Category Archives: Jewish Education

“You’re Not Invited”: Teen Victims of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Years and What To Do About It

Mazel tov hats at a bat mitzvah

Party time (for some)

We know that many Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations have gotten way out of hand. Thousands have seen Rabbi Wolpe’s Washington Post article “Have we forgotten what Bar Mitzvahs are about?” although fewer may have read the Rabbi’s apology for what some have said was an angry tone.

Beyond the materialistic approach that some of these affairs take and the message it sends, there is another consequence of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah years, regardless of how ‘over the top’ and excessive the extravagance is.

That is the social rejection experienced by those that are left out, not invited—not considered ‘worthy’ of sharing the celebration.oii

The ones who aren’t ‘cool’ enough to be invited or who aren’t in the ‘in’ group.

The ones who get a sick, stinging feeling when finding out they’re one of the few kids who won’t be going to what should be a communal celebration of a life cycle event.

It is a Jewish experience within a Jewish context that leaves scars. This awful irony does not escape them.

During the Bar/Bat Mitzvah years, we would want them to feel wanted, accepted, and comfortable and instead they experience an extreme version of the already intense adolescent social pressures.

One parent told me that his son told him he was ‘never going back to that place’ referring to the synagogue that he felt failed him by allowing such obvious exclusionary behavior.

Here they are, ostensibly learning Jewish values, (B’tzelem Elokim, Kavod HaBriut, Tzniut, and many others) with a huge chasm between learning these values and what they’re actually experiencing in their lives…within the community of a synagogue no less.

How sad. We certainly make a lot of effort to make other environments fair (no scores in Little League?).

Can’t we figure this one out? Although the scenario above does not happen in every single synagogue, I know that you know it happens often enough for us not to ignore it.

Understandably, making rules and not allowing free choice in this area is extremely tough, but in not choosing to set policies, we are choosing and allowing our highly impressionable teens to be victims of this socially isolating experience.

And it’s just a shame that some teen’s experience of a Jewish religious rite becomes a place where popularity plays out.

With some effort, these issues might be solved in some creative ways. Our teens, at least in a Jewish environment, deserve a safe haven from some of the most painful social experiences of adolescence.

Quick, let’s think of some alternatives:

1. We go back to the ‘old-fashioned’ ways, and truly make this opportunity a communal experience.…held in the synagogue with the entire synagogue community plus friends and family included. Expensive? Not when done without the glitz and glamour.

2. Have all the families agree to invite everyone, no matter what type of celebration.

3. Discuss the social implications of this event with the teens, making it part of the supplementary school curriculum.

4. Families celebrating in that year agree to donate monies into a joint fund, and hold a celebration for everyone in the class at an agreed-upon time.

5. Raise awareness of this issue at parent education opportunities.

Do you have creative ways of dealing with this issue? I’d love to hear what some synagogues have worked out, I’m sure so many parents and Jewish educators would love to have some options. Please respond and share.

Photo credit: Wikipedia


Seven Things to Do When Teens Come Home from Jewish Summer Camp

How to Bring Camp Home

How to Bring Camp Home

Soon, thousands of Jewish teens will arrive to their home communities, having spent an amazing immersive experience in a Jewish summer camp. These teens, armed with new enthusiasm for Jewish life, should be able to transition successfully into their Jewish life at home, sharing their experiences with peers, their families, the synagogue, and maybe even the Jewish community as a whole.

Summer camp is exhilarating for our Jewish teens. For most, living Judaism 24/7 and not as an ‘add-on’ like Hebrew school, is a powerful experience for them.  For example, Shabbat at camp is a communal affair, with everyone in the camp community living on the same page. Each week has the rhythm of Shabbat, with the pace at week’s end picking up in a flurry of activity; frenzied preparations of personal and communal cleaning that peak before sundown on Friday night. Daily schedules then ease into a newly relaxed pace of free time and socializing that ends on Saturday night. This arc of Friday to Saturday night is a palpably different feeling than the rest of the week.

A Jewish Bubble That is Alive and Vibrant

At camp, teens are socializing in a Jewish world surrounded by staff and friends who are all Jewish and who are making a commitment to be together, living Judaism, for several weeks. The passion for living a Jewish life can’t be duplicated—there are just too many factors that make that impossible (that’s why many Jewish Federations around the country and the Foundation for Jewish camping are trying to get our kids to go there).

