The New School Year!

We have finished the holiday season and now look forward to some five-day weeks — in the first 19 days of school, we held our three back to school nights. Several parents have asked me to share my remarks; I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback:


ECC Back to School Night

After 30 years of marriage, a husband and wife came for counseling.

When asked what the problem was, the wife went into a tirade listing every problem they had ever had in the years they had been married. On and on and on: neglect, lack of intimacy, emptiness, loneliness, feeling unloved and unlovable – an entire laundry list of unmet needs she had endured.

Finally, after allowing this for a sufficient length of time, the therapist got up, walked around the desk and after asking the wife to stand, he embraced and kissed her long and passionately as her husband watched – with a raised eyebrow.

The woman shut up and quietly sat down in a daze. The therapist turned to the husband and said, “This is what your wife needs at least 3 times a week. Can you do this?”

“Well, I can drop her off here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Fridays I fish.”

We all have needs – some are met and some are unmet. We have need for connection, we have need for smooth carlines, we have need for safety, we have needs for ourselves, and we have needs for our kids.

As a school, we consider those needs with great intensity – we think about what children need to grow and thrive. We think about what parents need to help their children grow and thrive. We consider what teachers need as well, all with the words of Jean Piaget, the early 20th century educational psychologist in mind,

The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

And so every year we commit ourselves to being the best school we can be, where children’s needs are put front and center. We commit to bringing in the best programs, following the right pedagogy, and learning the new research on child development. And this means that each year there is something new at our school…this year, we are so proud to offer kids our indoor/outdoor classroom program, meditation, yoga, Hebrew language acquisition, hiking, family-style hot lunch program, the consistency of Conscious Discipline all under the mantra that a “moving child is a learning child.”

We recognize that we are growing the world’s future leaders – and this isn’t a hyperbolic statement, but rather a factual one. We know that Pressman Academy graduates go on to the top colleges and universities in the country, that their education and their families position them to be leaders and agents of change.

And I want to emphasize that we do this all with a tremendous amount of Kavanah. We know you are entrusting us with your precious children. We take that responsibility very seriously and weigh our decisions and our choices with extreme deliberation. We think carefully about what children need to grow and thrive – both for their present states as well as for their future world domination.

So thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for entrusting us with your children. I look forward to a beautiful year together.


Day School Back to School Night

I want to tell you about 21st Century education. I want to tell you about how technology is imploding the dominant paradigm of education, creating a reality in which we don’t need teachers to impart information. Students don’t need to be in a classroom to learn how to solve an algebraic problem, what the date of the battle of Gettysburg was, or how to conjugate a Hebrew verb, just like you didn’t need to be in the classroom to learn when your child is going to PE, to hear what the curriculum for the year will be or to be told to send your child in a white shirt on Fridays. Instead, technology frees our teachers to act as a coach, working individually with students or with small groups to bring the material to life. Technology frees our students to engage in deep havruta learning, sitting in a pairs or small groups, dissecting a line of text and asking difficult questions to each other about its meaning. Technology frees us to facilitate a group conversation for how to support a sick friend. And technology frees us to build community with students and parents, using every opportunity (even Back to School Night!) to engage in relationships, collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking instead of information giving.

I want to tell you about how Conscious Discipline is nurturing hearts. Conscious Discipline, our emotional intelligence program, teaches children how to respond from the higher centers of the brain rather than react from the lower centers of the brain. Teachers learn how to help children rewire their brains for better self-control and impulse-control. It teaches that we need to shift from a discipline that relies on fear to a discipline that relies on love. Love, not as a feeling, but as a decision to bring the best of who we are to each moment. It is through Conscious Discipline that we are able to nurture hearts, creating connections and safe spaces for our children to grow and thrive.

I want to tell you about our incredible academic program, which develops our students’ minds. In just the last 10 days of school, fifth graders built self-watering systems to hydrate the seeds the second graders grew in science; first graders learned to build their reading stamina; third graders have explored what it means to do tschuvah; and kindergarteners know what is sababa (and what is not!) We have opened our new Makers Space, so that all students in Gesher through 5th grade have opportunities to engage in robotics, design thinking and coding. And we know our program is strong – last year, 87 students qualified for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and 45 students received the U.S. Department’s Presidential Award for Academics. And some of the best feedback we get is from high schools, when we track our students – many who place into the honors classes wherever they go – and see how they receive disproportionate numbers of academic awards from the schools they attend.

I want to tell you about the kinds of human beings who grow up in this building, due in many ways to the Jewish values that live in our school. Our children collect SOVA and tzedakah, learn t’filot and discuss what kind of t’fillah community they wish to create. Last week at Kabbalat Shabbat our fifth graders begged to sing both paragraphs of the Aleinu and all of our students find utter joy in being Jewish, learning and doing Jewish. And again, we see the product; we see our graduates leading and acting as agents of social change, using their knowledge to leave the world a better place. The best compliment I hear all over town is, “Oh Pressman. That’s the school that graduates mensches.”

