Author: Wendy

Keeping the Flames of Faith Alive

Over 25 ATT educators recently joined three speakers who provided different perspectives of inspiration based on their personal experiences. The event was presented by ATT’s Kirsche Department of Holocaust studies.

A sense of gratitude filled those educators who were able to learn from these incredible experiences. One ATT teacher participant was grateful to hear the touching set of first-person memories and says, “These men are rarer than diamonds and are to be cherished.”

Finding ways for Holocaust education to be a meaningful experience for students at various ages is a fine balance. Fortunately, the speakers provided inspiration and practical tools for effectively and meaningfully teaching the Holocaust. 

Inspiration in faith, tradition and strength  

There is much to be gained from hearing the first-hand accounts of survivors and relatives of survivors. The lessons and stories can enrich education and inspire students. 

Rabbi Yosef C. Golding is the son-in-law of Rabbi Yosef Friedenson, a survivor of Nazi atrocities. Rabbi Golding wrote Faith Amid the Flames depicting his father-in-law’s uncrushable Jewish spirit. Rabbi Friedenson’s optimistic confidence in a brighter future is thanks to his emunah and fortitude during the war and beyond as he built a family and legacy

The book depicts numerous examples of kiddush Hashem displayed in the ghettos, concentration camps and DP camps. 

Mr. Israel Starck, a Holocaust survivor, author and lecturer emphasizes that educators must teach how the Jews lived, not how they died. He encourages teachers to make the teachings uplifting and relevant with lessons of how the Jews lived during their pre-war life and during the Nazi atrocities. These stories can inspire students and make them realize the importance of their Jewish mesorah

Teaching stories that occurred during liberation is another strategy that will also provide meaningful lessons of resilience to children of any age. Mr. Starck writes of these experiences in his book, A Boy Named 68818.

Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Shkop, a son of Holocaust survivors of Auschwitz, was raised in a community of survivors. He described witnessing the unbelievable relationships that fellow survivors had for each other and how they reconstructed their lives with supreme emunah in G-d after the war. 

This rebuilding was a product of their suffering. They saw everything in life – both large and small – as a gift, a miracle and a joy. They had no daily expectations and appreciated all aspects of life. 

These three perspectives underscoring emunah, mesorah, strength and gratitude were all well-received and will further the teaching of Churban Europe through a lens of inspiration.

Annual Teachers Educational Conference goes virtual and exceeds expectations

Once again ATT adjusted its mirror, pivoted and surpassed the many challenges to hold its usual annual Teachers Conference Day (TCD) for 600+ teachers.

With Rabbi Avrohom Moller and Mrs. Chani Friedman at the helm and a dedicated committee of school representatives, this year’s virtual professional development exceeded everyone’s expectations. 

With 49 sessions and 41 noted international, national and local presenters, there was something for every interest and grade level, pre-nursery – high school, focusing on the current topics of today’s educational environment.

Chaya Shapiro’s presentation

The virtual conference removed several challenges, in-person social distancing and masking, the weather and parking. It proved to be the perfect vehicle for presenter-participant engagement and small group and large group discussion. Gauging from the feedback that ATT received (see testimonials below), the conference was a smashing success.

Participants were thrilled to stay home on what proved to be a Chicago winter storm, and gifts of hot cocoa bombs from the ATT were a welcome bonus.

Because the event was virtual, the ATT was able to draw from renowned leaders in general and Jewish education around the world.

Mrs. Suzy Koontz

ATT’s Teachers Conference Day is an opportunity for teachers to get a glimpse of new ideas and methodologies in teaching, both in Jewish and general studies. Teachers are also able to collaborate with colleagues from throughout the ATT system in the workshops and small teacher-facilitated discussions. While this program is just one of many professional development opportunities for educators that the ATT offers throughout the year, the sheer number of attendees and speakers makes it the most exciting. Chicago is the only city in North America with a system-wide umbrella organization like the ATT for all the local Jewish day schools, which makes this PD day an exciting program that is unique to our city.