So, Jewish teens spend the summer being energized about a Judaism that is alive, pulsing, vibrant, and changeable and at summer’s end have a decidedly different experience.  At home, the pace of the weekly arc is gone for the most part, unless campers live in a Shabbat-observant home. They may or may not miss any restrictions they’ve had (electronic fasts in some places) but they will miss the natural rhythm that the week holds.  Their home friends won’t have a clue what they’ve experienced, and neither will you, as parents, if you haven’t experienced it. They no longer live in a community of like-minded teens.

Why should we make teens wait all year long to experience these same feelings again?

When Teens Return Home

Most teens returning to ‘normal’ life after camp don’t experience a transition between these two worlds. Instead, there is a disturbing disconnect as they see huge differences between the summer months and practices at home and the synagogue during the year, which is like going from one entirely different cultural experience to another.

We can look at ways to maximize their experiences and make sure that the energy is captured, and create more of a seamless transition.  There may be programs working on this, like youth groups that connect campers during the year, but not all groups function in that way or are successful in that effort.

Links between Camp, Home, and Synagogue

We need to create better links, bridges, and supports from one experience to the other for our Jewish teens. So, how can we maximize campers’ experiences when they arrive home?  What I’m suggesting won’t be broad or sweeping systemic change but are definitely do-able. There are activities that can be tweaked for home, synagogue and even youth groups. Below are just some suggestions for optimizing Jewish teens’ experiences at camp and using their creative talents, no matter the level of your observance:

#1.  Make Friday night (at least) different from the rest of the week by getting the teens involved in trying to create a different Shabbat experience at home. It doesn’t much matter how—a tablecloth, cold cuts on Saturday, a change of clothing, challah, candles—can set the tone, even over a pizza dinner. Too much? Choose one small change, but try to commit to it every week. Ask them for ideas, and don’t accept the usual “but this won’t work here” response.  Start slowly, perhaps building on ideas month to month. For example, try an electronic fast, for at least a few hours either Friday or Saturday, or both, every week. Your teenager is already used to it, so making the change won’t be difficult.

#2.  Mentor a group to begin a ‘camp style’ minyan at your synagogue, even once a month for starters.  Or ask them to duplicate a service one Shabbat evening or morning.

#3.  Ask your camp to connect you with other campers/parents in your area to keep the camp spirit going.  Many camps are forming parent groups just for this purpose. You might want to get together with other camp parents to create a different Shabbat experience. This might already be happening at your synagogue through a new program called “Guess Who’s Coming to Shabbas”. Find more about that here:  https://www.facebook.com/GuessWhosComingToShabbas.

#4.  Make sure that your teens are connected to Jewish learning experiences during the year, hopefully in addition to a youth group. Many programs are conducted on a weekly basis–offering teens a ‘camp reunion’ opportunity—and some courses are even online. They are specifically geared toward teens’ interests and expectations. These programs offer expertise in bridging the camp- to- home experiences.

#5.  Feature these Jewish summer camp experts as part of a panel that explores the ways in which the synagogue and home communities can learn and be enriched by their experience. Also, make sure there are ways to put these teens in front of younger students to share their experiences and keep the legacy of Jewish camping a presence at your synagogue.

#7 Put one or more Jewish teens on the synagogue’s ritual committee to infuse it with some new ideas and approaches that they’ve learned at camp. Give the teens a goal to incorporate one new and different thing from camp into synagogue programming for your youth

This issue has been on my mind for quite some time.   I was one of those campers, at ten years old, filled with a spark of Judaism from summer camp that didn’t get replenished until the next summer. The youth group in my area was purely social, and didn’t offer me enough of the “Jewish infusion” that I had at camp.

We can make a difference in how our teenagers experience Judaism during the year. Even implementing one suggestion from the list can send a strong message that as a community, we’re all working together on their behalf.

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

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How We Are Shortchanging Jewish Teens

Teens need to be with other teens. Lots of them.

Teens need to be with other teens. Lots of them.

Some time ago, I wrote a post called What I learned about marketing from working at a Jewish Community High School. The “Aha, yes, you got it right” e-mails never came,  but I wrote that post mostly for myself anyway. It was a way to help me clarify some of the challenges inherent in my part of the Jewish world, because getting buy-in from Jewish teens was just too impossible of a job and I needed to explore why that was so.

