Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Growing Gritty Graduates

Tomorrow we will say farewell to our 8th graders as they graduate Yavneh Academy.  As I say goodbye and wish them luck, I envision them as young adults who in a few more years will come back to visit us when in high school or college.  I look forward to these visits each year as I get so much nachat from seeing the incredible human beings they become.  One of my favorite times of year is when we run a program for our 8th graders when we invite alumni in to run sessions on what high school is truly like, as we did this past Friday.  I felt like a proud “mama” as I called Rabbi Knapp on his cell and said, “You need to come down here to see our alumni and get some nachat!”  

What was the secret that took those excited and nervous 8th graders and made them successes in high school and beyond? Rebecca Jackson, in her January article “Parenting Determines Who Graduates College,” presented a recent Pew research study, (along with Brown University School of Medicine, Brandeis University, National Children’s Medical Center  and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology), which investigated parenting styles and their impact on graduates’ success.  They found that a parenting style that “focuses on building persistence, as opposed to more traditional models that focus on discipline” was more effective.  

The study focused on two areas of difference in parenting- in areas of persistence, (commonly called “grit”) and obedience. Parents who stress obedience “lash out” and punish more, but do not establish rules. Without rules, children are unable to acquire “a healthy level of confidence in their decision-making abilities.” They also “develop no emotional attachment to their goals, making it unlikely they’ll persist when faced with obstacles.” In highly educated households- i.e. where parents and children were college graduates, more parents ranked persistence as the most important value.  They pursue goals regardless of challenges- “grit.”  Children with grit are 40% more likely to have “emotional balance”  and 60% are more likely to get good grades.

What kind of parenting style promotes and raises children with grit? Empowerment parenting. As opposed to traditional parenting that focuses on obedience with little explanation for rules and little communication, empowerment parenting does not emphasize correcting or punishing unwanted behavior. Rather, it focuses on confidence in the child to make his own choices.  It promotes positive reinforcement for effort, which stimulates motivation and persistence.  Grit has been found to be a better indicator of future success and happiness than either IQ or talent.  Even children who are talented and intelligent and come from wonderful homes do not succeed if they cannot work hard, and persevere through challenge and failure.

Interestingly enough, the faculty at Yavneh has also been focusing on grit throughout the year. We began the year with an In-service presenter who shared some practical ideas of how to “grow grit” in our students. When we praise them for effort and not for the end product we encourage grit.  When we let them know that an activity is challenging, but challenge is good- we help them grow grit.  We began circulating a Mindset Monthly newsletter to the teachers with practical ideas for use in our classrooms in this area. We have been asking teachers to hang posters and phrases in their rooms which encourage grit and posted them in the newsletter. Posters like, “It’s not about whether I get knocked down, it’s about whether I get up” have been appearing in classrooms.  Next time you visit the school, look for our “gritty” posters which will soon be hung in the hallways to celebrate our year-long focus on grit development in our students.  

So, how do we grow grit? In her article “What Is Grit, Why Kids Need It, and How You Can Foster It”  she quotes the grit guru, Dr. Angela Duckworth in her book…

1. In her house they have a “Hard Thing Rule” which means than everyone at home has to be working on something that is hard for him at any given time.  It has to require “deliberate practice daily,” but can be chosen by the family member.  No one is allowed to quit because he feels it’s too hard.  The learning process is not always fun, but the end result makes it worth it.
2. Duckworth quotes another expert in this area, Dr. Carole Dweck, who focuses on the importance of helping our children have a “growth mindset” in achieving grit. People with a growth mindset realize that failure is not permanent and  hard work part of the process.  People with “fixed mindsets” on the other hand, believe talent is innate and give up easily since they believe they cannot change how they were born. Duckworth suggests letting your children see that even experts have to practice and work hard. They just make it look easy- but it isn’t at all.
3. We need to show our children that we too take risks to achieve our goals, and we don’t give up.  We need to talk about our failures in front of our children.
4. We need to recognize effort, “Wow, you are working so hard at this!” And, we need to resist stepping in when they are struggling. Relay the message that they can do it.  
5. Let us talk to children about famous people who failed after many failures and rejections. In Advisory, when focusing on grit, we spoke about Thomas Edison, Dr. Seuss and even Michael Jordan who at first failed. We need to show them real examples of failure and allowing them to fail. Paul Tough, in his New York Times article “The Secret To Success is Failure” writes, “It is a central paradox of contemporary parenting, in fact: we have an acute almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small. And yet we all know- on some level- at least- that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves they can.”

