Starting the School Year with Soul

By Sarah Blattner and Miriam Brosseau

There is something sacred about the start of the school year. Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the crisp new notebooks eagerly awaiting the next brilliant idea? But more than the new school supplies, it’s a rare opportunity to start anew, to begin again with fresh ideas, revise old ones and try out unique ways of doing things. It is time to think about how we can help our communities – students, teachers, administrators, and parents alike – start off with a sense of renewed commitment to Jewish life and learning. As Micah Lapidus wrote recently about the anticipation that comes with a new school year:

As an educator I’m renewed in my sense of purpose and I’m ready to get to work.
As an educator I believe that I’m participating in one of the most powerfully redemptive undertakings there is: building lives…
As an educator I’m driven to make sure that the world I leave to my students is better than the world that currently awaits them.
As an educator I’m comforted in knowing that I have the capacity, along with all my fellow educators, to help uncover the empathy, imagination, drive, creativity, and humanity in my students.
As an educator I’m emboldened to the point of righteous indignation because I know that I’m part of the solution, that I hold the hope, and that the work is constantly unfolding.

The sense of renewal at the beginning of the school year is inevitable; whether we make the most of that spirit, to help prolong and deepen it, is up to us. This is the time to instill, in educators especially, an enduring sense of religiously purposeful leadership. What does this mean, and how can we accomplish it?

In his ELI talk below, Rabbi Marc Baker of Gann Academy lays out the way his school seamlessly integrates Jewish middot, educational principles, and leadership into one holistic approach, giving educators a sense of deep connectedness to one another, to the school community, and to Jewish tradition.

Imbuing a sense of religiously purposeful leadership – a holistic, Jewishly grounded approach to the role of an educator – takes patience and perseverance. But the reward is lasting, and the time to begin is now. Finding dedicated, collaborative time in the weekly schedule and building in opportunities for teachers to co-create and co-learn falls into the category of “sacred moments” at the start of the school year. These opportunities will slip through our fingers if we do not intentionally plan for them today.

Through the synergy of building faculty community, we as Jewish educators can learn, live and lead by example. Building in dedicated time on a regular basis for teachers to collaborate, co-create and co-learn invites us to invest in the success of each other right at the start. This synergy is the rare elixir that will inspire innovative ideas and will help us to craft and facilitate learning experiences for our students that are relevant, engaging and rich.

Jewish educators are in a unique position to lead and live by example, modeling the middot their institutions value, upholding mitzvot, marking the special days and chagim on the Jewish calendar as a community and as individuals, demonstrating kindness, rolling up their sleeves in the grit and joy of learning, participating in tzedekah projects in the community – walking the talk, so to speak, which requires seeing oneself as a constant work in progress. Their role in the community cannot be understated, and must not be undervalued. Let’s capitalize on the current enthusiasm and help educators bring their whole selves – as leaders, as educators, and as Jews – into their important work on the first day, and every day.

Sarah Blattner is the founder and executive director TAMRITZ, a digital badge learning network. She is also a Joshua Venture Group Dual Investment Program Fellow, 2012-14. Follow her @tamritzlearning.

Miriam Brosseau is Program Director of ELI talks and Director of Engagement at See3 Communications. Follow her at @ELI_talks and @miriamjayne.