September 2017: Love Thy Neighbor

Love Thy Neighbor

As we begin a new school year after a well-deserved and fleeting summer break, our teaching staff stands poised to spend countless numbers of night and weekend hours preparing lessons geared toward meeting the district’s curricular goals and addressing the NJ State Student Learning Standards. These daily plans involve much more than teaching essential knowledge and content.  On the contrary, our teachers are also charged with the critical task of conveying skills that inspire students to become curious and thoughtful life-long learners. Educational philosopher Henry Broudy wrote, “General education is useful not because we remember everything we learn...but because it helps us think, feel, and imagine.”  Throughout his lifetime Broudy sought answers to the questions: What is good knowledge? What is knowledge good for?

Do you see the subtle difference? The art and science of teaching demand that educators impart content knowledge as well as the crucial life skills necessary to nurture young learners and to help them evolve into productive citizens. This is no easy feat! Teaching young minds is a complex process, one that requires expertise in content and pedagogy as well as a high degree of emotional intelligence and a deep understanding of human nature.  It is critical that teachers view their students as learners, but of greater significance, as individuals with needs, promise, dreams and, yes, with their own unique quirks.  In this way they can develop a capacity for self-directed learning and self-growth.

This year, the Robbinsville Public School District has entered the second of a three year initiative to identify, define, and teach the core attributes necessary to prepare students for college, the workforce, and most importantly, the ability to thrive in an uncertain future.  We are calling these 21st Century skills, Robbinsville Ready Skills.  One component of this initiative calls for engaging the active minds and voices of teachers, parents, and students to generate ideas of what we want the ideal Robbinsville student to look like upon graduation.  Ideally, a successful Robbinsville graduate will possess the following qualities. He or she will be an effective communicator, a flexible problem solver, an open collaborator, a persistent learner possessing motivation and grit, and of course, a compassionate and empathetic citizen.

But how do we teach these important traits?

One way is through modeling what it means to be good neighbors and caring human beings.  Recently we have witnessed the devastation of two powerful hurricanes and their impact on communities across the United States. Harvey and Irma have displaced millions whose homes and businesses have lost power, experienced wind and water damage or, in many cases, have been completely destroyed.  In light of these tragic events, the Robbinsville Township Administration and Council Members led by Mayor Dave Fried along with the Robbinsville Board of Education are teaming up to provide relief for our affected neighbors.  As our community members volunteering time and energy to collect and deliver school supplies, personal and household items, students witness the power of what it means to be a compassionate citizen.  

There are also everyday opportunities closer to home that allow us to show compassion and practice empathy. Considering that we never really know what others may be experiencing on any given day, it is often the simplest of ways in which we reach out to make connections that are the most meaningful. The newlywed who helps an elderly neighbor take out the trash does not know of his wife of fifty years’ recent diagnosis.  The accountant who offers to pay for the coffee of the young service member next in line has no idea that he is due to be deployed later in the week. Nor does the history teacher realize that a frantic mom is rushing her sick baby to the doctor when he allows her car to merge into his lane on his busy commute to school. These are easy examples of extending oneself to help light the way for others and create a more compassionate world. Through this modeling by caring adults, students learn to be considerate of other people’s needs and feelings. 

A few years ago, Sharon Elementary School established a “Buddy Bench” on the school playground during recess time.  The Buddy Bench became a place for students to make new friends and feel included so that every child has a place on the playground. These simple acts emerge as entry points in learning what it means to be a compassionate, responsible citizen and friend. 

Children are born with the capacity for compassion and empathy.  However, these traits need to be nurtured throughout their lives.  If we make caring for others a priority, model acts of kindness, and provide opportunities for our students to practice empathy, they will begin to understand and appreciate others’ circumstances, perspectives, and feelings as they develop dispositions as people who themselves are thoughtful and kind.

As we work toward living in a more compassionate and peaceful world let us continue to be intentional about teaching the youngest among us the importance of loving our neighbors.


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