EQ, IQ and Jew-Q? Soille Hebrew Day School Introduces Responsive Classroomby Leorah Gavidor July 26, 2018
Being a mensch—a good person—goes hand in hand with achievement.” That’s head of school Rabbi Simcha Weiser’s reasoning behind the new responsive classroom program rolling out for fall 2018 at Soille Hebrew Day School, which serves pre-K through eighth grade at its Kearny Mesa campus.
“The old-school way, it was thought that a rigorous education did not include an aspect of social and emotional intelligence,” Weiser continued. Otherwise known as “EQ,” emotional intelligence is not traditionally part of school curriculum. The responsive classroom approach, employed in other U.S. schools with success, addresses emotions that come up in the normal course of a school day and can distract students from focusing on learning.
For an example of how the approach looks in practice, Rabbi Weiser imagines a (very real) situation: two teams playing a game at recess. One team lost and one team won. There might be team members who come in from recess feeling angry or upset over the loss. Instead of jumping right in to lessons when the kids are clearly not ready to pay attention, the teacher can take a few minutes to acknowledge what happened and involve the whole class in discussing it. The teacher asks the students who feel upset to examine why and share it with the class. Other students can contribute their thoughts on the matter, and the teacher can give them the structured direction to reconcile the dispute. Then the energy can be redirected to the task at hand.
“It takes just three – four minutes,” Weiser described. “Rather than take away from learning time, as some might be concerned this would do, those few minutes of talking something over add exponentially to the quality of learning.”
It’s not only about acknowledging the emotion, but also giving students the language to talk to each other about issues and the tools for reconciliation. It also goes a step further, Weiser emphasized. “It’s about having the language to accept responsibility.”
“So much of work is collaborative, and we want to give our students the foundation they need to succeed.”
He is grateful to the staff for being receptive to the approach and attributes its adoption to teachers who tried it out in their classrooms during the 2017-2018 academic year. The responsive classroom builds on Soille’s “Successful Me” curriculum, which emphasizes character development in all grades and disciplines in the school.
“The Judaic framework posits appreciating the world we live in, which is how a person grows to be a healthy human being,” said Weiser of the holistic approach.
“It speaks to that Talmudic notion: ‘that which is hateful to you, don’t do to your fellow.’”
Weiser sees emotional intelligence as a natural part of a person’s identity, and he hopes Soille’s emphasis on developing it adds to the efforts the school puts into helping students grow their Jewish identities as citizens of the world.
“We call it ‘Jewish IQ.’” How about Jew-Q for short?
As head of school for 37 years, Weiser is able to reflect on changes in student populations. He sees the need for education to counteract the negative effects technology has had on character development. Face to face communication, reconciliation and accepting responsibility are all skills lost when social media is the main point of contact for groups. The responsive classroom is certainly a response to those aspects of social life that are lacking in modern communities.