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8 Reflections on the Past Year

As I leave a classroom at Temple Sinai, I am feeling the contagious joy of the 3-year-olds radiate from within me. I was lucky enough to be with a class when they released their butterflies, which they watched morph from caterpillars in their classroom. This sparked an interest in all the winged friends on the playground. Colorado is undergoing a moth migration in which moths move westward across our state, which has resulted in no shortage of moth interaction. It is now May, and I have been in the role of Network Director for Pedagogy and Leadership for an entire school year. As I walk away from the classroom of moth and butterfly experts, I am reflecting on my own metamorphosis in my first year in this role. Here are 8 things I learned and am reflecting on at the end of this school year. In keeping with the theme of new beginnings and metamorphosis, I chose the number 8 for the Jewish significance of representing new beginnings.

  1. Relationships are more important than ever.
  2. As I connected with the 12 schools, 33 school leaders and 250 educators in our network this year, I heard countless stories from educators about the impact of having a meaningful relationship with someone (teacher, supervisor, mentor) in their life. Relationships are at the heart of everything in early childhood education. Relationships are at the heart of Judaism. Coming out of the pandemic, the toll of isolation and the burden of being essential workers is a trauma for teachers. The moments when people feel seen, listened to, understood and valued is one step towards healing – and yet this can only happen when we are in an authentic relationship with others. What are the ingredients for meaningful relationships with the children in our class, the parents we serve, the educators we hire and the community we are a part of? The more we can think deeply about this question, the more fulfilling our work will become.

  3. Our network is welcoming and diverse.
  4. I have learned so much from each school in The Efshar Network, and I am truly amazed at the diversity and representation of people of all races, genders, ages, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. While we all are different, we are brought together by Jewish Early Childhood Education and the Jewish community. The Jewish value of “Welcoming” or “Hachnasat Orchim” is evident in the experience of many teachers who are eager to learn about Judaism and embrace Jewish values in their teaching practice because they felt welcomed into this beautiful community.

  5. Mental health support is critical.
  6. Many of our schools are using early childhood mental health consultants to support teachers and children. “Resiliency” is becoming a buzzword at conferences because we are seeing many educators face adversity in their personal and professional lives.  Mental health support can come in many forms, including mental health consultants, formal and informal mentors, coaching support and administrative support. The teachers that participated in Efshar coaching, attended PD sessions about supporting challenging classroom behaviors, participated in our Mentor Program, or Communities of Practice, felt more supported in their approach. When people are feeling supported, they become more resilient and can feel more mentally healthy as well.

  7. We need opportunities to connect.
  8. Throughout the year, there were a variety of offerings both in-person and online. Many of our educators stated that the opportunity to meet and network with other educators was empowering and inspiring. Convening 200 educators in January for a conference all about the power of play in children created a lasting impact on teachers and directors alike. The two Communities of Practice this year focused on Pedagogical Leaders and Building a Culture of Inclusion with Matan. Although it can feel daunting to engage in after-work learning, participants always share how powerful and different it is to connect with people from other schools. In line with the importance of relationships, teachers are eager to hear from others in their roles. Dedicated time to connect and learn from each other is a necessity, and yet there are still many challenges that educators and school leaders face in creating this sacred space, such as compensation and time out of the classroom during the day. We must not lose hope and maintain our dedication to creating these much-needed points of connection with others, as I believe they are one of the most important sparks of inspiration that teachers need.

  9. Zoom fatigue is real.
  10. Hardly any explanation is needed. Zoom is a powerful tool that has allowed us to increase the frequency with which we can connect and engage, but teachers and leaders are hungry for hands-on engagement. It is worth noting that when teachers join online professional development sessions, they are typically glad for the opportunity to connect and learn with others, even on a Zoom call.

  11. People are ready for change, and it’s coming!
  12. Can you feel the momentum? It is starting to feel like the word is getting out that early childhood education is critical for children and educators deserve to be seen as professionals. Talia Zall, who participated in the Career Pathways Mentor Program through Efshar, told me, “Now is the time to participate in these opportunities. There are so many great opportunities for educators right now, like I’ve never seen before.” Talia is right. There are state-funded programs such as the Red Rocks Apprenticeship Program that will pay for educators to take college courses to advance their careers, along with the nationwide initiative Project 412 – all dedicated to increasing educator compensation, education and benefits. This is an exciting time to be working in early childhood education and I am proud to be feeling the energy across our network.

  13. We need joy.
  14. Finding daily moments of joy is something children excel in. In fact, their own embodiment of “hit’orerut” or amazement and wonder is intricately tied to the feeling of joy. Watching children chase butterflies and squeal with genuine delight to watch them fly away is a feeling that penetrates any doubts or worries that we may be carrying with us. The most passionate educators are the ones who are willing to let go of their agenda for enough time to fully embrace the joyful moments of surprise – the unwritten script of childhood wonder that brings us into the unknown and makes us laugh, wonder and feel amazed. We can all benefit from more joy.

  15. Children will always be our partners in learning, and timeless teachers.
  16. In closing, I will end with something that was not new to me, but continues to teach me. Children have the ability to teach us over, and over, and over again. I have been delighted to see that across our diverse schools from small Chabad schools to reform synagogues and large center JCC’s, the children are all eager to co-create meaningful experiences every day. When we tune into their messages, both verbal and non-verbal, we have so much to learn from them about the experience of being a human in the world. They too are in their own rapid metamorphosis each school year- learning about their own identities, families and community. It is truly an honor to be a witness to the many moments of change, growth and connection that blossom between educators, families and children every day.

    Thank you to all the educators, children and families for a wonderful first year.