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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Back to School - No I, 5763

Back to School
No I, 5763


Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed:
Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim.

The world depends on three things:
on Torah, on worship and on loving deeds.
- Pirkei Avot 1:2

V'shinantam is divided into three sections. Torah contains thoughts and ideas for us as teachers to help support and elevate us in our holy work. Avodah will be teaching ideas and suggestions to use in our classrooms. G'milut Chasadim contains information about a specific mitzvah and suggests opportunities to involve our students and us in the work of helping others, in and out of the classroom.


King David said: God, many groups of the righteous shall be admitted to your presence. Which of them is most beloved? God answered, “The teachers of the youth, who perform their work in sincerity and with joy, shall sit at my right hand.”
Pesikta Buber, 180a

We are getting ready to usher in the new Jewish year, 5763. The Hebrew month of Elul, preceding the High Holy Days, is not only a time for personal reflection, but also a time for teachers to reflect upon our own roles and responsibilities in the classroom. We are on a journey, and our success in the classroom is determined by knowing where we want to go and deciding how we will get there. Overall goals of reflective practice include improving those things which you feel are not going well; developing and sustaining best practices; learning to work with uncertainty, change and risk; nourishing and enriching one’s self through continuous professional development.

For more on reflective practice you may want to read an essay by Donald Schon, “Educating the Reflective Practitioner”.

Here are some questions you may want to address:

  • What kind of teacher will I be to my students?
  • What kind of classroom will I create?
  • How will I transmit my own love and devotion to God, Torah and the Jewish people to others?
  • What commitment to my own learning will I make this year? Register for courses on line:
  • What big ideas have you identified and how will you teach them?
  • How will you know when you get there?

The UAHC is developing materials, CHAI for Jewish Learning and Living, based on a concept called “understanding by design”. This is an approach to curriculum and instruction designed to engage students in inquiry, promote “uncoverage” and make the understanding of big ideas more likely. You, too, can think about developing your lessons with this approach in mind.

Yourself, Your Classroom and Your Expectations:

What is needed to make your classroom one where everyone feels comfortable, safe and respected? What will you do about gum, bathroom, noise and pencils? How will you create a record keeping system for grades, attendance and student work? Does it work best for you by week or month? How prepared will you be? When will you do your lesson plans? Will you have a seating plan? Can you be realistic, idealistic, consistent and flexible? Can you arrive early and feel ready?

Teaching affords us the ability to do the mitzvah of building holy community. As we get to know our students and build home/school relationships, the excitement of Jewish learning grows and is strengthened. Remember to design activities into your lesson plan that will encourage small group learning and large group participation. Set the direction and tone for how you are going to work and study throughout the year. Remember that communication with a student’s family is essential. Bulletin boards are not only to display students’ work, but also may be used to disseminate information (especially those in the hallway or on the door) to parents, students and members of the congregation. Notes home or a few lines on email can make a big difference. Letting a parent know about a very important question that their child asked in class today would make everyone feel proud.

Look around your classroom. What are the symbols and resources that are daily reminders of Jewish identity and consciousness? Our classrooms need to become a place where students feel connected not only to those sitting alongside, but also with Jews around the world and throughout the ages. Symbols and rituals that might follow are powerful ways of creating a sense of belonging. Our classrooms can promote a process of self-discovery, by establishing a connection to the collective history and culture of our people, whole providing a roadmap for teacher and students to use their unique journey through the year. The physical environment of our classroom is one way to provide our students with a strong, positive self-image, a secure sense of Jewish identity and the tools with which to make intelligent, meaningful Jewish choices as they grow. The Jewish ethics and values that we teach and model enhance this concept as well.

Some examples:

Using Hebrew names in class, as well as celebrating Hebrew birthdays and Rosh Chodesh (new Hebrew month), displaying posters and maps from Israel and saying appropriate blessings are a few ways to enrich a Jewish classroom environment. Jewish values such as respect for each other and for Jewish books are important to foster. Reaching out to students or members of their families who are ill with cards, calls or email is an example of modeling the mitzvah of caring for sick.

The room is set, lesson plans are ready and materials are out and ready to use. Take a deep breath, smile and have a wonderful year!



Teaching Activities:

Me Book
To provide the students with a first day activity which can be used throughout the year. It can be a journal of the student’s growth and achievements and instill a sense of individuality and self pride:

  • One idea might be to use a loose-leaf notebook.
  • On the cover or first page ask students to write their names (Hebrew and English) and year (Hebrew and English). The teacher may make computer labels. Students should decorate appropriately.

The book can be a combination of private/personal pages, work pages, class activities, family pages, creative writing exercises (ex. Personal prayers, Hebrew vocabulary words, brachot). Insert photos throughout the year. Be sure to date all pages!

