Pesach will soon be here and as we approach the Seder there is a noticeable change in the start of the meal. Usually we set the table with two challos on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but on the night of Pesach we use three matzos. Some commentaries explain that each matzah represents one of our forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the founders of the Jewish nation. Since Pesach is the time when the Jewish people became a nation, it is befitting to keep our beginnings in mind, look back at our roots, our spiritual genes so to speak, as we start the Seder night.
One question arises if we explore this idea one step further. The middle matzah which represents Yitzchak is the matzah that we break in two and save part of it for the Afikomen. What, if any, is the significance to breaking Yitzchak’smatzah?
When Avrohom was about to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice to Hashem, Yitzchak never wavered in his belief. He was ready to give up his life for his beliefs. The breaking of “his” matzah symbolizes that mesrias nefesh (giving of one’s self) to do the will of G-d. Yitzchak’s actions instilled in Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) the fortitude and strength to overcome the many challenges not only in connection with the Pesach story but for all successive generations.
Pesach, as we experience the Seder, is the opportune time for all of us to acknowledge how we have benefited from the previous generations’ mesrias nefesh. Their tremendous sacrifices continue to play a big part in instilling in us Torah values. The Seder provides the perfect setting for us to express our gratitude to our Rabbeim, Moros, parents, and grandparents for their constant mesrias nefesh to help us become steadfast in our commitment to be Torah Jews.
Some 350 educators, community members, friends and lay leaders gathered on Tuesday, March 28 to make this year’s ATT celebration of educators an inspiring evening celebrating Jewish education in Chicago.
The event was a pivot from previous ATT dinners, where community leaders were honored. Instead, the honorees of the evening were the hundreds of dedicated teachers in ATT schools.
Introducing the event, Rabbi Mordechai Raizman, CEO of the ATT, said, “Tonight, there is one focus in mind. It is all about the educators–the presentations to the teachers and recognizing the educators in our city for their selfless dedication and devotion to educating the future generations.”
He added, “The ATT is in the background offering classes, courses, mentorship and various trainings to further the professional growth of our educators. We are here to guide and support all the teachers of our community in your individual journeys, but you are the ones on the front lines doing all the work–putting in the extra hours, preparing lessons, speaking to parents, marking grades and most importantly thinking about how to reach the students in your classroom.”
The program also highlighted ways the ATT team are proud to support teachers, administrators and students. ATT Board Co-President Stan Gertz says, “The ATT’s mission is to help support education in this system and that does not go without starting with the teachers first, making sure they have every resource available to them so that they can help raise our children to be the best Jews and best citizens they can be.”
The ATT has over a 90-year history of supporting Chicago Jewish day schools.
Rabbi Dr. Leonard Matanky, dean of ICJA, says, “The ATT has been committed to creating Jewish educational opportunities in Chicago from the moment it was founded, and the way that they impact our schools today is by helping our teachers become better professionals. By making sure we have standards, by making sure we have dreams and by making sure that we have the opportunities to learn how to reach our students.”
The power of professional development and mentoring that the ATT provides has a ripple effect across the system. Rabbi Avrohom Moller, superintendent of education says, “Good teachers that I know are teachers who are constantly growing personally and professionally. There’s nothing more powerful than when a teacher tells his class that I’m going to class tonight to learn how to be a better teacher. Being a perpetual learner is where it’s at.”
Presenting the winning teachers of the Hartman Educator Award
The highlight of the evening’s program was honoring three winners of the the ATT’s 12th Annual Hartman Family Foundation Educator of the Year Awards: Elise Glatz, Arie Crown Hebrew Academy; Olivia Friedman, Ida Crown Jewish Academy; and Rivkie Levitin, Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov.
The top award for Glatz is sponsored in memory of Mrs. Gayle Ann Herwitz. Mark Hartman says, “In my experience the award has taken great teachers and made them even better. The award has given many teachers the due credit that they deserve.”
ACHDS first grade teacher Elise Glatz was honored by the award and says, “I’m in a room with 20-something first graders all day, and most things you do don’t get noticed. You go above and beyond for your students. You feel the appreciation when you see a student who’s now able to do something–that’s your reward as a teacher. But to be recognized is a very good feeling.”