Well, things have gotten much, much harder.  Then, I carefully outlined the primary reasons for the recruitment struggle, giving much detail of the built-in synagogue realities that make it even harder than anyone would think it would be.

Taking stock is a helpful exercise, but expecting change is another matter entirely. In fact, looking back, I was naive because I thought the challenges I referred to were the major obstacles to scores of teens signing up for enhanced Jewish education programs.

Boy, did I underestimate things.

What I didn’t experience so much then was turf, mostly because things just a short time ago, weren’t that bad. I’ve encountered it so much that I feel shell-shocked from the experience.

Let’s say that in a sea of drowning people, no one is going to throw you a lifesaver.

Specifically, no one is going to ‘share’ precious resources i.e. members. The Jewish community is in a period of deep change (though some have said chaos), and I can almost see the curtains being drawn and shutters being shackled as many organizations and synagogues are just trying to weather the storm and hold their own.

This behavior has not necessarily held true for the number of partnerships that are beginning to sprout up everywhere, albeit out of necessity. The economics of sustaining organizations has driven collaboration and that is a good thing to come of all this.

The issue I’m focusing on is limiting choices for others when the desire to hold on to them becomes paramount.

I respect and value the desire of synagogues to create ways of keeping their teens involved–especially as it pertains to keeping Post Bar/Bat Mitzvah teens on site—-we know how powerful Jewish role models can be, and that goes both ways. Jewish teens are role models for the younger students, and the professional leadership are mentors for the teens. That works.

Except when the teens themselves are being short-changed out of their own educational opportunities.

Holding onto your Jewish teens is wonderful, as long as you’re providing them with substantial, content-laden experiences. It’s just not okay if you simply want them on your real estate.

I’ve heard comments like “We just like to have them in our building” to “Our teens are needed here because they sell snack at break”

Sorry, but the way to have teens on hand, is not simply to have them give a hand. They need more.

Having classroom aides is not a bad idea in and of itself,  when done correctly. As an experience that stands alone, I don’t think it gives teens a fair deal. Please read here for some of the reasons why I believe that to be true.

In order to ‘weather this storm’, there needs to be some long-term planning on creating better business models, one that allows teens some choices as to how they want to play out their Jewish journey.

The reality, is that building those skills now, of helping teens actively choose their Jewish involvement, is what may make a difference for Jewish continuity when they get to college.


How to Make Jewish School Cool for Jewish Teens

English: Self-made Star of David in Adobe Illu...

Judaism: Where’s the cool?

Over 70 seniors recently graduated from a supplementary Jewish community high school. Why was attending cool for them, and not for their friends? Why are they, who have continued this far in an educational program past the age of Confirmation cut-off, in the minority? I know, it seems everyone is on this question now.

They made this choice, and they’re not odd, nerdy, or weird…so, what’s the deal here? We’ll get to that issue later.

In thinking about how to attract more of these dedicated and amazing teens, a good place to begin is with a report on recent research sponsored by the Jim Joseph Foundation: “Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging  Jewish Teens” . The report offers very concrete steps to take for a program to have sustainability, and many creative programs are listed, although not representational of an academic environment.

In addition to the dead-on recipe list generated by that report for programs to be successful (cool is not mentioned by implied), there are some suggestions I’d add, specifically related to an educational experience with curricular goals.  Here they are:

