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October 6, 2015 | 23rd Tishrei 5776

Summer Reflection and Preparation - No V, 5763

Summer Reflection and Preparation
No V, 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.


Summertime is hiring time in our schools. It is a time for reflection and preparation for both veteran and new teachers. We hope that some of the ideas and resources included in this issue will inspire and motivate you on your journey to provide quality Jewish education for all your students.

The end of the year is an important time for reflection before preparing for the new school year. On Shavuot we celebrate the giving and receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the harvest season and the first fruits. During the Temple times, farmers brought the first and best of their crops to Jerusalem as an offering to thank God. First fruits represent the choicest results of the farmers' hard work.

For returning teachers: What is the result of your hard work during this past year in the classroom?

For new and returning teachers: What do you envision as a success you'd like to achieve in the coming year? What seeds will you need to plant now in order to harvest that fruit next summer?

In our world, we now turn to the challenge of helping build cooperation and trust and leading others to find ways to pursue democracy and peace. We remain concerned with the well being of our brothers and sisters in Israel and pray for their safety. Being a Jew has much to do with being a fixer-making the world a better place.

For returning teachers: Have you a "first fruit" that resulted in making your classroom, school, or the world a better place?

For new and returning teachers: How can you make your classroom world a better place-a holy place? As you envision your class next year, what are the essential elements? What do you need to learn or prepare in order to help create the kind of classroom environment you are striving for?

Text study can be a means of reflection on the past year. Try sitting with a colleague (a master and a novice might choose to meet together) and discussing one or several of the texts below. Or, choose one each month to write about in a journal.

  1. How are words of Torah like a fig tree? A fig tree's fruit ripens at various times over a long season; whenever you search the tree you can find figs ready to eat. So also with words of Torah; whenever you are engaged in studying them, you will find morsels of wisdom. (Rabbi Yochanan - 1700 years ago)

    Share a few "morsels of wisdom" you learned this year either from/with your students or while preparing for class. What was special about that moment? How can you maximize opportunities for this kind of learning for your students in the future?

  2. One who learns in order to teach will be granted the means both to learn and to teach; but one who learns in order to practice will be granted the means to learn and to teach, to observe and to practice. (Pirkei Avot 4:6)

    Do you "practice what you preach?" We often encourage students and their families to incorporate new Jewish habits into their lives. Choose a new Jewish ritual to try yourself (for example: saying daily blessings for morning and bedtime, reciting hamotzi before each meal, finding opportunities to say shechechyanu, observing Havdalah, giving tzedakah before Shabbat begins) and reflect on your experience.

  3. What we need more than anything else is not textbooks but text people. It is the personality of the teacher, which is the text that the pupils read; the text they will never forget. (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

    What do you want your students to learn by watching you? How can you be purposeful and explicit about setting an example? If you're feeling brave, talk about something others may have learned by your example that you wish they hadn't. Think about how you might act if you had the chance to relive that moment, or make a plan to change that behavior.

  4. Students increase the teacher's wisdom and broaden her mind…Even as a small piece of wood kindles a large log, so a pupil of small attainment sharpens the mind of his teacher, to the point that the student elicits glorious wisdom by the questions the student presents. (Mishna Torah, Laws of Torah Study 5:13)

    For returning teachers:
    What was the most challenging question you were asked this year, and how did your react?

    For new teachers:
    What questions from students are you nervous about facing?

For a lighter source, see the Teacher's Little Instruction Book by Dr. Homer Adams and Sarah Adams Johnson. This book contains little bits of wisdom from teachers for teachers, such as "The smile on your face is the light in the window that tells students you are home. Tune into your students' creativity and intelligence by smiling at them as you listen to their questions and ideas."


See, I set before you this day life and prosperity; death and adversity…I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so your offspring would live. (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19)

As you reflect on the past year in your classroom, it's hard to ignore the turmoil in the world that certainly affected all of us in our schools. In preparation for next year, it may be worth reflecting on the values of respect, cooperation and self-discipline. How can your classroom be an environment of support, safety, and shalom?

