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Director' Reflection: Starting A New School Year

A week before the 2019-2020 school year started, the entire faculty of the Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center gathered for five days of professional development. Our educators spent countless hours thinking deeply about ways to welcome their children and families, and they prepared themselves mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

We embraced our time together by introducing the ritual of Havdalah, a warm ceremony that is held on Saturday night as the Sabbath takes leave, and a new week begins. Our ECC Havdalah ceremony symbolized renewal and the start of a new school year and renewal. We welcomed the idea of togetherness and supporting each other.

The lens of Masa (Journey) from the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative guided, inspired, and informed our learning, discussions, and eventually, our practice. Masa suggests that our journeys are full of paradoxes; they are intertwined and yet unique. We are one among billions, and yet, each of us is a unique individual with infinite potential.

This idea particularly connects to us as educators. Each one of us can think about at least one moment where a teacher has had a great impact on our lives. Inversely, whether we know it or not, we have all made a positive impact on someone. Although many tend to ignore the power of a greeting, a smile, and kind gestures, a day in a teacher’s life includes many of those moments with children and families.

With the lens of Masa in mind, each faculty member brought three items that represented who they were and where they were on their journey. We shared, we felt, and most impor­tantly, we connected. We explored each other’s identities through stories, legacy, our pasts, and what we look forward to in our future. As we spoke about our hopes, our values, and what matters to each of us, we created a vision of our school year. Some of our wishes included harmony, love, growth, creativity, resilience, joy, community, mindfulness, gratitude, collaboration, and a sense of belonging.

The teachers made their classrooms and our school a warm, inviting, and inquisitive space for our children and families. They carefully picked materials for the children that will promote relationships, encourage creativity, and spark wonder. They deliberately chose books based on children’s interests. They planned engaging days and opportunities for the children to get to know each other and become familiar with the space.

The moment where all fell into place was when children, parents, and teachers finally had a chance to meet. That special time was a reminder of the “why” we do what we do. We often tend to get caught in moments without remembering the big picture. We strive to achieve goals without putting too much importance into the process. We want to succeed and forget that without failure and multiple attempts, there are no gains. In this month following High Holy Days, thinking about our identity and reflecting on who we are as individuals and as a community reframes and brings intentionality to our journey.

As we dive deeply in the school year, our hope and wishes guide our work. We strive for a place where children create lifelong friendships and learn the values of life as our routines become rituals. The most beautiful part about rituals is sharing them with others and creating a legacy. On Mondays, we bring joy to our school with Havdalah, and on Fridays, we bring peace with our Shabbat celebrations.

My own journey reminds me of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s poem “Each Lifetime is the Pieces of a Jigsaw Puzzle.” Being born and growing up in Morocco and having moved to various places in the United States, I have had the chance to meet many individuals of different backgrounds, cultures, and values who have left a long-lasting impact on me.

Beginning the school year with educators who see through the eye of our children and remember the value of being lifelong learners has reminded me about the meaning of authenticity. At home, every day, I get to see my own daughters’ journeys taking shape. I admire their wonder and creativity. They remind me to see the extraordinary in the ordinary in this world where we take so much for granted. They make me think about the legacy I want to pass on and remind me that parenting is a journey.

Let’s wish our educators and families a wonder-filled school year with many meaningful moments and lasting memories.