So I want to tell you all about that, but I am not going to. I am not going to tell you how we are developing minds and nurturing hearts and instilling Jewish values. I am not going to tell you about how education is changing under our feet, and that Pressman sits at the cutting edge, intersecting innovative pedagogy with Jewish education. And I am not going to tell you about the kavanah- the intention – that every staff member inserts into Pressman Academy every day.

Instead I am going to tell you a story. Some of you have heard me tell this story, so please indulge me and forgive me if you have –

As many of you know, on the last day of school last year, our Parent Association hosted a party at the Santa Monica Pier on the last day of school. It was a perfect way to end school, with roller coasters and good food and friends.

As I was leaving the party, walking down the pier to my car, I heard some music and noise coming from the beach below. Looking over the edge, I saw 31 Pressman alumni – alumni in that they had graduated the night before – huddled on the sand together in a tight circle. Singing.

Yachad, lev el lev niftach venir’eh

These 13 and 14 year olds had left the pier, left the rides, left the ice cream and cotton candy, to gather together as a class, perhaps for one last time. They had left the pier on their own, without an adult to tell them and without an adult to supervise them. They had gathered as a class to sing, and not JUST to sing (which would be remarkable enough) but to sing Hebrew, Jewish, Israeli songs. From what I heard, they stayed there singing for hours.

And this, this is what I want to tell you tonight – I want to tell you that we are a school where your children are going to form community, a community that is as tight as family. I want to tell you that we are a school where music and joy permeate our hallways, our classrooms, our learning. We are a school where students leave fluent in a second language, with a brain wired for language acquisition. We are a school where students learn not just the academic skills, and not just the language acquisition skills, but also the “soft skills” of how to collaborate and build resilience to succeed in the world. I want to tell you that we are a school that graduates remarkable human beings.

Thank you for trusting us with the education of your children.


Middle School Back to School Night

Years before she played Carrie Mathison, Claire Danes emerged as an actress on the show My So Called Life. For those of you not familiar with the show – which aired for just one season in the mid 90s – Claire Danes played 15-year-old Angela Chase, perfectly reflecting the angst of adolescence. If you haven’t ever seen it, I recommend it – and if you watched it as an adolescent, you need to watch it as a parent. (I appreciated it from a totally different perspective!) There is a scene in the pilot that is so beautifully written – Angela is sitting in class, feeling self-conscious and anxious. She puts her head and face into her turtleneck, to hide from the group, and reflects, “My parents keep asking how school was. It’s like saying, “How was that drive-by shooting?” You don’t care how it was, you’re lucky to get out alive.”

And I think for many teens and pre-teens, this is a fairly accurate statement. Much of a middle school student’s brain is centered on the social and emotional – who is noticing me? How am I measuring up to others? How do I fit in? What do others think of me? Even the schools that are characterized as “the academic ones”, the ones whose mission statements are all about research and instruction, agree that 90-95% of middle school centers around the social and emotional growth of children.

And so tonight you will learn about how your child’s middle school years will be supportive, in order to be successful. Or at least not likened to a drive by shooting!

Tonight you will have a chance to experience a small piece of our advisory program, the small group that will be your child’s landing place for the next year (or two or three). You will get to experience the philosophy of Conscious Discipline, as we help children wire their brains for impulse control. You will meet the faculty who care for, know, appreciate and enjoy your children every day, and you will have opportunities to establish (or re-establish) partnered relationships with each. We know our program is academically strong – you can look at last year our 8th graders’ median ERB scores, which were all in the highest percentiles when compared nationally, or at our graduates, who go on to receive a disproportionate number of academic awards at their high schools, or at the middle school curriculum, as evidenced in the videos you hopefully watched from your children’s teachers. But the reason our students can succeed academically – and the reason your children will succeed – is because of the kavanah, the intention, we place into their social and emotional growth. Children learn to listen deeply to their peers in kesher; they learn to care for others through our Got Mitzvah Tikkun Olam program; they learn to advocate for their own needs alongside their advisors. And they rely on the support, friendship and camaraderie of the social groups here at Pressman.

Almost 100 years ago, Jean Piaget shared:

The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

We are confident that by nurturing our middle school students’ hearts and instilling Jewish values, we will help them to develop minds and create whole new worlds for the generations to come. Thank you for entrusting your children to Pressman Academy.