Courses were on topics as diverse as the speakers and teachers themselves, including topics like:

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, MEd
  • Emotional regulation and challenging behaviors
  • Central auditory processing disorders
  • Student engagement and motivation
  • Content specific skills and critical thinking
  • Technology tips and tools
  • Strategies for dealing with the effects of the pandemic
  • Kinesthetic strategies for literacy and math
  • Nurturing resilience in students
A session from Danielle Bloom, EdD

Speakers and partners had this to say:

Thank you so much for the opportunity to present to your teachers this morning. I have received so many lovely emails of thanks and appreciation from your teachers.
^ Suzy Koontz, Math and Movement, Movement and Literacy, New York

Many thanks for having me in your line up for speakers at this very professionally run teacher training course. I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it all went, thank you.
^ Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, New York

Thank you very greatly for the honor of being part of this valuable and exemplary program.
^ Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, Los Angeles

I really enjoyed being a presenter and had a wonderful audience who was engaged, respectful and asked great questions. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of such a wonderful day.
^ Stephanie Dickstein, LCSW, Elizabeth Mayer School, School District 73.5

I want to thank you for the opportunity to teach this morning and to congratulate you on a very well-organized event. I hope you get great feedback on the entire day.
^ Nina J. Henry, LCPC, CADC, JCFS Chicago

Thank you for inviting me to speak at the educational conference today.  I enjoyed speaking to my group of teachers, and it was an honor to share and learn with them.  I hope the rest of the day was a success.
^ Melissa Fisanich | English Teacher
Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School – Annette M. & Theodore N. Lerner Family Upper School Campus

Thanks again for the opportunity, and for putting everything together for another successful ATT conference. Even the pandemic didn’t stop you guys!
^ Daniel Alkhovsky, Co-Director Walder Science

Thank you so much for the opportunity to present yesterday. Both my own session and the joint session I did with my brother were learning experiences for us.
^ Danielle Bloom, New Jersey

Rona Novick, PhD

Participants had this to say:

כל הכבוד  ! Wow- as someone who signed up and participated- the process was seamless. And the sessions were good and thought provoking. And imagine if we were not virtual and we would have had to go out in this weather ? HKBH takes care
^Arona Lichtman, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School

R’ Rietti was excellent! By far the best one I’ve been a part of in a while! (His sessions were) all very good. Thank you.
^ CR Feldman, Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School

Every year I learn.  Every year I grow.  Every year I’m inspired. Every year I am very thankful.  This year was truly outstanding.  Every word and every moment was filled with knowledge, guidance, practical tools and inspiration! 
Surely every benefit to every student, every teacher and every school that will come from these classes is a zechus for all of you who made this learning possible.
^ Ronya Friedman, JDBY

Thank you for planning today!! It was really fun and useful. I liked all my presenters!
^ Marsha Arons, ICJA

Rabbi Zvi Grumet

The teachers here were Mrs. Levin, Mrs. Chaya Eichenstein, Mrs Faith Neuman, Mrs Devorah Goldstein, Mrs PIller and Mrs Mannes and myself.  We all watched the same sessions together– Mrs Hebel, Rabbi Raizman and Rabbi Rietti. We had positive feedback even from some of our most critical teachers!  Thank you very much for a robust, well run program.
^ Sara Neuman, BYHS

The session with Rabbi Rietti was absolutely amazing! Thank you. 
^ Sara Atlas, JDBY

Thank you so much! Everything was so organized. BH there was a lot to learn. All my presenters were excellent!!
The best part was the Bracha of not having to leave our houses today. Chasdei Hashem!!!
^ Sarah Leah Grinblatt, Arie Crown

I stayed by R Jonathon Rietti for all three sessions because I was so enamored with his discussions.
^ Rivkie Levitin, JDBY

