What We Can All Learn from Rosh Hashana
Shana Tova! Today is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Yes, for those who don’t know, the Jewish tradition follows a lunar calendar which begins in the fall, and is currently welcoming in year 5776! “Shana Tova” is one of the traditional Rosh Hashana greetings – it means “Happy New Year” in Hebrew. Speaking of Hebrew, the language has an amazing revitalization story that I will have to write about one day… But today I would like to discuss what I love about this time of year, and some lessons Rosh Hashana might have for teachers and everyone.
New Season, New Year
For me, it’s always seemed more appropriate that the new calendar year begin at the same time as the new school year. September in the northern hemisphere marks an important transition from summer to fall, from vacation back to work or school. It’s often a time when sports, language lessons, and other activities start up again after a break. For many, it’s a time to start something new. For teachers, it is time to start planning their classes for the year ahead and, consciously or not, it becomes a time for reflection.
Reflect and Renew
The most important element of the Jewish New Year is that it is a time for reflection and renewal. Rosh Hashana is a celebration, but it also begins the 10 “Days of Repentance” before Yom Kippur, during which Jewish people are to reflect on the past year, make amends for any wrongs they have committed, and make goals for the year ahead. Contrary to some misinformed understandings of Judaism, the religion has a robust notion of forgiveness. In a nutshell, God can forgive you for sins committed against God but if you want forgiveness for wrongs done to other people, you must seek it directly from them. During these days, we are to ask those we have hurt to forgive us, and to give forgiveness to those who ask for it genuinely.
As a secular Jew, I appreciate this understanding and use this time of year to reflect on what I am most and least proud of from the year before. On an interpersonal level, I seek to make amends where needed, and to have meaningful conversations with family and friends about our relationships and our communal goals. On a personal and professional level, I review my goals from the previous year, reflect on what I have learned, seek input from family and friends, and make new goals for the year ahead. I usually do this on my own accord but this year I am also trying 10Q.
10Q is a website which asks you a question a day during the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It then locks your answers until the following year when it sends them back to you for your reflection. Questions include “Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?” and “Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year.” It seems like these questions will definitely get the reflective juices flowing, and could be useful for anyone of any background who is interested in personal growth. Why not use the new (Jewish/ school) year as an excuse for some reflective thinking?
Reflective Practice in Teaching
Many teachers engage in reflective teaching practices without realizing it. They notice that something worked well for their students and they plan to do it again, or they notice that students were totally disengaged and revise the lesson plan for next time. But it can also be easy to get into a groove and forget to check in with ourselves and our students. Kath wrote about reflective practice in teaching here, and recently shared some of her own reflections on teaching high school here. I also appreciate these tips for being a reflective teacher from Edutopia.
Whatever the reason (new year, new job, rough day) and whatever the method (10Q, story writing, discussion over a beer), taking time to reflect on your practice, to grapple with difficult questions about what you do and why, and to set goals for yourself, is crucial for becoming a great teacher (and this is probably true for all professions). A genuine dedication to renewal and improvement can be energizing, and will reflect in your attitude toward your job and your students. At the very least, it is bound to contribute even in small ways to personal, interpersonal, and professional growth.