As we our graduates walk down the aisle tomorrow, we hope that we have raised “gritty graduates”  who have grown and gained during their years at Yavneh. Mazel Tov to all!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A "Smashing New Way To Relieve Stress" ?

As finals are approaching, many of our students say they are “stressed out” and worried about the days ahead. We hopefully are doing  all we can to calm them down and reassure them that finals are doable and they will succeed. But, apparently, stress is not only experienced by students, but by teachers as well, as we see in a Maryland elementary school (not in Yavneh Academy, of course!)

Barbara Liess, a Maryland elementary school principal, was forced to resign after she instituted a “smash space” in her school where teachers could go when feeling stressed to relieve tension. In this room, there were old pieces of furniture that teachers could smash with baseball bats.  She got this idea from reading about businesses that have “anger rooms” where employees can smash old computers or other office items when upset. Parents were unhappy with the message this sent to children, whom we are always encouraging to “use their words.”  (One parent did say he had no problem with the smash space, “It’s a better thing than to take frustrations out on my kid.”)

For those who have not heard of the “anger rooms” to which Liess refers, a November 2016 article in the New York Times  by Claire Martin “Anger Rooms: A Smashing New Way to Relieve Stress” highlights the proliferation of such rooms.  She begins with the story of Donna Alexander who in 2008 began an experiment where she collected items from curbs in her neighborhood and invited her co-workers to her garage to smash those items.  She charged $5 a person and played music.  She began getting strangers at her door asking if they can come and “break stuff.”  She had a four month waiting list and opened the Anger Room in downtown Dallas, charging $25 for five minutes. Customers can custom design the room- what they will smash, and can choose their “tool” of destruction.  They can pick their own music.  In the Rage Room in Toronto, customers receive video downloads of their session and they have a “Date Night” package.

Is this kind of behavior beneficial for one’s psychological well-being?  Dr. George Slavich, director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research at the University of California says, there is no evidence that it helps relieve stress at all. In fact, “On the contrary, the types of physiological and immune responses that occur during anger can be harmful for health.”  Techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, relaxation techniques have been proven to help with stress.  Clearly, these are the techniques we want our children to learn, and not to get the message that smashing things makes things better.  

Think about how it would appear if students peered into a room and saw teachers smashing items when stressed. As adults, parents and teachers, we need to consider that the way we act when we are stressed speaks volumes to our children about how they  should manage their own stress.

Brigit Katz, in her article, “How To Avoid Passing On Anxiety To Your Kids”  writes of a scenario we all have experienced. The parent, JD Bailey, was trying to get her daughters to a dance class “She began to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and in the car ride on the way to the class, she shouted at her daughters for not being ready on time.’Suddenly I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ she recalls, filled with anxiety. ‘This isn’t their fault. This is me.’ ...Witnessing a parent in a state of anxiety can be more than just momentarily unsettling for children. Kids look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations; if a parent seems consistently anxious and fearful, the child will determine that a variety of scenarios are unsafe. And there is evidence that children of anxious parents are more likely to exhibit anxiety themselves, a probable combination of genetic risk factors and learned behaviors.

We, therefore, want to model healthy stress management techniques with our children.

Some techniques Katz highlights:
  1. Model Stress Tolerance:  We try to maintain a calm, neutral demeanor while managing our own anxiety. We need to be aware of facial expressions as well.
  2. If you do react with anxiety, explain your anxiety to your children. Katz continues:
Let’s say, for example, you lost your temper because you were worried about getting your child to school on time. Later, when things are calm, say to her: “Do you remember when I got really frustrated in the morning? I was feeling anxious because you were late for school, and the way I managed my anxiety was by yelling. But there are other ways you can manage it too. Maybe we can come up with a better way of leaving the house each morning.”
Talking about anxiety in this way gives children permission to feel stress, explains Dr. Kirmayer, and sends the message that stress is manageable. “If we feel like we have to constantly protect our children from seeing us sad, or angry, or anxious, we’re subtly giving our children the message that they don’t have permission to feel those feelings, or express them, or manage them,” she adds. “Then we’re also, in a way, giving them an indication that there isn’t a way to manage them when they happen.”
And, you show them that even if you overreact, you can move forward and change your mood.
     3. Make A Plan-  Try to come up with strategies in advance of situations that you know trigger your stress, i.e. homework time!  Perhaps your child can even help you come with that plan.
4. Know When To Disengage-  Sometimes it’s okay to take a break and distance yourself from a stress- provoking situation  (i.e. hiring a homework tutor so you don’t battle with your child).

