What’s Danish about Shabbat?

by Debby Kinman-Ford

As I get ready to open my own school, I have spending a fair amount of time looking at what is happening around the world in early childhood, and I am stuck by the appeal of a Danish concept called Hygge. Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is a lifestyle of coziness and self-care. During the long winter months in Denmark, the idea of curling up with a good book, taking a nap, making a cup of tea or taking a walk are all ways to embrace the Hygge lifestyle. As I was exploring ways to translate Hygge into Florida in the summer, I found things like camping, watching the ocean waves, and eating ice cream. It occurred to me as I was looking at all these ideas, which relax me just thinking about them, I thought about making challah for Shabbat tonight. I was struck by the ways in which Hygge and Shabbat have a lot in common.  It is the idea of being in the present and unplugging. We are so fortunate to have Shabbat every week as a reminder to regroup, relax and recharge. Whether it is walking to synagogue, reading a torah commentary or just enjoying the stillness of a Saturday, Shabbat allows us to build in Hygge into our lives every week. I hope as you enter into Shabbat this week you consider how to add the Hygge lifestyle into your routine. The more we embrace the stillness and slow down the more we are ready to charge up again as the week begins anew.

The Many Moods of Passover

By Debby Kinman-Ford

This year more than most, I am struck by the relatability of the Passover story. Last year, our family literally skipped Passover.  We had a new baby due in a month, I had lost my job, oh yeah… and COVID. I don’t believe we were alone in the un-Passover sentiment. We just weren’t feeling it. It was a Passover of loss and hardship and anticipation however cautious we were.  Perhaps it was some of the feelings the Jews had before they were liberated. The fear, the anticipation, the exhaustion.

Fast forward a year and in our world anyway, the sentiments are quite different.  We have hope. I am getting ready to open my own school, the baby is now ten months old and thinking about walking, our entire family has had at least one dose of the vaccine. We are joyful and optimistic about what lay ahead. After a year of taking a holiday from Passover seder, I am reminded of the amount of work that goes into preparing for it! I am late getting my brisket, I am searching the groceries stores for a can of plain coconut macaroons for the cheesecake crust and everyone is adjusting their schedules to accommodate a seder around the bedtime of a ten month old.

As we rush around, this Passover feels more like the journey of the Jews we recall around the table than any other time in my life. From sadness and fear to hopefulness and celebration, the cleansing of our house and pantries, to setting the table and reading the haggadah, this Passover reminds me that it doesn’t matter if next year is in Jerusalem, what matters is that there is a next year and we are all together.

Happy New Year or Happy New Years?

by Eytan Oren, M.A.T.

As the Gregorian calendar turns over to January 2021, I have been reflecting on new beginnings and the markers we set to measure school, work, home, food, and religion. The Jewish calendar mentions 4 distinct dates that count as a marker for a “New Year.” Knowing that time is an unending flow, the Sages worked to set a calendar, eventually specifying the 4 new years. These time-bound observances ensure that certain mitzvot are completed at their appropriate times, but also so that we could all stop and appreciate the world around us. The four Jewish new years specified in the Mishnah are the 1st of Tishri, 15th of Shevat, 1st of Nisan, and 1st of Elul .

The 1st of Tishrei, also known as Rosh Hashanah, is considered “the head of the year.” It is considered the New Year for the civil calendar, or “the new year for seasons.” Many things begin counting their new year on the 1st of Tishrei; measuring the reign of a foreign monarch, figuring the yearly tithe, and multiple agricultural items like the Sabbatical year and Jubilee year.

The Jewish calendar just entered the month of Shevat, and we are gearing up for Tu B’Shevat (the 15th of Shevat), the New Year for trees. Most Jewish sources consider the 15th of Shevat as the New Year both for deciding if fruits are old enough to eat (it is forbidden to eat fruit having grown during the first three years after a tree’s planting) and for separating fruits for tithing. This date was selected “because most of the winter rains are over,” the sap has begun to rise, and the fruit has started to ripen.