WHAT we communicate

Today in our Leadership Team meeting, we had a conversation about communication. As you (probably, hopefully) know, we have been working thoughtfully and purposefully this year on how we do a better job of communicating from school and teacher to parent. The good news is that we are not alone in this struggle – many schools struggle with how to communicate information and philosophy to parents. The bad news is that many schools also struggle, and it’s hard to find a model of what works.

The first question is why we communicate. We determined that we communicate:

  • to create connections and relationships
  • to impart information
  • so you can feel proud about what is happening at your school

We then turned to two questions: “what does the school want parents to know?” and “what information do parents want from the school?” Here is our list:


How did we do? Did we miss something important? How might you prioritize these?

Please communicate to us whether we are communicating the right information!


I need a cloning machine.

Next week, I need to be in Los Angeles and in Tampa – at the same time. Last week, my daughter needed me at home, my refrigerator needed me to be shopping for food, and work needed me in a meeting. I often think, “if I could just be in two places at once, life would be manageable!”

And I am fully confident that students in schools where 21st Century learning is held up, celebrated and pushed will invent one for me.

My favorite part of the video (though who wouldn’t love the girl with the orange in her mouth?!) is when Erno Rubik talks about education, “They were teaching answers. I believe questions are probably more important today than answers.”

I actually had this very conversation today with the incredibly wise Marlynn Dorff. For those of you who don’t know her (and for those of you who do), she is a Bible scholar, author and master teacher. In our hevruta study today, she shared that one of her great influences was Rabbi Buzzy Porten z”l at Camp Ramah Poconos. When they were learning Torah, he would ask “What is the question?!” Marlynn shared that his approach caused her to approach Torah study by looking at every pasuk with the knowledge that there was a question waiting to be asked. And this ultimately led her to pursue a degree in Bible from JTS and then to teach and inspire thousands of others.

So whether it is science, engineering, Torah or humanities, all evidence indicates that we need to allow children to ask deep, thoughtful questions and then to provide the space and resources to answer those questions.

I would like to challenge you — when your child comes home to tell you about his/her day, ask, “what questions did you ask today?” Because it’s only through your child’s questioning that I am going to get my cloning machine…

Is STEM the wrong model?

Many of you probably read the article in the Washington Post “Why America’s Obsession with STEM Education is Dangerous” — and some of you may have had your heart skip a beat in fear (I am not going to lie, I read the title with a dread of, “have we got this all wrong?”) I know as I read the article, my blood pressure lowered slightly with each new idea and my breathing finally returned to a steady pace about halfway through the article because, no, not only have we not got this all wrong but in fact, we are doing it right.

In the article, Fareed Zakaria argues that we cannot simply mimic many Asian nations’ models of skill-based academics that are then validated with standardized testing. Those nations, such as Japan and South Korea, have incredibly skilled work forces that have allowed their nations’ economies to grow. However, if we do not want to simply build the cheaper computer chip, but we want to be the nation that thinks up how to build a computer chip that runs better and smarter, we need to be a country of innovators — and innovation requires communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.

(As an interesting side note, Zakaria points out that Israel, Sweden and the U.S. currently rank strongest in innovation scores as measured by several different criteria and all perform fairly poorly in worldwide standardized test scores.)

I really appreciate the article for several reasons, not the least of which being that I feel validated for our approach to education. We absolutely must expose our students to engineering, scientific thinking, coding, Makers spaces and experimentation. Kids must learn how to “fail forward”. However, we cannot provide these opportunities at the expense of a well-rounded education; what is the point if someone can build a robot but cannot write about his findings? Why would we teach children to build machines or to invent new products without giving them a moral framework for the use of such machines?

It leads me to a lot of questions about the kinds of schools being created and the kind of education being offered in many places. In an effort to carve out a competitive edge, many schools are framing themselves as a STEM school, a place where students can become entrepreneurs and where paper & pencil is a tool of the past. But are we serving our children well by placing them in such a singularly-focused educational setting? Even if our child seems to display a talent, should we encourage a well-rounded education? I have recently learned that many of our schools’ technology personnel (including Pressman’s Instructional Technology Specialist!) are English majors! I always appreciated my dad’s adage that “college is not vocational prep” — how much more so is this true of middle school and high school?

What do you think? Is there value in a well-rounded education? What about when your child seems to display a particular love, passion or ability? Should he/she be placed in a more specialized educational setting? And if so, at what age?

A Question for Pressman Parents

Since this blog was created, I have been using it to share articles and ideas; to ask questions about children, parenting and teaching; and to be transparent in my ideas about schools and education. It was started as a way to communicate I am going to take a break from this theoretical for a moment and share a struggle I have been facing, hoping for some feedback and ideas.

