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Sunday, August 20, 2017

“On a team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.”—Bill Belichick

We stress to our children the importance of teamwork. We teach them the value of collaborating with others and that when they put their strengths and minds together they can accomplish so much more than as individuals. We need to keep these lessons in mind as we educate our children.

After being a classroom teacher for 10 years in first and third grades, I recently took on an administrative role. In analyzing its administrative structure, my school’s leadership felt it was important to increase our focus on the “whole child” and keep that in the forefront when making strategic decisions. Especially in our youngest grades, where transitions and new beginnings can be challenging, the more well-rounded and complete view we have of a student the more we can help them thrive. To that end, I am lucky to have a unique opportunity as part of my responsibilities to oversee our first graders in both limudei kodesh and general studies and help bridge the gap among their teachers and the many other people at home and in school who care so deeply about them.

By taking on this unique position, my perspective on many things changed. I got a much more global view of our children’s complete school-day (and beyond) experience. The way I thought about many areas of education were challenged in a new way. I began to think a lot about teamwork in particular and how crucial it is.

We are lucky to have many great and talented teachers who do their best to learn about and connect with each student in their class. They work hard to get to know their students, understand them, capitalize on their strengths and tap into areas of potential growth. However, sometimes no matter how dedicated a single teacher is in a classroom, a student’s potential cannot be fully maximized without understanding all the other facets of a student’s life. So much more can be achieved by “teaming up” with all the other adults who are watching, observing and working with that student to create an action plan that will best help the child succeed.

We have seen this play out to the benefit of so many of our children.

Sarah (name changed), a first grader, gets off the bus in the morning and is greeted by an administrator. She then walks to her classroom where she spends the morning in class with her limudei kodesh teacher. Mid-morning she works one-on-one with a learning center teacher on kriah. In the afternoon she has her general studies teacher, and at some point in the afternoon a different teacher who teaches reading in a small reading group. At the end of the day, she goes home to her parents who ask her about her day, help her with her homework and give her dinner. When she is finished eating her mom takes her to see the speech therapist whom she works with once a week.

While not every student receives the one-on-one and small group support that Sarah does, every child has at least two teachers and an administrator who sees them in school and a parent at home that interacts with the child in a totally different setting. Each of them has their own view of the child and wants so badly to do what they believe is best, but at the same time is only observing a small portion of that child’s day. When all of the “stakeholders” who work with, know and care so deeply about the child come together and share their piece of the puzzle with each other it can help the child immeasurably. What a limudei kodesh teacher is observing in the morning may be different from what a general studies teacher sees in the afternoon when that same student has been in a classroom for many hours already (whether the student is sharp in the morning and worn-down by the afternoon or, alternatively, sluggish in the morning and picks up steam as the day progresses). Teachers who work with a child one-on-one or in a small group may see a different learner than a teacher who works with a child in a full class setting. In addition, what a parent sees and hears from their child at home may be valuable information that does not come out in school. It is so important that all the “players” team up, share information and work together to help the child be as successful as they can be.

It is so great to see collaboration and teamwork that ultimately produces such amazing benefits for our children. Every parent, teacher and administrator should be made to feel like an active and important team member in each child’s success.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”—Helen Keller.

By Stephanie Summers

 Stephanie Summers is the beloved early lower school principal at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, RYNJ.