Suggestions for pages may include:

  1. Today is the first day of school. Today_____
  2. My favorite holiday is ________________because. This is a picture of how I like to celebrate.
  3. I can write these letters/words:_______________________________
  4. One of my favorite Bible stories is________. This is a picture of one of my favorite Bible heroes.
  5. This is a picture of my family. Their names are_____
  6. This is how my family celebrates_____________________
  7. My Hebrew birthday is______________and I’ll be _________years old.
  8. This is a picture of me in Israel:
  9. Today we learned this brachah:
  10. I know the prayer____________and it means______________.

NOTE: You can prepare sheets and students may work on the book independently or the teacher can distribute sheets at intervals throughout the year. You may want to use Hebrew calendar month pages for monthly dividers.

A First Day Repeat Story
Repeat stories are good to use in early childhood and primary grades. The teacher should say one line with great expression and children should repeat. Continue line by line. Use repeat stories as a great vehicle to talk out holiday customs and to provide problem-solving models, to explore and legitimize feelings, to provide chronology of events or to show cause and effect.

Hebrew/English Calendar
Post and use a Hebrew/English calendar in your classroom. In this way you can teach students the correlation between the English and Hebrew dates. You will be able to refer to Shabbat and the corresponding Torah portion, holidays and events (highlight special events such as consecration, class service, birthdays, etc.). Teach the months and days of the week in Hebrew. You may want to teach about and celebrate Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of every Hebrew month) in your classroom. Ask students to look for the moon at night. A full moon means it is the middle of a Hebrew month. Crescent shaped cookies, available in the supermarket, make a good treat for Rosh Chodesh.

Click on these links to learn more about:

Cut the numbers for this Hebrew year out of poster board—5,7,5 and 3. Use a single poster board for each number. Take a photo of the class on opening day. Throughout the year, as you work, take photos of the students and paste onto the numbers as a collage. Display and use as a review at the end of the year . . . or discuss new year’s resolutions. Another idea is that on each number, students can complete a sentence. Divide the students into four groups (each number becomes a station). Here are four sentences to complete: I’d like to learn. . .I’ll try not to. . . I hope I can. . .I’ll try to remember to. . . when this activity is completed, hang the numbers on the wall or bulletin board.

Welcome Door Board
Create a welcome door board that can also be used as an attendance record for class. Teacher should write a student’s name on a chosen pattern (have one for each student--individual stars, shofarot or other Jewish objects work well). Cut out and attach to the poster-board with velcro. Place a decorated box or container near the door. As the student arrives, the student finds his name and removes the shape from the board.

If you use stars, they may be used as the stars in the sky over the sukkah roof in another bulletin board or to show God’s promise to Abraham of a great nation “as many as the stars in the sky…”

Get Acquainted Grid
Create a get acquainted grid (leave one space as a free space in which the student writes his own name and something he likes about being Jewish). Students will go around and ask other members in the class to sign a square that is true about themselves. Try to have a different person’s name in each square. Teachers should play, too. Here are some ideas: went to Jewish camp this summer; likes potato latkes; has been at a Havdalah service; has made challah; attended a Shabbat service during the summer; lights candles almost every Friday night in their home; has at least one mezuzah on a doorway in their home . . .

Ideas from this section were compiled from many sources including: Back to School Idea Books from the Merkaz at the Jewish Education Center of MetroWest, NJ.  


Let us learn in order to teach;
Let us learn in order to do.
-Gates of Prayer

Below are some resources to help you do the mitzvah of teaching!

The URJ Web site can really help you prepare for learning and teaching. When the URJ homepage appears, go to the tab marked “learning” and be prepared to access much information.

Here are some highlights from this site:

  • For those teachers teaching Torah and thinking about ways to have the discussion continued at home, you might want to send Family Shabbat Table Talk home with your students. You may also find information to use in classroom discussion or for your own information.

  • The Jewish Parent Page contains information for families about specific holidays, helping encourage ways of celebration and learning in the home.

  • Study the weekly Torah portion with Torat Hayim

Sometimes you or your students may need to know more about what Reform Judaism is all about and what the Movement may be doing or supporting. Access to news, study, music and more.

List of Resources
These sites are resources for Jewish educators and teachers. All have been used by your colleagues in the field of Jewish education.

From the URJ Press . . .Holy Days Holy Ways

From the CCAR Press...Preview the CCAR's Gates of Repentance for Young People.

Shanah Tovah! A good and sweet new year!

We would love to be able to share your classroom successes (credit given), questions and comments with so many other teachers across thousands of miles and in many congregations. The best way to be in touch is email: Irene Bolton, and mark the subject of you email, V’shinantam. I look forward to speaking with many of you. Shalom!


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