The Setting & Challenge

Pressman Academy is, in many ways, in year 3 of a transition. The Head of School has been a three year transition — in year one, Rabbi Malkus shared he was leaving; in year two, Rabbi Rembaum served as the Interim Head of School; and I came in year three (and hopefully this is the end of the Head of School transition time for a long time!) There have been other transitions within the school and community, in terms of staffing and leadership (in the last five years there have been 25 new staff members, a new Middle School Principal and a new PE teacher amongst other things). And there still exist questions about our building and Capital Campaign.

I hear from parents questions and a desire to know that THIS is where our school is going, and THIS is what our action plan looks like. Unfortunately THIS isn’t yet written down and – as our theme this year is hazoneinu – it’s not yet completely formed, as it requires all of our input. However, there are parts that we do know and areas on which we are making progress.

The Question

For the questions you have, for the wonderings that enter your mind, for the parts you want to know — what is the best way to share? Do you want a “State of the School” to know the issues and ideas on which we are working and prioritizing? Do you want open office hours with the Head of School? Do you want to communicate through email? How do you want to ask your questions — a drop box? In person?

Or do you not have any questions?

It is important to me that we have a school where open communication is welcome, celebrated and expected. Where parents know the person to whom they can turn with a question, and where we all have clarity about the philosophy and happenings of the school.

How do you suggest we do this?


Over the winter break I read the book iRules by Janelle Hoffman. I definitely recommend it (and Inez Tiger and I will be writing more about it in a coming week), but there was one point that really made me stop and wonder. She writes about a sleepover where 10 and 11 year olds were present. At the end of the party, parents — many of whom she had known for years — pulled in her driveway, texted their child to come to the car, and the child left. She writes of her horror, realizing the absence of the niceties of coming to the door and thanking a fellow parent for their hosting. She writes, “Doesn’t it seem natural to want to come in and check in with a parent at the home where your 12-year-old just spent the night?”

I have asked some parents of older children about their experiences, and I am intrigued by their answers. One mom told me that her daughter’s friend from camp flew down from San Francisco to stay with them for four days before a camp weekend. The mother of the friend did not call to ask if this visit was okay, whether she minded driving the daughter to the bus, or even to let the parents know her daughter’s flight information. All planning was done between the two teenagers.

Another mother told me that when she has a group of teenagers in the car, they will all take out their phones and engage in their technology (except the Pressman kids she told me. I was so proud!)

Even here at Pressman, the staff will debate the necessity of emails — if someone asks a question, and another answers, do we send back a response like “thank you”? It will give the person more emails to sort through and less storage space for their email.

I would argue that technology can be a joy. I am able to capture more moments of my life, keep in touch with geographically-distant friends much more easily, and engage in mind-stimulating games more often (I really like Trivia Crack, ok?) But when technology impedes our personal connections — neigh, when technology prevents us from niceties and polite behavior — it is time for us to reexamine our habits.

I am curious what others have experienced. Do you see these niceties remaining? Changing? What are your thoughts? And can something be done?


Yesterday was the wonderful world of Student Learning Conferences. At the end of the day, a mother was telling me how – even after 7 years – she still feels thrilled at the prospect of going to conferences. She told me, “I get to hear about my child! I will gain insights about her learning and social-emotional growth! I will hear feedback and advice on how to help at home! I tend to run into these meetings. And yet I often leave with a tremendous amount of guilt.”

She knows that this guilt is 100% self-induced and has nothing to do with the wonderful teachers or the progress of her child.

In trying to unpack this guilt with her, I have come up with a theory. This mom works long hours as a physician. As she is hearing about her child’s areas of growth, she dreams of all the things she would like to do together, all the ways she can help, all the conversations they can and should have…and then the reality of when pops in. “When will we have that play date – there is no time!” or “When will we go to the library and choose some books on this topic – there is no time!” And so she feels guilty about her inability to devote her life to her children.

Pamela Druckerman, a journalist and the author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, would say that she is suffering from hyper-parenting. In her recent article in the New York Times, Druckerman contends that while these feelings are normal and probably will never be eradicated, we should at least be conscientious about trying to balance our desires to hyper-parent with a more rational practice. Her theory is that practices like using language, enjoying time to oneself, going for process instead of product, sleeping, decluttering, scheduling your child for activities, releasing an expectation of work-life balance and teaching emotional intelligence will allow parents to release some of these feelings of guilt, anxiety and responsibility.

So I asked her to resolve to release the guilt – just as I have advised all of the parents who have come through my classrooms and offices. Whether we see our children for 30 minutes a day or for hours upon hours, we need to affirm that we are enough, that we do enough, that our child’s progress & growth are enough. That the process is going to be messy, and we will love the product however he or she comes. That we will continue to strive for resilience and optimism. And that perhaps, just perhaps, we will find time to sleep.

I would love to hear from you — what emotions do conferences stir? Does this article on hyper-parenting resonate? What are your own areas of resolve? Have the French found a logical way to parent?