This summer, study materials on Conflict Management or ADR, Alternative Dispute Resolution. Conflict Resolution techniques help students articulate feelings, regulate themselves, empathize, and problem solve in addition to giving them other useful skills in the areas of communication, self-awareness, and compromise.

There are three elements involved in conflict-issues, communication, and personal feelings. Begin by brainstorming ways to give students opportunities to:

  • Give compliments to their peers.
  • Express their unique qualities.
  • Recognize their negative talk and turn it into positive talk.
  • Create a sense of belonging.

Extensive information can be found on the education section of the ACR Web site at

To view a copy of the guide Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Organizations, and Community and Juvenile Justice Settings, a joint project of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, go to: Please note, this is a PDF file and requires Acrobat Reader to view.

For more ideas, read Conflict Resolution Activities for Elementary Students by Beth Teolis, The Center for Applied Research in Education, Paramus, NJ 2002. Many of the ideas in this book can be adapted for Jewish classrooms, for example, the lesson "Real Values" (p. 62), designed to help students recognize the importance of the values by which they live, offers an opportunity to examine Jewish values.



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

And you shall teach them to your children. (Deuteronomy 6:7)

Take steps to get organized this summer. Once these details are taken care of, you'll have more time and energy to devote to creative and exciting lessons.


  1. Outline three or four main goals for your year. These will keep you focused as you plan lessons throughout the year and help you select materials and learning activities. Jot down ideas of learning activities that will help you to reach these goals. Consider how these goals will affect the way you decorate your classroom, respond to student questions, and handle conflicts.


  2. Establish routines for your class. How will you begin and end each day? What are the class rules? What will you do when a student is absent or sick? How will you make decisions about tzedakah donations? Where will supplies and texts be kept?

  3. Write a letter introducing yourself to your students and their parents. Make a plan for regular communication with parents. Don't forget to include both parents if you have a student whose parents are separated.

  4. Work with a Jewish calendar and a school calendar as you plan. Make note of vacations, holidays, the Torah portion of the week, and special events.


  5. Review the texts you have been given for your class. Which aspects are useful and what will you need to do to augment them?

  6. Become familiar with the Reform Movement's website,, and the resources that you can find there.

  7. Identify people who can serve as resources to you: clergy of the synagogue, a teaching colleague, or parents of students who could visit the class.

  8. Find opportunities in the community for your students to perform acts of tzedakah and g'milut chasadim. Make contact in the summer to plan the program, then confirm two months, one month, and one week prior.

  9. Meet with your Director of Education. Review your ideas and questions. Establish the best way to communicate with him/her during the school year.

  10. Visit your classroom and plan how you will set it up and decorate it. Collect basic supplies as well as those for special activities you have planned.

Take advantage of study opportunities this summer. The UAHC is currently offering several on-line courses.

Summer Session 2003: July 27 - September 26
Each teacher course is $100/participant. The madrichim course is $50/participant.

Reform Judaism for Teachers
An introduction to the critical elements of Reform history, philosophy, practice and resources

Teaching and Learning: An On-line Course for New Teachers

A course to give new teachers (those in the field for 0-2 years) the basic skills to teach their students in meaningful ways; to assist new teachers in creating positive, caring, and stimulating environments; and to nurture teacher growth

Mentoring Jewish Educators: An Interactive On-line Class

Training for experienced religious school teachers (with 5 or more years in the field) to give them the ideas and skills needed to be a successful mentor

Is There More to this Than Putting Out Snack? An On-line Course for High School and Middle School Students Working as Madrichim
A discussion of the role of madrichim, the relationship between the madrichim and classroom teachers, classroom management, student learning, and personal growth

Coming Soon: A course in support of teachers using the new CHAI: Learning for Jewish Life Curriculum Core

UAHC online teacher education courses are divided into eight sessions conducted over nine weeks. Each session is designed to take the learner approximately ninety minutes per week. The madrichim course is four-sixty minute sessions conducted over the same nine weeks.

For More Information about online learning, contact Renée Rittner at or

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 your email, V'shinantam. I look forward to hearing from and speaking with many of you. Shalom!

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