It’s one thing to deal with the day to day Chinuch concerns of mechanchim, it’s quite another to ferret out underlying causes of problems and try to remedy them beyond sponsoring a single event. That’s what was especially interesting about the Kinus HaMechanchim, held last week in Danbury, CT.
While our schools are developing new programs and our mechanchim and mechanchos are better prepared, the need for better real communication is the challenge of the day, according to Rabbi Nochem Kaplan, director of the Merkos Chinuch Office.
“I visited more than 30 Chabad mosdos chinuch last year and I found a lot of dedication and hard work. I also saw that we have a huge, growing communication gap,” Rabbi Kaplan said. “We are not able to reach too many of our children and they just go through ‘the system’ without benefitting from it. The Learning to Communicate program featured at the Kinus must be broadened so that all mechanchim and mechanchos will be able to benefit,” said Kaplan. Plans for the future will include programs for parents in Crown Heights and other areas.
“We know we need to reach very student in our classes,” said Rabbi Shlomo M., “we are just not able to deal with those on the periphery, we just don’t have the expertise.”
Truth be told, mechanchim and mechanchos are much more inclusive today; they individualize more and they prepare better in order to be able to do so. That still leaves out many children with special learning or emotional needs; no just the classified cases, the minor ones too.
Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Segal, an American born Gerer Chasid, with a long list of professional credentials, made communication his “mivtza” his cause. Over the last few years he has impacted the Israeli Chabad community tremendously. Thousands gathered to hear him in K’far Chabad, he teaches in almost all Chabad seminaries in Israel and the Chinuch Office brought him home to address the Kinus this year. In all he made three presentations to fully engaged audiences.
Rabbi Segal’s contention is that we generally communicate what we want but too often are not aware of what the recipient needs to hear. “If we are to be effective and actually achieve communication goals, this must change,” he said. “When a teacher scolds a child for coming late, the child will see the scolding adult tyranny unless he is given the opportunity to explain his point of view. Only if the child feels that he was properly listened to and then given to understand, why his explanation does not excuse the fact that he missed class work, will he understand that he needs to accept responsibility.”
If the child is then upset and unable to concentrate, the problem he faces will be exacerbated when the teacher asks him a question which he is unable to answer.
Rabbi Segal based his presentation upon his acclaimed films. The first film he showed depicted contrasting approaches to communicating with children; demanding parents and teachers, as juxtaposed with a sensitive educator. The film’s purpose was help jump-start a process of introspection among mechanchim; the film was his catalyst.
The film followed a child, who feels that the adults in his life are not listening to him and how he is actively being alienated from both school and home. Rabbi Segal commented as the story unfolded. He explained how teacher (or parent) self- centered communication is the alienating factor. When the teachers or parent is sensitive to what the child is experiencing rather that what he needs to communicate, the child is more ready to listen and actually hear.
Too often, as the film showed, teachers and parents who have the best intentions and are clear about their expectations are too absorbed in what they want for and from the child that they fail to hear his cry for real communication. They are oblivious to the child’s cry to be heard.
The second film Rabbi Segal showed centered on a child’s experiences and how he is affected by peers, and superiors. Here to he showed how to view the child through his experiences. When an educator understands the source of a child’s “acting out” he can deal with the cause rather than the symptom.
The reaction to both films was first hushed silence and then an out pouring of sentiment, the mechanchim discussing if and where they fit into the whole scene.
Issues which were raised at the Kinus are not filed, stored and abruptly ignored; the idea is to zero in on things that need attention and to develop them further throughout the year. This is very much in evidence at the Chinuch Office; plans are now being made for follow-up and broadening of the audience.
Rabbi Kaplan intends to bring the Rabbi Segal phenomenon to the broader Crown Heights community, much as did when he introduced the Safety Kid program two years ago. That program has trained every child from age 3 through 8 in all Crown Heights educational institutions how to protect themselves against predators. “Now we need to help parents communicate with their children better,” he said. He is now looking to secure the necessary funding.
Teachers and parents must use sensitive listening skills as their first line of communication. They must create an atmosphere in which a child is unafraid to communicate his feelings and respond to what they hear with sensitivity but intellectually rather that emotionally.