by Daniel R. Weiss
Daniel R. Weiss is the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, Tennessee.
This week as I walked through the hallways of our school, I was reminded about the power of working in a Jewish Community School. Each one of those words are an integral piece of who we are at Bornblum. We are Jewish. We are a Community. And we are a School.
Our Fourth Grade students participated in a workshop with the Jewish Institute of Music. With visiting artist Siona Benjamin, our Middle School students created masks depicting superhero characters. Both music and art play an essential role in how our students express their Judaism.
Our Kindergarten students welcomed community helpers into their classroom to learn about the importance of working in the greater community. Dr. Mike Kleinman, a doctor of Internal Medicine at Methodist Le Bonheur read to our students and gave each a quick “exam” by checking ears, eyes and throats. Kindergarten students also visited the Fire Museum of Memphis to learn about fire and life safety.
Our First Grade students created their own community in their classroom by incorporating recycled materials to build schools, houses and other buildings that are found in the neighborhood. The students integrated Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Math, Science and Social Skills by reading, looking for context clues, drawing blueprints, meeting with contractors and designers, drawing to scale using measuring and math skills, learned about pipes used to carry gas and water, and learned about the importance of recycling and working together with a group.
There is something powerful in an experience. There is something powerful when you build it with your own hands. In our Torah portion this week, Noah builds a Teivah, an Ark, which is used to save Noah, his wife, his 3 sons and their wives. Noah’s building project was similar to the work of our students at Bornblum. While the Teivah was not built using recycled cereal boxes, it did incorporate knowledge of science, skills in measurement and cutting and the need to look at which animals could be compartmentalized together.
The word Teivah has several meanings. In addition to Ark, it also means, box, crate, chest and written word. There is a connection between these meanings. A box, crate, chest and ark all are hollow until you fill them. The same is true of words.
Noah did not enter his Teivah alone. He did so with his family. Our Teivah, our words need to be filled the same way.
On Thursday morning I spent 30 minutes with our Eighth Grade students. I wanted to learn from the students what they love about Bornblum. I was interested in highlights, but what I got was much more. Student after student reflected on the amazing teachers who didn’t just teach subjects, but taught about the importance of caring for others, for finding their strengths and pushing them. They shared that teachers weren’t just interested in helping them with their classroom studies, but also were there for them for life lessons. The students also reflected on how much they loved each other. They felt as though they had become a family. Their words were filled with each other.
Robert J. Marzano, in his book, The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction, writes, “Arguably the quality of the relationship teachers have with students is the keystone of effective management and perhaps even the entirety of teaching.” When students have a relationship with their teacher, they are more apt to learn. If students and teachers are at odds, the words of the teachers are hollow.
One of the many books that I share with new teachers is Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov. Lemov opens the book by stating, “Great teaching is an art. In other arts – painting, sculpture, the writing of novels – great masters leverage a proficiency with basic tools to transform the rawest of material (stone, paper, ink) into the most valued assets in society… Great art relies on mastery and application of foundational skills, learned individually through diligent study… although lots of people conjure unique artistic visions, only those with an artisan’s skill can make them real.”
Our school is full of artists, each creating a Teivah that is filled with those around them. Each artist helps to create something that fills our Jewish (experiences) Community (outreach) School (education).