I’ve had some requests to post my remarks from the 2015 Covenant Awards. Here they are, in their entirety. (Three minutes and ten seconds.)
All I really needed to know about teaching, I learned in Kindergarten.
In kindergarten, there’s never any ambiguity about whether you are engaging your students. They let you know. Right away and in no uncertain terms. This makes kindergarten a spectacular place to learn to teach.
You learn not to expect kids to sit still and listen. You learn not to confuse telling with teaching. You learn to create a classroom rich in creative expression and imaginative play. You learn to nurture caring relationships. And that learning can, and sometimes should, be noisy and messy.
A good kindergarten is an incredibly joyful place. By this, I don’t mean that everyone happens to be having a good time (although we usually are.) I’m talking about the deep, almost kinetic joy, that accompanies inspired learning. What the writer Alfie Kohn calls “exuberant discovery.”
I teach at Lander Grinspoon Academy, a very small day school in Western Massachusetts. There are many reasons parents choose to send their children to our little school, but it’s rarely because of the Jewish education. In fact, many come in spite of it. But a transformation often takes place when their children start kindergarten. Judaism becomes a source of great joy.
Because it turns out that joyful, engaging Jewish education creates joyful, engaged Jews.
There is a growing trend to make kindergarten look more like the rest of school. Instead, the rest of school should look more like kindergarten. Am I suggesting that learners of every age should create midrash out of toilet paper rolls and pipe cleaners? No. Not necessarily. But let’s be clear – no one ever fell in love with learning, or with Judaism, from workbooks, cookie-cutter art projects, or flashcards. Even digital flashcards. It’s so crucial that all our learners, from youngest to oldest, have the opportunity to create, to design, to take risks, and even to play, on a regular basis.
We read in T’hillim – “Ivdu et hasehm b’simcha” serve God with joy. All of us in this room understand that both learning and teaching are forms of avodat hashem, of doing God’s work in the world. The question we need to ask is how to make this work deeply joyful for both students and educators.
I am so grateful to the Covenant Foundation for their unwavering commitment to creativity and passion in Jewish education, and to Nili Simhai and my letter writers for bringing my work to their attention. Thank you to Lander Grinspoon Academy for allowing kindergarten to be kindergarten, and especially to my co-teacher, Andrea Olkin, whose patience and attention to detail enable the Gan to soar. Generous grants from The Harold Grinspoon Foundation have supported my professional development and family education initiatives, and made it possible for my own children to attend day school. At the very start of my career, both Devora Steinmetz and Rabbi David Silber welcomed me to their institutions when I probably didn’t belong there. Beit Rabban and Drisha have been the two greatest influences in my professional life. I’m blessed with a family that has convinced me from birth that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to, and has given me the education, the resources, the love and the time to try. Lastly, to everyone here, thank you for supporting me and our shared dream.