I’m not a “tech” person – at all. You couldn’t have made the registration process more clear & more easy to follow. Also, I could have listened to Rabbi Rietti all day long! Not only was his content so educational & well-organized, but R. Rietti’s whole demeanor made his presentation most enjoyable.
^ Ahuvah Klein, Arie Crown

I really enjoyed the sessions that I attended today. Although hopefully next year we will be back to normal, I hope that we can still consider presentations on Zoom. For next year perhaps we can find someone who can discuss teaching Hebrew.
^ Shelley Stopek, ICJA

Thank you for all your hard work!  All three sessions were excellent and practical! 
^ Rusie Cziment, Arie Crown

Thank YOU! I just wanted to thank you for an amazing ATT teachers day. I enjoyed all the sessions and gained a lot both practically and spiritually.
^ Susie Rosen, Arie Crown

This was a great format for me personally.  I really enjoyed all the sessions!  The hot cocoa bomb was an added plus!! This took a lot of work to make it happen!
^ Yosepha Krohn, JDBY, BYHS

Mr. Alkhovsky’s math session was great!  I gave him Excellent in all categories and then wrote this.  “He shared research and then let us experience it for ourselves.  The games were great as is, but also have the ability to adapt to our students needs.  LOVED IT!”
^ Stephanie Pederson, ICJA

Rabbi Binyomin Segal

I have not heard systematic feedback from faculty yet, but the 2 sessions I went to (Danielle Bloom and Shani Taragin) were outstanding. Shani generously stayed around and answered questions through most of session 3. Both sessions pertained to ongoing work and discussions our Tanach department is having.
^ Dr. Jeremy Kahan, ICJA

I don’t know about anyone else but I enjoyed my presenters this morning.
^ Hedy Wechsler, JDBY

Today was an amazing ATT Teacher Conference Day. More than 600 day school teachers were in attendance! Of course, unlike other years, these presentations took place over zoom, but the content and the breadth of topics were fantastic.
^ Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Dean, ICJA

First of all, thank you for all your work to make today’s classes as successful as possible. I very much enjoyed both classes. I am hearing from other Rebbeim that Rabbi Rietti’s class was amazing.
^ Rabbi Avrohom Landsman, Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi

I really enjoyed all the sessions I was in. 
^ Meira Schur, Arie Crown

I cannot adequately express my gratitude for YOUR incredible labor of love in doing EVERYTHING to make yesterday the successful conference day that it was! It was an honor to be on the committee and to moderate. The classes that I attended were well presented and meaningful. I am sure that the entire menu of classes that you put together were all equally so.
^ Chaya Minkus, Arie Crown

I wanted to share with you how much we appreciated the ATT in-service day, especially Rabbi J. Rietti’s speeches.  I attended his first session, along with a number of moros/teachers who were attending the classes in the JDBY building.  His presentation was so engaging and his content was extremely relevant.  The feedback from the teachers post-session was incredibly positive and many of the teachers who had signed up for other classes for sessions two and three, decided to attend Rabbi Rietti’s sessions instead.  Throughout his presentation there was silence in the room, with all teachers riveted to his every word.  At the end of each session, there was overwhelming positive feedback! I noticed that he gave many teaching strategies, but also put a big focus on how we, as adults, can be resilient and not get lost in anxiety during these trying times.  This is EXACTLY what our teachers needed to hear!  We are finding that many teachers are currently dealing with so much in their personal lives, that it can be hard for them to be emotionally present with their students.  I speak on behalf of many of the moros and teachers here in JDBY, telling you how phenomenal Rabbi Rietti’s speeches were, and how much they were appreciated.
^ Mrs. Breitman, JDBY

Thank you for a wonderful program and such a variety of workshops and lectures. Teachers felt they gained and learned. Also thanks for the attendance report.
^Tamar Friedman

Thank you for an outstanding conference day.  The variety of topics were excellent, touching upon such relevant and important topics with experienced and outstanding speakers.  It was difficult to choose just 3.  I look forward to the recordings to be able to access some more great classes.
Thank you as well for the attendance sheet.  All of my Limudei Kodesh teachers participated for all three courses and were actually looking forward to the classes they chose.  Many voiced difficulty in deciding which interesting course to take.  The attendance sheet will help me follow up on the classes they took. Thank you again.
^Leah Rivka

Thank you! I wanted to let you know, every teacher really enjoyed their sessions. The entire day was well organized and the speakers were fantastic!
^Shoshana Safirstein, Director of Early Childhood, ACHDS

Keeping the Memory of the Holocaust Alive in the Next Generation

The charge to Jewish educators to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in the next generation is gaining urgency. 