In general, it is is a misconception that “venting” makes a person calmer.  Clearly the “smash space” is not the solution. Especially in today’s online world, people are quick to send an e-mail, or post before they think about it as they are “venting.”  In Fiona McDonald’s 2015 article, “Sorry, But Venting Online Just Makes You Angrier, Scientist Find- Friends Don’t Let Friends Email Angry.”  It is absolutely not true that unleashing your stress or anger in an e-mail is stress relieving. McDonald quotes Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology and communication at the Ohio State University, who states that “the ease in which we vent on the internet is making us angrier than ever… Just because something makes you feel better doesn’t mean it’s healthy, explaining that people still have the misconception that it’s always better to get things off your chest than to bottle them up.” In a 2002 experiment, Bush found that subjects who “bottled up” their upset were actually the least aggressive, hostile and irritated.  A 2013 study of those who rant online demonstrated the same. Those “ranters” were more prone to anger and rage- ridden behaviors.
The Rambam,  as we know, was a famous medical doctor.  David Zulberg, in his OU article, “How Maimonides Dealt With Stress And Anxiety”  speaks of the Rambam’s medical treatise Regimen of Health, which  “discusses the connection between mental and physical health, especially in relation to stress and anxiety. While the relationship between mind and body has only been acknowledged by the medical world in the last hundred years, Maimonides was aware of this connection and wrote about it back in the 12th century, making him a pioneer in the development of psychosomatics.” It was quite a famous treatise, and was used as a textbook in universities. The Rambam discussed the toll that anxiety has on the body,  and  herbal prescriptions for stress and anxiety.  He continues to write that medical intervention is not all that is needed for stress.  The root of stress is either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.  He then states that along with medicinal treatment, (and he in fact recommends herbs that have been found to be the most effective for stress today), one must changes one’s mindset:
Yet it is known through rational observation that thinking about the past is of no benefit at all. Sorrow and grief over the past are activities of those who lack the influence of the intellect. There is no difference between a person who grieves over lost money and the like, and someone who grieves because he is human and not an angel, or a star, or similar thoughts which are impossibilities.
Similarly, any anxiety that results from thoughts about what may happen in the future are pointless because every possible thing lies in the realm of possibility: maybe it will happen and maybe it will not. Let a person replace anxiety with hope [in G-d] and with this hope it is possible that in fact the opposite of what one fears will actually happen, because both what one fears and its opposite are (equally) in the realm of possibility.”
In our seventh grade Advisory we build “stress towers” with our students made of blocks. Each block represents something that causes them stress. Eventually, the tower topples over as each stressor builds on the other. We talk about the physiological and psychological results of stress, i.e. rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, feeling out of control, breaking into tears easily etc.  We then focus on some strategies.  
a. Make a few little towers. If we tackle only a few things at a time- it becomes more manageable. We tend to try to work on everything at once and that’s when it becomes too much. One good stress management technique is to make list of all that needs to be done and prioritize.
b. Put each block on slowly. Stop in between placing each block to make sure the tower is stable. When we rush ourselves it becomes more stressful. Leave yourself plenty of time and don’t leave things until the last  minute.
c. Have someone else hold the tower in place and stabilize it for you.  Ask for help. Maybe something is too difficult to you and you can benefit from help.

d. Notice your reaction- when the blocks toppled over, what was your reaction? You probably didn’t care so much. But, what if you tried over and over and it still toppled each time? Then it would get quite frustrating. What if you changed your thoughts about what happened. Ex. It is normal for a tower of tall blocks to fall down. It’s not tragic. It happens. Now, what can I do about it. Instead of thinking “I must be really bad at building blocks!” Sometimes your thoughts about something is what makes you stressed out. Before or while you are reacting, think, am I overreacting?