  1. Make sure the program holds students accountable. Somehow, we’ve been led to believe that less is better (teens are so busy, how can they possibly have time for a weekly program?). This has not been true in my experience (I think teens elsewhere are not so dissimilar), as demonstrated by the large numbers of teens who show up every single week, despite mid-terms, finals, and scores of extra-curricular activities. Programs that count attendance and record grades are not ‘old school’. Teens have said that in their ‘regular’ world, earning a  grade counts, so why shouldn’t this standard apply elsewhere in an academic setting? However, it is important to give them the choice, since not everyone is motivated similarly, and putting students in charge of how they’re assessed is an important distinction to make here. Most students are academically motivated and respond to programs that stretch their minds and challenge their intellect. When attendance and participation matter, it sends a message that their efforts matter.
  2. Offer well-crafted and executed experiences. Whether in the classroom, on a bus, in a museum, on the floor, in an auditorium…..make sure the program is memorable and worth the time.
  3. Get the parents on board. It helps if the parents have attended a similar program after Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Parents definitely ‘get it’ once they’ve experienced similar programs with substance. The social aspect, and why it’s important to have teenagers be with lots of other teens, is part of their own memories. If they were lucky, they also remember learning something too. However, it’s a hard upward climb for parents who have no reference point as to what the gains of such a program might be.  Holding parent orientations, open houses, educational sessions for parents, and engaging parent advocates are some ways to mobilize parents who might help (but don’t expect them to come in droves, their kids pressure them not to be involved; ‘nerd’ factor at work).
  4. Hire phenomenal teachers, and continually offer professional development opportunities. The best teachers offer a deep knowledge of the subject area, plus a facility for informal, experiential activities. Classrooms need to feel like camp communities. Open sharing, unconditional acceptance, loyalty to each other, and regular contact all help set the tone. However, even the best teachers need guidance and opportunities for reflective practice.
  5. Get your teens to talk to other teens.  This is probably the most difficult challenge of all. Plus, there is a disconnect I  mentioned at the beginning of this post. While graduates talk about how much they’ve gotten out of the program, they don’t understand why others don’t attend. However, the tough truth is that teens don’t like to talk about the fact that they’ve chosen to attend an additional educational program besides their ‘regular school’.  Can you imagine the following conversation?

Cool Student: ” I heard you go to another school besides this one….dude, is that right?”
Jewish Teen: ” Are you kidding? Me, take more classes? Are you nuts?”

Based on the dialogue above, there goes the recruitment opportunity, right out the window marked “nerd”.

So, numbers 1,2, 3, and maybe even 4 are totally doable. The fifth is a real challenge.

We’ve asked our students, who rate satisfaction levels above 80%, why they don’t tell their friends about it, and a version of the above is the response, peppered with comments like: “C’mon, this is on a Sunday morning, you think I’d tell any of my friends that I wake up early to come here?” “Unless there were chocolate cookies coming down from the ceiling, I wouldn’t tell my friends to come with me on a Sunday.” “Oh, there’s no way they’d be interested in this. This is too Jewish for them.”

We understand the difficulty. The question is, what are some ways to deal with this? Please, feel free to comment!.

Photo credit: Wikipedia


Betrayal, Abandonment, and Jewish Teen Education

education

This past Sunday I met with a group of parents interested in checking out options for their teens’ Jewish education. They were committed to their children’s education and wanted the best for them.  Currently, their 7th grade teens were in a synagogue school, but were unsure that staying there would meet their children’s needs. One parent found the time to attend this orientation meeting even though her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was the very next week!  

I am always impressed when parents become ‘smart shoppers’, critically evaluating which program will offer the best environment for their child’s Jewish education.  For sure, not every program works for every teen, but parents will be in a better position to support their teens’ attendance if they feel committed to the program’s goals.  And if it’s a good fit. 

The consumer attitude that we often disparage, can be flipped toward the positive. The desire to find the best possible option from those available, is a good thing and definitely trickles down. Teens will get it; they’ll understand that spending time ‘shopping’ around for the best fit–whether done by parents, teens or both–means that there is no less importance placed on Jewish education than any other choice one would make. It’s an important lesson.

At this point in the orientation, I’m enjoying hearing from these parents what they want for their kids: to be challenged, be with a lot of other teens who are like them, to have many choices of subject matter, be exposed to a large staff of teachers, etc. 

I guess at one point, the conversation shifted. It may have been prompted by thoughts about the reality of enrolling their son/daughter in a different program than the one the synagogue was offering.

I was surprised to hear the words they used next:  “Betrayal, Abandonment, Rejection” were words different parents said that expressed their discomfort with this eventuality. I heard this not just from one parent, but from many.

They felt they were ‘abandoning’ a course that had been set out for them.  They didn’t want to disappoint the Rabbi.  Or the Education Director. Or the Education Committee that had worked on the curriculum. Some felt that by seeking out other options they would be perceived as deserting the rest of the parents who were staying.  Some felt that that making this new commitment would add a layer of difficulty to their lives (arranging different carpools, rescheduling things) and they weren’t sure that it would be ‘worth the change’. Most felt guilty about the decision they were close to making in one way or another.  You could see it in their earnest expressions. They clearly wanted to do the right thing, but were so conflicted.