And of course, the Holocaust is an emotional topic for the classroom, triggering complex questions on emunah and other complicated discussions. 

But every generation should have a relationship with the Holocaust. Teaching it can give students perspective and inspiration. The goal in teaching the Holocaust is to teach students how to investigate the context, dynamics and complexity of the experience. 

To better support teachers, the ATT recently held a professional development session in collaboration with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Rabbi Reuven Brand, Rosh Kollel of the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel, provided insights into teaching this difficult subject to students in grades 7-12. 

Rabbi Brand is a noted scholar of the Holocaust, who has presented to the entire spectrum of audiences with sensitivity, clarity and practicality. 

Different approaches to teaching the Holocaust

Using an interdisciplinary approach of integrating Holocaust stories in other subjects to inspire students in mitzvos and Torah observance can be a powerful way to approach the subject. 

Sharing moving stories about Jews in the Holocaust finding ways to keep mitzvos can be an inspirational way to help students relate to the subject. There are incredible stories of Jews who found miraculous ways to wrap tefillin, keep Shabbos, have a Pesach seder and other moving examples during the Holocaust. 

When effectively sharing stories from the Holocaust, it’s important to know the audience and share the information sensitively. With some of the sensitive material, giving the students an opportunity to journal about their feelings can be a helpful way for students to engage with the stories. 

Showing artifacts can enrich students’ knowledge of what happened during the Holocaust, bringing the lessons beyond the page. When sharing artifacts, it’s important to use them in a meaningful way, sharing a story or lesson about what the artifact means. 

An effective way to inspire students is to give them an opportunity to explore the material themselves, such as projects on Holocaust-related topics and personalities as well as pre-war and post-war topics of interest. 

It’s important to differentiate between source material when planning lessons about the Holocaust. Primary sources give students more of a feeling of authenticity than secondary sources, but both can be used to enrich lessons.

Accessing Holocaust resources 

There is a wealth of information for planning meaningful lessons about the Holocaust. Teachers can gain access to many resources for teaching the Holocaust from Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Illinois Holocaust Memorial Museum websites and Spertus Library

For educators, it is increasingly important to make responsible choices in teaching methodologies when instructing their students about the Holocaust. This era of history should be taught in the most realistic and experiential way while tying in its relevance and impact on today’s Judaism. 

Following any Holocaust lesson, the next step is to ask students, “What do we do now that we have learned about this?” 

The Holocaust played such a pivotal role in our Jewish history, and finding ways to teach students about the history, repercussions and being open to the more complex questions that come up provide a rich and necessary educational experience. 

Supporting changing mental health needs for students in the 2020-2021 school year

We recently  welcomed Megan Hoffman, LCSW and Emily Crane, MEd from the Compass Health Center to present to ATT teachers about how to support day school families as their children’s needs change dramatically this year, sometimes on a daily basis. 

Our job as teachers and as the ATT is to help students thrive. As part of that, we are working hard to implement tools and strategies to promote positive mental health. 

When the pandemic first started, this sentiment resonated with a lot people: “We are in the same storm, not the same boat.” When we consider the disparities among how equipped families are to deal with the ramifications of this time, it’s clear that each family and individual continues to experience it differently. 

Mental health anguish can often feel like a flood of very complex emotions. When the biblical flood threatened the world, Noach built an ark to keep life moving forward. Now it’s our job to teach our children how to build an ark. Only this time instead of gopher wood, we have tools from organizations like Compass to help students thrive in the most challenging circumstances. 

