Not Just Another School Year


naphtali hoffBy Rabbi Naphtali Hoff

But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven, a land the Lord, your God, looks after; the eyes of Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Devarim 11:11-12)

The above verses describe our holy land and the special divine providence that it enjoys. What is curious is the final segment, which details how such oversight will occur “from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” While the translation may not reflect any inconsistency, the original Hebrew states that it will occur from “from the beginning of the year (“hashana”) to the end of year (“shana,”omitting the prefix “hey”).

Rabbi Paysach Krohn explains that this change of expression can be understood to reflect what one might call our new year’s resolutions. As we approach the yamim noraim, we begin to reflect intently on the outgoing year. We think about past errors and ways through which we will improve ourselves and our lives. “This year will be the year,” we tell ourselves. However, for most of us, such remorse and resolve tends to be fleeting. Following the days of inspiration and introspection we begin to lapse back into the behaviors and attitudes of yesterday, converting “the year” into just another “year,” leaving our resolutions for change behind.

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Throughout the Jewish world, tens of thousands of children and young adults recently headed back to the classroom for another year of schooling. The excitement of a new year was palpable for children, parents and teachers.

But a funny thing often happens along the way. Our initial enthusiasm dissipates, sometimes within but a few days. We start to think of school less in terms of growth potential and achievement and more about the daily grind, an endless process of work, discipline, assignments and the like that for too many converts opportunity and passion into burden and indifference (if not outright contempt or despair). What can we do to make this school year the one that fulfills all of its promise? How can we make this year the best one ever?

While there is no formula that will work for all of us, there are some strategies that, if followed carefully and consistently, can help our children and ourselves gain the most from the upcoming school year.

  1. Adjust your mental paradigm – Too often, we think of tasks and processes as sprints. Our goal is to get off to a quick, strong start and we don’t anticipate having to sustain our effort for all that long. To succeed at school requires a different approach. Children as well as the adults who teach and support them need to take a long term view of things. This may include general persistence and strong study habits. It also refers to a mindset that we are in it for the long haul, with much to do before we can say that we’re finished (at least with this year’s work). Oftentimes, we become disillusioned because we feel that we should be done and resent the fact that we still have a ways to go. If we can program our minds from the outset to think in terms of distance and long-term goals, it will be easier for all of us to keep going until the very end.
  2. Clue them into the goals – Too often, children and parents don’t really know what the year’s goals and objectives are. Most would probably say “to finish _ grade.” As a former teacher, I would submit that teachers also (particularly newer ones) may enter the year with a nebulous sense of what needs to happen in order for the year to be considered a success. Teachers can help themselves and their charges by offering a list of objectives (“by the end of third grade, you will have learned … and be able to…”) Even if certain individual students are unable to achieve those goals as they are presented (more about that in a bit), they give the class and the year a sense of direction and purpose.
  3. Communicate early and often – It is crucial for parents and teachers to develop strong lines of communication. This is true on the high school level, and all the more so in primary grades. Of course, such communication should be two-way and proactive. However, I suggest that parents in particular take the initiative, and not wait for conferences or for things to go sideways. I can personally attest from my experience as a teacher as well as principal that involved parents are usually great advocates for their children. This is not to say that parents should overdo it. Rather, arrive at an early understanding as to when would be a good time to catch up and endeavor to stay consistent throughout the year, even when things appear to be going well. This will minimally result in the child receiving more positive feedback and may even allow for the adults to identify an issue and troubleshoot it before it becomes something bigger.
  4. How to you define success? – Oftentimes, success in school is narrowly defined. We place on the academic pedestal those students who are able to achieve in the context of text-based learning, with a strong combination of auditory processing, note taking, memorization and test taking skills. The rest, including those students who require additional academic supports and / or a different set of curricular expectations, typically do not thrive in such settings, and are forced to endure years of perceived mediocrity or worse in their most important area of self-definition and social status that they have during their formative years. And we all know what happens to children who develop low self-esteem and a general sense of disconnect and disenfranchisement with their learning.
  5. Develop a routine – Establishing a proper daily routine can be very healthy. Routines ensure that children and their parents remain focused and organized, and don’t let things get past them. Almost nothing causes greater stress in the morning than a child or two that overslept, can’t find what they need, realize that they didn’t do an assignment, etc. Moreover, when a child goes to sleep knowing that she is ready for the next day, she is more at peace and more relaxed. The goal is to keep the stress level down while also minimizing the association between school and stress.
  6. Daven – We all want for our children to be happy and successful. Certainly none of us want for them to experience a poor year, particularly with all of that money that we pay in tuition. Daven regularly that they should succeed.

Of course, the above list represents but a handful of suggestions that can help to ensure a successful year from beginning to end. May all of our tefillos be answered and may we shep much nachas from our children throughout the most amazing and successful year that is now upon us.

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting ( He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at

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