I appreciated their sensitivity, but had no answers.

I stand on the side of advocating for choice every time.

But this is not so effective unless everyone in the Jewish community agrees to encourage choices. That means making people/members aware of what’s out there, and giving up some influence and control over the information that would contribute to their ‘buying decision’.

This unfortunately, seems a long way off.

Instead of complaining about the consumer mentality, we have to embrace it. That attitude makes us all work a little harder. And yes, there are consequences. However, I believe that we have to be fearless.   


Doing a 360 on Attendance in a Part-Time School

Cover of "Class Clown"

Class Clowns: Not That Funny

Recently, I participated in a webinar, sponsored by JESNA, on issues related to complementary (supplementary, part-time) schools.

This was an unusual experience. I was asked to facilitate a group of about ten online participants and discuss the topic of declining attendance. Aside from one familiar name, I didn’t know any one. We examined the issue from the point of view of these stakeholders; Education Director, Parent, and Teacher, and we brainstormed a list of issues surrounding the topic.

It was interesting that this online group of educators and school directors, representing schools from all over the country, mentioned a familiar list: conflicting activities, less parental engagement, too few class expectations, too much school homework, class management issues, social pressures, plus other reasons that were sound and thoughtful.

I’m sure many of us approached this issue of declining attendance in a variety of contexts and perhaps came up with similar but expanded lists of reasons and issues. So, what’s the news here?

I’m not sure what anyone else took away from this online discussion, but for me, there was a particular enlightening moment.

When I suggested we view this issue from the vantage point of the student, I was literally overwhelmed with all of the emotional baggage that our students have to deal with when they attend erratically.

To be clear, these are not going to be things that haven’t come up in conversations before.

It’s just that listed all together, I felt such compassion for that poor kid having to attend any program in this way.

Would any adult be able to handle such a thing? “Kind of” attending a program? Participating “now and then”?

Really, just think about this for a minute. How comfortable would you be in this situation? Think about the social and academic implications.

Now, think of how you might experience this as an adolescent:

You are lost most of the time. Most likely, you haven’t kept up with the work. You don’t really know everything the teacher is referencing, but you pretend because you don’t want to ask questions or ‘stick out’. You may be out of things socially. You may cover up this inadequacy with acting out behavior. You need some sort of role in the class, and class academic is out. So the other roles available that unconsciously suit you may be class clown, troublemaker, blocker, etc. Other kids may resent the fact that you’re not there regularly, as they are. You  haven’t really formed a connection with the teacher.

Though you’ve been absent often, it actually becomes harder to attend.  So you think of reasons not to go. Like complaining a lot. Finding excuses to do other things. Begging your parents not to send you to that ‘awful’ place.

No surprise then, that declining attendance begets a further attendance drop.

I was totally overwhelmed with what students like this experience when they don’t attend Jewish education programs on a regular basis and the challenges they probably face as a result.

How can we use this information?

I know that as a teacher, I’ve often expressed frustration/guilt when my students did not attend regularly. It’s not that I was ever harsh, I just wanted them to know that I missed them and wanted them to be part of the class.

I’d change that now and say something a little different.

I’d make a real effort to show much more compassion for what they’re coping with, maybe privately even get a reference check about the unique challenges they must feel, and help ease their transition into the classroom world any way I could.

They’re dealing with enough.


Uphill Marketing to Jewish Teens

Maybe a megaphone would work?

Maybe a megaphone would work?

I am an advocate for Jewish teens, and believe that all teens benefit from a Jewish education past the usual drop-off age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

By Jewish education, I don’t mean madrichim programs (where teens aide in classrooms). I mean teens participating in educational programs that build curiosity and challenges their intellect.

Full disclosure: see the About page. I’m biased.

And, playing nice is what I do.

What does that mean?

Well, I can’t really repeat the things I hear from our students about their prior Hebrew School experience in marketing materials or promotional pieces.  That would not be nice.  Plus, what students have said about their specific experience may not hold true for everyone. So, What do they say?

Here’s a sampling:

“Hebrew school was a waste of time”

“No one knew anything in my Hebrew school”

“I learned the same thing year after year at Hebrew School!”

