Q & A With The Headmasters – Principals Reflect On Learning In Today’s Brave New World

arabic kids in the school, classroom wit a teacher

 

By Chandrea Serebro

…on the role of the parents

“In order for a school to be successful in the education of a student, there needs to be a conscious partnership between the parents and the school. When a parent chooses a school, they choose to follow the ethos that the school runs by. Parents are pivotal in the success of good learning. If one wants his child to thrive, he needs to be actively involved in his child’s schooling. That said, as educators we are not the child’s parents, but in order for us to be successful we need to treat each child with the same care and concern as a parent would. With this mind-set, we are more attuned to our students’ individual needs. This kind of attitude allows parents to feel secure in supporting the institution and helps foster the relationship between the parent and school.”

Lee-at Goldstein, Yeshiva Maharsha Girls’ Primary School

“The role of parents in the education of their children has to be redefined. The ‘Three R’s’ (Reading, Writing, and “Rithmetic”) were always the core skills, drilled by schools and parents. While these foundations remain the solid roots, the ‘Four C’s’ now need to be integrated by schools in partnership with the parents. We need to be part of the same team, raising well-rounded children, instilled with characteristics of resilience and grit. We should work together to develop experiential learners who can: think Critically and problem solve; Communicate; Collaborate; be Creative and innovative.”

Shelly Freinkel, King David Primary School Linksfield

“As parents, our children have been entrusted into our care in order to raise them, with siyata dishmaya, to be avdei Hashem. They do not belong to us, they belong to Hashem. Parenting therefore needs to be thinking, active, and present – meeting the needs of each individual child. Parents appoint schools as their agents primarily for the dispensation of skills and information. Values, middos tovos, and attitudes come from the home. It is therefore imperative that parents and teachers work together, with common goals and ideals, to educate healthy children, spiritually, emotionally, socially, and academically.” Rayna Raff, Yeshiva Maharsha Girls’ High School

“Our approach is one of a delicate, but vital balance. Parents need to be involved in all aspects of their children’s life, especially their education, but parents also need to acknowledge and transfer responsibility to their children for ultimate success. The balance between over-parenting and detachment can be elusive. A degree of ‘benign neglect’ is healthy to encourage the child’s autonomy. Parents will not always be able to insert themselves in-between their child and the outside world. School should be a laboratory for developing a child’s autonomy and for learning to live with setbacks and develop initiative.

Ultimately parents, as role models, should encourage independence and a good work ethic in their children, inspire them to actualise their abilities, and prepare them for a life of successes, setbacks, and continual growth.”

Rabbi Darryl Froom, Hirsch Lyons Primary School

…on the definition of a good education today

“There are three keys words in the definition of education that tell us that it is far more intense than it may seem at first glance. These words are process (continuing development involving many changes), train (guide or control the mental, emotional, and moral development), and develop (assist in becoming gradually larger and better). In order to develop intelligence, which includes the mind and acquisition of knowledge, three major areas need developing: a solid knowledge base; an ability to reason and think; as well as the nurturing and growth of talents and abilities of each learner. Developing character is equally fundamental in education to create an inner code of how to conduct one’s life. It is important to develop livelihood skills and to develop in the child the ability to fit into one’s culture and be able to pass on values, morals, and behaviours that are the very essence of the religious beliefs we hold dear.”

Gillian Horwitz, King David Sandton Primary School

“From a Torah perspective, good education today is very much the same as always – giving our kids the foundations to build their future. Schools and homes are in this together and we need to make peace with this. Schools have a responsibility to see parents as natural partners and allies, not as clients or adversaries, and this should be the general tone in the home as well. Astute observers reckon that children can hardly be faulted for rejecting the ‘system’ when the talk at home is all about second-guessing the school, the policies, the teacher, and the rabbi’s sermon. Just like it is unhealthy for a child to be allowed to ‘play off’ one parent against the other, so too, when advocating for their children at school, parents must find the balance between giving their children the critical parental support they crave without giving them the unhealthy power of ‘putting the teacher in his place’. Fortunate is the child whose educators – parent and school – ask themselves: What is in the best interests of this child?

