Being Welcome into Another’s Home

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending my very first Bar Mitzfah, a former student of mine. Without ever stepping inside a temple before, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. And if you try to search the internet and do a little research, the variety is almost endless.

I think it’s a great growing experience to step outside ones familiar surroundings, and I think it varies what each person learns.

Detail of a window at the Temple Di Hirsch Sanai in Seattle

First, my anxiety was eased by a feeling of welcome. There was never a feeling of ‘you’re not one of us’. The synagog/temple was stunningly beautiful and did not look too different from some of the Catholic churches I grew up with.

Second, the ceremony was clearly a rite of passage steeped in thousands of years of tradition, and one that obviously involved a lot of preparation on the part of a 13-year-old.

What I really noticed was that all the passages and readings from the Torah (even if you took out the religious references) were ones that any human could relate to. Having faith in oneself to take risks, make good choices, and learn from mistakes were a common theme. Another message was that we strive to do good with the intention to leave the world a better place than how we found it. Yet, we  are human and will sometimes make mistakes. In essence – we learn.

I was really touched throughout the ceremony, but mostly because I was very proud of my former student’s success and his mom’s as well.

Finally, the reason this experience is appearing here on this blog is because it reminds me of the importance of the tenets of multicultural and diversity education. Whether that diversity is in religious beliefs, culture, orientation, political ideology, the most important thing is to ensure a feeling of belonging. Today I was a little worried that I was going to be an outsider peering in, but I felt welcomed instantly.

Our schools, classrooms, and curriculum need to be places where everyone feels like they belong. The act of learning itself, from taking risks and making mistakes, or wanting to work to make this world a better place for future generations, are values that cross cultures and beliefs. The more we explore differences, it’s not surprising that we often find many similarities.

CS and MS thanks for always being so welcoming and including me in your special day. It was wonderful and I enjoyed every minute of it. You both should be very proud.

Shabbat Shalom!



To the right, the Center for Wooden Boats and to the left, the future home of the Museum of History and Industry

When it is sunny and it reaches the mid 70s in Seattle in late September, one definitely takes advantage of it. A new park opened in Seattle (The South Lake Union Park) and looking around, I saw community in action.

Yesterday, our school hosted a Carnival for the children of the school and nearby community. That too was a fantastic example of community, probably my best since I started here.

This week, the second graders embark on a look at community. We define it simply: A place where people work, live, play, and solve problems. We then go on to learn about urban, suburban, and rural communities. We look at our classroom and school as a community, local communities such as the Pike Place Market, and communities of the past around the world and at home, keeping the definition that it is a place where people live, work, play, and solve problems.

The park has many fun water features for kids (and big kids too)

Walking to the park today was definitely a form of play (and really good for the brain). Looking around I saw people working (there was a farmers’ market set up), and the city solved a problem of making Lake Union more accessible to its people. They also not only had garbage bins, but recycle and compost ones as well. It was great to see parents teaching their kids about the difference and showing them where to put everything. It’s not the easiest thing, but it’s the effort that counts. Surrounded mostly by moorage, chain restaurants, and house boats (like in Sleepless in Seattle), it’s great that the water has become more accessible to those who live near and far alike.

This small but great beach opens up the lake to many.

Even the wildlife like the new park!

Notice the compost bin (they were everywhere).

Enjoying the water like this in late September is rare here.

It reminds me that I need to start exploring my school’s neighborhood and its many amenities.

“Knowledge is the most democratic source of power.”

That was said by Alvin Toffler. Jumping back to the book the Third Teacher, 7th chapter is entitled Learning for All. Every child is different. Get to know them well and do it sooner rather than later. Words matter. “Universal Design is much better than “Accessoble Design.” Create an environment for all learners. I read a book by Lou Pepper (former CEO of WAMU -when it was doing alright) and he mentioned when all things are equal you hire for diversity. If your staff is mostly African American, and three candidates are all equally qualified, he suggested you hire the one that makes your company or organization more diverse. I guess the same is with admissions and schools. While there is a lot of debate on single gendered schools, or schools that test kids to get in, I feel lucky that we admit a wide variety. Teaching in an independent school makes it difficult to get lower income families, but with our generous financial aid, hopefully more will happen. There are still no families with two moms or two dads and much fewer people of color. Nonetheless, our school is trying and after all, it’s Seattle.

Breaking down social barriers, both in parents and students is a difficult task, but one that has many rewards. I’m not sure how independent schools do when lobbying polititians, but I may have to try for some iphones and kindles.

One thing our school does well is its commitment to service learning. A few posts back, I mentioned a few of my favorite outdoor spaces. Our school has taken on the task  of stewarding a part of a large park in Seattle. Little kids pull invasive plants like black berries, mulch fields, and plant trees. all the while having fun.

In the end school should feel like an extension of home.

Sorry for not posting links and pictures, but I’m fading and just wanted to get this out. Thanks.

It Takes a Village

Community Connections is the title of the 4th section of the book The Third Teacher.

My favorite piece of advice in this section is to “build a nest…Children need comfort just as much at school as they do at home. Give them a soft, quiet, and cozy area to play in by themselves or with a few friends.”

With a new room to move into, it’s not just designing the larger teaching spaces that need to be considered, but also the smaller nooks, stations, centers, and floor space.

Another piece of advice was to “consult widely and often…Those heading up the planning process for a
new school will get off on the right foot by inviting every potential user and stakeholder into the process right from the start.”

Planning and designing something like a school is a large undertaking and while not everyone is going to get everything they wanted, if there is some way that every stakeholder from neighbor to teacher to student feels like they were part of the process and thus part of the community, the building should be a success. I’m anticipating success with our school’s new building.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think about Greg Mortenson, author of another book, Three Cups of Tea who visited our school a couple of years ago to talk about his mission. His challenge to design and build schools in remote areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan serves as a good reminder of the different kinds of schools around the world and the communities that value them.