This leads to our important workshop about positive self-talk. We encourage them to inoculate themselves by making positive coping statements before, during and after a stressful event. Imagine what you would tell a friend to be encouraging. Tell the same thing to yourself.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

Shavuot Cleaning? Wrong Holiday...

As we approach Shavuot, most focus on the hero of the Shavuot story, Moshe Rabbeinu. I would like to focus on Yehoshua, the faithful servant of Moshe who becomes the next leader of the Jewish people. Where was Yehoshua during Kabbalat HaTorah?

In  Shemot 24:13 it states,
גוַיָּקָם משֶׁה וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ מְשָׁרְתוֹ וַיַּעַל משֶׁה אֶל הַר הָאֱלֹהִים:
“And Moshe stood up with Yehoshua, his servant, and Moshe ascended to the Mountain of God.”
But, we know that only Moshe ascended to the top of the mountain. Where was Yehoshua?  Approximately 70 times in his commentary on Tanach Rashi says, “I do not know.” This is one of them.  

Rashi says on this pasuk, "I do not know what the function of Yehoshua is here: I say that he was the student accompanying his teacher until the place of the boundaries on the mountain, because he was not allowed to go further. And from there, Moshe ascended alone to the Mountain of God and Yehoshua set up his tent and stayed there for the whole forty days..." (Rashi, Shemot 24:13)  

But, clearly, Yehoshua was not with the rest of the people, as we know later he did not know of the sin of the golden calf. And, yet, he remained close to Har Sinai. Yehoshua was distinctively assigned an important role that indicated his high spiritual level.  

This placement of Yehoshua fits perfectly with what we know about him elsewhere. One could only imagine the greatness of  the man who merited taking the leadership of the Jewish people after Moshe. And, yet, what do we learn about him? Why was he chosen to lead? In fact, Moshe thought that his own children were to lead after him. But, the midrash in Bamidbar Rabba 21:14 relates that God said that that would not be so, and Yehoshua would lead. Why?

Bamidbar Rabba 21:14

יְהוֹשֻׁעַ הַרְבֵּה שֵׁרֶתְךָ וְהַרְבֵּה חָלַק לְךָ כָּבוֹד, וְהוּא הָיָה מַשְׁכִּים וּמַעֲרִיב בְּבֵית הַוַּעַד שֶׁלְּךָ, הוּא הָיָה מְסַדֵּר אֶת הַסַּפְסָלִים, וְהוּא פּוֹרֵס אֶת הַמַּחְצְלָאוֹת, הוֹאִיל וְהוּא שֵׁרֶתְךָ בְּכָל כֹּחוֹ, כְּדַאי הוּא שֶׁיְּשַׁמֵּשׁ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְאַבֵּד שְׂכָרוֹ, (במדבר כז, יח): קַח לְךָ אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן, לְקַיֵּם מַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר: נֹצֵר תְּאֵנָה יֹאכַל פִּרְיָהּ.

Yehoshua served you much and gave you much honor; and he would come early and leave late your council chamber; he would arrange the benches and roll out the mats - since he served you with all of his strength, he is worthy to tend to Israel, so as to not lose his wage. 'Take Yehoshua the son of Nun,' in order to fulfill, 'He who tends a fig tree will enjoy its fruit.'"

It always struck me that Yehoshua “arranged the benches and rolled out the mats”- sounds like something a custodian should do, not second in command to the leader of the Jewish people!   There was something special about his not leaving the Beit Midrash a mess, but rather organizing it before he left.

A recent article I read by Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman struck me and reminded me of Yehoshua.  He is  rabbi of a shul and he relates a story about a snowstorm in his community. One of the local teachers in a yeshiva decided to meet his class in the shul that day to learn, since school was closed. Rabbi Eisenman had no idea they were in the building, but spotted them on a security camera.  He was enthralled by watching how excited both the rebbe and talmidim were at learning. But, more importantly he shared,

“I then noticed something, which in some ways was even more incredible than the learning itself.  After the learning finished, I noticed that every boy in the class carefully searched for any wrappers that had fallen and made sure to deposit them in the garbage bin...then pushing every seat back to where it belonged.  He then shut the lights in the ballroom before exiting.”  