Rabbi Shlomo Kolko, Shaarei Torah Primary School

…on the challenges students face, then and now

“Essentially, teenagers are teenagers and little has changed. They are still feeling the same social pressures, temptations, and raging hormones that we all faced growing up. The fundamental difference is how different young people feel in this generation. They are convinced that, because of the advances in technology and communication, we are unable to understand them. It is this perceived unbridgeable generational gap that makes it so difficult for teens to trust us.”

Rabbi Yossi Chaikin, Torah Academy Boys’ High School

“Every person who answers this question may identify differences that are meaningful specifically for them. For me I believe uncertainty is probably one of the most overwhelming differences between when I was at school and now. In my generation – while there were all sorts of political and social unfairness – there was more certainty about one’s destination. For white and black South Africans these were far more polarised than today. There was, however, nowhere near the same uncertainty about career choices, employment, environmental issues such as pollution, fresh water, climate change, deforestation, carbon footprints, renewable energy, and the like.”

Marc Falconer, United Herzlia Schools

“In the past, students faced poor diagnosis and intervention. Children with barriers to learning were not catered for and somehow hobbled along through their school careers. Today it could be argued that there is over-diagnosis, but thankfully children with real academic concerns can be assisted in a mainstream environment or in a specialised school, and guided to succeed and thrive. One of the challenges for learners today is the difficulty in dealing with large amounts of information – the need to read, summarise, and contextualise. They have become used to bite-size amounts of content that are absorbed with a glance. This is also why there is an observable decrease in the amount of learner reading. Very few have the patience to go through a novel and are content with ‘tweet-sized’ news feeds.”

Rabbi Ricky Seeff, King David Victory Park Primary School

…on the greatest education challenge teachers face nowadays

“As educators, we deal with a situation that our ancestors possibly did not imagine could exist. Nobody could have dreamed of such deterioration of morality and truth. We need new approaches to create resistance to this impurity, where students can live with holiness in spite of the terrible pressure that the world brings; to be able to live with an awareness that with us is the absolute truth; and to be able to laugh at the nonsense of the outside world. And so we have to constantly develop new and exciting techniques which ‘talk’ to them, and our teachers have to become experts at developing ways and strategies in which to be able to approach every student who is raised within this impurity, sympathetic and understanding of their challenges, yet firm in our message of what is truly good and bad and to use our experience to lovingly direct each of them to live a Torah rich life.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Salzer, Mesivta Shaarei Torah Boys’ High School

“The role of the teacher has radically changed today, from being the source of information, to being a catalyst/facilitator for the students to be able to prioritise, analyse, and integrate relevant material. When I was growing up, the teacher, no matter his level of competence, was the ‘sage on the stage’. This is no longer the case. Unless a teacher possesses excellent classroom management skills and an ability to communicate effectively, he can become redundant in the current world of high technology. Because of this paradigm shift towards the technical, teachers today need to adopt a greater role in the emotional nurturing and wellbeing of their students.”

Natalie Altman, Phyllis Jowell

“Teaching has definitely evolved. Traditionally it was all about the content. The teacher stood in front of the class and imparted knowledge while the students sat passively absorbing these pearls of wisdom. The modern teacher is faced with new challenges. The classroom of 2016 is an interactive one; the students are an integral part of the learning process. Debate, creativity, experimentation, and collaborative research are a vital part of engaging students and encouraging their innate curiosity and thirst for knowledge. All teachers find this challenging because it is necessary to relinquish control and allow the students to become an important part of the learning process. This approach encourages a synergy between teacher and student. Students realise that they too can contribute to the learning process in a meaningful and relevant way. Students are not simply regurgitating facts, but thinking, considering, and evaluating. This stimulates the cognitive process and allows for intellectual growth and stimulation.”