The third Jewish New Year is the 1st of Nisan, which corresponds to the season of the redemption from Egypt, as Nisan is the month in which Pesach (Passover) occurs. The Torah commands that “this month [Nisan] is for you the beginning of the months, it shall be the first month of the year to you.” Other things that begin their yearly counting on the 1st of Nisan include the reigns of Jewish monarchs, the renting of houses, and the counting involved in the fulfillment (or delay of fulfillment) of vows.

The last new year, the 1st of Elul, is the New Year for the tithing of cattle. The tithe for cattle had to be made from cattle born in the same fiscal year, between the 1st of Elul one year and the next.

As you can see, Judaism has separate occasions to mark new beginnings for work, home, food, religion, and more. As 2021 continues on, I hope we all reflect the Jewish model and take note of the various segments of our lives and commemorate important moments. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Cheer for your Staff at the Holidays

Debby Kinman-Ford, M.S. Ed.

It’s time for the winter holidays and we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Some of you are working remotely, some in person, some doing a hybrid of both.  So how do you recognize your staff at the holidays when money is tight and social distancing is a must?  Well here are a few ways to get you thinking…

  1. Contact your local massage therapy school and look for someone needing certification hours and hire them to do 10 min. hand or foot massages outdoors. This will probably cost about $150 for a staff of 30.
  2. Set up a hot chocolate/coffee bar in your staff kitchen or better yet take a cart around to your staff and serve them up right in their rooms. Low cost, high appreciation.
  3. Have a pajama day at school for the kids and staff. Almost everyone enjoys wearing their pjs to work and it bring a smile at no cost.
  4. Borrow a karaoke machine and have a holiday song night. You could even do this virtually! I am part of one group that begins and ends each meeting with a singalong to a song reflecting the theme of the meeting.  It’s hokey, fun and engaging all at the same time.
  5. Have a staff dreidel tournament.  This could also be done remotely. The winner gets a bag of chocolate gelt.

This year is no different from others despite the pandemic, its still about appreciation, gratefulness, and recognition.  Its always about building a team and instilling a sense of community within your school. So, bring on the ugly sweaters, holiday cheer and appreciation for the miracles of the season. Happy holidays!

The Power of Parents

By Dan Ahlstrom, Ed. D.

A key indicator in the health of independent schools is parent engagement. We know from The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) reports, on average, two-thirds of parents contribute to annual giving every year. At some schools, quite amazingly, 100 percent of parents donate to annual giving. These remarkable levels of annual giving are dollar equivalencies of appreciation for what the school does for the parents’ children and represent one indicator of a school’s healthy parental support. Other indicators of a strong parent body are the level of family volunteerism, attendance at parents’ association events, and parents’ presence at events like curriculum night.

 While each of these volunteer opportunities have different responsibilities, they share a common goal in that they give parents an opportunity to participate in the life of the school in a way that contributes meaningfully to the daily experience of their children and the school community.

 This work gives parents an opportunity to participate in creating a climate of positive parent participation and support. They also share one important mandate, which is to share positive experiences about the school with others.  At Cedar Learning we help school great schools’ healthier school through positive parent engagement.

The month of Kislev: A reason to hope?

by Eytan Oren

As November draws to a close and Thanksgiving barrels down on us, some people may be finding it hard to muster up hope and see light in the world. I know it is frowned upon to talk about other holidays before Thanksgiving, but earlier this week we marked Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which contains Hanukkah. Kislev comes from the Hebrew root Chaf-Samech-Lamed, similar to the words “kesel” and “kisla,” translated as hope, positivity, or trust. 

The winter season illustrates the issue of trust, with days getting colder and darker, we may forget to see the light and warmth of life clearly. But every morning, there is a new day, full of sunshine and warmth. All 30 days of Kislev are a reminder of that light and warmth. A spark of hope, a reminder of the power of positivity in altering how we feel about our circumstances. I know that neither Thanksgiving nor Hanukkah will feel the same this year. That the family reunions, large get-togethers, community candle lightings, will be replaced by Zoom zimriyahs, meals miles apart, and call-in candle lightings. That we are going through this AGAIN (Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and now Hanukkah), and that there seems to be no end in sight. But the story of Hanukkah has arrived as a beam of hope. 