“No one took Hebrew school seriously, no one wanted to learn!”

So, can I use these often-heard comments in marketing our program?

Well, that wouldn’t be nice, so no.

Things also get complicated when the very teens you’re trying to reach are already in Hebrew school, wanting to be done

That is precisely why marketing is an uphill struggle, and a challenge that I’ve written about before, just to be able to vent about it.

You might ask, what is the reason for being nice? Well, do you want to be that candidate running a negative campaign?  It’s a cheap shot, and one not worth taking. Community building is what we should all be doing, however tempting it might be to carve out an easy win.  

 


Writings About Jewish Teens: Annual Review

The WordPress.com team sends me a summary e-mail at the end of the year (complete with fireworks!) that help me learn about what you find interesting to read about Jewish teens.

There is a list of the most viewed blogs–can you think of a better motivator?  Even in my very, very small niche world, this list gets compared (ready?) to the number of climbers of Mount Everest! See below.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest last year. This blog got about 8,900 views. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

See what I mean? Here’s the list:

A Few Top Posts

1. From Jewish Camp to Synagogue: Five No Brainers

This post talks about the chasm experienced by many campers when they return home after a summer injection of Judaism, and what synagogues can do to bridge the gap.

2. Judging Jewish Education by Fun

What are the trade-offs between programs that offer fun and those that offer content?

3. Five Things Parents Should Know

I know what you may be thinking. People seem to like the number five. (See number 1.) Interesting, no? These are things that parents should know about Jewish education for their teens.

4. Hiring Teen Aides? (Full disclosure: this title had the number five in it too, but on my end, it’s just how many tips I wrote at the time).

Synagogues use/hire teen aides in the classroom for all sorts of reasons. Here are some reasons to think about the intentions of these efforts.

5. One minute, three reasons why Jewish education helps teens focus on what’s important.

The title pretty much says it.

6.”Please feel free to contact me….”Advice for #Jteens and others

I wrote this in response to an e-mail I received from a job applicant, and found the comment an ironic one from a person wanting to make a favorable impression.

7. “Wow, You’re Soooo Jewish!”

I wrote this post after hearing a student tell this to another student in a Jewish values class. It’s interesting to see the students’ take on just how “Jewish” things are.

One more thing, a 2011 post made the list, and you can read that here:

What I learned about marketing from working at a Jewish community high school 

You might have missed some of the ones above, or want to read more about Jewish teens. Hit the subscribe button, and you won’t miss a thing!


Israeli teens use cell phones in class: What we can learn

Various cell phones displayed at a shop.

Cell phones: not an opt-out tool for most teeens

According to a recent University of Haifa poll, over 94% of Israeli High School students use social networks in class (via cell phones). Mostly, they’re not checking facts, but Facebook profiles.

This came to my inbox today, a day after I wrote a blog from a cell phone’s point of view.

In that blog, I mentioned that Jewish teens may not be aware of the rich Jewish resources available for the taking from such a small device.  I also referred to the fact that teachers sometimes take away cell phones all together.

I was once a proponent of this.

I thought that (much like the practice at summer camps of instituting a ‘cell phone fast’ for campers to increase the ‘here and now’ opportunities) keeping phones out of the class increased class connections between students and teacher.

I don’t think in those black and white terms any more.

What I believe now, is that like any good educational tool, media needs to be mediated.

In this light, it’s particularly interesting to examine the findings of the poll, which states that the more permissive a teacher is, the less that cell phones will be used in class.

Interesting, no?

Conversely, the study results also showed that the more authoritarian the teacher–those with a more rigid approach, the more students will use cell phones in class.

So, what are the boundaries that teachers should put in place? What are the school’s policies that should not be broken, but bent to advance the curriculum? These are things that need to be thought through before the school year. From a student’s point of view.

So, this what I learned, none of which strikes me as so illuminating, but for me, the benefits were a game changer:

1. It is very difficult to separate teens from their phones, as some teens see it as their lifeline.

2. Teachers need to figure out ways of using the phones as tools, to expand teen’s horizons about the subject area.

3. The way in which this is handled, can be crucial when building community in the class, and respect from students.

Photo credit: wikipedia

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A Q & A : with a Jewish teen’s cell phone

There's an app for that?

There’s an app for that?

