By Paul Shaviv
The school as one-stop center for the whole child
- One of my Jewish Studies teachers answered his doorbell one Saturday night. On the doorstep was a Grade 10 student and his parents. The teacher knew that the family lived close by. “Grandma just died, in our house. What do we do?” was the father’s opening comment. The teacher asked if they had a synagogue rabbi. “Yes – but he hardly knows us, and my son said you would help us,” was the response.
- A Guidance Counselor was asked by two parents for an appointment. When they arrived, the wife launched into an emotional tale of their marital difficulties. The teacher suggested they focus on their child. “What did you want to discuss?” she asked. “Oh no – we don’t want to talk about our child. We need some marital counseling. Our daughter always tells us how understanding you are. We thought you could give us some therapy. We can both come on Wednesdays at 4:00PM.”
- A child in Grade 3 was showing disturbing behavioral symptoms. The school contacted the parents several times. They seemed unable to understand what steps they needed to take to get treatment. A VP undertook to help. She ended up coordinating months of therapy, including brief hospitalization. The school was instrumental in arranging financial support
These three (true) stories are typical of the changing role of the school.
Today’s school is expected to fill many non-academic functions which are new to the historic model of the school.
Where are these demands coming from?
Several converging trends create pressures. Among them:
- School replaces the ‘shul’ – For many parents who send their children to Jewish schools, the school has replaced the synagogue as the major institution of Jewish connection. The school has become the family ‘Jewish resource’. It is looked to not only for education, but for family services, rabbinic advice and support as well. Why not? Children see their Jewish Studies teachers/rebbes for many hours each week. Their synagogue rabbi may occasionally shake their hand….
- Parents want the school to teach everything – Some educational tasks always regarded as parents’ responsibilities have moved to the classroom. Where do children learn values and manners nowadays?
- School has far greater responsibility for student health and welfare – medical, social, emotional – Schools must fulfil a ‘duty of care’ much broader than, say, forty or fifty years ago. This covers aspects of emotional, psychological and social welfare. There is a far greater emphasis on social, personal and health education.
- School should provide parent education – Schools increasingly provide ‘family education, ‘adult education, ‘parenting’ and other program extensions.
- ‘Special Needs’ expands to emotional as well as educational issues – Society is more sensitive to the ‘special needs’ of many children. This includes not only educational special needs, but emotional special needs as well. When I was at school, I had no idea of the family circumstances of my classmates. I don’t believe the teachers did either. Nowadays, teachers must be sensitive to the individual and family circumstances of their students, and make reasonable allowances for them. They often become confidantes and advisors.
- The students increasingly turn to school and teachers for all categories of support – In an age of volatile personal and family life, school often appears to children as the most stable environment in their lives. This leads to higher expectations, and perhaps higher feelings of dependence.
How does the school cope?
All these – and more – are changing the nature of schools, the skills needed to run them, and the range of professionals they need to employ.
- The problem is that the school has neither budget nor expertise for the increasing range of services it is called on to provide.
And as Tuition rises, parental expectations of service rise at the same rate….
- It is an institutionally-inflationary spiral.
Reconceptualising the school – is it possible?
In newsletter #32 – Is this the future of your school?, I suggested that schools will have to change radically. Work and society will be unrecognizable by 2050 … maybe earlier. Automation and robotics will change our world. Education has to change to meet it.
Then add today’s discussion.
Today’s changes are not as dramatic, and they are happening more slowly. But they are just as fundamental.
The school is changing.
- It is being charged with more and more responsibility for “the whole child” … and, increasingly, his/her parents and family as well.
What will the school of 2030 .. 2040 … 2050 look like? How will the school building be organized? What facilities will it contain?
- Schools must comprehensively restructure to be a new type of educational, community, social service and care resource.
Jewish schools must adapt at the same time to changing community patterns.
For some, these challenges and this vision will be exciting. As I wrote earlier, I believe that schools are facing their greatest challenges for the last 150 years.
But whatever happens – schools have hard thinking to do over the next few years.
And your school should be a leader.
- Do you recognize any of this reality in your own school?
- Is your school sufficiently sensitive to the non-academic needs of its students? Is support organized and professional – or ad hoc and sporadic?
- Do you know what percentage of budget your school spends on non-teaching services? Is that sum rising – or stable?
- Has anyone in your school thought seriously about the future?
How can you initiate that process?
Paul Shaviv is a consultant. He has particularly specialized in management, organization, and process. Find more at http://paulshavivconsulting.co