Jewish people just being remorseful for their past sins?

One can learn a great lesson from this narrative. Yes, it is proper to reflect on one’s past; yet one has to be careful not to allow it to paralyze oneself and give up hope. In G-d’s eyes, there is never a point where one is totally unworthy. There is a phrase – seeing is believing. The opposite is just as important – believing is seeing. When one believes in oneself and in the G-d given talents that one receives, one will be able to keep on moving forward and see the potential of what lies in store.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Beha’aloscha

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of “Stinkin Thinkin”

The colorful term “Stinkin Thinkin” was coined by Zig Ziglar, an American motivational speaker and sales guru in the 1920’s. His main premise was that goals and aspirations are realized when we aspire to make others happy as part of our goals, and when we are focused on the right things and are not focused on the wrong things. This is true at the personal level and at the communal level.

Some common “Stinkin Thinkin” pitfalls are:

Overstatement, magnifying the negative: Nothing is going right today. Nobody cares. I never get a break. My whole day/week/life is ruined!

Choosing to focus on small things: If I don’t get this ….., I’ll never be happy.  Live for… My vacation was ruined because I didn’t get the car rental I had chosen.

Disproportionate reactions: I will block the whole lane of traffic because he cut me off. I’m entitled to act angry and rude because my order wasn’t ready when promised.

Making it all personal: If my …. would respect me, they wouldn’t … I know he has it out for me. I can tell she doesn’t like me from the way she…

Blaming: I was late because that server at the… was so slow. Someone moved my stuff that I left on the dining room table. My company can’t succeed because my employees are so

The point is that faulty cognition and attitude feeds poor and unproductive behavior which than causes a downward spiral of self-reinforcing negative beliefs and behaviors.

With this in mind, let us turn our attention to the story of the מתאוננים, The Complainers. The Torah describes an episode in which the Jewish people were acting discontented. They had just spent a considerable amount of time (over a year) at Har Sinai receiving the Torah and the mitzvos and now they were heading to Eretz Yisroel. The אספסוף, riffraff, suddenly became overwhelmed with feelings of discontentment and a feeling of want, “…we recall the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost, the squash and melons, etc. Now our lives are barren with nothing but manna.” They succeeded in finding company for their misery when they involved others in their complaining. It came to a point that entire families stood by their tents crying with misery.

This was an absurd situation. They were pining for the “good ole’ days” of harsh slavery in Egypt because the food was better! The food wasn’t really free at all, but it was without any moral requirements. The manna was a delicious and miraculous food, but it came with divine accountability. If you were not on your best behavior, the manna fell far from your tent and everyone saw that. Nobody likes to be held accountable and that made them miserable. This made them declare that they missed Egypt and that their lives were wasted.

This is the power of bad attitude and bad self-talk. The Hebrew verb א.נ.נ , mourning, is always conjugated as a reflexive verb -להתאונן- to make oneself mourn. A person can suffer and be happy and a person can have everything and be miserable. That is because happiness really is a state of mind. If a person is focused on big ideas and the big picture, he will not lapse into pettiness and misery. If the Jews had not “run away” from Har Sinai and that which it represented, they would have retained their exalted status. When people threw that away and got focused on mundane and petty things, they talked themselves into being unhappy and discontented. This brought about a great calamity and a fierce response from Hashem in the form of a devastating plague.

The lesson is obvious. We need to stay focused on what is important, work hard, do the right thing and not wallow in self-pity about imaginary problems.

There is another important point in this story, the danger of mob mentality. We are living through it right now as our enemies distort the truth, vilify those who are acting morally and champion the vicious murders of innocents. There are so many people who don’t even know the basic facts of the matter, but they become drawn in by the rhetoric and join the chorus of condemnation and defamation of our people. We are prone to do similar things if we keep the wrong company and if we don’t think clearly for ourselves.

Let us stay the course, strengthen ourselves and do what is right. It will pull us through the challenges of the times.