Friday, October 16, 2015

Meet SESL

This is from a letter I shared with the parents in our school this fall.


Something New
I am working with a group of colleagues from around the country with Doctors Jeffrey Kress and Evie Rotstein. Jeff is a professor at the Davidson School of Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Evie—who many of you met last May when she spoke here-is director of the School of Education at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion.

We are studying something called social, emotional and spiritual learning (SESL). Like cognitive (knowledge) and affective learning, they each distinct ways in which we perceive our world and make sense and meaning of it. For the last several years our faculty and I have been developing lessons that utilize something called experiential education—which focuses on things that happen as we learn, distinct from information on a page or screen. SESL actually provides us with the philosophical underpinning to experiential and many other kinds of learning.

We need your help. During the course of the year, we will be constructing a lexicon—a list of words that we will use to describe things that reflect how learners’ social, emotional and spiritual selves are nourished. We will share that vocabulary with you in the weekly e-mails. Please use some of those words when you ask your kids to describe something they experienced or that their teacher or classmate said. Lots of people talk about the importance of spirituality, but because we don’t really have a common language, it is very hard for us to actually do anything about it.

Something Old
Last year, in this space I told you about a week I spent learning in Los Angeles in an immersion program for Jewish educators, rabbis and cantors at Beit T’shuvah. It is the country’s only Jewish residential facility for people in recovery from all kinds of addiction.

At Beit T’shuvah, they breathe spirituality. The rabbi there, Mark Borovitz – is crazy for the work of Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. We spent considerable time studying Heschel’s work. He said:

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

In our school we continue to work on radical amazement. Our growing Tefillah – worship – curriculum is one example, as is our new Hebrew curriculum. Both were developed to respond to the educational and spiritual needs of our students and set them on the road to radical amazement.

In Tefillah, each grade spends part of the service time learning about a prayer. Why do we say it? What is the point? What does it mean to me? Then we pray together.

In Hebrew, we use Modern Hebrew instead of the prayer book – to teach the same levels we used before. The vocabulary and the content are different, but the linguistic skills develop at the same rate. And the content integrates with the rest of our curriculum, covering holy days, values and Israel.

We invite you to be a part of the process as we seek ways to help our learners discover radical amazement in their lives! 

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