When we teach the story of Hanukkah to children, we teach about the bravery, courage, and heroics of the Maccabees (Chashmonaim) as they fought against the influence and oppression of the Ancient Greeks. We teach about Judah Maccabee fearlessly leading a greatly outnumbered band of soldiers against an experienced army. We teach about the miracle of the oil, said to have lasted eight days when it should have only lasted one.  However, we rarely teach them that the Maccabees had to fight for seven years before achieving victory. We do not mention that Judah and his four brothers all died violently. We skim over the hard work and dedication of the farmers who worked overtime to supply a new batch of kosher, sacred oil to be used in the Menorah

When we look at the world today, we do not see a victory like in the story of Hanukkah. We see no end in sight, we see tragedy on the news, we feel outnumbered or overwhelmed no matter how hard we work. Now, Kislev has arrived to usher in hope, light, and warmth. To urge us to be positive and trust one another. The Maccabees overcame the odds and re-dedicated the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple. We hope it will not take us seven years to overcome our current struggles, and thankfully we have made progress over the past 2000 years. I plan to wait it out one latke at a time. I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving and a Happy Kislev! Chag Sameach!

Pandemic Halloween: To Trick or Treat?

Feeling like we have been living in scary times for months now, Halloween just seems like a natural extension of life today. As I reflect on the CDC suggestions, the opinions of the young children I interact with everyday and my neighborhood FB feed on how and what we are all doing this year for Halloween, it got me thinking. Halloween is my two daughter’s favorite holiday (mine are Thanksgiving and Passover).  We decorated big and had parties when the kids were younger, but now I am more a candy distributor than a participant. So, I was contemplating is Halloween really worth it this year?  The answer I came to is yes. As I have stated in previous blogs the need for normalcy builds greater for each of us every day. Clearly that is a pipedream and yet we all discuss it constantly behind masks and on zoom calls. I vote yes for Halloween for a couple of reasons- the first being of course it is a holiday most of us celebrate and I think holidays serve an important community and family purpose. The sense of togetherness we feel when we all agree to carve a pumpkin and buy some candy to give to children who have dreamed of their Halloween costume for weeks is an easily achievable goal even this year. It is an outdoor event and demands a few minutes of close contact. I know in my neighborhood we are setting up tables to distribute candy bags so there is less contact and tiny hands digging through candy. But what I really love most about Halloween this year is its ability to have us do something together safely. Standing (or sitting) in your yard as children bedazzled in costumes walk the neighborhoods getting goodies allows all of us to visit briefly and potentially safely. The waving to the neighbor, the comments to kids and parents about their child’s costume and a cheery ‘Happy Halloween’ is an interaction I for one am endorsing. Its authentic family engagement and it reminds me of when COVID first began and the weather, at least here, was cooler and many families rode bikes or took walks together.  I met neighbors I never knew I had and that sense of true community was comforting.  Halloween allows us that opportunity this fall. Be careful, be thoughtful in how you distribute goodies and engage from a safe distance. Time also changes that night so you can sleep in a bit later the next day! Enjoy the moment of Halloween magic and let’s be thankful we aren’t in it alone!  We have our communities, neighbors, and friends. A lot of takeaways for a little candy.  Happy hauntings!!!!

Executive Functions in Our Learners

By Dan Ahlstrom, Ph. ED.

One developmental transition that becomes increasingly important as students mature is their ability to plan, organize and execute. The ability to make sure things get done from the planning stages of the job to the final deadline is commonly called “Executive Function”. As your student moves through elementary school, the responsibility for managing things like a day planner, homework, and other school related tasks will shift from the parent to the student.

Nearly all students struggle with Executive Function at times. Good educators believe that we are not only responsible for teaching the content of our classes, but we are also charged with providing our students with the tools necessary tobe successful learners.  These skills should be a part of any successful educational environment.

Here at Cedar Learning we support great educators in fulfilling their vision every day.

