Flexible Spaces: Breviloquis

While we are purposeful in our design process in creating learning spaces wherein our students and teachers can engage and grow each day, the true flexibility and verve lie in the collective imagination of the educators in our community.  To that end, even the “traditional” classroom is invariably transformed to provide optimal environs for learning; whether we are easily shifting table alignment for meaningful differentiation, allowing our students to use any surface as a creative canvas,  transforming a space into a scene on the praire complete with a campfire and tent, or converting the space to simulate a geological dig,  the manifestation of the simplistic flexibility is found throughout the building. 

Beyond the homeroom, we continue to explore, study, adopt, and develop innovative learning space design.  Our idea labs allow all learners to flex their curiosities in liberating collaborative spaces.  Our Nature Sanctuary empowers our learners to discover the elemental rhythms and patterns in nature, while they strive to elucidate for themselves and their peers the connections the natural patterns have to our own values, learning, and relationships. 

Ultimately, the organicism of our mindset transcends the physical space and flashy tangibles, making the physical structure of our buildings and campuses merely a new age manipulative to fit our ever evolving vision for what is best for our learners (students, teachers,administrators, and parents).

A Fine Line

Working with elementary age students who are learning about navigating their social interactions while also learning math, science, language arts, and so on, I have frequently been asked by parents trying to help guide their children about the concept of tattling.

The context has typically revolved around my generation’s conviction that one should not be a “tattle tail”, thus we have aspired to imbed this dogma in our children so as to save them from the social stigma of being laden with this moniker. 

Ironically, our generation is also likely the first to so unwaveringly embrace and pursue our children advocating for themselves in all areas of their lives. 

I recently had a conversation where the question was asked “what’s the difference?”

While I have always had an internal sense of the difference, the fabulous question forced me to articulate it. 

When a child talks to an adult (teacher, parent, coach etc) in response to being hurt, feeling fear, or needing help to navigate or learn, that represents self-advocating.  However, when a child talks to an adult in an effort to share information that can place a peer in a position of being uncomfortable as a result of the action the adult might take, that is tattling. 

In essense, the fine line is motive.  If the motive is for one to help him or herself navigate, grow, and attain greater comfort then the behavior is one of advocacy.  Conversely, when the motive is to bring discomfort to another, then we must continue to help those who show the latter actions understand the negative effect of those social choices. 

It is a fine line, but one worth defining more clearly for our children and students so as to continue to support their social navigations. 

What it Takes

Invariably each year, I am called on to chat with a young student-athlete about priorities, organization, and simply “what it takes” to be successful in both academic and athletic endeavors.

Having had the good fortune to have worked with a number of student- athletes who have gone on to high levels of success in both areas, I have gleaned from those models a set of intangibles that seem to be common amongst them. 

Whether the student-athlete played D3 basketball or plays for the Phoenix Suns, is a linebacker at Colgate or a lacrosse midfielder at Hofstra, played soccer at Harvard, walked on at Ohio State, or won super bowl rings in the NFL. All of these examples shared a couple things in common. 

When I speak with young, ambitious student-athletes, I share these examples with a caring candor that I hope and trust will resonate. 

It is always important to empathize that a major part of ascending to great heights as a student athlete lies in what I call the “God-givens”, the measurables.  However, our cultural canon is laden with characters who have defied the traditional model of success in their area by overcoming the lack of ideal measurables.  These folks have been blessed with other “God-givens”, intangibles, unmeasurables that have been the catalysts in their success.

I illuminate these examples as well so as to exemplify the importance of the intangibles.  

The most important intangible I share is simple:

What do those who succeed do when nobody is looking, when there is nobody to perform for, nobody to coach or teach them, nobody pushing them?

What do they do when they are out of the classroom, off the playing surface?

What is their mindset about preparation, growth, overcoming obstacles, facing challenges, enduring pain & failure, strengthening weakness?

The best, most successful student-athletes have in common an immeasurable intangible that is catalytic in driving them to work on their crafts away from the classrooms and playing surface, when nobody is watching, with no immediate consequence or reward, no scores and no grades. 

It is what they do when nobody is watching that makes all the difference  when everybody is doing so. 

Exemplification of Culture: Part I

While this is most assuredly not the first example of how we embrace every opportunity to reach and meet our students’ needs through highly personalized practices, it is the first time I am documenting them, hence the “part I” moniker in the title.

A few weeks back, we had a a family ask if we would be willing to speak with an outside professional about strategies to support their very bright son’s academic needs to help curb some behaviors that perhaps had manifest themselves out of a lack of engagement. 

Always having our students growth at the center of our daily process, we welcomed the information, which sparked a conversation around the question “what can we do to excite him and others like him in the area of literature studies?”

The question was asked less than 24 after receiving the information from the outside professional, the discussion included multiple creative academic leaders, and a plan was set in place to offer a literacy enrichment experience for a group of uber bright 5th graders who needed and wanted to be stretched with sophisticated literature and the complex strategies to study them. 