The award and selection process are designed to highlight the outstanding and innovative efforts of our educators. The ATT and Hartman Family Foundation hope that through the awarding of this prize not only three of the most outstanding teachers in Chicago are recognized, but the award also further elevates and ennobles the entire profession in the eyes of our community.
Awards are selected by a committee of educational consultants and community members. Selection criteria for the Educator Award include exceptional instructional skills in a nurturing environment, commitment to one’s students’ success, superior communication skills with parents, students, and peers, commitment to continued professional development, and contributions to one’s school’s learning community.
The power of the Hartman teaching award is not only in the recognition teachers get, but also in the idea of the award as a goal. JDBY kindergarten teacher Rivkie Levitin says, “I put a lot more into my teaching this year through the process of the Hartman Award. The more I worked toward it, the more confident I was in myself. I was implementing other ideas expecting the possibility of Rabbi Moller coming into video me. I really gained from the experience.”
Olivia Friedman, who teaches Tanach at ICJA, pointed out that this is the first time that a winner is the student of two previous Hartman Educator Award winners. Rabbi Matanky says, “Olivia is always trying to find new things that will engage her students.”
Friedman says, “I think it’s really important for the students to see that their teachers are also learners. Because how can I expect a student to learn and to go and do homework and take my class seriously if I’m not doing the same thing.”
Thank you to the ATT staff and lay leadership who made this year’s annual dinner such a success.
Once again ATT adjusted its mirror, pivoted, and surpassed today’s many challenges to hold its usual annual in-person Teachers Conference Day (TCD) for 600+ teachers. With Rabbi Avrohom Shimon Moller and Mrs. Chani Friedman at the helm and a dedicated committee of school representatives, this year’s hybrid or virtual and in-person TCD exceeded everyone’s expectations.
With 32 sessions and 29 noted national and local presenters, there was something for every grade level, pre-nursery – high school. Sessions focused on a range of topics relevant to today’s educational environment.
This year’s program offered schools virtual session options as well as in-person sessions for those schools who preferred the in-person option. This allowed for presenter-participant engagement and both small group and large group discussion in a safe environment.
ATT’s Teachers Conference Day is an opportunity for teachers to access new ideas and methodologies in teaching, both in Jewish and general studies. Teachers are also able to collaborate with colleagues throughout the ATT system in workshops and teacher-facilitated discussions. While this program is just one of many professional development (PD) 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.
Speakers and partners had this to say:
It was a true pleasure learning with the amazing educators of the Chicago area. Kol Hakavod on putting this successful program together. Looking forward to further collaboration in the future.
Rabbi Yaakov Sadigh, Head of School Katz Hillel Day School, Boca Raton, Florida
Thank you so much. The participants were very engaged and participated fully. You seem to have run a fabulous program! Thank you for making me a part of it.
Ashley Charnoff, Consortium of Jewish Day Schools presenter, New York
Thank you so much for the opportunity. From the quality of the questions, I can see that this was a really committed and professional group of teachers.
Dr. Tzipora Koslowitz, Licensed school and clinical psychologist, New Jersey
Thanks so much for the opportunity to speak this morning. I so enjoyed the ideas and interaction of the participants.
Beverley Johns, Learning and Behavior Consultant, Illinois
It was a pleasure being able to speak with you today at the ATT professional development day. I hope that the information presented was helpful for you and I look forward to working with many of you in the future.
Meir Hauser, Psy.D, Clinical Psychologist, Assistant Professor, Rush University Medical Center
Thanks again for inviting me to present. Based on the conversation during the workshop, the participants definitely took out new mindsets and skills to use with their students.
Marc Fein, Mental health advocate, New York
Thank you to the ATT and Mrs. Friedman for all their hard work putting together this wonderful education conference.
Daniel Alkhovsky, Director Walder Science
Participants had this to say:
Thank you for this and congrats on this great conference!
Rabbi Dr. Gavriel Brown, Assistant Dean, ICJA
I have heard VERY positive feedback on yesterday’s in-services. THANK YOU!!!!!
Rabbi Menachem Kirshner, Principal, Limudei Kodesh, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School
Today was great!! Thank you so much for putting it together.
Tobie Teller, Principal, Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov
Thank you for the many great presentations today. Many teachers asked if they will be able to view the recordings of classes that they didn’t choose but heard were amazing?