What’s so incredible about that? Well, for those of us who parent teens, we know that it is pretty incredible. I recently went to a Yankee game and was embarrassed to see the family sitting next to me whose teens were spitting shells from their sunflower seeds on the floor by their seats.
I often watch at lunch in school and notice which children pick up food after they accidentally drop it on the floor and which ones keep on going. When I host teens at my home, I always notice those who stay after the meal to clean up, (and I hope mine do that same when visiting others!).

There are many reasons why cleaning up is important to their development. It helps them be more responsible. It helps them appreciate what they have as they realize how much effort it takes to keeping the house running.  They learn the value of hard work.

Wendy Mogel, the famous author of The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee  wrote in her second book The Blessing Of A B-”  in the chapter,  “Why your teen needs to do laundry (and how to make it happen).” She tells the story of her friend’s son,
|When it came time for Fall break during his first year at a top-tier college, my neighbour’s son stuffed two months’ worth of laundry—every piece of clothing he’d worn since arriving at school at the end of August—into three oversized suitcases, paid an excess baggage fee of $150 to check them at the airport, and flew home to his parents’ house.
“What were you thinking?” asked his astonished mother, as Josh deposited a mountain of smelly jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts and socks in the utility room and made his way to the kitchen.
“Mom,” he said, opening the refrigerator, “how was I supposed to have time for laundry? I was studying…plus, I had all my work at the Jewish students’ centre.”
Josh is a good-hearted, generally responsible young man, not typically in the habit of taking advantage of his mother. But in high school, his parents had sheltered him from chores in exchange for his total devotion to school work and extracurriculars. Now, in college, Josh was positive that this bargain was still in place—that academics and religious involvement gave him a free pass out of laundry duty. In Josh’s mind, he was too gifted to sort his own socks.
Yehoshua knew that he was quite gifted. How could he have not realized when he was Moshe’s right hand man? And, yet, he took the time to tidy up the Beit Midrash.  
We often say that our children have so much homework and activities and we want those to be their priorities so they can excel, but, as Dr. Mogel continues,
In my experience, chores lead to better school performance because they teach teens how to organize their time and their actions. Chores form a foundation for the rest of life as well. Young adults with household skills know how to carry their own weight. They’re conscious of ways to help without being told or asked. They aren’t crippled by the depressing belief that only the less talented or unexceptional perform the necessary chores of daily life. And because of their skills and willingness to pitch in, they’re considered kind, respectful and appealing.
It must have been that Yehoshua’s parents, (Nun and his mother!), must have had him helping out at home. He, consequently, became a young man who was leadership material, and considered, “kind, respectful and appealing.”  
We think that it must be obvious to our children to clean up at school in the lunchroom, or when they attend a bar mitzvah, or join a sleepover, but they need to be reminded. As parents, we need to reiterate over and over our expectations for them doing so.
As we accept the עול המצוות - yoke of mitzvot- this Shavuot, we realize that mitzvot may seem like a burden at times, as a yoke does truly weigh on our shoulders.   Yet, we know that it is not a burden, but rather a responsibility which helps us grow and develop.  So, too, our children may see the “yoke” of cleaning up as a burden, but we know this responsibility is essential for their development. Who knows, maybe one day your child will be the next leader of the Jewish people?
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Students had a session on how to prepare for finals.
Seventh Grade; This week, students discussed the bystander effect and why people often do nothing when they see someone in trouble.
Eighth Grade: Our 8th graders had their last Advisory session as Yavneh students. They discussed the emotions of what it’s like to graduate and completed an exit survey so they can let us know how they felt their Yavneh experience went and what can be improved.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Happy Mother's Day- A Lesson In Leisure

Do you know what I want for Mother’s Day? No flowers. No jewelry. Not even breakfast in bed. I want a nap.  My children would smile when they hear that, as they know that the only reason I stay up as late as I do is because they are still up!  (Okay, or working on Yavneh e-mails or Advisory!)  

I am actually in good company. An article “A Better Way To Work” in Nautil.us asserts that “Darwin, Dickens and some of the most accomplished people in history have one thing in common, said researcher Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. They worked with intense focus- but for only four hours a day.”  These accomplished people shared a passion for their work, but only spent a few hours a day engaged in their work, and the rest of the time relaxing, taking naps, hiking or just thinking.  Perhaps the key to their creativity did not only lie in how they worked, but also in how they rested.  

