Meeting Our Students Anew

September 09, 2019

Read the full Ta Shma, Beit Rabban's weekly email, here

Dear Beit Rabban Community,

Last night I was practicing this week’s Torah portion with my son who is scheduled to read today at our weekly whole-school assembly, Shabbat B’Yachad. Parashat Shoftim opens with the commandment to appoint magistrates and officials for each tribe and quickly warns these future judges, “לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים” ( Lo takir panim) . I asked my son if he understood what this means, and he said “it says don’t recognize faces, but what it really means is don’t favor people you know.” I wanted to probe the conversation further, but he was too focused on learning the tamei hamikrah (the Torah notes) to humor me. So, I take this opportunity to explore the warning with you. It feels especially pertinent as we start the new school year and reconstitute our community.
You have heard me say before that I believe the most critical work of educators is to help our students develop habits of mind and heart that equip them to be kind, responsible, productive and fulfilled human beings. These are the types of people we want stewarding the future of our Jewish people; of our communities; and of the world. One of the most critical of these habits, which was emphasized to me by our school’s founder Dr. Devora Steinmetz, is the inclination to look at each person with curiosity and wonder: to assume little and to be eager to learn as much as possible. Building upon that which we have previously learned and applying these learning to new situations is critical, but assuming specific results or responses can lead to lost opportunities, or even disastrous outcomes.
For the past couple of weeks before our students returned to school, our staff enjoyed precious time together planning curriculum and programs and setting up classrooms. We also embraced the extra time and mind-space to prepare ourselves individually and collectively to show up for our students with this habit of curiosity and wonder. During the opening ceremony of our staff weeks, we focused on love: on our obligation to love the heck out of our students. We also talked about the importance of meeting each student anew, no matter how long we have known them. Not only do students change and grow exponentially over the summer, but they- like all human beings- have the right to reinvent themselves and to assume that their grown ups will embrace them for who they are at that moment and find ways to help them stretch beyond their own expectations for themselves. 

While we conduct “handover” meetings before the start of school for the Principal and Director of Student Support to share important information about each child with their new teachers, these meetings are meant to equip teachers to help students build upon their previous learnings, academically and socio-emotionally. Teachers must take in this important information and still remember to approach each child with the curiosity and wonder that they deserve and without preconceived notions and expectations, good or bad. 
Each week as we engage with the Parashah (especially with children!) with this level of curiosity and wonder, no matter how many times we have previously read that very Torah portion, we learn something new to internalize toward becoming more kind, responsible, productive and fulfilled human beings. This week’s Parshah, on our first week of school, reminds us to treat each person fairly, to “not recognize” those that come before us in a relative position of vulnerability. Albeit not judges with the power to decree a person’s future, we as educators have tremendous power to help shape a student’s future. We strive “not to recognize” our students at the beginning of each new school year. This week we met your children anew, and we feel blessed, honored, and excited to get to know them and help facilitate their growth!
Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,


P.S. We have a full week of school next week! You may want to check out this timely brachah smile
בָּרוּךְ שֶׁפְּטָרַנִי מֵעֹנֶשׁ הַלָּזֶה
Ba-ruch she-pe-ta-ra-nee mei-o-nesh ha-la-zeh
Blessed be the One that has relieved me for being punishable for this one.
(Traditionally recited by parents at B’nai Mitzvah put potentially relevant when returning your children to school in the fall.)