Rana Wechsler,General Studies Principal, Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov
I know you spend a huge amount of time preparing for the yearly conference days. While I am not usually a big fan of Zoom classes, they did make it possible for classes of 70-80-90 participants. All three of my classes were excellent and well attended. Thank you for all your efforts.
Miriam Schiller, Walder Education
Thank you! Yesterday was wonderful. I truly appreciate your efforts.
Shelley Stopek, ICJA
Thank you so much for excellent sessions that were presented today by phenomenal speakers. Each one was tremendous!! I miss being together with all the teachers, but there were some nice benefits this way.
Sarah Leah Grinblatt, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School
I just wanted to let you know that the conferences I attended were informative and I enjoyed. All your coordination of in person and on zoom was tremendous. Kol hakavod!
Naama Goldstein, JDBY-YTT
I thoroughly enjoyed Beverley Johns presentation and will use much of what she taught. I especially like the dominoes game for teaching punctuation and the tic tac toe game for getting students to own their own essays. I also loved Ariela Robinson’s Art in Literature presentation. She gave me so many new ideas to use art to get students to loosen up and get into text and connect to it and feel proud of themselves—so many benefits! This was terrific! (It)was very valuable for me!
Marsha Arons, ICJA
Beyond excellent, enjoyable, worthwhile, etc. I could go on and on, but I don’t have my Thesaurus in front of me! Thank you, again, for allowing me to sign up for the Holocaust Resistance presentation. As much as I think I’m well-educated on the subject (I keep forcingmyself to learn more), there was some material which I hadn’t heard/read before
Ahuvah Klein, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School
Thank you so much for all of your hard work, attention to detail and creativity. I really enjoyed and learned from each of the sessions that I chose. I heard the same sentiments from many of my colleagues too. The ” treat” was well received. The remote choice that was offered was really appreciated and preferred. Thank you for all that you do.
Miriam Prero,Arie Crown Hebrew Day School
Yasher Koach to you! The three lectures that I attended with Rabbi Sadigh, Rabbi Kamin, and Dr. Hauser were all very useful and informative. Each one of them could have gone longer and no one would have minded! I hope everything went well today. I’m sure with all your planning it was a major success.
Margaret Matanky,Arie Crown Hebrew Day School
I really enjoyed the sessions I signed up for today. However, Dr. Nachi Felt’s presentation was over the top valuable and informative. To hear feedback from a frum person who himself is coping with ADHD and to hear the “sad” story of his challenging young life, to learn how he overcame his obstacles, how he grew up to be an advocate for something that affects so many of our children, and how we can help these children is beyond words.
Hedy Wechsler, JDBY
Workshops were on topics as diverse as the speakers and teachers themselves, including topics like:
Developing relationships with students
Student engagement and motivation
Developing critical thinking
Language processing and its effects on instruction and classroom behavior
The second commandment that Hashem gave us at Har Sinai is the prohibition of idolatry. The Torah refers to idols as אלהים אחרים, other gods. Rashi is bothered by this description since it implies that there are other deities aside from Hashem. If Hashem is the only deity, how could there be “other gods.” Rashi presents two possible meanings to the term אלהים אחרים.
It means “the gods of others,” deities that other people have taken for themselves.
It should be translated as “gods that are indifferent to their worshippers.” Since these gods have no power, they cannot and do not respond to those who worship them.
In today’s world, we think that the prohibition of idolatry is not much of an issue for us. Much of the world is monotheistic (or atheistic), but there are a few people around us who still bow to images of wood and stone. The truth is that idolatry is a stand-in for any vice or moral weakness that we embrace that detracts from our relationship with G-d. Our sages compare anger, deceit and arrogance to idolatry. These moral deficiencies disrupt our inner connection and dialogue with Hashem.
We can use Rashi’s explanations of the term אלהים אחרים to expand this idea. Many vices are the result of external influences. We follow other people’s bad behaviors. We seek to impress others. We think we deserve what others have and that makes us behave immorally. These are the “gods of others,” forces in our lives that we have engaged as a result of our interaction with others. The second part is true as well. These “gods” are indifferent to us when we seek to engage them . They are unproductive and self-destructive. We think they empower us and will get us ahead when, in fact, they set us back and destroy our lives.
