Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Korach 76 - Safety in Schools

The evil report of the spies caused a crisis of faith in God, the leadership of Moses and Aaron and in land of Israel as a national home.  In response, God decreed that people over the age of 20 would die in the wilderness. The people became disillusioned. They no longer had a goal and destination - Moses and Aaron in a sense had failed in their mission. This was an opportune moment for Korach to unite people who felt wronged by the fact that they had been passed over in the allocation of leadership positions. Korach felt wronged and aggrieved that Aaron , Moses' brother was appointed instead of him to the position of high priest -  an act of unacceptable favoritism and nepotism,  or when his cousin Elizaphan , the son  of Uziel was placed in charge of the Kohite family, thus making him Korach's superior and giving him that  position which  Korach felt was rightfully his. The tribe of Reu'vein, as descendants of Jacob's firstborn felt they were entitled to leadership positions. The group of 250 leaders were firstborn who still felt wronged that after the sin of the golden calf, the role of special service in the sanctuary passed from the firstborn to the tribe of Levi. The rebels challenged Moses and Aaron in the name of democracy and egalitarian values. 'All of the community is holy, all of them...   Why do you raise yourself above the Lord's congregation?
וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל משֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב לָכֶם כִּי כָל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם יְדֹוָד וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל יְדֹוָד
 Everyone should have an equal opportunity to be a leader. Everyone should have the opportunity to be close to Holy of Holies and close to God.

Moses initially proposed a simple test that should have discouraged the rebels and put an end to the rebellion. The rebels and Aaron would bring incense- ketoret in their pans.  A non-priest=Kohen who offered incense is liable to death at the hands of heaven.  Those people, who would survive the test and are spared from death, are God's choice to occupy positions in the Mishkan- Sanctuary. Moses tried to make peace and resolve the conflict by going to the tents of Da'tan and A'viram. They received Moses with contempt, ridicule and insults. Moses felt that the situation could get out of control. The honor and validity of the Torah and the authenticity of his prophecy was at stake. He sought an immediate and dramatic solution from God. He asked, that in order to prove that it is God that has sent him - the ground should split open and swallow up Korach and his followers.  As soon as he had finished speaking the ground opened up and swallowed Korach and his followers. A flame came down from Heaven and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense. After Moses' prayer had been answered in this dramatic way and he had been proved right, we would have expected that this would have put an end to the rebellion and vindicated Moses, but not so. 'Things became worse.  The next day, the whole community of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. You have killed the Lord's people, they said. (ו) וַיִּלֹּנוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמָּחֳרָת עַל משֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר אַתֶּם הֲמִתֶּם אֶת עַם יְדֹוָד: A plague breaks out and Moses tells Aaron to go out between the people with the incense – the ketoret, which had previously being the cause of death - and stop the plague by atoning for the people. Then God instructs Moses to take 12 staffs, one for each tribe and leave them overnight in the Tent of the Meeting – sanctuary. The next morning, the staff bearing the name of Aaron had sprouted, budded, blossomed and borne almonds. It was only then that the rebellion ended, not because of the ground opening up and swallowing the rebels or a fire consuming the 250 leaders, but seeing a dead piece of wood, come to life, sprout, blossom and bear fruit. Aaron and his tribe were now seen as symbols of renewal and hope, dedicated to the growth and the flowering of the people. The new mission of the people was to raise a new generation of almonds that will enter the land of Israel and build a national home dedicated to the service of God. The conflict was over, but people still did not feel safe, fearing that they might by mistake step out of the courtyard and enter sections of the sanctuary only permitted to the priests and Levites and incur the death penalty. Guards are appointed to protect people from entering forbidden areas.

