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Back to School at Gann

When the Rabbis set the Jewish calendar thousands of years ago, they could not possibly have fathomed trips to Staples or back-to-school shopping. However, each year, modern Jews experience a beautiful alignment between the fresh start that a new school year brings and the preparations we make for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
When the Rabbis set the Jewish calendar thousands of years ago, they could not possibly have fathomed trips to Staples or back-to-school shopping. However, each year, modern Jews experience a beautiful alignment between the fresh start that a new school year brings and the preparations we make for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

In what ways is the Jewish new year different than January 1st, the date of the new year we mark according to the Gregorian calendar?  In modern culture, January 1st is all about setting goals and changing what we do. We want to lose weight so we buy a scale or join a gym. We decide that this is the year we will pursue a change in career and we begin to take steps towards that goal. Parents may resolve to order less take-out and cook healthy meals with our kids. New Year's resolutions in popular culture are all about action steps and what we can do to change our lives in concrete and material ways. 

If the Gregorian new year is all about “doing,” then the Jewish new year is all about “being.” The Jewish high holidays require us to consider how we are in the world, how our presence is felt in a community, and what our impact is on others. We sit quietly in our synagogues and temples evaluating our relationships, both with others and with G-d. Are we fully present with those we love? How do others experience being around us? 

This last question is particularly relevant for those of us who live with or work with teenagers. This year, on Rosh Hashanah, we should consider how our teens experience being around us. Do they experience us as anxious and distracted in our lives? Do they hear us on the phone complaining about our stress or the burdens of child-rearing? Are we actively listening when they recount the latest drama with their best friend?

Resolving to slightly adjust our presence around others we love is much cheaper than joining a gym. We can try to move the needle a tiny bit in terms of our presence around children. Here are three ideas from our work at Gann that might help us think about parenting and educating teenagers:

  • Maria Montessori made many contributions to education, but perhaps her biggest contribution was her suggestion that the key to teaching is observation. She advised parents and teachers to observe young people in their natural setting. Talk less, smile more. Observe your child quietly as they go about their life. It is amazing what we realize when we take ourselves out of the equation and just watch. 
  • Researchers at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education developed an approach for the classroom called “Making Thinking Visible.”  The idea is quite simple. Instead of giving directions to students, the approach suggests that adults narrate the  “why” of what they are doing for students in real-time. This means that when giving a directive or asking students to do something, we explain our reasoning behind it rather than simply issuing a directive. This both helps teenagers buy in to the task and models for them the meta-cognitive processing of being an adult thinker. 
  • Finally, add storytelling into the equation. Teenagers love drama so schmaltz up the stories about your day or stories from your childhood. It’s okay to embellish and tell a good story. Share with your kids a moral dilemma that you faced at work and ask them for advice on what you should do. Teens love giving adults advice!

Unfortunately, resolving to work on the fabric of our relationships with our teenagers is not a quick-fix. As a parent of three myself, I know how hard it is to find time to be present in the hustle-bustle of modern life. As we approach the Jewish holidays and begin another school year, let us all resolve to try one small new approach or to set aside ten minutes in the week to work on the quality of our presence with our children. 
 

 



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