Hoping you had an uplifting Yomim Noraim as well as a joyous Yom Tov. School is back in session with all major and most minor kinks worked out. Students, teachers & parents are ready to get into the thick of things and now the real work starts. For the teachers the newness of the school year has come and gone, for the students they have already caught up with their friends about what’s new and cool and for parents the most they are going to get out of their adolescent about school is the occasional grunt “school oh yes, its ok”. What does that mean? How do parents fulfill their role as supporters of their children’s development with such a response.
This is where communication between parents and their children comes into play. How do we ensure there is a dialogue? In this weeks’ Parsha we see an unprecedented level of communication among the inhabitants of the entire world to the extent that Rashi tells us that all of humanity were in agreement (The UN wishes it could duplicate that level of unanimity). Rashi later on in the Parsha tells us that this level of Achdus was real. Rashi writes “that they conducted themselves with love and friendship” answering how it was that the flood generation was destroyed whereas the dispersion generation was spared even though their transgression was by far greater (their plan was to attack HKB”H).
So what was their secret? How were they able to achieve and maintain such a powerful level of Achdus. The answer lies in the words “The whole earth had one language” sharing the same language with others is how one connects and creates relationships. We see from the Torah how powerful communication is, it can traverse over socio-economic statuses, distance and time. For all of humanity to be in unison it must have meant that one’s financial situation, demographic and age were not an issue. Thus finding a common language with our children is how we communicate with them. A common language is not necessarily English, Hebrew or even Yiddish it is a language they relate to. For some children it is music, for some it is nature, for some it is a video game and for others it is a combination of Whatsapp, Xbox and singing Zemiros at the Shabbos table.
Knowing your child’s modes of communication is the key to his heart. Rashi attests to that as we saw earlier. So what went wrong? Why did this generation that had achieved the elusive “peace among nations” go so wrong? Once again Rashi helps us by telling us that they lacked Hakoras Hatov – they had just been rescued by HKB”H from a flood that had destroyed the majority of the world and here they were, ready to wage war against their savior. If the foundation of a relationship is based on gratitude it is a relationship that is guaranteed to be an everlasting one. This is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children (to be expounded on more in a later episode).
Catch your child being good
This may sound very simple or at least as simple as noticing every time you child doesn’t do what he is supposed to do. But the truth is, it’s much more difficult. When something is out of place we notice it – when it is where it belongs we pass over it without a second glance.
Therein lies the value of this Felt Tip – catching your child being good is an exercise for us as parents as well as being helpful in encouraging good behavior. Just like the early bird catches the worm, we need to rise early – mostly figuratively :) and pay attention to what is happening in our child’s life and learn to appreciate them. Completing this exercise will also help us learn what our children’s modes of communication are (see above).
Who loves coming back to school after vacation? If you are imaging a blond principal with glasses and yarmulke with his two thumbs pointed to himself loudly proclaiming “this guy,” you would be correct! I was so excited to return to VTHS after a wonderful holiday and break. I was excited for the return of our students as well as our two day staff Leader In Me training. While, I hope in the near future to share more about this amazing program, I want to share an aha moment that I had during our focus on “Synergy”, which is the sixth habit of the seven habits of highly effective people.
Synergy, according to Steven Covey is the “the habit of creative cooperation.” The common paradigm of synergy is “let’s compromise” while the highly effective paradigm is “let’s come up with something that’s better than what either of us had in mind.” BAM!
I am one who believes in the power of collaboration. I am huge fan of the famous words by Ben Zoma (Avos 4.1) who asks “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” However, it wasn’t until this Tuesday that I fully understood what I believed. In my opinion, a team is not fully functional unless they are working together in a manner where each member feels they have an equal voice and opinion in the outcome of their work. With that said, I would normally articulate that belief as the need to create a space where ideas can be shared freely without fear of rebuke. What I was missing was the articulation that not only is every idea valuable, but that the collective sharing of ideas is more valuable than the singular idea.
The sharing generates new ideas unlikely to be developed in isolation. It is not that I had not realized this or believed this to be true, but I suppose I used the term collaboration more to describe just the sharing as a way to honor each voice without articulated the goal of creating such a space. What I realize now is that the term “synergy” better defines my vision. In fact, I shared this with our staff the evening of training. Here is a snippet from the email I sent to them.