We use the Torah as a guide for successful living. It helps us overcome the self-deceptive reasoning that ensnares and ruins us. When we take the view that the Torah is a moral work and not only a “book of laws,” we will have happy and successful lives.
What do most, if not all, successful teachers have in common? They recognize and establish an effective classroom management plan that works for them and their students. Last week, a group of ATT teachers, ranging from veterans to newbies, completed Mrs. Aliza Rosenbaum’s two-part workshop on classroom management that works.
Mrs. Rosenbaum started her presentation discussing how teachers need to evaluate what’s working and what needs strengthening in their current classroom management plans. Next, she listed the top five management constructs and then discussed them in detail:
Rules: Establish and teach classroom rules to communicate expectations for behavior.
Routines: Build structure and establish routines to help guide students in a wide variety of situations.
Praise: Reinforce positive behavior using praise and other means.
Misbehavior: Impose logical consequences consistently for misbehavior.
Engagement: Foster and maintain student engagement by teaching interesting lessons that include opportunities for active student participation.
Establishing Classroom Rules:
A teacher needs to articulate a classroom’s core values and define for students what those values look and sound like in action. Mrs. Rosenbaum emphasized that modeling and practicing the rules are key to success. Teachers cannot assume that a one-time discussion will remain with most students long term.
When planning routines, consider creating specific sets of rules and procedures surrounding specific activities:
Greeting students at the start of class.
Middle of class needs (bathroom breaks, sharpening pencils, missing supplies).
Work protocols (independent, partner, group), transitions (consider non-verbal cues), and end of class closure.
Mrs. Rosenbaum also stressed that when a teacher introduces, models, and practices rules and routines, it is important to consider the beliefs the teacher conveys about him/herself, one’s stance and tone of voice, pacing, involvement of students in practicing, visuals, and tools to be used.
Praise students using a 4:1 ratio of praise to corrective statements:
Teachers need to notice and comment on what is happening in the classroom. Statements should be objective and can be nonverbal (hand-signals). Remember to create a growth mindset by praising process, not product as well as praising effort, not ability. Some examples include: I love the way… I noticed that…
Before misbehavior happens, anticipate what might come up. Consider using cues to get behaviors on track – nonverbal cues, proximity, redirection, private reminders, on-the-spot objective corrections, when-then statement. Mrs. Rosenbaum shared a handout with 30 logical classroom consequence ideas including ideas for:
Restorative justice that requires a student to make amends after wrongdoing -if “you break it, you fix it” – clean a mess, apologize after hurting someone’s feelings, hold a “practice academy” for correcting behavior, have students write an action plan for themselves
Loss of rewards after inappropriate behavior – loss of a privilege, cannot join a fun activity
Logical consequences like moving a child’s seat, call to parents
Ideas for student engagement:
Mrs. Rosenbaum concluded her workshop series stressing the importance of student engagement stating that research shows that when students are physically, emotionally, and mentally engaged in their learning, they will be less likely to disrupt the learning and will achieve better learning outcomes. She provided examples to increase student engagement:
“White boards up” – this gets every student involved. All students respond on a small personal whiteboard at the same time.
Calling sticks – popsicle sticks with student names are used to encourage calling on each and every student in the classroom.
Spinning wheel – containing student names. Teacher spins the wheel to identify student who will respond.
Active listening notes
Turn and talk to your neighbor
Give one/get one – involve students by have them approach another student and request a response on their chart. Students in turn offer their own response to share.
Station rotation activities
Mrs. Rosenbaum’s last thoughts contained words of encouragement suggesting instituting one new strategy and being consistent in making a positive change in one’s practice. The participants left excited to return to their classrooms with practical steps to make the classroom experience even better for every student.
The world keeps on changing, and its effects are everywhere. A perfect example of this is how play has changed in recent years for our youngest children. Early childhood educators are now seeing a generation of children who do not have the same skill set as previous generations when entering preschool. So, what can be done to offset the new concept of play?
This week’s workshop was given by Mrs. Sherra Bloomenkranz, a registered and license occupational therapist. She explored this issue in depth and provided a toolbox of strategies to supplement what is now considered play. Her presentation consisted of answering three questions:
What caused the change in play?
