Saturday, December 12, 2015

What would it take to observe a Sabbath?

I have been reading Jacob Neusner's A Rabbi Talks with Jesus for my Daughters of Abraham book club. In one of his chapters Neusner exams the Jesus teaching about the Sabbath in light of his disciples gathering of grain on the Sabbath. Neusner reminds us that God created the universe and our earth in six days and on the seventh God rested.
As Neusner writes, we are like God when we too rest on the seventh day, on the Sabbath. To be like God we are to give over creating for enjoying and rejoicing, for resting and for prayer.

I have been thinking all day about what it would take for me to truly give over busyness and creating and working for only rest and being with creation. Would my Sabbath begin on Saturday evening and extend to sunset on Sunday? What about the joy I take in creating meals for my family on those evenings. These are  the two days a week when I have time to create something out of the ordinary, to try a new recipe, to look for something that takes longer than 30 minutes to get together. What about the projects I take on with my husband around the house and yard? I work from 8:00 to 4:30 or 5:00 most days. When would the house work and gardening and laundry get done? I would need to rethink what I do and make choices about what I don't do. A long walk outside feels in keeping with the Sabbath, but working out in the gym doesn't feel like it would fit. What about a bike ride on the Chester Valley Trail. Certainly, when I am biking on the trail I am enjoying the outdoors and being with my neighbors who have come outside. Of course Meeting for Worship makes sense, but what about reflecting and writing those reflections down? Driving out to pick up a gallon of milk might seem a stretch, but what about stopping in the library or Chester County Book Company to find another book to read and enjoy? What if it were another book by Jacob Neusner or one of the early Quakers? Does driving out to visit my mother-in-law or calling my mother on the phone constitute work, creation, or enjoying creation?

Then I began to wonder what it would take for my students to observe the Sabbath as something approaching a day of rest. We would have to adjust out expectations of them such that Saturday could be a day of recreation. This recreation would have to include  time for  errands, games, exercise and laundry .. and not homework! Their schoolwork and homework would have to fit into the work week--Monday through Friday only. And yet, by Friday afternoon every student (and adult) I know is ready for a break. I fear we haven't set their lives up to enjoy a true Sabbath. They do go to Meeting for Worship from 10:30 to 11:30. But after brunch we expect them to finish running any errands they might require or begin their homework. Sometimes we have Sunday evening lectures or performances. For these to happen, homework gets pushed into the afternoon. Is it possible for them to do no work, no sports practice, no performances from Saturday evening through sunset on Sunday or to set aside the whole day from sunrise to bed time on Sunday? I know we give our students time to pause; we have recess every morning (in high school no less). We require students to have a lunch period in their schedule. On Friday afternoons we pause for either an assembly or time to meet in advisee groups. All of these are times to catch our breath, to slow down, to consider and reflect, to catch up with a friend, to ask a question. And yet, what would we have to do for our students so that they might all observe the Sabbath, not fret about the paper due or test coming up on Monday, and not read their email?

Obviously, I don't have any answers for myself or my students and yet the questions won't let me go. What would it take, what choices would we make? Would we, would I choose a Sabbath? How would I achieve this enmeshed as I am in a busy community?

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day."

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Making a Changemaker: Five Ways to Help Kids Find Their Cause

NPR’s Planet Money recently ran a story about Madeline Messer, a 12 year old girl who wrote an op ed piece for the Washington Post about how unfair it was that she had to pay extra to play her favorite video game with a female character. She researched more than 50 games and found that very few of them had female characters available as the free starter character. In conducting her research and writing her letter, Madeline actively engaged in the public discourse about gender and equity.
I remember being about the same age and writing to my US Senator about the lack of movies being made for children. I think that year there were no G rated movies. Senator Lugar’s office wrote back to me. I remember thinking at that moment that what I thought mattered.