“There were many take aways from today, but the one that stood out for me was the 6th habit of synergy. I was struck by the idea that synergy is not just collaboration, but the safe sharing of ideas with the goal of generating new ideas that could not have existed without the sharing. This is certainly my vision for us as a staff and I certainly hope we are well on our way to true synergy. In fact, if you ever feel that I am not creating a space for the free flow of ideas call me out. I hope that we all try our best to make everyone feel that they have a voice and that their voice matters.”
We are a great school when each of our members voice is valued. We are even greater school when those voices come together to generate new ideas unknown to us before we came together. We began this process of building Synergy at our first staff training before school started this year when we as a team asked “What if…..” about the school and then added ideas to the “What if” of others. I look forward to sharing that process and their great questions in the future as well. However, from now, it was clear from the questions and ideas the staff raised that we are a team who seeks Synergy so that we can continue to innovate our practice. I look forward to us continuing to grow as a team, increase our synergy and go from great to greater.
Welcome back to our amazing staff, incredible students and fantastic families!
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “Share the Wealth.”
This year’s Simchas Beis HaShoaiva started off with a pre-party pool-party. The party then moved to VTHS for dancing and pizza in the sukkah.
The Yeshiva Sukkah is up and ready to go. We hope you come visit. Valley Torah students, staff and administration wish you a happy and healthy yom tov.
What are you passionate about? This is a question not asked often enough in our schools. This is unfortunate given the fact that we know that when a student connects the learning to something they are passionate about they are more successful. Plus, if we are truly preparing them for their future, supporting the discovery of their interests is a critical preparatory element. At Valley Torah, we are asking this question.
A couple of week ago we began our TED-Ed Club, which is the speech component of our Improvisational Arts and Speech course. As stated by the organization, “TED-Ed Clubs is a flexible, school-based program that supports students in discussing, pursuing and presenting their big ideas in the form of short TED-style talks.” If you have never watched a TED talk, I highly recommend them and have provided a few of my favorites below. However, the talk is the end product of the development of an idea the speaker is passionate about, which is the primary goal of this class. We want our students to discover what they are passionate about, understand what makes a great idea and learn how to articulate their great idea. Sounds awesome? It is! Sounds easy? It is not.
At the first meeting the students were asked to describe themselves and list three things that they are passionate about. The meeting began by watching this video from TED-Ed Clubs.
After the video, which was meant to highlight the expression of passions, we turned to the students to begin the discussion of the above questions. This was a struggle given they were not used to these tasks. So, myself and Mr. McCaffery modeled the answers and explained how knowing yourself is helpful in figuring out what your passions are. The we turned it back to the students and the answers were open, honest, vulnerable and powerful. I was beyond proud of the two groups that have this club. They supported each other and laid the foundation we needed to move to the next question, which was “What makes a great idea….great?”
At at our second meeting, which is where the club is up to, the students watched this video and then were asked these guiding questions:
- What is your club’s definition of an “idea worth spreading”?
- What are the qualities of good ideas?
- Are ideas created by individuals or groups?
- What can keep ideas from spreading?
Again, the students were impressive and beautifully discussed what it will take to create “ideas worth spreading” in this course. We will continue down this path together and the students will learn how to develop their passions into ideas they can articulate as well as film them to share with the world. However, the question of what you are passionate about does not only sit with this club.
After the break, we will begin the Principal Project which will support our students interests in the areas of professions, universities and making a difference in this world. Our fine arts class is completely passion-based where students propose what they are interested in exploring and producing within the arts. We have expanded our electives to increase our ability to target the growing array of student interests and after the break we begin our clubs to further support their interests. In addition, our staff is exploring project-based learning and models of education that increase deeper and meaningful learning with the unique talents and interests of our students in the center of it all.
So, as we enter Yom Kippur focused on atonement and purification, may we all leave with a clean slate undistracted from the irrelevant and be able to return to school after the break able to answer the question what are you passionate about?
As promised, here are a few of my favorite TED Talks:
Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
Phil Hansen: Embrace the Shake (I wrote about it here)
Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling (I wrote about it here)
With the upcoming holiday of Simchas Torah, Rabbi Stulberger, Dr. Jones and I would like to bring to your attention something that concerns us. We have become increasingly aware that some of our students have been consuming alcohol without parental approval. This tends to happen at Kiddushim, Sholom Zochors, weddings, when parents are out of town or any time they can get access. Unfortunately, teens can also abuse alcohol under the guise of religion. They may, for example, drink dangerously – sometimes even with adult approval – on Simchas Torah or on Purim. As you know, alcohol impairs judgment, and when consumed irresponsibly, often lead to reckless and dangerous behavior among teenagers. With the added factor of a teenager’s prevalent sense of invincibility, those who do drink are at a very real risk of putting themselves in true peril. This is a pressing concern that needs to be addressed as a community, consisting of parents, educators, shuls and schools.
