Creating a Joyful and Respectful School Community

Me’ir Sherer, Director of Congregational Learning, Temple Emunah, Lexington, MA

Greeting every student with a smile.

I love my job and I love my religious school! I love my students and my teachers! No matter whatTeacher greeting students as they enter the classroom. I am feeling on any given day of school, when teachers and students arrive, I receive them with a welcome and a smile. In Pirkei Avot (1:15) Shammai says: Receive [greet] every person with a “sever panim yafot,” pleasant countenance, a smile. This advice is a mantra for me, and I think that my attitude has been key to breeding a positive learning culture throughout the school.

I believe the way I welcome and treat people trickles down to the way teachers welcome and treat their students and the way students welcome and treat one another. We have one rule in my school. Respect! Everyone must work to respect one another. Janusz Korczak writes about respect for the child, “Children … have a right to be taken seriously, and to be treated with tenderness and respect.”

How do we show this respect?  For starters, I know the name of every child in my school, and I see the happy look on a child’s face when I greet him or her by his/her name. The Israeli poet Zelda writes about the importance of names in her poem, “Each of us has a name.” Everyone in Israel knows Zelda and this poem. I think of it often.

Use of space is also a way to show respect. My office, for one, is open to all, and I have arranged it so that my desk faces the wall and not those entering. There is a sofa in my office and a table with toys and kinetic sand. There are action figures of Israeli leaders on the shelves and there are all kinds of tchotchkes conveying messages of what I care about. They help me connect with others and others to connect with me.

When folks think of my office, they don’t think of a scary place. They think of a place where they can go to unwind, to talk and be heard, to connect. A place where they matter!

There is a lot of joy and positive energy in my school. I believe this is another key component to our success. We believe in “shtick” and dressing in costume. This has become a hallmark of our school. There is a love for everything Jewish. Each day is exciting with surprises around every corner. There is no yelling. And, there is a place for everyone.

Of course, there are certainly the times when a serious conversation about behavior needs to take place. But these generally aren’t difficult conversations because they are rooted in the strong relationships we have built.

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