Executive Functions

  • Impulse control: This is your child’s ability to stop and think before acting.
  • Emotional control: This is your child’s ability to manage her feelings by focusing on the end result or goal
  • Flexibility: This is your child’s ability to roll with the punches and come up with new approaches when a plan fails
  • Working memory: This is your child’s ability to hold information in her mind and use it to complete a task
  • Self-monitoring: This is your child’s ability to keep track of and evaluate her performance on regular tasks.
  • Planning and prioritizing: This is your child’s ability come up with the steps needed to reach a goal and to decide their order of importance
  • Task initiation: This is your child’s ability to get started on something
  • Organization: This is your child’s ability to keep track of information and things.

What Teachers can do

  • Create a structured, consistent classroom
  • Present information in more than one modality
  • Make learning as visual and concrete as possible
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Break down assignments and tasks into smaller more manageable chunks
  • Model inner speech and executive functioning skills
  • Develop lessons that are intended to teach the above skills
  • Create a system for students to get the information they need without feeling ridiculed or embarrassed
  • Don’t assume all students have executive functioning skills and do not assume that because they lack executive functions that they lack intelligence or ability

 What Parents can do

  • Make checklists. Listing the steps involved in a task will make it easier for your child to see how to get started.
  • Set time limits. Your child may struggle to budget time for an activity and also for each step of that activity
  • Use planners and calendars. Not all planners have to be on paper, which is a good thing if your child has trouble keeping track of items.
  • Explain yourself. Children who are inflexible thinkers or who have difficulty with emotional control don’t always take feedback well or see the point of learning new ways of do things.
  • Let your child explain, too. Just because kids have trouble with executive functioning skills doesn’t mean their way of doing something isn’t valid

Its Time for Sukkot

10/4/2020 Debby Kinman-Ford

Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. Why?  It’s the ushpizin. Ask my colleague, Eytan, and he will tell you it is always a topic dear to my heart. The idea of the founding fathers visiting our sukkahs throughout the holiday warms my heart and inspires me.  I wonder especially this year, what they would say about this COVID Sukkot that we are all experiencing? Where I live, in the south, the weather is never in favor of Sukkot. It is almost always humid, rainy and hot. Sukkahs in the south are often used for all of five minutes and then dinner is actually had inside. So, it’s interesting that this year of all years, we have a cool spell coming through and town, its been unseasonable lovely.  Also, because we are in the middle of a pandemic, eating outdoors is actually desirable right now. It is the perfect time for Sukkot.  Now let’s push this idea out just a bit further and imagine you are still self-isolating, this is where the ushpizin comes in. even if you are alone this Sukkot, know that the ushpizin is there, visiting you, enjoying your Sukkot with you. Generations of Jews have celebrated this festival holiday and as we carry on this tradition, the ushpizin remind us, wherever we are, whoever we are with, we are not alone.  We have the lessons and experiences of generations of Jews to look to and to look forward with. Enjoy your Sukkot and Chag Samaech!

Ode to the Squeaky Wheel

9.17.2020 Dan Ahlstrom, Ed.D.

American humorist Josh Billings (1818-1885) in his poem, “The Kicker” is attributed with the popular phrase the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  It goes as follows: “I hate to be a kicker [complainer], I always long for peace, but the wheel that does the squeaking is the one that gets the grease.” 

This phrase is often used when pejoratively describing someone who complains until they get their way. Although it is true that no one wants to be labeled a complainer, I would like to suggest that expressing your concerns in an appropriate forum and in a constructive way is not only a good thing to do but, in many instances, necessary. The idea is simple enough, if you have a concern share it, because if you do not, it may never get addressed. 

As a leader, dealing with criticism comes with the territory and even the most toxic person in your community may have stumbled onto something relevant.

A few suggestions are: 1. Remember it takes time to identify and address concerns properly. 2. Ask questions and listen for understanding. 3. Timely replies not answers are essential 4. Patience and good humor are always appreciated when dealing with difficult board.

Here at Cedar Learning, we are working diligently on improving many aspects of school leadership, from curriculum, to staffing, board work, and better communication between the school and community to school culture.  Let us help support you as an educational leader.