Within 2 days, the group, facilitator, schedule and reading selections were created, and one week later a group of 7 students and a guide met at 7:30 am to discuss plot, setting, irony, and culture found in Saki’s The Interlopers.

A rich discussion ensued that engaged, stretched, and excited all of us as we congregated  around the Harkness table we made of the science lab table. 

When the outside professional heard that we had made this happen so quickly, he was shocked. 

For us, it was just what we do. 

Choreography of Writing

Last week as I made my commute from the farm to school on a day that I would be teaching a writing lesson, I thought of a metaphor for teaching strategic, organized writing. 

While we still have remnants of a teaching era that spoke of formulaic writing like it was sour milk on their upper lip, we have evolved from that era all the wiser. 

Our wisdom led me to create a  metaphorical anecdote that has resonated nicely, so I thought I would share. 

Someone who is a gifted, beautiful dancer will look good dancing no matter what.  But put that dance talent to choreography and the results are awe inspiring, professional grade. 

Someone who can’t dance at all repulses the observer with the Elaine Bennis-esque movement.  Yet choreograph that person’s movement, and it can be nice. 

Providing strategies for development does the same for writers.  Beautifully gifted writers transcend their talent with  organizational choreography, while those less talented can still dance on the stage when their phrasing is well organized by the choreography of strategic development.

Further, those who are exposed to expert choreographical strategies can utilize those strategies in creating their own original compositions. Even the less innately talented can take away strategies with which they have become savvy if not expert through practice and be more beautiful in their expression.

Supporting Needs

It is a central part of the human condition to have needs that can only be addressed with outside support.  As educators, we always seek to identify what each child needs and provide that support so that each can achieve, succeed, be happy,  and share their gifts with the world.  

Whether a bright child needs support in making good social choices, or the socially savvy child needs support with handwriting, it is incumbent upon us to support the needs of all our children. 

I am often asked by young students “Mr. Rothstein, what do you do here?”   Or I have children who think I am only there when someone gets in trouble. 

I wouldn’t have left the classroom and athletic environs I loved so much for such a drab existence.  Rather, as I often explain in response, my role
is to make sure all students and teachers feel safe and comfortable so that teachers can teach and students can learn.  

Each day, we look to ensure these integral Maslowian needs.  The actionables in this important endeavor take many forms. The consistent piece is the mindset that what we are doing is what is ultimately best for our students.  

Sometimes, the pursuit of this daily objective requires difficult conversations with students, teachers, and parents.  But we rest assured that as passionate and committed educators, the outcome, the end goal is worth tackling the challenging moments with optimism. 

In doing so, we likewise model for our students the importance of conviction, of having courage to know a challenge faces us, yet we proceed with energy and confidence that fearlessly charging forward offers opportunities for meaningful results for everyone involved. 

Does everything always work out? Not remotely.  Yet the growth minded, positive, student – centered approach always yields feelings of purpose and accomplishment regardless of outcome. 


So the word gibush loosely means “icebreaker”, which ultimately reflects the goal of our beginning of the year 8th grade retreat.

But this group, the Davis class of 2016 (holy shnikies 2016?), needs no ax or pick, nor thoroughly developed icebreaking activities.  They are a galvanized bunch as we confirmed over those 48 hours this week.

Being a chatty crew is both a gift and a curse.  But the gift of it far outweighs the curse.  They are tightknit, friendly, comfortable and fun.  They also know how to be serious in small groups, and how to show archetypal ruach as a whole.

While the whole group dynamic reveals their spirit, fun, and energy, the small group dynamic reveals that this is a group stocked with leadership, wisdom, and passion for Judaism, scholarship, and Davis.

While some were in the lake splashing, on the ropes swinging, or flat out competing in the Gaga pit, others were expressing creativity, discussing tefilla, and brainstorming CLIMB projects.  

The chochma and kavod displayed in the tefilla and CLIMB discussions were of such powerful quality, that the adults in the room talked about capturing the moment in a bottle for later use.  The kids were fabulous. 

When asked to either purposefully or randomly select a passage from the prayer book to discuss, the depth and courage that our 2016ers showed reflected the combination of their personal maturity and the foundational values we teach, practice and celebrate every day at Davis.  When discussing their 8th grade CLIMB project topics, once again, the passion for knowledge, creative verve, and values driven process exemplified what this group, the Davis class of 2016 is all about. 

The highlight for me, beyond the above mentioned moments was the campfire singing and dancing.  58 friends, led by Rabbi Micah and his guitar, accompanied by their teachers, danced, sang, hugged, high fived, fist pumped and laughed around the fire with such blind immersion into the moment that they were not aware of the iconic experience they were creating. Fortunately, I was able to capture a brief one minute video to share with them later.  Again, this is a tight knit group whose energy is infectious. 

When I arrived home after the retreat I found myself both exhausted and invigorated.  This group-their energy, their fun, their curiosity, their wisdom, their love of their kehilla- has our excitement for the year at a high level.