Emotions and Learning

I was recently sent an op-ed in which the author makes a passionate case about the importance of relationships in learning. Points were made about how recent research in education sheds light on the role emotion plays in learning, how important it is to have an explicit social-emotional curriculum, and how schools and organizations should create mechanisms to evaluate how well they are doing at promoting healthy relationships between colleagues as well as between teachers and students. It was an excellent piece, but I am still struggling to understand why it was published – we know this. We’ve known it for a long time. So what gives? Why did we have to say this right now?


Maybe outside the walls of our Jewish Day Schools this is controversial or innovative, but I have tell you that in schools like Gesher our entire community has been bought in to the idea that learning is linked to relationships and emotion for decades, if not millennia.  The Jewish tradition is filled with stories and legal discourse all focused on creating a just society based on empathy and loving-kindness.  Our Day Schools, camps, religious schools, and preschools are ALL engaged in the project of bringing this traditional together with modern research and cutting edge pedagogical approaches.


I’ve been in Jewish education a long time, but I also connect often with all kinds of educators from other schools (admittedly mostly private schools, but not only), and when I describe the unique approach we are bringing to creating our community with both tradition and innovation, I often sense a bit of jealousy.  Other educators are looking for the kinds of the opportunities to build community and teach ethical leadership that we consider core components of Jewish education today.


I’m glad that op-ed was published, and I’m glad I was perplexed — it is never bad to remind ourselves how important it is to consider the enormous importance of social-emotional learning, and the link between learning and relationships.  After all, what is all this learning for?  If it is simply about what college you enter and what job you get, then I don’t think we’ve really accomplished our goals.  It is about those things, but it is also our job to raise children who will improve the world by living meaningfully – that simply doesn’t happen in a vacuum.


This Shabbat I encourage you to think about any teachers you can remember from your own education, and what stands out in your memory.  Are there particular lessons, or do you remember more about who they are and how they made you feel?  Share this with your loved ones, and ask them what they love about their own teachers…betcha they don’t talk about content as much as feelings.

Shabbat Shalom,