A Message from Dani Steele, Interim Head of Middle School | October 12
Dani Steele, Interim Head of Middle School
Dear Families, 
During this month of Jewish celebration and reflection, I can't help thinking about how much the start of the Jewish calendar mirrors the start of a school year. With Rosh Hashanah and the first day of school, we set new intentions and goals for ourselves. In doing so, we reflect on the past year and aim to grow and improve from our past mistakes, just as Yom Kippur asks of us. The next holiday is Sukkot, during which we leave our permanent dwellings, opening both our hearts and living quarters to guests. The structure of the sukkah allows Jews to connect with the outside world, but also to gather communally. I'm reminded of how we call on our students to leave the familiarity of their homes to belong to another one, their classroom. 
Responsive Classroom is at the heart of our community building. We want each of our middle school students to feel seen, heard, and valued. A critical element of a strong community is empathy. Throughout our curriculum, and with particular emphasis during October, we are specifically targeting the skill of empathy and helping our students build and practice empathy both formally and informally. A great school community cannot prevent all mean or bullying behavior but it can support us when it happens. So just as the recent holidays align symbolically with the start of school, National Bullying Prevention Month also falls at an important time in our school calendar. 
All of our students will participate in developmentally appropriate programming and activities in Gibush. We are focusing on students being able to recognize bullying behavior, develop self-awareness in group dynamics, and make smart choices online. Middle school-aged children can sometimes earn a reputation for thoughtless behavior, but they always look for role models! And though a middle schooler would rarely admit it, their teachers and parents are often their main role models! As you read books or watch movies with your children, try subtly pointing out when characters live the values that you hope to instill (a personal favorite of mine is the movie The Sandlot, in which a "cool" Benny gives a baseball glove to a shy newcomer and invites him to join their team). To help your child develop empathy you might also try:
  • Asking what they notice. What do they believe people are feeling, based on their non-verbal communication – facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice? Labeling these feelings will help them think about and understand others.
  • Help them understand the other person’s point of view. Ask them what they think their peer might be thinking, or how they might see the situation. Ask them what the other person might want to happen and why.
  • Encourage them to come up with ways everyone can get what they need. Brainstorm different and interesting ways they could go about it. Help them choose options that work best for everyone and put them into practice!
As our students reflect on previous experiences and behaviors, set their intentions for the new school year, and bond with new classroom communities, they are thoughtfully guided by our faculty to be inclusive, independent thinkers who stand up for their community members and their belief in what is right. We all can model widening our circles, using kind language and giving people second chances. Our Jewish and school values of kehillah (community), t’shuvah (working to make things better), ve’ahavta le’rey’echa kamocha (love your neighbor like yourself) and chaverut (friendship), can guide us throughout the rest of the year as well.   
It takes a village, but that is what we all are!

Dani Steele
Interim Head of Middle School

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