Lorraine Srage, King David High School Linksfield

“Our biggest challenge in education today is to preserve the curiosity, passion, and natural love of learning a child is born with, together with the innate connection a Jewish child has with Hashem. As educators, we need to make sure to nurture every child’s desire to learn, to be entirely tuned into the needs of our learners, to keep them excited and engaged, to model the concepts and live by the values we teach, and keep learning to gain insight into preserving and inspiring the 21st century child’s natural desire to learn. We need to find the balance between meeting the academic demands of the curriculum and building our children into ‘shining examples’ in society. In a world where people are moving further away from values and religion, educators need to make the Torah engaging, exciting, and relevant to the minds of today, securing the future with educated, well-rounded, curious, and passionate individuals who have a love for learning and a strong religious grounding.” Melinda Chazen, Sandton Sinai Primary School

“As a full-time educator and especially in the role of leadership, I believe that among the many tasks that I have it is important to continuously ask relevant and pertinent questions that will ensure that education is constantly moving with the times. To say there is only one challenge would be untruthful, but what stands out is that we are preparing children for a future that is continuously changing and unpredictable. We are trying to train them for jobs that have not yet been created. The basis of education should always remain static – teaching the whole child not only academically, but instilling in then coping mechanisms and life skills to deal with life on life’s terms. Cognitively, as educators we must ensure that new trends and methods are taught and, most importantly, we have to constantly negotiate our teaching styles and techniques and always engage in new research.”

Joseph Beer, Yeshiva College Primary School

…on whether we must see eye-to-eye

“No. Children are, by nature, egocentric, immersed in their surroundings and unaware of the multifaceted way decisions are made. The born-free generation has entrenched opinions and is growing up as a part of an ‘instant generation’. Parents and teachers all have the child’s interests at heart. Most of the long-term expectations and goals of the student are agreed upon. However, discipline remains a murky area of dissention. Parents often side with their children and go against the school and the rules. They feel that by doing this, they show their child support and assume the role of ‘friend’ as opposed to parent. This is a common mistake of this generation. Education needs to be a complete triangle, with parent, teacher, and student all equal shareholders in this partnership.”

Rebecca Sarchi, Torah Academy Girls High School

“In short, the answer is no. This is not unexpected as we are all looking for something quite different out of the education process. It is important to establish that there is a vast difference between real education (preparation for life) and training (preparation for the writing of a specific assessment/examination). Most parents and children seek proper training to write the final examinations that are taken at the end of the Matric year because they are most concerned about getting the results to enter the university and faculty and course of choice. Teachers have to straddle the divide between educating (in the true sense) and training (teaching to test). Teachers are generally passionate about educating in the broadest sense, exposing their children to a vast array of thinking beyond the narrow constraints of the syllabus, while also needing to be increasingly mindful of what lies ahead at the end of the Matric year.”

Andrew Baker, King David Victory Park High School

…on whether the state of education needs to change

“We are told that change is the only constant in our world. It therefore seems logical that education should change with the times. However, the neurological, social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development of a person requires the achievement of specific milestones. Research, especially on normal brain development, is showing that success is achieved when educational goals are aligned to developmental processes. Ultimately we should change education to better incorporate research findings into practice. In the growing number of areas of child development where technologies are changing the hardwiring of the young brain and socialisation, research should inform changes so that 21st century reality is acknowledged. This is not change for change’s sake, but research-based adaptations. Brain scans show that chavrusa-style learning activates many more areas of the brain than traditional teaching. For Jews, this is our traditional method of education and should be adopted across curricula. Education needs to result in the development of minds capable of critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving. If your educational system is developing these skills, it need not be changed, just fine-tuned.”

Rabbi Steven Krawitz, Hirsch Lyons High School

“The ability to truly connect and communicate with a child from a different generation and, in a sense, a different world is a challenge today. Our Torah values are unwavering and everlasting, and we strive to instil them in our children with the same commitment, devotion, and conviction as ever.
However, the traditional teaching structure has always seen the naïve, curious child looking up to the veteran, wise adults to share their knowledge, understanding, and treasured experience as the primary method of gaining insight.
Today, children know far more than their seniors in many areas, thus reversing the relationship of giver and receiver of knowledge and skills. This, combined with the ability to find any and all information on the web, has left teachers in a vulnerable position, where their role as the sage imparter of precious information needs to be affirmed, and their ability to connect with a child of a different era needs to developed.”

Rabbi Motti Hadar, Torah Academy Primary School

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