These early experiences small, like mine, or larger like Madeline’s provide first forays into our civic spaces. There are easy things we can do to help our children find their voice and follow their interests into the public sphere.
  1. First and foremost eat dinner together and use it as a time to discuss your children’s interests. Where appropriate help them see how their interests fit into a larger community. For instance, a child who loves to skateboard will be interested to know about efforts to create a skate park or curtail skateboarding in a favorite place. Growing up, the dinner table was where I learned about the issues my parents cared about; why my mother helped start a recycling campaign in our city and why my father took a leave from his job to help manage a gubernatorial campaign.
  2. In age appropriate ways discuss what is going on in your community,state, nation, even the world. Obviously, not every current event is right for young children, and yet we do our children a disservice in completely insulating them from the world around them. With young children, seek out good news, developments in science and technology, events and topics that are happening close to home. Share these with your children.There are a number of age appropriate news sources that can serve as a basis for what you discuss. When children have a question about something they have overheard, ask them what they know. Answer their questions simply and with age appropriate information. Correct misconceptions and share with them what you think. As they grow older, your conversations will deepen.
  3. Model civic engagement for your children. Our children are always watching us. What we do is as instructive to them as what we say to them. Whether you are involved in protecting your local watershed, helping to choose a new pastor at your church, serving on a board of directors, or preserving a historic building, speak openly with your children about your involvement and why it matters to you.
  4. Talk about politics and our system of government. While civic engagement is broader than partisan politics, our system of government works best when we are actively involved in the important discussions of the time.  Local, state and national election cycles provide us with wonderful opportunities to help our children get beyond the impossible to ignore campaign advertising and understand the underlying issues. The ability to think critically and deeply about campaign topics are important skills to cultivate. Encouraging our children to listen respectfully to the opinions of others while developing their own opinions takes practice. As they get older, encourage them to write to their representatives and their local news sources.
  5. Take your children with you out into public spaces. Volunteering in local service organizations, participating in groups like Girl Scouts, attending rallies, town hall meetings and other events are all opportunities for us as parents to help our children see themselves as active participants in their communities. The Chester County Community Foundation website is just one of many resources for finding family friendly volunteer opportunities. The spring and fall are full of family friendly events. Every weekend any number of worthy causes sponsors walks, runs, and swims to raise awareness and money for everything from Multiple Sclerosis, to Breast Cancer, to AIDS, to Autism. These events need walkers, runners, AND volunteers. One way to connect with an event is to choose something that touches a friend or family member. Another way is to give your children a few choices and let them pick what you as a family will do together.

It's not enough to vote and pay taxes; democracies need citizens actively engaged in public discourse in all areas. Our children have a stake in a healthy, functioning civil society. Helping children see themselves as agents of change, as actors in their communities encourages their growth into a sense of responsibility for their communities and their neighbors. Giving them opportunities to talk with us and have early civic experiences with us, fosters their understanding of how to be generally informed and how to choose specific areas for their particular involvement.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

From Beginner to Master Teacher -- year two-- the importance of mentors
Teachers in their second year are ready to focus more intentionally on their practice. Ideally, they finish their first year with a formal review with their divisional principal. At this meeting the principal should provide the teacher with a set of clear commendations and recommendations for improvement. Directional in nature these recommendations become the basis for the second year teacher's professional goals. At Westtown School teachers gather in their evaluation cycle cohorts in opening of school meetings to write their goals for the year. Second year teachers meet as a group, discuss their plans for the year and share their written plans. Second year teachers' goals must address the recommendations growing out of the first year review.

The best way to insure successful implementation of these goals is to provide second year teachers with a mentor, time and other resources as needed. We work to put the meeting with the mentor in our teacher's schedules. The dedicated time, every other week, signals the importance the school places on teachers realizing their goals.

Mentor selection in the second year is a mix of teacher request and administrative direction. In some cases, teachers want to work with their mentor from the previous year. In other situations, a teacher may request a new mentor based on relationships developed over the first year or a desire to work with a particular colleague. Administrators may also have a specific mentor in mind for a teacher. Usually, this happens when a teacher has a particular area of weakness that needs remediation in order for the teacher to be offered a contract for a third year. However the match is made, both teachers must commit to working together. We do a regular check in with mentors and with second year teachers each month to insure they are meeting and that they are working towards achieving the goals. All of our mentors have attended training sessions of effective peer mentoring and peer coaching. The mentors check in with the mentor program faculty leaders. The mentors need support too!

As in all of our supports for our teachers, we use a mix of requirements and offered supports. Our institutional goal is to provide intentional, sustained support for our faculty over the first four years of their careers. As a school we are investing in our teachers' success and through them serving our students. In the second year, we want to address specific areas in a teacher's practice and continue to foster a growth mindset.