The School of Education Hosts “Coaching for Character: A New Approach to Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Learning in Jewish Education” in New York - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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The School of Education Hosts “Coaching for Character: A New Approach to Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Learning in Jewish Education” in New York

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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Coaching for Character learning session Evie Rotstein, Ed.D., Director of the New York School of Education, writes:

A few months ago, at a meeting of education directors, I asked, “What are some of the challenges you face working with the families in your congregations?” It was not surprising that the responses came forth, fast and furiously. Here were some of the comments:

Lack of self respect and respect for others, isolation, anxiety, social anxiety, impact of images of violence, unfiltered information from social media, lack of self-confidence, over programming, pressure to be accepted, lack of resiliency, competition and the list continues.

Jewish education must adapt to be able to prepare Jewish youth to face today’s challenges and others that will inevitably arise. This requires more than a few good lesson plans or a catchy special program.  Educators must prioritize serious, sustained, and systemic action to promote positive, healthy development.

In a 2015 piece about the need for schools to focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) skills to “improve grades and lives,” The New York Times’ Fixes columnist David Bornstein, introduces the movement this way:

"There is a growing body of evidence — including long-term studies drawn from data in New Zealand and Britain — that have profound implications for educators. These studies suggest that if we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness — strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life."

Research has shown that the qualities that empower humans to achieve happiness and success have not changed over the centuries. They are the universal framework behind the SEL learning movement, and we believe we can and should use them as guideposts for Jewish education as well.

Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Learning (SESL) is about changing the way young people view themselves, their environments, and the future. At the Coaching for Character conference this past October, sponsored by HUC-JIR, JTS Davidson School of Education, and Reconstructing Judaism, we explored how educators might adopt a coaching approach as an organizing frame and metaphor to the educational process of SESL - where skills, climate and transcendence (attending to the inner life and connecting to something larger than oneself) take center stage - to integrate social, emotional, and spiritual learning (SESL), positive character growth, and Jewish learning.

What would success look like at the end of the day?  The facilitators of the conference think it is developing the understanding that in order for us to implement something new, it requires ongoing learning and experimentation, and most importantly in collaboration with other colleagues.

Here is an example of the framework we presented. 


Related Practices

positive relational and emotional context as a basis 

·         Team building, “morning” meetings

·         Educators understanding and building on a learner’s individual motivations

The linking of values (or virtues or midot or interpersonal mitzvot) and skills, with the notion that enacting values is a process that calls upon emotional, social, cognitive, and behavioral involvement. 

·         Focusing on component skills linked to a language of values

·         Modeling

·         Repeated practice with feedback, in situations of increasing complexity

·         Processing and learning from “successes and failures”

Integration of values (or virtues, etc) into a sense of who one is and how one connects to something “larger” – meaning, purpose transcendence. 

·         Reflection on action

·         Engagement in spirit-enriching activities (nature, arts, silence)

·         Tikkun olam

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.