Our Early Childhood Centers: Honoring the Divine Spark in Each Child and Educator

The 2021-2022 school year is upon us! We are thrilled to have both of our Early Childhood Centers open in person and to welcome new families, children, and educators into our schools at Temple and the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center. Each of these individuals plays a crucial role in rebuilding our ECC communities and defining our school identities.

Setting Our Focus for the School Year

Going into each school year, it is our practice to revisit and reflect on our pedagogical vision and core values and select a lens from the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative to focus our intentions for the year. These lenses, rooted in essential Jewish concepts and values, provide an ethical model for living and articulate a shared vision essential to our role as Jewish educators. This year, we chose to focus on Tzelem Elohim (Divine Image). This lens recalls the divine spark in each human, or traditionally often references the idea of each person being made in the image of God. As our new team of educators coalesces and we get to know each new family, this concept reminds us to honor the divine in each person and guides us to treat one another with empathy, kindness, and an open mind.

Defining Our Core Values

During our annual professional development week in August, our two schools joined together as one community of educators to collaborate, reflect, and learn. In the spirit of Tzelem Elohim, we invited each educator to prepare a box of items representing who they are to share throughout the week as we spent time getting to know one another and honoring the divine spark in each of us. As we talked about our families, values, and joys, we were reminded of the unique stories, strengths, and passions each of us brings to our school communities.

Together, we defined our core values, highlighting concepts such as kindness, connection, respect, collaboration, growth mindset, community, and perspective seeking. Each teaching team then spent time considering how they would bring these values to their classroom and collaborated on vision collages that reflected our core values. It proved to be so beneficial that we planned to invite our parent community to participate in a similar exercise during Back to School Night.

Children Are Capable Competent and Full of Wonder

We aim to honor the divine spark in every child and appreciate the unique gifts that each brings to the classroom. The belief that children are capable, competent, and full of wonder is essential to our educational philosophy. Our educators worked to reflect this belief as they prepared their classrooms, creating spaces where the children would feel empowered to take risks, ask questions, express their full selves, and connect with one another.

For many of our children, this is their first experience attending school and separating from their families. We are in awe of our young students’ courage as they explore their new classrooms, ask questions, share their ideas, and forge new relationships with one another and their educators. Their curiosity, strength, and joy during this period of transition remind us of children’s resilience and innate ability to learn and adapt.

We have so much gratitude for the families who are our partners on this new journey and share our hopes and dreams for this school year and beyond. We look forward to continuing to rebuild and grow our community of two schools with one vision. This vision comes with compassion and the knowledge that we have all been through a challenging two years, marked with change and uncertainty as well as opportunities for connection and growth.

Kristin Zeldes is Director of WHC’s Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center at Temple. You can reach her at kzeldes@whctemple.org.