The obvious lesson is that conflict is not resolved by using force and that people's concern for safety need to be addressed. As teachers and principals we cannot make our schools safer by adopting a tougher ' zero- tolerance ' approach to school violence and aggressive behavior.  While some educators do admit that these policies don't help the offending student, but they are needed to motivate others students to take note and behave -  למען יראו וישמעו  - that they should see what will happen to them  if they step out of line. Not only do students in schools that adopted zero- tolerance policies report feeling less safe, but schools were actually less safe after adopting these policies. Kids feel threatened and unsafe in an environment when problems are solved by adults in a unilaterally way using threats and punishments. The alternative is show love and unconditional acceptance and help the student solve problems in a collaborative way, addressing the underlying issues and lagging skills, the concerns of both parties by finding mutually satisfying solutions and helping the student engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and do Teshuva – repent.  If we focus on teaching replacement behaviors or skills we can lose sight of the human being behind the actions and the reasons, values and motives that give rise to those behaviors. We cannot talk about good character and midot and still foster a competitive climate where kids are ranked according to test –scores and come to see others as obstacles to their success.  .  We need to create a school which is a caring community – where students know and trust adults and kids are known and trusted by adults. If a school is a place that meets students' needs, there is less chance that someone will be moved to lash out in fury. In a caring community students will feel a sense of connection and belonging to others, feel also intellectually and emotionally safe without fear of being laughed at, picked on or excluded by other students. A caring community helps kids ask – what type of person do I want to be and what type of classroom or school I would like and be inclined to act in a caring and responsible way? Of course, teaching and learning which is cooperative ,relevant and  valuable in its own right to students, will contribute to the atmosphere and safety of a school.

Safety is about trust and human relations and building an environment that promotes pro-social behavior and solves problems in a collaborative way. And that is why God chose Aaron and his tribe of Levi. Aaron is the symbol of someone dedicated to peace and conflict resolution, giving life and hope to all.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shelach 76 - 9th Av - Giving up on children

The evil report of the spies convinced the whole nation including the elders and the Sanhedrin- the High court to abandon their journey to the land of Israel, because the Holy Land was a dangerous place that 'devours its inhabitants'. This led to dissention, national hysteria, despair, anguish, and a helplessness etc. Numbers 14:1 says and they cried and wept that night – the eve of the 9th of Av. ויבכו העם בלילה ההוא –God declared that since they cried for no reason on this night, therefore in the future, I shall provide you with plenty reason to cry on this night, for I will destroy the Temple on the 9th of Av. The physical destruction of the Temple and the exile of the nation among the peoples of the world was just a physical manifestation of the underlying spiritual condition of the people.  R' Isaac Sher explains it was the loss of Da'at , a deep understanding and perception that touches the depths of one's heart , that leads to a belief , trust and faith in God. It is a commitment to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving up one's life and using all one's senses and feelings in the service of God. We declare this faith- emunah in God and our commitment in the She'ma Yisrael prayer.
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְדֹוָד אֶחָד:  (ה) וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ:
And according to the Midrash on the verse Eichah – Lamentations I: 15  ' It is on these things that I weep ' R' Yehudah says because of the removal and loss of Da'at and the Divine Presence, which are essentially the same thing as R' Ela'zar says, that any man who has de'ah – knowledge is as if the temple has been built in his days.                                      
על אלה אני בוכיה רבי יהודה אומר על סילוק דעת ועל סילוק שכינה   ואמר רבי אלעזר כל אדם שיש בו  דעה כאילו נבנה בית המקדש  
A person who has Da'at – deep understanding and perception will have faith and trust in God. He will declare in the Song – A'don O'lam, והוא נסי,   that God is my banner and source of miracles. No situation can cause despair and helplessness because in God's reality, things can change at any moment.  In the bleakest and darkest moments during the Holocaust people who had great faith experienced miracles when death was a certainty and survived . Others who did not survive managed to achieve eternity by giving up their lives and sanctifying God's name with the great dignity and purpose with which they approached death. Over the centuries families and even communities have suffered great hardships and tragedy that evoke tears and weeping. But these tears are offered to God along with prayers, which signify hope and personal empowerment.  The symbol of positive tears is the matriarch Rachel. Rachel is buried on the roadside, and on route to the Babylonian exile. The  nation will pass by there and she will come out upon her grave and weep and plead for mercy for them, and God says that there is hope for your future . . .' that your children will return to their own borders’ .