Impact of COVID-19 on mental health in uncertain times

Trauma, grief and loss all have respective psychological, behavioral, social and physical reactions. Everyone has lost something due to the pandemic, and the grief is personal and specific to each individual. This loss could look like a loss of a loved one, loss of connection with school, peers and participation in cherished activities.

Some may experience the loss of routine, safety and certainty of what will happen in the future. The combination of these losses can lead to a loss of personal identity and new or intensified mental health struggles. 

Educators are also experiencing these losses and are learning how to support their students and colleagues through grief. It’s even more crucial now to normalize and allow a safe space for others to talk about emotions. It’s not always possible, but humor or a silver lining can be healing. 

Once the losses of the pandemic are validated, the Kubler-Ross model of the Five Stages of Grief can be a helpful guide for understanding what students are feeling. Some students may feel shock, denial, frustration and depression at times. Students will benefit greatly from having a teacher that is able to help them navigate these emotional waves. 

Emphasis on emotions

Developing and expanding emotional vocabulary is a helpful way to cope with difficult situations. Knowing our emotions helps us get our needs met, in other words, “If you name it, you can tame it.”  

A great starting point is recognizing that feelings are not facts. There are resources such as  Lindsay Braman’s emotion-sensation wheel to expand emotion vocabulary. This method works by giving students the vocabulary to be able to share their feelings more comfortably.  Once an emotion is identified, the teacher can ask the student if they can think of anything that would help in this situation. 

Teachers should have a chart or graphic with faces of various emotions easily accessible in the classroom to help a student feel more comfortable when asked, “How are you feeling today?” This allows students to separate themselves from the emotion. Oftentimes, emotions pass and this method helps students move through the emotions more smoothly. 

Stress and distress reactions

Pain is unavoidable at times, and teaching acceptance around what cannot be controlled may help students avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms. Teachers can work with students on a personal “stress survival guide” to help them nourish their body, mind and soul. 

For the body, encourage students to get enough sleep, exercise, eat well, practice deep breathing, listen to calming music, etc. To help put their minds at ease, encourage talking about their stressors, have them keep a journal, learn to prioritize time, and set healthy habits and rituals. Engaging in positive self-talk, taking a break from social media, accepting stress as normal, trying mindfulness and finding ways to relax are all ways to help nourish the soul and keep from getting burnt out.

Though a certain level of anxiety during stressful times is normal, there are indications when additional help might be needed. 

Here are some stress and distress reactions to watch out for:

  • Significant changes in sleep patterns
  • Increase in physical/somatic symptoms
  • Increased irritability, increased distractibility
  • Increase in isolation and avoidance
  • Decreased sense of safety
  • Increase in frequency and intensity of worries
  • Avoidance of fears
  • Engaging in excessive reassurance-seeking behaviors
  • Major shifts in mood or activity levels
  • Talk of suicide or self-harm
  • Substance use
  • Intrusive thoughts about Covid that are impairing

Mental health in the classroom

To promote healthy mental health in the classroom, it’s important to manage expectations versus reality around school. This can be achieved by normalizing the range of reactions and creating a space for students to talk about how their year is going. 

One way to begin this dialogue is to ask students if they have questions or concerns about the future and uncertainty. In this conversation, it’s appropriate to say, “I don’t know” when there aren’t clear answers which can actually help validate fears around uncertainty, feelings of isolation and loneliness.

It’s important to master and then teach students how to hold the dialectic, or find the balance between acceptance and change. This inspires students to identify what is in their control and what is beyond. Mindfulness strategies and emotional regulation can help with this.

By taking some time to enhance classroom management strategies, educators can work towards helping students thrive despite the present challenges. Teachers can implement morning meetings, have break-out groups on Zoom, have one-on-one check-ins with students to see what is going well and what needs some work.

