Soliciting Feedback, Changing Course

November 08, 2019

Please enjoy the full text of Ta Shma, Beit Rabban's weekly newsletter, here. 

Dear Beit Rabban Community,

This week we started our annual grade by grade parent breakfasts. Each year, we convene these breakfasts in November to solicit feedback, insights and ideas from parents. We are serious when we say that our students' education is built on a three way partnership between children, teachers and parents. Our senior leadership team spends a ton of time intentionally observing and speaking with teachers and students. We assess, we process, we give feedback, we take feedback and so on. We spend less time in conversation with parents just by the nature of the work; parents are not here all day every day, which makes quite a bit of sense. So, we create as many opportunities as possible to solicit parent input and participation and to convey to parents that we sincerely care what they think.
We hosts these sessions late enough in the year that parents tend to have formulated opinions and early enough in the year that we can incorporate and build on parent feedback. In fact, we already had a conversation this week at a staff meeting on a topic that was raised during a couple of parent breakfasts this week.

This year, we decided to do away with the traditional reading log as nightly homework in Kevutzot. We are lucky to be educators in a time where literacy research is becoming more and more sophisticated, and educational decisions can be data driven. This was a research based decision. There is little to no data supporting the benefits of reading logs in advancing students' reading skills. There is, however, strong data that shows reading logs to hinder children's development of a love for reading. As you may remember from your own childhood, homework does not tend to elicit joy. When reading becomes homework, it becomes burdensome. Our goal in the early elementary grades is to teach children to read in school. The benefits of reading at home are proven and substantial, but those benefits are about developing reading habits and rituals, not about "learning to read." The benefit of reading at home at this age is to initiate children into the club of voracious readers, who love to read and to be read to, for whom reading is an essential part of their life. We feel great about our decision to do away with reading logs.

Unfortunately, however, this decision had an unintended consequence. At this week's parent breakfasts we heard that children, who had been accustomed to reading logs, thought they were no longer expected to read. Many kids got the message that reading at night was a thing their teachers no longer saw as important. Some parents shared that they were now arguing with their kids about reading at night. You cannot imagine how grateful we were to get this feedback from parents. Who knew? Not us! But now we know, and we were able to facilitate a conversation at our weekly staff meeting about (a) ensuring that our students know they are expected to read at home each night and (b) supporting parents in creating joyful reading routines at home with their kids. One of the things we immediately realized is that we had never explained this decision to our students. Our first step as educators is to explain the reasons we have done away with reading logs and the benefits and goals of reading at home.

I share this story with you because it was an incredible reminder for me of the importance of taking the time to step back and listen. It is so easy to make mistakes or unintentionally cause harm when you don't solicit all relevant perspectives. It is also very easy to remain unaware of your mistakes unless you solicit feedback on your decisions. These parent meetings take hours of administration time and hours of parents' time, time away from work for most people. They are hard to schedule, and they come right after the hardest month to be a practicing Jew- the month of Tishrei with all its chagim. For all these reasons, it is hard to prioritize this pause for reflection and rethinking. As professionals it is also hard to find the humility and the time to course-correct. But we also know that it is critical to solicit feedback, to hear the directives it raises, and to, sometimes, change paths.

On this Parashat Lech Lecha, may the story of Hashem's interaction with Avram remind and inspire us all to step back from the routines that dictate our lives, to listen for the holy advice and directives from around and above us, and to find the humility and courage to change paths when it is in our best interest.

Shabbat Shalom,