As parents and educators we have many children who are faced with many challenges both academically and behaviorally. The starting place is our prayers and tears in the hope that God will provide guidance and help needed. We also need to display a lot of patience like that of R' Freida who would teach a challenging student with a learning difficulty 400 times until he understood the lesson. But what about kids with challenging behavior. What about kids who don't abide by school rules, have a hard time getting along with other kids, don't seem to respect authority , don't seem to be interested in learning , and are disrupting the learning of their classmates ? The traditional view of these kids is that they are attention seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, coercive, or unmotivated and what they need is discipline which is firm, consistent and contingent with lots of rewards and consequences to make kids 'wanna ' behave.  So we have many kids who are paying frequent visits to the principal's office, getting detentions, suspensions and even being expelled and finally end up in juvenile prison evidence to the existence of the school-to- prison pipeline. The tragedy of the situation is that teachers and principals aren't even aware that these methods (besides promoting the most primitive form of morality), are identical to ' giving up on these kids ' and making their situation and future worse. There are some teachers and principals who admit that they are not helping the challenging kid, but the punitive consequences are needed as a deterrent and disincentive to the other kids in the classroom and school - למען יראו וישמעו  , The truth is that according to the American Psychological Association – APA, these zero-tolerance policies which were intended to reduce violence and behavior problems in schools have instead achieved the opposite effect with increased behavior problems, drop- out rates while schools dole out millions of detentions, suspensions and expulsions. Giving consequences is not needed because kids already know how we want them to behave and actually would like nothing better than to act in a more flexible and adaptable way and be able to handle the social, emotional and behavioral challenges being placed upon them. Many have been getting into trouble for so long that they have lost faith that any adult will ever know how to help them.

Dr Ross Greene in his book Lost at School  suggests a different approach based on what we know from the neuro-sciences that these kids have a developmental delay in areas of flexibility and frustration tolerance and often act out when the demands placed upon them outstrip the skills they have to act flexibly and adaptively.  They often are lagging in skills such as executive functions, language processing skills, emotional regulation skills, cognitive flexibility and social skills etc. The mantra of his CPS – collaborative problem solving approach or now called collaborative and pro-active solutions is ' children do well if they can' and not' children do well if they want to'. The CPS process in a compassionate way promotes the various cognitive and life skills, nurtures the relationship between student and teacher and supports the child's autonomy. It helps kids come up with a better plan, and engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and doing Teshuva. Teachers who aim to control student's behavior – rather than helping them to control it themselves – undermine the very elements essential for motivation – autonomy, a sense of competence and a capacity to relate to others.  And when teachers need to enforce control by using punishments and consequences, they are certainly not addressing the underlying problems but worse – they are actually giving up on these kids.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Beha'alotcha 76 - The Menorah provides protection from external influences

A major concern for any educator or parent is to protect ourselves, our children and students from negative external   influences. The lighting of the 7 lamps of the Menorah by Aaron which appears at the beginning of our parasha provides the guidance and insight needed to deal with outside influences.

