By Kathy Schwartz, Jewish LearningWorks’ Senior Director of Professional Learning
We read in school that Thomas Edison made light. But in Sunday School, they said that you did it. I bet he stole your idea.
The words and ideas of our learners are often awe-inspiring. This letter to God from Heller’s Dear God, Children’s Letters to God, was part of the d’var Torah during t’filah at this year’s joint gathering of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators and Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism in Memphis. The conference was titled, “Yom Chadash” (New Day) in the hopes that the coming together of the two groups could help bridge the needs of all the ages of children we serve. Together we explored diversity beyond age groups: focusing on gender and race and unpacking our mutual desire and responsibility to educate more inclusively.
At one of the first sessions I attended, the participants came to understand that we as educators can do our best to create a welcoming environment, but it is our learners who ultimately determine if they feel they belong. The closing keynote shared an image of several of her African-American grandparents, and told us how she brings their characteristics and legacies into her work. It was a powerful reminder that each of us brings who we are, our ancestry, our experiences, and our aspirations into our work. Naming those can help others feel welcome because it acknowledges that we are all unique. And, as she mentioned, it helps us feel like we belong — appreciated for who we are and what we bring to any space.
I am planning on stealing that idea and I invite you to do the same. I believe that is where we find the awe: in allowing peoples words to be said and valued. Whether you believe Thomas Edison or God made light, you can help surface the light learners bring by creating a space in which they are welcomed and perhaps, ultimately they come to feel as if they belong. At Jewish LearningWorks, we hope to give you the support and tools to do so for yourself and those you teach.
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