Having the students participate in these ways can help create accountability in students. It may also be helpful to use games in the classroom as a way to creatively combine learning with some much-needed entertainment and unwinding.

Ways to help students cope

Encourage boundaries – Maintaining proper boundaries is even more important with social distance and virtual learning. Kids and adults are both feeling overwhelmed with connecting with others via technology, and it’s necessary to have proper boundaries in place to be able to “turn-off.” Identify consistency and availability within the context of boundaries. 

Teachers should encourage self-care. One creative way to help students with this is by playing “Self-care BINGO” and have categories like reading, being kind, creative activity, dancing, playing outside, etc. Teachers can start by creating their own self-care board and show clear boundaries on food or technology to model a sense of balance. 

Validating vs. fixing- It’s imperative to distinguish between validating problems and fixing them. Validation doesn’t mean there aren’t expectations or consequences and the behavior should be redirected if inappropriate. Although it feels natural to want to help someone by finding a solution to their problems, sometimes all they need is to be told, “I hear you, but we need to move forward” and discuss it another time if it remains a problem.

Consistency, predictability and uncertainty – Schedules and routines when possible help students stay grounded when so much around them is uncertain. There should be a clear understanding of expectations, rewards and consequences and students should be guided toward finding the delicate balance between consistency and flexibility. 

Even if they don’t know where the river is headed, they should know what the boundaries of the river beds are. When a teacher practices acceptance around not knowing, students can learn that uncertainty is a part of daily life. Teachers cannot predict the future, but they can help students learn how to cope and FACE COVID. 

Focus on what is in your control
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
Come back into your body
Engage in what you are doing

Committed action (engage in our values)
Open up
Identify resources
Disinfect and distance

4 mental health boosts for students

  1. Radical acceptance

Identifying what is within our control and what is not means having students ask themselves, “What am I the boss of?”  By teaching students that they don’t have to like what is happening but accepting reality can help them cope with life’s uncertainties.

Remember – Pain + non-acceptance = suffering. 

  1. Grounding techniques

Use this while radically accepting to get students through difficult moments. Grounding exercises include: taking a break, petting your pet, 4×4 breathing exercises, using the 5 senses to get the mind off of it, using fidgets. Teachers can have students identify their own coping tools. Youtube has many videos on breathing exercises that can help students in stressful moments. The book Alphabreaths:The ABCs of Mindful Breathing and other similar books help kids get through stress. 

  1. Gratitude 

Teach students through exercises to bring their awareness and attention to what they are grateful for. Ask students to name just one thing we are grateful for this week, as a class, as a community? Even on Zoom the chat feature can be used for this type of exercise.

  1. Goals and motivation

Setting and striving towards a goal is a great tool to boost mental health. Teachers can use goal-setting in the classroom or during remote learning. Once the goal is set, work with the students on how to gradually achieve it by breaking it into smaller steps, establish clear expectations and encourage motivation. 

Keep in mind, it’s impossible to implement every single new technique and expand emotional awareness overnight. Gradually adding in some of these elements to already planned lessons and being more mindful going forward will help teachers help their students grow and thrive. 

Finishing an unusual school year and staying on track with REACH

As this unexpected last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year winds down, students and their parents reflect on students’ overall success working with REACH teachers this year.

REACH is helping to minimize stigma and helps students succeed in academics

One year ago, day school student Sarah* finished first grade still struggling with reading. Her school offered her parents the option of having Sarah repeat first grade or begin second grade with support from REACH. 

Sarah’s parents wavered because they recalled support services from their own childhood. To explore the options, they met with Rusi Sukenik, REACH director of student services. Mrs. Sukenik clarified that the services REACH would provide their daughter would address her academic needs and be delivered in a way that coordinated with the teachers so that it would integrate with her school day. Although some of the support can help with executive function and behavior, REACH’s primary function is to support educational challenges.

Sarah’s mother is now thrilled that her daughter receives support through REACH and says, “There is no way she would thrive in her classroom without the supplemental support.” With remote learning specifically, REACH educators are able to give the students one-on-one support to help them stay on track. 