Sefer Bamidbar, the book of Numbers deals with the journey of the nation in the desert as a camp. In the center of the camp was the sanctuary- Mishkan  where the Divine Presence – shechina resided  amongst them.  The nation, participated in the inauguration of the Mishkan and the Altar through the voluntary sacrifices and donations brought by  the tribal leaders. Aaron was not inspired to bring offerings and donations, so he and the tribe of Levi did not participate in the dedication of the Altar and sanctuary חנוכת המזבח- . When Aaron saw that the offerings of the tribal leaders were accepted by God, it was too late to join in, as the donation of the leader of the tribe of Ephraim was counted as the 12th tribe. Aaron was grieved and despondent that he and his tribe did not participate in the inauguration ceremony  in expressing the nation's joy and appreciation of the sanctuary.  God comforted Aaron and said that he will be given the mitzvah of dedicating the Menorah and preparing, arranging and kindling the lamps of the Menorah. This  mitzvah was greater than the dedication of the  Altar by the tribal leaders and their  donations and offerings. The nation would also   participate by bringing the oil for the lamps and  so Aaron would be their representative in lighting the Menorah. Unlike the sacrifices of the tribal leaders, the lighting of the Menorah had an element of eternity and was thus greater than the dedication offerings. Aaron would have plenty of opportunities to be the representative of holiness and God's emissary in the service in the Sanctuary, but only the kindling of the Menorah in the inauguration service of the sanctuary חנוכת המשכן would provide Aaron the opportunity to represent the nation.
God instructs Moses to tell Aaron that when he lights the lamps of the Menorah, the 3 wicks on each side of the menorah's central shaft should be inclined towards the center light and not towards the outside - Numbers 8:2 .דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת הַנֵּרֹת אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת:  The reason was that the divine presence – shechinah lit up the sanctuary, so there was no need for the light of the Menorah. The Menorah was there for man's benefit and elevation – בהעלתך  . The Midrash describes a blind man being walked home by a friend. When they enter the blind's man home, the friend asks the blind man to switch on the lights. The friend could have done it himself, but he wanted to give the blind man an opportunity to reciprocate and express gratitude. The Midrash says that the lighting of the Menorah was an expression of man's gratitude for the light that God shines on our lives through his Mishkan and Torah. It is an elevation for man, and for his merit that man expresses his gratitude to God   by engaging   in the learning of God's Torah and spreading God's light in the world. Aaron and the priests are the teachers of the nation, who will become a ' light unto the nations' and bring the world closer to God. מלאכי ב:ז- (ז) כִּי שִׂפְתֵי כֹהֵן יִשְׁמְרוּ דַעַת וְתוֹרָה יְבַקְשׁוּ מִפִּיהוּ    The prophet Malachi says of the priests , that ' the lips of the priest will preserve knowledge and they will seek Torah from his mouth'. Another Midrash also talks about God not needing the light of the Menorah and  the mitzvah to light the lamps is for our benefit. 
' See: when a person builds a house, he makes windows in the house, since he wants the light to enter.  So he makes the windows narrow on the outside, and wide on the inside.  Why?  In order that the light will enter from outside and illuminate inside.  But when King Solomon built the Temple, he did not make the windows like this.  Rather, he made them narrow on the inside and wide on the outside, in order that the light would emanate from the Temple and illuminate outwards. The light of the sanctuary and the temple –מקדש depends on the participation of the nation in the kindling of the Menorah lamps. The Light of the Menorah is symbolic of God's wisdom and Torah. It is the nation through its teachers who become the messengers of God, and it is through their actions, prayers and learning that the temple maintains its sanctity and holiness and remains a place for God's presence and a center for people to access God's holiness. The purpose of the Menorah is to bring light to the world and not to light up the sanctuary and temple.
The Netziv in his commentary on the Torah – Emek Davar  Numbers 8:2 and Exodus  37:19 says that the Menorah is symbolic of God's wisdom as expressed in creative and new thoughts in Torah and its  intricate discussions -  chidushei and pil'lpulei ha'torah. The seven shafts represent the '  7 branches of wisdom ' which are included in the oral law. One needs an appreciation of the ' 7 branches of wisdom to get an understanding and appreciation of the Torah. The Torah waters, enriches and gives context to wisdom and wisdom waters and enriches knowledge and the intellect which enables one to know and understand the complexity and fine points of God's word. שהתורה משקה בחכמות. והחכמות משקים הדעת לדעת ולהבין דקדוקי דבר ה'  The complexity of modern halacha requires in many instances knowledge of science, medicine and the social sciences etc.
We have discussed above how the lighting of the Menorah lamps and the structure of the windows of the temple were designed with the purpose of illuminating the outside world and bringing the light of the Torah to others. The way we can protect ourselves and children from outside influences is that we become people with a message, people who can make an impact on others and influence the outside world rather than being influenced. The second way we protect our children from external influences is by providing them with a healthy attitude to ' wisdom', knowledge and learning in general. We teach children to look at the world and any learning whether formal or informal, scientific, religious or socio-moral learning using the lenses of the Torah, in order to see the world through the eyes of the Torah. The Mishnah tells us that a wise man is one who learns from every one and all life experiences. We show how our general learning and life experiences inform our Torah and how our Torah learning informs our general learning and life experiences. In this way, we manage to integrate all learning and life experiences into a Torah outlook that reflects also our personalities, our chelek –part in the Torah and our unique way of looking at the world. A well rounded and integrated personality is one who can impact on the world and be learning all the time. If the role of the Jewish people is to be a light unto the nations and help the world solve its problem using Torah principles and values, we need people who are informed by both the wisdom of the Torah and wisdom in general. In this way, we will see the realization of the eternal message of the kindling of the Menorah lamps and the illumination of the world with the light of the Torah.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Nasso 76 - Raising ourselves and children to have Grace- Chein

