Tag Archives: Drama

Strength to Strength

The way we teach our children makes a big impression, a lasting one. I don’t remember much about fire drills from elementary school; I remember being in the school plays. By contrast, I remember vividly a different drill in sixth grade: we were told that an air raid siren would go off and that we were to get under our desks with our hands over our heads. Why? I grew up in Houston, TX in the 1980’s. We were told that the Russians had nuclear warheads aimed at NASA which was, in Texas terms, just down the road (about a 45 minute drive). We were taught to be afraid.IMG_20170323_190902

This week, an arrest was made in the investigation into the recent bomb threats against Jewish institutions, AND my school, Albert Einstein Academy began performances of our spring play, “Disney Winnie the Pooh Kids!” Which do we want our students to remember? The answer should obviously be the play.

The arrest provides a bookend in one more volume of the encyclopedia of anti-Semitic attacks. In using the term “anti-Semitism,” it matters not who made the threats, only that the threats were made against Jewish institutions, using hateful language. In using the term “attacks,” it matters not that the threats were all hoaxes (thank God!), only that the threats produced mass evacuations. For now, it matters not why these attacks were made, only that the arrest means they may stop.

Let me be clear: what matters is about us. It was always about us. Were we prepared for a bomb threat from anyone? Yes. Were we secure enough in our relationship with law enforcement to trust them to provide protection, to help clear our building when threatened, and to investigate threats against us? Yes, and, frankly, in our specific instance local and regional law enforcement were actively here for us working, advising, and strategizing with us, and empowering national and international authorities in a way that lead to the arrest. Were we surrounded by neighbors and community leaders who showed love and support for us? Most emphatically, yes!

Emotional-Roller-Coaster-Ride

via asklatisha.com

 

Did we also go through an emotional rollercoaster ride? Yes. Hold onto that for a moment. This period was difficult for us. It pulled us away from routine and from our goals, like the spring play. The number and sophistication of the threats raised the specter of Jews being unwelcome in countries they have come to call home. After the first threat, I wrote elsewhere that I was not afraid and believe Judaism teaches us not to be afraid. Resilience, defiance, anger, in addition to fear are no easier to handle. We went through a very tough time; we should not forget that.

Our long-term memory, though, needs to be different than our short-term memory. We quickly forget the many smaller, isolated acts of anti-Semitism every year. Our long-term memory reminds us to be vigilant; that is where our plans in case of a threat originated. Our long-term memory also needs to be positive.

We never taught our students about hatred. We never taught our students about insecurity. We taught them about uncertainty and about community. We taught them about living and love.

Winnie

We also rehearsed, reworked, and refined an amazing play. The play is about friendship, it is about the unique value of everyone, and it is about promises of security (like Noah’s rainbow). In the long-term, I am confident that our students will far more remember what they learned by doing the play; lessons about courage, poise, confidence, and the thrill of success. We taught strengths, strengths that will endure.

This week, Jews finish reading the Book of Exodus, Shemot. Each time we finish a book of the Torah, we sing the words “chazak chazak v’nitchazek” (be strong, be strong, and you will be strengthened). As we emerge from a challenging winter, let us go from strength to strength. By focusing on enduring strengths, we will be strengthened.  IMG_20170322_102612

 

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Why our Whole School Gets on Stage

Star of Judah WarsDuring the performance, we—the audience—are amazed by what our students accomplish.  What we only vaguely realize is how much our students have learned along the way.  In the educational setting of a school (even an elementary school), the stage serves as a microcosm where so many of the skills needed in our contemporary society are used, and therefore taught.  It is because of these skills that we, at Albert Einstein Academy, have the whole school on stage.

What are the skills taught in drama?  There are the obvious ones we see in action on stage, the more subtle ones developed in preparation, and then there are the skills that come from repeated experiences with dramatic production.

The obvious skills are the ones we kvell over, feeling pride and joy.  Lead actors speak publically to the audience with or without a microphone, projecting their voice, enunciating their words, and demonstrating a level of self-confidence we often do not see elsewhere (drama is not just for the extrovert).  Additionally, we witness their zest as they take on characters and smile at their successes.  In the best tradition of school plays, we usually get a taste of flexibility and resilience as one or more glitches are taken in stride.

Children_Succeed_hiMore subtly, the weeks of work from the auditions to the dress rehearsal build what we might deem the academic lessons.  Practicing lines means improving fluency in reading and memorization.  Familiarity with the show and significant time with it help students understand the messages of the story more deeply and, often, personally.  In 21st Century educational terms, equally important are the skills learned by failing:  grit and perseverance as errors occur, changes are made, rehearsals run long, or many wait while a few iron out a scene; teamwork as groups share the stage, cast members learn their places and movement, supporting roles wait quietly, and everyone helps each other; and the skills built on both, contributing to successful problem solving and failing forward (seeing failure as important to higher achievement).

Why include students who can barely stay awake for a night performance, though? We include the Gan and First Grades because of the trajectory that early involvement establishes as a foundation.  Our stars in this week’s show did not start out school ready to sing solos or take on lengthy passages; the grew into their abilities.  Thus, we include the whole school to teach optimism, a growth mindset (to borrow from Carol Dweck).  Other emotional learning includes: social intelligence to know how to deal with specific peers on stage and empathize with their struggles, how to take theater cues and personal cues, how to concentrate on one’s part and relax into the flow of muscle-memory, and gratitude as modeled by others at the end of every performance.  Great job, everyone!

When I say the whole school, I mean it.  There is a reason we include teachers in the production as well.  Throughout the rehearsal process, teachers model many of the skills associated with teamwork and failing forward.  The teachers work together to improve blocking, staging, and costumes.  They do this work publically so students see how we solve problems together.

I cannot forget the parents.  As one parent noted, parents volunteer behind the scenes and on stage “to teach our kids that making time for community involvement doesn’t have to only mean sports or tzedakah.  [It shows] them that skills and talents exists outside of careers and throughout their lives.”

“The Star (of Judah) Wars” was not just a successful production for our school, nor was it “just” a Chanukah show; this production was an affirmation of our educational aims and of the best our school offers its students.  No wonder our graduates are ready for the world they enter!

via Ben Weitz

via Ben Weitz

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