2 October 2009
14 Elul 5769
At Wednesday’s Back-to-School Night, we opened the doors of our classrooms and of our learning community, giving parents a window into their children’s world – into what they are learning, how they are learning, and, perhaps, most importantly, from whom they are learning this year. To begin the evening, I shared some reflections on the connection between the Sukkah where we will sit, eat, learn, perhaps, even sleep for the next week and Gann’s Mission Statement.
The sukkah is an amazing structure. It is, at once, both fragile (with its impermanent, natural schach – roof) and stable (with its sturdy walls). It simultaneously exposes our vulnerability and keeps us safe, providing us with shelter and protection. In fact, the sukkah is a beautiful metaphor for the educational process.
Several weeks ago before the students returned, our faculty spent several days reading about, thinking about, and discussing how we, both as individual educators and as an entire school, can create the conditions under which every student can maximize his or her potential. We continually return to what, I think, is a timeless tension – in both teaching and parenting – between two words that sit next to each other in our mission statement: challenging and nurturing. (“Gann Academy – The New Jewish High School of Greater Boston is a pluralistic day school committed to providing a challenging, nurturing and inspiring education . . .”). Are we challenging our students, or are we nurturing them, and can we do both? Our Mission Statement suggests that we not only can do both – we must do both – for only when we have both of these words together do we arrive at the next word in the sentence…“inspiring”.
Our mission calls us to the sacred task that the sukkah also represents: the task of balancing challenge with nurture, safety with vulnerability, for it is in the delicate space between the two where learning, growth, and transformation happen.
The balance is different for every child and even for the same child on different days, in different classes or contexts. It is our task to know our students well enough to be able to create the safety, support, and trust that each student will need in order to, so to speak, sleep in the sukkah to take the risks necessary for learning and growth.
This is not a task that we can go alone. Like eating in the sukkah, sometimes it will be joyous and beautiful, and sometimes it will be uncomfortable. Like sitting in the sukkah, this kind of educational process requires faith and trust. Our mission to know, to challenge, to nurture, and to inspire every student is a journey that we, as educators, humbly embark upon in partnership with our students and their parents. Together, we can find the balance or at least learn to live in the space in-between long enough to thrive and grow.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach (Happy Sukkot),
Rabbi Marc Baker