Our portion-parasha deals with the Priestly Blessings- ברכת כהנים   where Aaron and his sons are commanded to bless the children of Israel saying to them …דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר כֹּה תְבָרֲכוּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָמוֹר לָהֶם:.                     After the listing of the 3 blessings, God in the Torah says – Let them – the Kohanim place MY Name upon the children of Israel and I shall bless them.  וְשָׂמוּ אֶת שְׁמִי עַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַאֲנִי אֲבָרֲכֵם: The obvious question is -  who is doing the blessing ? – we begin with an instruction by God to the Kohanim to bless the people and then God says …… so I can bless them. The answer is that when the Kohanim bless the nation, God will confer his own blessing on the children of Israel. The Kohanim are the instruments, the pipeline, through which God allows his blessing to rest upon Israel. The Talmud – Megilah tells us not to take lightly the blessing of even an ordinary man. His blessing has the ability to access God's abundance and with God's agreement bring blessing to someone's life. In the same way, parents bless their children using the script of the priestly blessing. Their love and devotion to their children is the conduit, a pipeline that channel's God's infinite blessing onto their children.The conduit or pipeline of the Kohanim is love and so they are commanded to bless God's people with love. It seems that God wanted man to participate in bringing His blessings and abundance into the lives of people. It is our caring, love and devotion expressed by acts of kindness and expressions of prayer and blessings for others that God wants. And so, He is willing to support us by allowing us to access His abundance and confer His blessings.

The first blessing is –' May God bless you and protect you'. יְבָרֶכְךָ יְדֹוָד וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ:  This is not a specific blessing but is  dependent on a person's wishes. The Sages suggest that this is a material blessing that needs protection from  thieves or bandits, that we should not spend our money to pursue materialistic goals, but use our wealth wisely and for spiritual purposes. We  should be protected from wealth itself or any other blessing so we don't become  arrogant or attached to money and forget God. In other words, we need protection and help to make sure that our blessings should not turn into curses.  The second blessing is – May God shine  his face upon you and give you grace.       יָאֵר יְדֹוָד פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ   This is a spiritual blessing where God's  light and presence becomes evident in us and is expressed by the grace or ' chein'  that people see  in us. This makes us people who have the quality of being attractive, liked and loved by others. People are drawn to us, and want to be in our company because they find us charming. The third blessing is - May God turns his face towards you and give you  peace. יִשָּׂא יְדֹוָד פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם: Because of God's special relationship with Israel, He will be more forgiving and support the establishment of peace between men, between the material and spiritual side of man so there will be  harmony within man and between man and God.

It is understandable that man must do his share - to ensure economic, spiritual and social progress, before God will give his support and blessings. The question is what can we do, besides acquiring more knowledge and understandings of God's ways, so we can raise ourselves and our children with grace and 'chein'- חן?