I recently followed a WordPress blog that offers a daily dollop of inspiration to bloggers.

What a gift, right?

Today’s challenge: “Write a Q & A style interview with an inanimate object.”

So, with a nod of thanks to WordPress, here goes:

Reporter (R): So, I see that you’re a smart phone, right?

Teen’s Cell Phone (C): Duh, you can see the apps, can’t you? (Did I mention that this cell phone has an attitude and a particularly expensive-looking case?)

R: Okay, point well taken. So, I do see that you have tons of apps. Impressive.

Any Jewish ones?

C: Wha? Jewish apps? Never heard of that. Anywhere. You’re kiddin’ right?

R: Nope. (trying to sound cool). Know what the Hebrew date is? There’s an app for that.

R: Feel like whipping up some latkes? Matzo balls? Check out the Jewish cooking app.

(Gaining traction here). Mood strike you to see when Passover is? There’s an app for that too.

(All of a sudden, C ‘s index finger finds the App store, and the keyboard starts buzzing when C starts to search for Jewish apps.)

C: No way!!!! Jewish rock music? Free??? Jewish Quotes? From the Bible? Cool!!! Live streaming radio from ISRAEL? No way!

R: Yes, way.

C: There should be a class on this! Well, maybe not a class….that’s going, like, way too far. But some way for me and my owner to find out.

(Getting a little sad….) Like in Hebrew school I have to keep out of sight. In my owner’s backpack. Or pocket. Or worse….on the teacher’s desk where I know my owner feels the lifeline is gone.

(Feeling guilty here…) My owner once got in real bad trouble, so I’m off-limits.

But, someone should tell someone there’s all this cool stuff….

R: So  noted.

Photo credit: Patrick Gage


SuperStorm #Sandy: Getting Beyond OMG!

OMG

OMG (Photo credit: mac.lachlan)

In our terribly connected world, we’re never really far from seeing devastation up close.  Like unwilling voyeurs, we watch some fantastic yet unreal world that is occurring in real-time right in front of us—-on a screen in our kitchens, dens, and yet the media itself creates an incredible distance to whatever we’re seeing.

It’s like the caricature of a parent eagerly taping her child’s recital while missing the real impact of the performance.

We see instant pictures, read tweets and blogs, hear news updates, and feel others’ pain very acutely. But it passes. Too soon.

At these times I’m sure most of us think about the fragility of life. The thread that holds everything together sometimes feels very slippery indeed. We can take this as adults. What we need to do is open conversations with our teens about what they’re witnessing beyond the OMG! reactions.

How do they feel about the loss of human control these events portray?

What other events have happened in their lives when they felt a loss of control?

What helps them gain a sense of strength?

How can they focus on gratitude for the ordinary?

Do they think about G-d in any of these contexts?

Here’s our chance as Jewish educators, parents, and teachers to help facilitate these conversations.


Jewish Teens: Do you want to be the same or different?

Figuring out where you stand is the challenge

I believe every Jewish teen has to make a fundamental decision, especially when getting ready to think about college.

Behind that decision are responses to feelings about Jewish identity.

The question begins with: How do I feel about being Jewish?

Is there anything in the way I feel about my heritage that makes me different?

Is there anything I do that makes me feel different?

How do those differences contribute to who I am? Are these differences that I should celebrate or run away from?

Would I rather be the same or different from other students who aren’t Jewish?

Are our Jewish teens getting any guidance about this?

These prompts are either-or in nature, though we know that life is not generally like that.

But in order to really prioritize values, the black-white choices are what helps clear the dust from the corners.

Underlying any choice is the light shining on the things that matter for our teens’ future Jewish involvements in college and beyond.

There are no easy answers to this one.  It depends on what the family has decided to value.

Research and studies have shown that the more multiple connections to Jewish life, the more Jewish identity is secured.

But that only matters if Jewish parents want their teens to maintain their differences.

Right now, the pull seems to be toward sameness.

Are you facing these challenges? Please share your thoughts.

Related articles

Photo source: wikimedia.org


Outcome-Based Parenting for Jewish Teenagers: What Do You Want for Your Teen?

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How are you defining parenting?

A recent blog post called “Parents’ Aspirations for Their Children” in Education week  posed this question and challenged readers to respond with a list of attributes, character traits, values, that parents hoped their child would gain throughout their education.