Using Darwin as an example, he would begin work by 8:00 a.m. and work 1 ½ hours.  At 9:30 he would read the mail and write letters.  At 10:30 he would continue working until noon. He would then say, “I did a good day’s work,” and go on a walk.  He then had lunch, and answered more letters.  At 3:00 he would take a nap. Then he would take another walk and then have dinner with his family.  At this leisurely pace he wrote 19 books and probably the most famous book in the history of science, Origin of Species.   He made sure his days were filled with “downtime.”

Soojun-Kim Pang writes of numerous other “geniuses” who kept similar hours.  G.H. Hardy, a famous British mathematician said, “Four hours’ creative work a day is about the limit for a mathematician.”  He quotes a survey of scientists’ work in the 1950s which indicated that scientists who spent more than 25 hours at work were no more productive than those who spent five hours at work. Those who worked 60 plus hours a week were the least productive of those surveyed.  

Similar results were found with musicians as well in the 1980’s in research by Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch- Romer.  Even among those who needed to practice more hours “they have more frequent, shorter sessions… with half hour breaks in between. What separated the great students at the Berlin conservatory from the good…how they rested.”  They took naps and slept more hours at night than their colleagues.

An increasing number of businesses are realizing the benefits of napping during the day.  Uber and the Huffington Post  have nap rooms. Google, Zappos and Proctor and Gamble have  nap pods which have found their way into businesses and even schools. Ben and Jerry’s and Pricewaterhouse Coopers allow naps for their employees as well. Napping during the day helps with concentration and boosts productivity. It can provide a memory boost.  It also reduces anxiety and depression and lowers blood pressure.  Napping enhances creativity and strengthens willpower.

Even if napping is not possible, it is important to take a break and to have some “downtime.” This is particularly true for students. Dr. Alejandro LLeras conducted a research study at the University of Illinois to determine “the effectiveness of prolonged work or study periods without a break.”  He determine that without short breaks performance dropped off.     In other studies, researchers from the University of South Florida found that the length of a break directly correlates with how long information is retained.  But, these breaks need to be taken effectively- not engaging in social media or texting.  Those activities can actually increase stress and reduces the student’s ability to focus and learn.  Aside from actual napping, exercise and “meditation” have been found to maximize the benefits of the break.

Although the research is recently popularizing the idea of taking a break, the Torah figured that out the first week of creation.  God created and “worked hard” for 6 days and then He rested- modelling for us the importance of rest.  On Shabbat we take a much needed break, as Dr. Yvette Alt Miller reports in her article “Shabbat and Good Health.” First, we take a break from technology on Shabbat.  Dr. Alt- Miller quotes a study of Harvard Business School Professor Leslie A. Perlow where she asked high- powered consultants to to turn off their phones once a week- just for the night. She soon found that “the participants soon reported greater happiness, satisfaction with their work-life balance, and feelings of empowerment.”  

We also eat dinner and lunch with our families on Shabbat.  Dr. Alt- Miller quotes the famous 16- year study at Columbia University which says that when families eat together “consistently found that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children.”  Those meals also strengthen the bonds between husband and wife.

Let us not forget the actual rest on Shabbat- which at times includes that nap. As we sing in Shabbat zemirot, מַה יְּדִידוּת מְנוּחָתֵךְ, אַתְּ שַׁבָּת הַמַּלְכָּה,  “How beloved is your sweet rest! You the Shabbat Queen!”  As the song continues later on,
הִלּוּכָךְ תְּהֵא בְנַֽחַת, עֹֽנֶג קְרָא לַשַּׁבָּת,
וְהַשֵּׁנָה מְשֻׁבַּֽחַת, כְּדָת נֶֽפֶשׁ מְשִׁיבַת,
בְּכֵן נַפְשִׁי לְךָ עָרְגָה, וְלָנֽוּחַ בְּחִבַּת,
כַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים סוּגָה, בּוֹ יָנֽוּחוּ בֵּן וּבַת.

Even your pace should be restful. Call the Shabbat a delight. The sleep on this day is praiseworthy, as it is necessary to restore the soul. Therefore, my soul craves You, to rest in Your love, surrounded by a hedge of roses. In this day will rest sons and daughters.  
מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא, יוֹם שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה,
The rest on Shabbat day is a taste of the World to Come.