Although  we pray for grace  חנא   - that we have that quality that makes us loved by others together with the qualities of generosity, kindness – חסדא  and compassion – ורחמין , the Book of Proverbs 3:3-4 tells us that when  kindness and truth are the qualities  that guide our speech and the feelings of our heart, we  will find grace and good intellect in the eyes of God and man.חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל יַעַזְבֻךָ קָשְׁרֵם עַל גַּרְגְּרוֹתֶיךָ כָּתְבֵם עַל לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ וּמְצָא חֵן וְשֵׂכֶל טוֹב בְּעֵינֵי אֱלֹהִים וְאָדָם: When we do have grace, charm and חן  , we have to protect this blessing with values and the fear of God – שקר החן והבל היפי יראת ה' היא תתהלל – Proverbs 31:30 .Crooks, cheaters and con artists know how to use charm - חן to build and get  people's trust and confidance and then use it to cheat them. 

We should pray for our children and bless them every day. It is important to support their needs for autonomy, respect, unconditional acceptance, competence and ' relatedness', so they feel confident, supported,  have a sense of belonging,  and  are self-directed with a self-esteem that is solid and not dependent on outside approval. They also  have sense of purpose and a commitment to the well-being of  people and Torah values. We should be examples of grace-חן , in  our interactions with our children  and all other people and we should discuss and share  with them the qualities and behavior of individuals we and they know, who have a lot of grace - חן

Chein- grace and charm is a skill that helps you communicate and bond with people. You come across as a gentle, generous humble and unassuming, authentic, honest, positive, non-judgmental, patient, and a happy person who is genuinely glad to see the other person. You make them feel that they are the most important person in the world by giving them  your undivided attention and you are attentive to what they are saying. You look for agreement and validate their feelings and ideas, offering feedback and also sharing your insights. Charming people are more interested in hearing what others have to say and hear their perspectives and not getting their voice heard. They show curiosity and interest by  asking  open ended and sincere questions that makes it easier for the other person to answer in a more personal and introspective way. Grace is that quality which sees the best in others, including chein and charm. They seek the best for others and always are willing to do acts of kindness without expecting anything in return. Charming people are impressed by others and have no problem in offering compliments. They solve problems in a collaborative way addressing the concerns of others and look  for mutually satisfying  solutions.They have the confidence to admit their mistakes, and the courage to expose their vulnerability. They have a good sense of humor and don't mind being a source of laughter for others and themselves and laugh with you about something they said or did.  People find it easier to trust and connect to people who are willing to expose their vulnerability and show that they are not perfect.

We pray to God for the blessing of grace- חן for ourselves, our children and the whole community .We also need to make an effort that we and our children acquire the social skills and characteristics so we all can find grace and good intellect in the eyes of God and Man. We need to know that grace – חן   takes precedence and is more important than good intellect – שכל טוב.    The question is – where  is ' grace' education found   in our homes and schools? 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bamidbar - Shavuot 76 - Unconditional Teaching

After having counted the tribes, The Torah lists the Priests= Kohanim and Levites. They would devote themselves to spirituality and the service of God in the Tabernacle.  The Torah introduces us to the descendants and children of Moses and Aaron – אלה תולדות אהרן ומשה     these are the offspring of Moses and Aaron …….  And then begins to list only the sons of Aaron.   The Talmud – Sanhedrin asks why does the Torah list only the sons of Aaron and call them the offspring – תולדות of Moses as well. The Talmud says that if someone teaches someone else's children Torah, it as if he bore them.  Moses taught Aaron's son's Torah and became their spiritual father. The implication for teachers is that is that they must treat pupils and students as if they were their own children. The litmus test is that a student must see in the teacher a caring father and that the teacher's acceptance, respect, concern and love for the child must be unconditional and does not depend on what the child does – learn well or behave , but on who he is.