What are the skill areas of concern?
What are valuable games for the classroom that will build up children developmentally and neurologically?
Major causes of recent changes in how kids play and their effects:
Safety concerns are one cause of changes in kids’ play patterns. These include putting babies to sleep on their sides/backs instead of their stomachs and the removal of certain climbing apparatus at the park playgrounds. Both have caused the lack of muscle-building experiences that were once a mainstay of child development.
Technology is an obvious dramatic change to kids’ daily lives. Many children sit for longer periods of time watching a video or playing with a device. Teachers today tend to spend more time demonstrating, causing a lack of first-hand experiences for the child.
Skill areas of concern:
Body and space – awareness of one’s body and limbs in the surrounding space is a key skill for young children. These skills are associated with vision. Teachers today need to add the dimension of vision to help kids progress out of the two-dimensional world and create a larger picture of a child’s world. This is easy to do in kindergarten and early grades. For example, give a child directions to get papers from a back shelf in the room but do not point. Let the child figure out what to do or ask you questions about the instructions.
Figure/groundperception – the ability to differentiate an object from its background. Children who struggle with this skill often have trouble learning to read, particularly as their books feature an increasing number of words on each page. It’s also hard for them to scan text for relevant information. An activity to help children is to let the child experience a mess so he/she can differentiate objects into groups.
Time and space continuum – The universe can be viewed as having three space dimensions — up/down, left/right, forward/backward — and one time dimension. This four-dimensional space is referred to as the space-time continuum. Children do struggle with the concepts of time and space. Due to digital clocks, children lose the concept of time passing. They often confuse “yesterday” with “a long time ago.” Analog clocks show the passage of time more visually than digital clocks. In addition, children cannot sit long enough to finish a project/skill and be proficient at the project/skill. Mastery takes time to achieve. Because children are used to instant gratification today, they lose the concept of the time and space continuum. Making things that are layered is a phenomenal way to learn about space. Glue items on top of other items to give an added-up dimension (instead of the two-dimensional simpler framework). Often, it is about the process, not the finished product.
Muscle strength and eye-hand coordination – Children are constantly exploring their bodies and their world. They are holding different things today and using different muscles to hold them which do not require the same muscle effort and strength. This has led to weakness in hands, less endurance when writing, and difficulty pulling up socks/pants. Also, many manipulatives have been removed from early childhood environments due to choking hazards. Try to build up muscles with allowable manipulatives.
Motor skills – Goal-oriented play activity in early childhood improves motor skills. Children need intrinsic muscle development. This can be accomplished with wrist play, movement of rattles, bells, hand muscles and finger muscles. This affects later writing endurance, the transition from writing large letters to writing smaller letters, typing, and sewing.
Texture experience – Learning through touch and texture is also very important due to the fact that it strengthens a child’s motor skills. For instance, gripping, holding, squeezing, stacking, poking, pouring or scooping will help children strengthen the muscles in their body and also helps them to develop stronger hand-eye coordination. Children need to experience the differences in textures and “smoosh” the textures in their hands. Good items to use are play dough, sand tables, shaving cream, slime, and water tables.
Left/right dominance, crossing the midline – Crossing the midline happens when a child moves his/her hand or foot across this line to work on the opposite side of his/her body. Before crossing the midline happens, a child will typically use only one side of their body at a time. For example, they’ll use their left hand only to play with a block on their left side. Activities that provide opportunities for children to cross the midline reinforce the pathways between the brain’s hemispheres and allow for the fundamentals of fine motor skills, such as the development of their dominant hand, as well as enhancing a child’s coordination and learning. Teachers should encourage these skills which are needed for tracking in reading and language.
Valuable games for the classroom that will build up children developmentally and neurologically
Board games – Break the game down as to what skills it can teach your students, i.e., physical, visual, and social. For example, the materials and game pieces require skills – card sequences, higher level visual skills, nicely picking one card, shuffling the deck, making neat piles, one-on-one counting as a piece is moved on the board, waiting one’s turn, giving others a chance to move their pieces, noting that someone wins and someone does not win, using groups of four vs. groups of two.
