Monday, November 16, 2009

Jewish Wisdom in the Workplace

Shayla McKnight wrote an article about her workplace where, unlike many other workplaces we are all familiar with, gossip is not tolerated.  In fact, when she began working there, she was told explicitly,  "There's no back-stabbing here, and no office politics.  Gossiping and talking behind someone's back are not tolerated."

The interesting thing is that it works!  The employees actually do not gossip, and if someone breaks that rule, s/he is called out on the issue and reminded about the policy.

We often have rules in our classrooms stating that lashon hara and rechilut are not acceptable, but in my experience we rarely go the extra step by following up and holding not only our students but ourselves to the high standards we articulate.  Maybe we need to state the policy as part of our induction process for new teachers as well as new students and their families.  And everyone would certainly benefit if we insisted on taking the policy seriously.

There is another section of the article that helps to explain why there is a real feeling of community in this workplace, and I believe it has possibilities for the classroom as well.
"There's a mix of personalities in any company, and rarely does everyone in a workplace like one another.  but I believe that half the battle is in how people communicate.
 When employees are hired here, they're given a communications assessment, a commercial program that the company uses to pinpoint a person's dominant communications style.  the styles are linked to colors that identify how each employee likes to communicate.
If someone is a "red," for example, he or she appreciates when others are direct and state the facts quickly.  A person who's a "blue" enjoys having all the details, and time to process them.  A "yellow" is spontaneous and likes a personal connection.
I'm a "green"  That means I'm sensitive and like to be approached as courteously as possible;  greens tend to be compassionate and supportive. 
Nameplates on our desks have a color bar to identify our styles, ...  This system lets everyone know how co-workers prefer to be approached and it goes a long way in promoting harmony."
What if we gave our students the same courtesy this company gives its employees?  What if we really treated our students as individuals?  We know about multiple intelligences, and varied learning styles.  We know about multiple assessment tools which give our learners the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in different ways.

What if we also allowed them a voice in defining the way in which they communicate - with each other as well as with us - so they would feel safe and respected in our schools.

I'm willing to bet that the atmosphere in our classrooms would be different - in a very good way.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Twitter in Teaching?

Many years ago, when CAJE was a young organization, I went to my first CAJE conference.  Returning home I could hardly wait to share the innovative ideas that surfaced there with the principals and teachers in my congregational school.  I still remember the response of the principal:
"Who needs Alternatives to Jewish Education?" he asked.
I corrected him.
"It was the Conference on Alternatives IN Jewish Education," I said.
I'm not sure I convinced him.

We've come a long way, I hope, in looking at innovation in learning.  One example is a website, jlearn2.0 which highlights leading-edge thinking in this area.

I want to recommend you read this post at jlearn2.0 entitled Why My Students Were Texting in Class... and Learning.  It is an exciting window into use of what might be seen as distractions to advance learning.  We need to use all the tools available to engage our students.


Of all the Torah portions in B'reisheet this may be my all-time least favorite.  Each year I struggle with the character of Ya'akov as it is expressed in his actions here.  I remind myself that this text is here for a purpose - as I believe all the text in the Torah is - and wonder once again what God wants me to learn as I read and re-read the descriptions of the actions of all the players here.

  • Yitzhak, whose relationship with his father Avraham had to have been affected by the experience at Har HaMoriah.  He loves his wife, he loves his eldest son, he doesn't really trust his own judgment.
  • Rivkah, who left her immediate family to become the wife of a distant relative, who was unable to bear children until her husband intervened with God, and who appears to believe she has the right to manipulate the people around her to further her goals
  • Ya'akov, who didn't show much initiative as a youngster, who went along with his mother's ruse and outright lied to his father about who he was in order to receive his father's blessing
  • Eysav, who - on the surface at least - seems the most innocent of all the actors in this play.  He hunts, he tries to please his father, he gets taken advantage of by those more clever than he.
So what are we to learn from this?
Are these the lessons?
  1. It's OK to lie to your parents if it gets you what you believe you deserve.
  2. The ends justify the means.
  3. Jews aren't supposed to be good outdoorsmen
Somehow I doubt these are the lessons we're supposed to learn from this section of Torah.

Here are some ideas I prefer:
  1. Food can be an expression of love and part of an important experience.  That's the idea in David Kraemer's commentary here
  2. Rivkah has amazing clarity about God's Big Ideas.  She knows what the overarching plan is and does what is necessary to advance it.  That thought is expressed in The Women's Torah Commentary in the article by Rabbi Beth J. Singer here
  3. Today as in the time of the Bible water is the key to survival.  We have a responsibility to treat the land and its resources with care and respect.  That idea is connected to this week's parasha in the commentary by Rabbi Yuval Cherlow at the website of Canfei Nesharim
How do you understand this parasha?  What Jewish values do you see here?  What do you think God wants us to learn from this portion?

Please feel free to share your ideas as comments to this post.