The air is a bit chilly early in the morning of late, and Pumpkin Spice Latte is back at Starbucks. We’ve watched students return to school, refreshed from their summer and ready to start a new year. We’ve seen their teachers excited to get to know a new group of students, and we’ve seen the school launch new initiatives, aiming to continue to help our students grow. With Fall just around the corner, we’ve had that “Fall feeling” for a few weeks now.
To some, Spring marks the season of growth and renewal. For those of us who celebrate the Jewish High Holidays, though, Fall is also a season of newness, growth and fresh starts. It is fitting, then, that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which fall during the month of Tishrei, embrace these themes and lead us to personal reflection and inner growth, asking us to honestly evaluate ourselves and consider in which areas we haven’t been reaching our full potential.
The concept of tshuvah, the process of reflection and resolution of issues – usually translated to mean “repentance” – is often coupled with the idea of sin. In reality, however, the common word for “sin” in Hebrew is חטא/chet which is an archery term, meaning to miss the mark. Taking part in tshuvah, then, forces us to consider not just our wrongdoings, but all those instances we didn’t quite achieve what we meant to – whether we tried or not.
This idea of self-reflection and striving to fulfill our potential is not unique to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. On Hoshanah Rabah, the final day of Sukkot, we beat a willow branch until the leaves fall off, symbolically shedding our old ways. Prior to Passover, we remove chametz (sometimes thought to be a symbol for our sins) from among our possessions. Even the name of the minor holiday that marks the start of the new month indicates an opportunity for a new beginning: the word for month in Hebrew, חודש/chodesh, comes from the root meaning “new.” Rosh Chodesh, the first day of a new month, literally means a new start.
Jewish tradition offers many opportunities for reflection and growth throughout the calendar year, and throughout our life cycle. It recognizes that none of us is perfect, and does not expect us to be so. It does expect us to constantly reflect, reevaluate and grow.
Yet, while embracing our mistakes and turning them into learning experiences that lead to growth is a very old Jewish idea, it is not only a Jewish idea. With the current push for our students to learn and practice 21st century skills like creativity and innovation, the process of reflection and growth remains even more important today.
Tony Wagner, Innovation Education Fellow at Harvard’s Technology and Entrepreneurship Center, discusses the importance of experiencing failure in the learning process. Trial and error, he argues, inevitably involves error. How can we learn from our mistakes if we are never in a position to make a mistake? He often cites real world examples from companies who follow this philosophy and post signs like “Fail early and fail often” and “If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried” around the building. There is no innovation, Wagner says, without trial and error, and there cannot be trial and error if students are afraid of error.
Along those lines, Sarah Blakely, innovator and entrepreneur (and founder of the Spanx company) often credits her success to her father’s asking at the dinner table “What have you failed at this week?” She explains, “My dad growing up encouraged me and my brother to fail…It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life.”
Failure and struggle help students to build self-confidence and a strong work ethic, two qualities that can lead to success both inside and outside of school, two qualities with which students can certainly use all of our help in fostering.
At DJDS, we encourage students to try, perhaps fail, and try again, so that they can embrace the process of growth that ultimately leads to success. Through initiatives like Focus on Growth and integration of Project Based Learning (including an emphasis on feedback and reflection), we partner with parents to foster this spirit of growth.
Want to learn more about how you can reframe the conversation around failure and growth with your children? Join us for the first session of our parent education series, Planting the Seeds: a Series of Growth, “It All Starts with Tshuvah: Setting the Tone for a New School Year.” Wednesday, September 21, 2016at 8:15am. RSVP at https://djdsplantingtheseeds.eventbrite.com to reserve your spot! This event is open to the community.