Just as our Rabbis had the foresight, wisdom and intellectual honesty to establish fences (gedarim) around our commandments so as to prevent us from giving in to difficult temptations, we must be brave enough to acknowledge the temptations our young people face and establish boundaries for them as well. Most importantly, we have a religious imperative to safeguard life and our bodies, “V’nishmartem M’od L’nafshotechem,” as they are holy gifts from our Creator. We have a religious, as well as communal, obligation to take a proactive stand in protecting our children from harm. There are two ways of dealing with this issue: we can either pretend it is not happening – putting our heads in the sand and our children at risk – or we can confront it openly. It is present in the school and we at Valley Torah are ready to confront it head on.
As a school, we will partner with you to help our students stay safe and out of trouble, but it is ultimately your rule-setting and vigilance that will help your children make wise decisions, now and in the future. Therefore, I am adding a set of guidelines that you may wish to implement with your children.
The bottom line is simple: be sure to know what your child is doing and with whom. Although this may give the impression that we do not trust our teens, the contrary is actually the case! We are open and honest about the temptations and invitations facing our teenagers from all communities (even the most sheltered children in religious enclaves often fall victim to these situations). We are giving our children the tools to prevent situations in which they are at risk of injuring themselves and innocent people. While some of our teenagers will find these rules initially oppressive, if they become the norm in our community, our children will find comfort in the safety net that we have created for them.
As a school, we will make it clear to the students that anyone consuming alcohol will be subject to significant disciplinary sanctions up to and including expulsion. In the case of any issue of abuse or distribution, we will thoroughly investigate the allegations while vigorously safeguarding individual privacies. Students abusing alcohol will be referred to a school-approved therapist/program. Students engaging in illegal activities will be dealt with to the full extent of school policies and the law. Our common interest in enforcing these policies is to protect our students – your children – and provide them with any support or guidance they may require.
Also, please know that even the most savvy and connected parents are sometimes at a loss when it comes to issues such as these. We have an excellent team in the school that would be glad to discuss any of your concerns and provide guidance. If you are aware of any issues you would like to bring forward, please do not hesitate to contact the administration.
Gmar Chasima Tova and may this year be one of health and true happiness.
- Speak to your child about your policies regarding alcohol or any other illicit substance.
- Have an exit plan for your child. If your child call for help – you will assist with “no questions asked.”
- Let your child know explicitly what the consequences are if you find they have been abusing any substance.
- Make sure you know where your child will be at all times and VERIFY what he tells you.
- If something sounds fishy, follow up with more questions or a surprise visit.
- Come up with a very clear solution if his plans need to change at the last minute.
- If there is going to be alcohol – make sure that there is an adult in charge.
- Be extremely cautious If your child calls around curfew time and asks to stay over.
This Yom Kippur, ValleyTorah will be having an appeal to raise funds to buy AEDs – Automated External Defibrillators – for both campuses.
On any day, hundreds of individuals – students, teachers, parents and visitors – pass through our campuses. If, G-d forbid, one of them were to have a heart attack, we want to be ready to save their life.
Please help us buy AEDs for each of our campuses. We will have trained staff on hand, and, if an emergency happens – we will be able to save a life.
Please visit our AED Donation Page now and make a generous tax deductible donation.
For those interested, there will be a mincha minyan on Friday at 4:00 at a private home (5144 Bluebell Avenue). Please text 818-209-3739 if you plan on going.
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “The Power of Our Words.”
Our Beis Medrash is ready for us to pour our hearts out to Hashem and to accept His rule over us. Wherever you may daven this Rosh HaShana, we you a happy and healthy new year filled with nachas and success.
לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם
I made a special edition of my EJ’s Cafe Podcast, which is part of my personal blog EJsCafe.com, for this week’s “From The Desk Of” post. This is a Rosh HaShana message for all my students and their families. Shana Tova and I am looking forward to a continued amazing year with all of you!
Please watch Rabbi Stulberger’s Rosh Hashana message – “Connecting with Hashem.”