For some students, staying motivated in school, in general, is a challenge, with remote learning, the challenge is that much greater. REACH educators have been busy developing creative ways to continue supporting students. For Sarah, Mrs. Sukenik called often to try different ways to help modify the program for her to find the most effective learning method that works. REACH teachers and programs are flexible and committed to working together with staff and with families to find a solution that works for each specific child. Although times are tough, having the support of REACH makes it more manageable.

REACH teachers instill confidence in students 

Eli*, who is in third grade, has worked with REACH teachers for two years. Eli’s parents appreciate the REACH support, especially in light of how some of their older children struggled in school. They realize how much their older children would have benefited from the REACH program. REACH gives students the opportunity to feel confident and accepted rather than lonely and isolated. “REACH fills in gaps and forms bridges our son needs to thrive in school,” says Eli’s mom. 

Classroom support and communication between the day school teacher and REACH educator has made a big impact on Eli’s success in school. “Receiving individualized instruction every day is remarkable. This year, the coordination between REACH and the classroom teacher has made Eli truly feel like part of the class.”  

During remote learning, the consistent visual component his REACH educator provides has kept him from falling behind. Not only that, but he is making strides and progressing in his studies. “We don’t know what we would do without REACH. The consistency REACH has provided during remote learning has been tremendously helpful.”

For many students, REACH gives the confidence that will stay with students long after they graduate. Without REACH, Eli “would be getting virtually no academics right now…he is getting 10 percent of the material and feels stupid noticing the discrepancy between him and his peers. If not for REACH, it would be a waste of the end of the school year.”

Teachers are learning from remote learning

As the school year ends in such an unexpected way, REACH teachers have seenthe positive aspects of working with their students remotely. REACH staff will be analyzing their successes and challenges and thinking about ways to apply this knowledge when we return to regular school. Estie Siegal, a REACH teacher based at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School (ACHDS), finds that some of her students are thriving now because the classes are recorded, so the students can pause to take notes and then continue listening. They can always go back if they missed something, which is very helpful for some learners. Estie is eager to find ways to apply this knowledge to the classroom.  

Some educators have noticed that students are performing better without the social social pressure and pressure. Shoshana Perlmuter, who works at both Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov (JDBY) and ACHDS, has found that some of her students are actually more engaged and focused on their work now.

When motivation is running low, Aviva Lopin with Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi (YTT) has seen the difference having a personal connection with students can make. Now that she can’t meet in person with students, Mrs. Lopin tries to drop off notes and even small rewards to celebrate students’ achievements. “After the student met one of his goals, I dropped off a prize at his house with gloves and a mask. He was so excited and taken by surprise, and his feeling of accomplishment motivated him for future lessons.”

There are many lessons to be learned from education during a pandemic, REACH teachers are using this experience as a springboard to continue striving to help their students succeed in the best ways possible. 

*Name changed for anonymity

Parenting Support During COVID-19

National expert in Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Jordan Spikes from Think:Kids along with REACH’s CPS expert Tamar Shames answered questions from community members on May 18 on Facebook Live and Zoom. Together they offering support and ideas for helping kids and families cope during this challenging time, based on this research-based behavior method that they use to train teachers. Spikes is a consultant with ATT teachers, training them to use CPS in the classroom, but the method can also support parents in their efforts to build up kids’ intrinsic motivation to make positive choices and solve problems.

Jordan Spikes from Think:Kids

Below are some of the questions and answers they covered

Q: How do you approach homeschooling?

Jordan Spikes: There are a lot of reasons you don’t have the ability to set everything aside and be a teacher with your student. It is important to remember that you are not working from home and your kids are homeschooling. You are surviving a crisis while attempting to also work from home and homeschool your children.

Tamar Shames: We need to have lower expectations of ourselves and manage self-care at this time. It is important to collaborate with the kids. If a child is struggling or not doing well, it’s not that they are trying to get out of something. We have to think about what is getting in the way. What skills are being required that they aren’t normally having to do?