How would you answer the question?

We focus on results when our teenagers are in education settings, but what would ‘outcome -based’ parenting look like? (if  there is such a term).

How might that inform your daily interactions?

What do you really want for your teenager in life?

My experience when I’ve asked this question of parents is that most respond with “I want him/her to be happy.”

Dennis Prager, famous talk-show host and lecturer, has said that parents often say they want their children to be successful or happy, but the world would be a much better place if  hopes for their child emphasized kindness.

What would today look like if we planned for tomorrow?

What might you do today, that would ensure you’re meeting your list of outcomes for your teenager?

Photo credit: Carol VanHook


Selling Tomorrow Today to Parents of Jewish Teens

Long-term or Short-term: Pick one

Marketing and Selling.

Terms that were not very much used in the Jewish community just a few short years ago, let alone in the field of Jewish education.

So what happened?

Well, the reality is that people are not flocking in droves to ‘join’ synagogues, or sign up/pay for Jewish education experiences.

David Bryfman, Director of the New Center for Collaborative Leadership, gave a talk about the downside of offering “free” in the Jewish marketplace.

“Free” is a great short-term sales pitch, but tends to devalue what you’re trying to ultimately sell.

And what we’re selling is hard enough.

Seth Godin writes a blog about marketing, and made some points relevant for the Jewish community in a post I read here:

“If you are selling tomorrow, be very careful not to pitch people who are only interested in buying things that are about today. It’s virtually impossible to sell financial planning or safety or the long-term impacts of the environment to a consumer or a voter who is relentlessly focused on what might be fun right now.”

What we’re selling to Jewish teens and their parents, is about the future. Yes, some of our programming is about now, but most of what we do in the way of Jewish identity-building, leadership development, critical thinking, college readiness…is about later.

So, his point here is what we must take to heart:

“Before a marketer or organization can sell something that works in the future, she must sell the market on the very notion that the future matters (bold typeface mine).  The cultural schism is deep, and it’s not clear that simple marketing techniques are going to do much to change it.”

How do we navigate through this, and market effectively to Jewish parents or teenagers?

Will scare tactics work? Perhaps. But only if the resulting long-term effect matters.

Any ideas for how to sell tomorrow today?


Parents of Teens: Do You Miss Those Parent-Teacher Conferences?

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I just read a quick blog about how elementary school parents should prepare for Parent-Teacher conferences.

For parents of teenagers: Will you connect to your teen’s teacher this year beyond the basic back-to-school night?

My guess is no.

Unless things have changed (optimistically maybe they have), parent involvement past 6th grade is pretty much off the table.

The biggest change you’ll experience is that there won’t be ‘official’ ways to connect to the school as you’ve had in the past You know, classroom parent, home room helper, PTO representative, and candy sale coordinator….mostly non-existent.

This will not occur because you don’t want a connection.

And not because there shouldn’t be one.

It will be because schools tend to wean parents out of the picture pretty soon after elementary school.

And realistically, there is little time, fewer resources, and frankly less interest on the part of the school, parent, student to have those connections.

This doesn’t mean those formal opportunities and meetings to hear about academic and social progress are any less important.

Unfortunately, the fabric of the home/school connection is fraying just at the time when it needs to be strengthened. (If I have this all wrong, please comment).

You will need to find other ways to maintain a connection with those who work with your teenager. Why is this important?

Because whoever that is, can give you another glimpse of your child in another venue which allows you to have a check into how they’re developing.

How can you get those connections?

Some ideas are below, none of which I considered ‘helicoptering’.

Instead, they are creative ways of parenting and making connections in these busy times.

After all, your teen has just spent a considerable amount of time in a different environment.

Plus you’ve either spent time, money, or resources on the activities, and you have a right to know

  • Establish a relationship with your teen’s coach (beyond “why is he/she on the bench so much?”)
  • Connect with your teen’s camp counselors, director, after the summer is over to see how they did.
  • Send your teen to an after-school faith-based program, and connect with the staff about your teen’s progress in social and educational areas.
  • If your teen belongs to a youth group, chat with the coordinator about your teen’s social experiences.
  • After your teens attends any teen program, check in with the staff regarding the above.

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.

 Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely

Back-to-school basics for working parents (goerie.com)