Just like in the World to Come, when we take a break we reconnect with our spirituality and with true meaning.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I don’t ask for much.  I ask for a nap. A bit of downtime and just a taste of the World to Come.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade: Students began discussing the potential danger their phones can be when it comes to cyberbullying.

Seventh Grade: Students discussed the role of the U.N. and their position on Israel and Yerushalayim.

Eighth Grade:   Students focused on the dangers of alcohol and what it does to your brain in the long and short term.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bullying Or Not... And, Why Does it Matter?

With the release of the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why there has been much discussion of bullying, social exclusion- its impact on and the role of children, and the role of the adults involved.  This coming month, (already planned before the Netflix series), we are spending time in all our Advisory classes discussing the topic.  (Please note that we are not discussing nor bringing up the Netflix series in class, as we do not want to encourage students to watch the show).

Some might ask, isn’t it a bit overkill to focus on the same topic each year? And, in fact, each time we mention the word “bullying” one can see the eyes of the children roll, meaning “Seriously? Not again!” That is why we need to become creative when it comes to covering this topic.

First, we only use the actual word “bullying” with our sixth graders- and transition them to new terms like harassment and social exclusion. When it comes to 7th and 8th grade we frame it differently.  For example, our seventh graders recently began a unit in Advisory called “Do Not Stand Idly By.” The theme of this unit is the importance of standing up to injustice and wrong when you see it.  We focus on becoming “upstanders” instead of “bystanders” (a theme we also begin in sixth grade).  Research on bullying indicates that to successfully stop bullying in its tracks we need to strengthen the bystanders- that is where the real work is.  But, instead of beginning the unit with teaching bystander skills through peer social interactions, we begin the unit with a political action.  Why?  If we have an obligation to stand up and do what’s right, we also have that obligation when it comes to injustice in the world around us.

This year we begin by briefing the students on the issue surrounding Jewish sovereignty of Yerushalayim and the danger that sovereignty is in. We engage them in discussions and briefing regarding the Palestinian efforts to erase all Jewish history from Jerusalem.  They learn about the the history behind our relationship with Yerushalayim and how the conflict came about.  They investigate the U.N.’s position on Jerusalem and Israel in general, which has recently been in the news.  Students are also familiarized with the position of the United States when it comes to Jerusalem.  Issues such as the fact that the American passport of a person born in Jerusalem just says “Jerusalem” and not “Jerusalem, Israel,”  or the embassy controversy are covered.  We want them to understand that Jewish sovereignty is at stake, and especially during the 50th anniversary of the reunification it is essential for us to become upstanders and do something about it through political action.  The highlight of this unit will be our visit this coming Tuesday by Congressman Josh Gottheimer who will meet with our entire 7th grade. We will have an opportunity to ask questions and present him with a gift on the theme of “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.”  

The political action component is followed by a discussion of the research of why bystander often do nothing when there is something wrong happening around them. We focus on the bystander effect, discuss why students tend not to come to adults as they deem that “snitching,” and go through practical scenarios of situations that happen in school, asking them what they would do.  The students are thus far engaged and interested, and the best part- they don’t even know they are learning about bullying!

Our sixth graders will begin learning about the LEADERS strategies developed by Dr. Rona Novick when it comes to what they can do as bystanders.  Here are the highlights. We go into more detail with the students. L.- Leave No One Out.  E. - Empower Yourself: Stand Up To Bullies  A.- Amuse With Humor- Make Light Of A Dark Situation  D.- Distract The Bully Or The Victim  E.- Enlist Help: Tell Someone Who Can Help R.- Rumors Stop With Me.  S.- Support The Victim.  This unit naturally followed from the unit before on Friendship and Popularity.  

Our eighth graders have just finished a discussion of the movie The Wave which impactfully connects the Holocaust theme, about which they have been learning, to peer pressure and social exclusion. They have also been engaging in periodic Quality Circles which they experienced for the first time in sixth grade and do in 7th and 8th grade.  A quality circle was created by Dr. Rona Novick as part of her BRAVE anti-bullying program.  It is modeled after a practice in automotive industry where all those who work on building the car sit and evaluate their product at the end of production.  The product we at Yavneh evaluate in a Quality Circle is the atmosphere in our school. We evaluate- is it an atmosphere where people feel respected?  This week they are engaging in a meaningful activity where they write about the special qualities of their classmates to create an inscription which will be placed in the sefer they receive from the school at their graduation dinner.   Before they begin writing, the students discuss the impact of the words that they say about their classmates can have, without their even knowing.  