Using different media to help kids today learn through play:
Liquid glue – Squirt a little onto a “Pringles” cap or paper. Let the child pick up the item to be glued, dip it into the glue, and actually glue the item. This is great for fine motor skill practice. It develops the pincer and pincer refinement. Put the pieces to be glued on the opposite side of where the child is sitting so he/she needs to cross the midline to get them. Mix glitter with glue and then use a paint brush to paint with it. When it dries, one just sees the glitter.
Glue sticks can help with refining the pencil grip skill.
Crayons – Broken crayons foster the tripod grasp and build up muscles.
Q tips with watercolors – This is a great way to teach letter writing. A box outlined with a crayon helps force the child to stay within a waxed boundary. One can also use strips of paper or a label to create a boundary.
Erasable pens in many colors – These are great for children who have sensory issues with pencils.
Activities with hands closed and grasping.
Activities for addressing dysregulation – Some children are missing physical movement and act out behaviorally. Provide physical movement for them.
Visual games – Require students to follow multi-step or vague directions where they need to put pieces together so they can think about the clues needed to create the big picture. Ask students to tell you about what they did in camp or use imagination games. Help students by letting them play with shopping carts – go “shopping” and do chores as they role-play to be adults. For example, I Spy especially requires them to leave their seats to find things.
Mrs. Bloomenkranz concluded her session by answering questions including:
What is the role of fidgets and poppits in class today? These are mindless tools created by our current environment so children can sit and attend. If they are used quietly and are nondisruptive, a teacher can decide if they are allowable in the classroom. They do not really foster a missing skill.
How can a teacher help parents prioritize play time for their children?
The opportunity to play is not equal to signing up a child for soccer class. Parents should foster independence and self-initiation (self-starting skill) for their children to play.
Also, stop rescuing children. Help them to figure out a situation for themselves – do not provide them with step-by-step answers.
A set of pencils with 36 colors is not more therapeutic than 5 stubby markers.
Teachers walked away with an understanding that basic play skills in early childhood lay the groundwork for the developmental skills children need in their school experience. Furthermore, their role as educators is even more critical in this new environment, since children are missing skills now more than ever before.
The ATT welcomed Rabbi Jonathan Chapman LSW to speak to teachers for a professional development course on problem solving. Rabbi Chapman emphasized the need for teachers to have a growth mindset with their students, focusing not where he/she is now but where he/she could be.
He presented the following six steps to encourage problem solving and student growth, a mixture of teacher guidance and student participation:
Learn about the problem – Why is this a problem to begin with? What is the value of having this problem? Ask pre-problem questions – What kind of problem is this? What are the expectations? What are the skills needed to solve the problem?
Question the choices and methods – How have my choices created this problem? Why haven’t I been able to solve this problem? When we approach a problem, the path we choose might bring us closer or further away from the solution. It’s what we do when we realize we are lost that makes the difference. Once we see what went wrong, we need to change our habits and future decisions. Teacher rapport can help with this situation.
Identify patterns and relationships – What patterns exist and what do they reveal?
Question your assumptions – What assumptions am I making about this? How are my assumptions misleading me?
Pose “what if” scenarios – What if I thought about this differently? What if this wasn’t a problem at all? Asking “what if” questions can help identify potential problems early enough so that many can be minimized or eliminated BEFORE they occur, not after.
Brainstorm how to solve the problem – How else could I solve this? How would the problem improve if…? What experiments could I conduct? Brainstorming is an excellent strategy to find out a student’s prior knowledge and give all students a chance to express their ideas. This process shows respect for others and cultivates individuality and creativity. It eliminates the fear of risk-taking and is a great way to promote thinking skills.
He concluded by emphasizing the importance for students to take small steps when trying to solve a problem along with the strategy known as “the Five B’s.”
Brain – If you are not sure, think about it first. Try to work out the answer on your own.
Board – If you are still stuck, look at the board. There is usually a clue or answer there.
Book – If you are still stuck, then look in your book next.
Buddy – Still not sure? Ask your “buddy” – he/she might know.
Boss – If he/she doesn’t know either, chances are lots of people are confused. This is now the time to ask the teacher for help!
Teachers left with practical ideas to foster a growth mindset and help their students solve problems.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 https://consciousdiscipline.com/
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!
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.”
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 Plotnikis 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!
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.