Success Both In and Out of School

I have been asked by Torah Umesorah to deliver a pair of intensive workshops for teachers at their upcoming summer training program. One workshop will focus on brain based learning, understanding how our brain processes information, as well as stores and retains it. The other will concentrate on “strategies for student success.” As you can imagine, this latter category can be very subjective, and could very well include a wide variety of focus areas.

I have given this class before, but not recently. As I began my preparations, I went back to my old notes to see what I had focused on previously. Topics included setting clear class expectations, helping students with note taking and testing, encouraging regular review, and the like. This time, I intend to extend the focus to also include a broader range of factors, such as enhancing teacher-parent communication, encouraging healthy life choices and promoting social-emotional health.

Over time, I have come to appreciate more and more just how much these latter “external”, “tangential” factors play in a child’s education. This is not a new concept. Back in 1947, Abraham Maslow introduced his hierarchy of learning needs, which emphasized the significance of physiological wellbeing as the basis for successful learning. Jewish tradition suggests similarly. The basic premise is that learning cannot occur in an optimal fashion if we do not feel safe or in proper physical condition. Seems logical enough, but not necessarily something that we focus on when we lesson plan or deliver instruction.

To be effective, teachers must have some capacity and inclination to play detective. They must be on the lookout for clues that explain things like abnormal affect or misbehavior. They also need to teach what healthy living looks and feels like, including social-emotional health. If we operate with the assumption that children want to behave and learn, then we need to willingly engage in the process of figuring out why they don’t do so with sufficient consistency. And then we need to intervene, directly or through third-party assistance, to help remediate the issue.

Certainly, such efforts will result increased student success, which is really what it’s all about.