The question is why  ' unconditional teaching ', the title of an article   by A. Kohn, is   so important for the teaching of Torah.  The teaching of Torah should focus on the whole child – not only his external behavior and academics. It should focus on his thoughts, motives, underlying values, his emotional and spiritual side and informal learning = learning from all people etc.  We want kids to feel self-directed, internalize their learning, develop a love for learning, give expression to their personalities, individual thinking, learning and values through communication, doing good deeds and mitzvoth and teaching others.  When kids feel that they are valued conditionally, and feel more or less loved and accepted depending how they perform or behave, acceptance is never a sure thing. Carl Rogers explains that children will be able to accept themselves as fundamentally valuable and capable, is to the extent which they have been accepted unconditionally by others. They need to see themselves as basically good people in order to repent and do Teshuva, be accepting of others and do good  to them. Children, whose parental/teacher love and acceptance was conditional , based on what they do and not by who they are, have a lower perception of their overall worth, come to disown parts of them that are not valued , regard themselves as worthy only when they behave in certain ways and accept themselves  and others with strings attached. In extreme cases they will create a ' false self ' in order to be the person their parents will love.

When it comes to academics, acceptance is based on performance. We use competition to ' rank kids' against each other and try to remedy the situation by giving each kid a ' chance of being number one '.We motivate kids to learn by using grades, honor rolls, praise etc.  So the focus is on achievement and the message kids get is only those who do well count. We focus on helping kids think on how they are learning instead of focusing on what they are learning so they can connect to and internalize the learning. Kids, who feel valued irrespective of their achievements, accomplish quite a lot and develop a healthy self-confidence in themselves and a belief that it is safe to take risks and try new things. Every child should be able to find his place in the Beit Hamidrash, connect to the Torah and feel valuable in the eyes of the teacher.

When it comes to behavior, acceptance is based on a child being compliant and obedient. Kids are forced into time-out, detentions and suspensions or even corporal punishment or seduced by rewards   in the hope that they will be taught a lesson, to behave better and be more compliant. Kids experience these consequences and  ' doing to ' approaches rather differently - that acceptance is conditional, teachers are unfair, and mistake was being caught and become alienated from the teacher and learning in general. Instead of helping kids do Teshuva, and reflect on the consequences of their actions and feel sorry for others, they now feel sorry for themselves. When we focus on the whole child and not just on the behavior, we take into account feelings, motives, values, underlying problems, lagging skills etc. We can then echo the CPS, collaborative problem solving moto that 'children do well if they can and not children do well if they want to ' and try and deal with the underlying problems  that are giving fuel to the child's behavior and solve the problem – working with the child in a collaborative way.

Marilyn Watson in her book "Learning to Trust" explains that a teacher can make it clear to students that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing a deep kind of reassurance that she still cares about them and is not going to punish or desert them even if they do something very bad. This posture allows their best motives to surface and give them space and support them in the process of reflecting and autonomously engaging in the moral act of restitution - Teshuva. If we want students to trust that we care for them, then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return. It is not that we don't want or expect certain behaviors – we do, but our concern and affection does not depend on it. '

A relationship depends also on being interested in hearing their opinions and perspectives of how things could be done differently and countless gestures that let them know we are glad to see them. The Chazon Ish is quoted as saying – what kids need more than love is respect. For kids, how much the teacher cares is far more important than how much he knows.

Kohn asks teachers... Imagine that your students are invited to respond to a questionnaire several years after leaving school. They are asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree – how strongly – with statements such as : " Even when I was not proud of how I acted , even when I didn't do the homework, even when I got low test scores or didn't seem interested in what was being taught , I knew that – insert your name here – still cared about me."  How would you like your students to answer that sort of question? How do you think they will answer it?

With Shavuot approaching, we reflect on ' receiving the Torah ' and passing it on to future generations. We should remind ourselves that unconditional love, acceptance and respect will help us focus on the whole child and without judgment help them be more focused on what they are doing and learning and on not on ' how well ' they are doing, so that they can connect to the Torah and internalize its teachings..