We are trying our best to educate our students. But, of course, that does not mean that we do not still need to be vigilant and that children will not still do the wrong thing at times. As parents,  we cringe when we hear a story about our child feeling left out or picked on.  We hope you know that we, the school, are partners with you in helping in any way we can.

One important aspect of all this training is that we educate our children what bullying is and what it is not.  The definition we use is “Bullying is  if a person  a. Acted willfully and intentionally, with a clear purpose to do harm b. Cause physical, emotional or social damage    c. Abused their power (either their physical size, social status, intelligence or other factor that makes them powerful).”  We ask them to think about questions like: Is it bullying if someone hurts you by accident? What is the difference between teasing a friend and harassment? Is bullying always physical? Is it bullying when two people are having a fight with each other?

When thinking about this definition of bullying as parents, an article in The Huffington Post, forwarded to me this week by Mrs. Barbara Rubin, comes to mind,   “Rude Vs. Mean Vs. Bullying: Defining The Differences” by Signe Whitson, who does bully prevention training for a living.  She described that after coverage about her workshop appeared in a local newspaper she received many letters from parents and students about bullying they had experienced. She was horrified over and over by some of the painful stories she heard.  But, she then shared, “I also want to be honest and share that some of the stories are...well...really not so bad.”

Whitson continued to describe one of the stories received from a mother who shared that  a boy from the neighborhood threw leaves in her daughter's face. When Whitson asked, “Was she very upset when she got home?”  The mom answered, “No, she just brushed the leaves off and told me they were having fun together.”  Whitson thought then perhaps the girl was downplaying her feelings of being victimized due to embarrassment or shame (or I add, fear of retaliation if she tells).  But,  the mom stressed that the daughter did not seem to be upset at all. “She really seemed to think it was fun” and threw leaves back at him.  Whitson then probed further, “Is he usually mean to her? Has he bothered her after school before?”  The mom said, “No. I don’t think so at least. It was the first time she ever said anything about him… But, it better be the last time! I won’t stand for her being bullied by that kid. Next time, I am going to make sure the principal knows what is going on after school lets out!”

Whitson continues that she never minimizes the experiences of others, but there needs to be a distinction between rude behavior, mean behavior and bullying. These are the definitions she provides. “Rude= Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else.” It is thoughtless, but spontaneous, “unplanned inconsideration based on poor manners, narcissism or thoughtlessness, but not meant to actually hurt someone.”   

“Mean= Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice). The main distinction between ‘rude’ and ‘mean’ has to do with intention.”  Mean behavior aims to hurt another.  While mean behaviors can be very hurtful, and children need to be held accountable for that behavior, but the intervention would differ from bullying.

“Bullying= Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involved an imbalance of power.” These are the three key elements identified in the research as comprising bullying. It is intentional, repeated and the perpetrator does not show remorse. (Whitson goes on to list the different types of bullying, I’ve covered before in my column, physical aggression, verbal aggression, relational aggression and cyberbullying).

What is the difference, one might ask, if we misidentify meanness or rudeness as bullying? I would call it the “rolling eyes syndrome”- exactly what we see with our students. As Whitson so eloquently states, “...I have already begun to see that gratuitous references to bullying are creating a bit of a ‘little boy who cried wolf’ phenomena.  In other words, if kids and parents improperly classify rudeness and mean behavior as bullying… we all run the risk of becoming so sick and tired of hearing the word that this actual life-and- death issue among young people lose its urgency as quickly as it rose to prominence. It is important to distinguish between rude, mean, and bullying so that teachers, school administrators, police, youth workers, parents and kids all know what to pay attention to and when to intervene.  As we have heard too often in the news, a child’s future may depend on a non-jaded adult’s ability to discern between rudeness at the bus stop and life- altering bullying.”

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade; Students finished up a unit on what it means to be popular and whether the characteristics they admire now in middle school are long- lasting for future happiness in life?

Seventh Grade:  Students have begun to understand the issues behind the battle behind Yerushalayim and focusing on our obligation to combat the world’s views.

Eighth Grade-   Students began a project where they wrote “compliments” to their classmates which will be compiled to create the inscriptions in the sefarim they receive at the graduation dinner.