Q: How to deal with kids losing motivation:

Jordan Spikes: For some kids the block might be that being on Zoom reminds them they miss their friends. Understand it’s okay if they’re overwhelmed. But if it’s a pattern, check in to see what’s going on here from an inquisitive perspective.

Tamar Shames: If kids are displaying behaviors you’ve never seen before or in a frequency you’ve never seen, it’s important to recognize that it’s coming from a place where they now have different expectations and are in a different setting. You have to stretch your empathy muscle.

Jordan Spikes: We’re not excusing our students for not engaging or doing their work. We’re explaining why it’s happening. As adults, If we’re stressed, we take something off our plate at home or work. That’s what we do with kids who are struggling. What if we reduce behavior or stress to see if they are more equipped to face other things?

Communication is key right now:

Tamar Shames: Communication with your children. Usually when our children face something in their lives, we’ve been through it before. But this is an exception that we are experiencing along with our children. So as much as we try to be reassuring, it’s still something unknown so everyone feels collectively. If your family is struggling, having a conversation with a friend or family can help you through this. It’s hard to know what feels normal during this time. 

Jordan Spikes: I wonder if we are putting on really calm faces all the time, they may feel like they have to be okay with this? Hearing that everyone feels their struggles helps our kids who are feeling the same way. This is tough. It is not your job right now to solve the problem. Just be there for them. Try to understand things from their perspective. Just listening helps regulate the human brain. It literally settles the brain down a little bit and can help. This doesn’t have to be a verbal conversation, it can be a note or text because face to face can create urgency. 

Tamar Shames: Sometimes going for a walk or a rhythmic activity can help them regulate themselves and be calm. Nowhere in the history of telling someone to calm down, do they calm down. Don’t try to talk it in the moment of meltdown but it is always best to wait for a moment when they feel calm. You can make it a game. Can I ask you 20 questions to try to get to the bottom of it? I know this is a tough conversation and low bar, no pressure, but when you’re feeling up to it, I want you to know that I want to help you. Be persistent not pushy. 

Jordan Spikes: Once they see we are curious and not that we are trying to change their behavior, that can help them.

How do you know what’s normal behavior versus what’s a real problem?

As a parent, you are wearing so many hats and responsibilities right now. If I believe it’s them naturally pushing boundaries, what would my response be? So then, do your usual consequence. Then, what’s the result? Did that work? If not, maybe they’re overwhelmed

Q: For example not wearing pjs:

Jordan Spikes: What is the expectation which makes wearing sweatpants a problem? What is it that you want them to be doing and why? Maybe it’s a comfort. What’s your concern? Here’s mine. What’s a way we can combine those two?

Q: How do we help kids keep up their motivation? 

Tamar Shames: People are getting tired. 

Jordan Spikes: This is much more complex than we give it credit for. There are a lot of things I’m expected to do, but I do them anyway. Differentiating, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Relatedness and autonomy are two things a lot of us are missing out on. We are looking for opportunities to control what I can control. So it might be that I’m not going to do my work today. That doesn’t excuse it, but it explains it. So maybe look for ways you can give them control over something. 

Whatever you’re doing right now, know that it’s enough.

Tamar Shames: We are also struggling with competency, as we have had to take on jobs we never wanted to do. Autonomy, our choices are being taken from us as well. How to create a sense of choice for our lives. If you’re feeling less motivated, there’s a good reason for that. And however we can still feel connected to people around us in a safe way.

Jordan Spikes: Genuinely ask what’s wrong. I’ve noticed a real difference now. Can I ask what’s going on to try to work toward a different solution?

You are doing the best you can and your kids are doing the best they can. And teachers are doing the best they can. No one asked for this. Give yourself the grace to sometimes feel things are not okay and that’s okay.

Tamar Shames: Our job as parents is to do our best to create a safe home environment.