25 January 2008
18 Shevat 5768
At the beginning of this week, while our community commemorated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and celebrated the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, I was in Houston, TX, representing Gann Academy at the Ravsak (Network of Jewish Community Schools) Annual Leadership Conference. The conference brings together professional and lay leaders to explore areas of Jewish and general education, leadership, and governance, as well as to build valuable relationships and partnerships with fellow practitioners from across the continent and around the world.
At one of the sessions I attended, Dr. Aryeh Davidson, assistant professor of Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, introduced a concept in adolescent development that shed light on our work and our mission here at Gann. Dr. Davidson presented the notion of possible selves, which refers to “the selves we imagine ourselves becoming in the future, the selves we hope to become, the selves we are afraid we may become, and themselves we fully expect we will become.” According to research, people’s ability to envision themselves positively in the future motivates their behavior toward positively defined goals and away from negative outcomes. Possible selves can be rooted in one’s (or one’s community’s) values and ideals, and one’s own aspirations. Perhaps most relevant to the high school experience, a person’s ability to imagine himself positively in the future can depend on his experiences of success, his sense of accomplishment, and his belief that he has the power to affect change in the world.
This notion of possible selves illustrates why high school is about much more than the acquisition of skills and knowledge in various disciplines; ultimately, our students’ success and self-actualization will depend on self confidence, self esteem, and their ability to imagine positive possibilities of who they might become. As I reflect on the idea of possible selves, I am humbled by the questions it raises about how we educate our children and how we impact their lives: When and how do the ways we teach them and talk to them – about Judaism, about politics, about college and more – expand their images of the people they can become, and when do we narrow them? When and how do the experiences we give them and the lives we model for them create images of the people they hope they will become, and when do we create images of people they are afraid to become?
Gann’s commitment to pluralism reflects our faith in our students’ wide array of possible selves. We strive to help them uncover their potential and to experience success by exposing them to diverse perspectives and models of learning, and by giving them opportunities to take risks and make commitments in pursuit of their talents, passions and convictions. We encourage them to refine their images of possible selves through open and critical engagement with diverse people, texts and ideas that challenge them to reflect on their choices, beliefs and actions.
May our sacred attempt to nurture and develop our students’ hearts and minds inspire and expand their capacity to envision themselves thriving and fulfilled in the future.
Rabbi Marc Baker