#4: Early Childhood Education During COVID-19 (Alicia Stoller & Rabbi Jason Klein)

Rabbi Klein talks about early childhood education with Alicia Stoller, the Director of the Saul & Carole Zabar Nursery School at Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. They discuss how best practices like trust-building, educating for a diverse world, learning from mistakes, and more remain timeless – even during a pandemic. Alicia also presents her nuanced answer to the following question: how can parents and educators help each other help our children? This conversation is part of a double episode focused on parenting and teaching during the pandemic. For parents of adolescents, we recommend Temple Talks Ep. #5 between Rabbi Zimmerman and psychiatrist Dr. Gail Bernstein. Please subscribe to Temple Talks and review the show. Comments and questions can be directed to tmoss@templeisrael.com. Talk with us!
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below. 

Alicia Stoller

You know, it’s true that especially younger children are very much in the moment, but I think that sometimes causes us to not revisit thing with children because we feel that if we missed the moment, we missed our opportunity. But actually, we can go back to things with kids and there’s something really powerful—even with really young children—about a grownup stepping back and saying, “you know, when that happened the other day, I think I didn’t react the way I wish that I had. I’d like to talk a little bit more about that.” Or, “I didn’t answer that question the way I wish I had.”

The ability to model that going-back­, it doesn’t undermine our authority. It actually enhances that relationship of trust and that sense that our authority is coming from a logical and loving place. That supports the relationship in a positive way. It models for children how we can all revisit, we can all apologize, we can all rethink, we can all reflect and come to new and different ideas. 

Rabbi Klein

That’s beautiful. It seems like when we talk about teshuvah as a Jewish value, and this idea of turning around and doing better, we want to really name it—name where we missed the mark. What a great way to model that for children. Because, how many times might a parent or an educator say, “you need to apologize” as opposed to “I’m going to now apologize to you because there’s something I think I could have done better.” Or even just something that needs revisiting. There can be different degrees of what apology looks like, or what teshuvah looks like.

You talked a lot about trust, could you say a bit more about trust between parents and educators? There may be tension because an educator sees a different side of a student. What are some best practices for educators or parents who may be listening to this?

Alicia Stoller

There’s something that’s very easy to lose sight of from both sides of that relationship, and something that we lose sight of more generally in our relationships: we are all a bit different in any given context, but we also want to assume that we know people fully or we know people best. But actually, we only experience them in the context in which our relationship exists. So I think a really key piece that we sometimes miss is that it is possible, and in fact common, for children to be in some way different at home and in school. In the same way, we adults are different in different aspects of our lives—at home, at work, in different kinds of relationships etc. We show different parts of ourselves. We’re confident in different ways in different environments.

That’s true for school and home too. Teachers and parents have a lot of emotional stake in thinking they know the whole child. Yes, we talk about the value of trying to get to know a child in a holistic way. But let’s start from the assumption that parents know their children best at home, and teachers know their children best at school. Those things don’t have to completely mesh. They don’t have to be complete mirrors of each other. That allows us to better listen to one another and come closer to knowing the full child. 

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